Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 25 November 2012 – Kingdom Come, Violence Go


Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe B – November 25, 2012 – Kingdom Come, Violence Go

Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1,1-2,5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

The earliest images of Jesus Christ depicted him as a good shepherd. That understanding would gradually change once Christianity became a legitimate religion in the Roman Empire. The emperor who protected Christians from further persecutions took on a divine persona. To emphasize the mythical relationship between the emperor and God works of art eventually portrayed Jesus Christ as a judge, a ruler, a king. 

Today the Catholic Church, along with some other Christian religions, celebrates the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Historians tell us Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925 to counter secularism and modernity. It was a grand effort to reestablish Christ as the sovereign of all creation. The title is such an oxymoron. The life of Christ was no where near that of a king so why do we celebrate the title? Why do we perpetuate the coronation with our songs and prayers?

The symbolic vision we hear about in the book of Daniel is one small part of a larger section that speaks about evil mythological kingdoms rising up from the sea — a classical theme. Scholars tell us the Book was written to console Jews who were being persecuted by larger kingdoms. The whole book insists on the sovereignty of God in Israel. The Christological spin on this passage is this: Christ’s kingly rule would replace the evil regimes on earth. [1]

The dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John’s gospel is full of irony and innuendo. Pilate tried to get Jesus to say he was a king, a messiah. According to scholar Barbara Lundblad, “He [Pilate] needs to know because “king” is a political term, and Pilate is a political person.” [2] Jesus answered by saying his kingdom was not on earth and that he was testifying to the truth. What is the truth in this context?

The evangelist John redefined the kingship of Jesus. It is really not about kings as we know them. The writer claims that Jesus was the bearer of a divine revelation intended to transform people encouraging them to put others first. The word “truth” in this gospel refers to everything Jesus taught about restoring justice in the world.  It also reminds us that Jesus remained true to his  calling even in the face of death. The Christian realization of the “truth” manifested by Jesus may never be realized here on earth. All we can do is testify to the truth by our words and actions. [3]

Sadly, as history knows so well this manifestation of God on earth has not been very successful in eradicating evil from the world. Theologian James Bacik writes that violence is woven into the fabric of human relationships. [4] While there are many injustices perpetrated on humanity by ruthless individuals and despotic governments, today provides us with an opportunity to focus on one example — violence against women. 

Why emphasize violence against women? In 1999 the United Nations set today, November 25th, as the international day for the elimination of violence against women. The UN resolution notes that women do not fully enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It expressed concern about the long standing failure to promote those rights and freedoms in relation to violence against women. [5]

The UN states that up to 70% of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. [6] Statistics indicate that cruelty against women is a universal phenomenon and that women are subjected to different forms of brutality — physical, sexual, psychological and economic — both within and outside their homes. [7] 

These are the modern day beasts rearing their ugly heads from the seas placing women in exile, exploiting women in every way. Religions and governments like ours need to take note and act against such injustices. Politicians in Washington would set a good example by reauthorizing the (1994) Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to protect all persons from domestic violence and sexual assault.

You and I gather here in this hallowed place trusting that Christ has redeemed humanity, knowing fully well that this redemption is not yet complete. The Book of Revelation (our second reading today) is a call to action. It suggests that one effect of redemption is the creation of a faith community like this one that shares Christ’s kingly and priestly functions. All of us are called to be holy, baptized to make the world holy, summoned to eradicate demonic kingdoms so to reveal the kin-dom of God. 

Jesus was unwavering in being true to his calling. How true are we to ours?

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1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (TheLiturgical Press. 1984, Revised Edition), 372-374.

2 Lundblad, Barbara. “A Different Kind of King” in http://odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible-john-18-33-37

3 Lawless, Tony in Catholica. www.catholica.com.au

4 Bacik, James. November Reflections, Toledo, OH, 2012

5 UN General Assembly Action, Resolution 54/134. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, December 17, 1999

6 Published by the UN Department of Public Information, DPI/2546A, November 2009

7 Source: The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics. A study by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


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Homily – 18 November 2012 – The End of A Time


33 Ordinary Time B – 18 November 2012 – The End of a Time

Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16: 5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

Do you ever worry about the end of the world? An ancient text of the Maya civilization confirms that the end date of the long term Maya calendar is December 21, 2012. Not a prophetic prediction about the end of time, the text refers to archaic political history. “In times of crisis the Mayans used the calendar to promote continuity and stability rather than predict apocalypse.”  [1] They looked forward with hope rather than give up in the face of turmoil.

