Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 30 September 2012 – Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Then ….

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26 Ordinary B – September 30, 2012 – Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Then ….

Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In case of emergency, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. If you are traveling with children or are seated next to someone who needs assistance place your mask on first and then help the others.

This instruction, heard while airplanes taxi on runways, does not sound right, does it. Shouldn’t we assist those who need our help before we tend to ourselves? The direction, however, makes sense. You cannot help someone else if you yourself cannot breathe, function or think clearly.

Last week’s gospel reminded us not to place ourselves first. However, it did not say we should not take care of ourselves first. Countless studies tell us diet, exercise, hard work and, yes, even prayer all make us feel good about who we are. That self-confidence strengthens our bodies, minds and spirits and gives us energy to advance ourselves and others.

The first reading today from the Book of Numbers presents an interesting question. Who is empowered by the Spirit to help others in the name of God? Some elders who were not ordained by God were doing good work prompting Moses to say “wouldn’t it be nice if all people of God were prophets … if God bestowed the spirit on them all.”

This gospel reading, a disconnected collection of sayings by Jesus, continues the question about who can perform “mighty deeds.” The disciples complained to Jesus that someone who was not one of them was doing good work. Jesus reminds them than anyone who is doing good will be rewarded. God does not confine the gifts of the Spirit only to certain authorized people or select faith traditions.

We Catholics do believe in the pervasiveness of the presence of Christ and that a holy Spirit moves about in this world. If people are doing good work, no matter what their religion is or even if they practice no religion, we know them as prophets of peace, advocates of civil rights and opponents of unjust laws and customs. What does this mean for us in this election season?

The reading from James this morning is one of many New Testament passages that show a concern for social justice. It connects with the teachings of the Old Testament prophets. [1] Words are addressed to those who do take care of themselves but then forget about, ignore or intentionally oppress those who need their assistance.

Political speeches and advertisements these days give us an example of what James might have been referring to. Many believe that private industry can improve the economy, create jobs and bridge the gap between rich and poor people. This theory might work when, after making a lot of money, those who are wealthy will take care of others especially those in need of jobs and those who work long hours in dire conditions for low wages. The disparities between capital and labor might be reduced when we work for the common good.

This weekend in honor of Vincent de Paul, patron of this faith community, we have our annual Ministry Fair. Vincent, after inheriting a lot of money, escaping the wrath of pirates and suffering a prison sentence, put on his oxygen mask and breathed in a holy spirit. With assistance from others like his friend Louise de Merrilac, Vincent himself found ways to assist others. Our Ministry Fair offers us ways to continue the spirit of Vincent by engaging us in the mission of our church.

Although we may not think about it all the time, we who make up St. Vincent’s parish are blessed. We trust in and worship a merciful and loving God; we are inspired by the life of Christ and walk humbly with a holy Spirit. We are good to one another, we welcome everyone, we challenge ourselves to grow and succeed.

The catechumens who knocked on the door of our church earlier today tell us they want to grow in their faith, learn more about who we are and how they can join our efforts. We can say to them, during these turbulent times in society and in our church, our oxygen masks are on tight. Now together let us find ways to help others.


1 Reginald H. Fuller Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today  (The Liturgical Press. 1984) Revised Edition, 352-353


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

One thought on “Homily – 30 September 2012 – Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Then ….

  1. As you say, if people spend their wealth to create jobs with fair wages and decent working conditions, it could lessen the disparity between capital and labor. However, it’s equally important to ask how their wealth was acquired. Were workers exploited? Were they ‘let go’ to raise the value of the company’s stock as we’ve seen over the past 30 years? Did they have a voice in the workplace?

    Because there is always an imbalance of power between the employer (or board of directors) and employees, the Church upholds the right to collective bargaining, as well as the rights to strike and boycott. Many people are uncomfortable with these concepts because they imply conflict, and those of us especially in the middle class place a high value on respectability or what other people think of us.

    The philanthropic work done by the rich (and today, the super-rich) wouldn’t be necessary if the workers in their companies were paid a family wage, and if a system of progressive taxation, in which those who have more pay more, ensured that public goods, such as libraries, museums, parks, etc. would be funded in a rational way for the common good.

    Thanks for raising the important issue of work, which is rarely heard in church, yet is where most people spend most of their lives.


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