Today’s gospel of Mark, known as a “little apocalypse,” contains verses attributed to Jesus and his reference to the end of time. Like the Mayan calendar, these words of Jesus are not about the end of the world but about the end of a period of time. Political conflicts in Judea and Galilee escalated in the mid-first century. The Roman government retaliated against the Jewish Revolt in the year 66 CE, about the time this gospel was written. The Temple was destroyed four years later and the Jewish state collapsed.

Many thought their world as they knew it was coming to an end. The evangelist Mark was reestablishing Jesus as the one who would save the Jewish people. Scholars think that Jesus himself believed that there would be a peaceful resolution to these conflicts in his own time. Actually, time was running out for Jesus. The next chapter (14) in Mark is dedicated to the passion and death of Jesus.

The first reading from the Book of Daniel is similar. It contains the only Hebrew bible reference to the doctrine of resurrection and eternal life.  It was written probably during the persecutions of Antiochus IV as a means to bring about justice at a time when Israelites were being martyred. Many people around the world still suffer at the hands of cruel governments.

Both of these stories are longings for more peaceful times when the kin-dom of God would come about to deliver people from corrupt imperialistic rulers. Something new can emerge when something old passes away. The cross over or transition however is not always easy, welcomed or quick.

There are a couple of examples of end times today. Surely those suffering from the super storm Sandy have seen their worlds come apart. Citizens of Israel and Palestine are worried about the mounting tensions there. For others the recent election symbolized a shift in political strategies. Television talk show host Bill O‘Reilly opined, “It is not a traditional America anymore.” Columnist David Brooks picked up on this remark and wrote. “Each year there are more Americans from different cultures, with different attitudes toward authority, with different attitudes about individualism ….” [2]

The same could be said of our church. We are changing too. We are no longer the traditional Church where one group rules everyone else without consultation. Last week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met to discuss many issues. They supported comprehensive immigration reform; they approved the development of a plan to use technology in their teaching authority, they endorsed Dorothy Day for sainthood and they urged Catholics to go to confession more often.

We hope that the bishops collectively acknowledged in their deliberations that the traditional Catholic church is now more diverse in its make up, that more American Catholics not only come from different cultures, they have mixed attitudes toward authority and they live very independent lives, thinking and acting for themselves. Why refer to these emerging trends? While our country and our church are not experiencing an apocalypse they are experiencing significant shifts signaling the end of a time period and the beginning of a new era.

Today is the anniversary of the promulgation of the Decree on the Laity [3] one of the landmark statements produced at the Vatican Two Council. The Decree celebrates the “proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church” given to all laypersons by the Spirit of God. The document indicates that by their baptism the laity share in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ (2). This assertion implies that the laity also have a role to play in the governance of their church, as co-workers in the vineyard and not merely as helpmates to the hierarchy. [4]

Last week one new parishioner said to me she comes to this parish because she does not have to worry about being scolded or made to feel guilty. She said she feels welcomed and safe here, that she leaves nourished and strengthened to cope with the week ahead.

Neither the Maya calendar nor the Christian bible is predicting the end of the world. We are however moving from one period of time toward a new horizon where anything is possible with an open mind. Nations are changing, the climate is changing, people are changing, the church is changing. What is required from each of us is to read the signs of the times and then to create a strong desire to participate humbly and more fully in the life of our communities, our country and our church. Sustained by the word of God and the bond of our eucharistic communion we can together advance the kin-dom of God on earth — our inheritance.

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1 Marcello A. Canuto in http://news.discovery.com/history/maya-long-count-calendar-end-date-120629.html

2 David Brooks in http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/opinion/brooks-the-party-of-work.html

3 Apostolicam Actuositatem, November 18, 1965

4 Pope Benedict XVI, Opening of the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome. Theme: Church Membership and Pastoral Co-Responsibility (Basilica of St. John Lateran, 26 May 2009


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Homily – 4 November 2012 – Voting for the Common Good


31 Ordinary B – November 4, 2012 – Voting for the Common Good

Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7; 23-28; Mark 12:28b-34

How many believe that God is responsible for absolutely everything that happens to us? Was God responsible for hurricane Sandy? No matter what your answer is we will never understand why bad  things happen to good people. Some surveys say fifty-six percent of all Americans agree that God is in control of everything. However, most Americans do not believe that natural disasters are a form of divine punishment. Only thirty-eight percent believe storms like Sandy are signs from God. [1]

The remarkable but paradoxical thing about disasters like hurricane Sandy is how we Americans, who are typecast as being individualists, come to the rescue of other human beings. For those who believe in God it could be said that these benevolent works of compassion and mercy are stunning revelations of God; God at work in us. Do we need emergencies to show our care and concern for our neighbors? What about the rest of the time, all year long?

We are urged to vote this coming Tuesday for government leaders on the local and national level. If you, like others, are suffering from voter fatigue, relax, it is almost over. A collective distaste for campaign rhetoric, the lies, the vitriolic advertisements do not however excuse us from thinking about the importance of this election in our lives and the lives of others.

While some will vote for their party of choice no matter what the platform is, others will a cast an independent vote. Some will vote on single issues. Others will consider all the issues. Ideally, as Catholics, our vote is based on 1) our study of the issues, 2) how political proposals measure up to our moral standards, 3) how the candidate’s platforms differ and 4) our overarching preferential option for the common good.

While we are not voting for a national pastoral leader or a spiritual director we are voting for officials who will make laws nationally and statewide that will not only affect our lives now but potentially the lives of future generations. Right now this country is divided on many issues, some of which are important moral issues. No matter who wins these elections our next task will be to pray for harmony and healing in our nation.

In a recent statement innumerable theologians from Catholic universities across the country wrote that the “stewardship of the common good rests upon all of our shoulders, that we fulfill this obligation in many ways but, indispensably among them, through the policies of our government.” How true this is especially as victims of Sandy’s storm will need federal and state assistance to rebuild their homes and their lives.

While no elected officials or candidates for public office would disagree that the responsibility of government is to serve all citizens, there are major disagreements on how to go about doing so. This tension between political philosophies and policies can be a good thing that actually distinguishes our country from those where alternate viewpoints on government are forbidden. What principles do we adhere to?

In today’s gospel from Mark Jesus answers a question from a Jewish scribe about the most important commandment. The scribe (a lawyer), whose job it was to interpret laws, was not trying to trick Jesus. Perhaps he was just trying to understand the law more clearly. Jesus quickly repeats a familiar prayer of the Israelites found in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy — Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Jesus then adds a line from the Book of Leviticus (19:18) — love your neighbor as yourself. 

Old Testament prophets believed the diligent observance of these laws would shape the theological witness of the Israelites among the nations of the world. In the time of Jesus the word “neighbors” meant those in your own ethnic group; those who lived next door in your neighborhood. Throughout his ministry Jesus challenged people to detach themselves from such provincial, xenophobic attitudes.

These same commandments serve as the basis for Christian living today and how we shape the world we live in. To love God is to accept God’s call to a life of holiness. Our response involves advancing the kin-dom of God here on earth in everything we do. Our participation in the eucharist gives us strength to bring about that kin-dom, that place where all of God’s creatures are respected and cared for.

We hear about these two great commandments all the time. Loving God is the easier one. Loving our neighbors is much more difficult. Is there a fresh way to understand what loving our neighbors means today? The videos, photographs and stories of those who are trying to help people hurt by Hurricane Sandy remind us that they are not concerned about race, gender, nationality or income. Further no one is asking anyone how they are going to vote on Tuesday.

Some do believe God is in charge of everything. I think it is safe to say that God is not going to pick the next president or state and local officials. We will. Our right to vote is a privilege and an opportunity to uphold the human dignity and the human rights of all God’s people.

1. Public Religion Research Institute – Faith in the Numbers