Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


Homily – 30 December 2012 – A Global Holy Family

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – December 30, 2012 – “A Global Holy Family”

1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The commemoration was inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII in 1893. He was passionate about family matters and wrote forty-six encyclicals and letters on marriage, family and society. This feast is an opportunity for us to celebrate family life and to appreciate the importance of a wide variety of human relationships.

The definitions of marriage and family are obviously connected. The important role of the family unit in society is undeniable. With children or not, family households in the United States are diverse. If television is any cultural barometer “Two and a Half Men” and “Guys With Kids” have replaced “Father Knows Best” and “The Cosby Show” as templates for the modern American family. 

What is sure to add a dimension to the understanding of marriage and family life is the decision of the United States Supreme Court to take up two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage act. The issue has already fueled the rhetoric of politicians and religious leaders. 

According to some polls a majority of some mainline religious groups, including Catholics, [1] now say they support same-sex marriage. As you know, in last month’s elections, nine states and the District of Columbia voted to allow such unions. Some have said it is not a question of doctrine but of human rights. The biblical texts for today present two different scenarios which might help us sort out what matters most about families. 

In the first reading Samuel (which means “he who is from God”) is viewed as appointed by God to function as a priest, prophet, war leader and judge. [2] His mother Hannah waited until Samuel grew older before dedicating him for service in the temple. She was probably the first “helicopter parent” who just wanted to make sure her son had a job. Samuel eventually changed careers and grew up to be a prophet who played an important role in the affairs of state. 

Today’s gospel is known as a legend but it is not entirely unhistorical. Other precocious children, e.g., Buddha, grew up to be revered as a god. What was Luke’s purpose with today’s gospel story? It was not to suggest that Jesus was a smart, stubborn teenager who just wanted to be independent. It was to establish that Jesus was brought up in a family environment that adhered to Jewish traditions. Like Samuel, Jesus eventually would take on his role as an eschatological prophet and the redeemer of Israel. [3] Samuel and Jesus grew up concerned about a human family much larger than their own. 

In both stories the parents are worried about the welfare of their children. Today, whether married or single, gay or straight, with children or without, our main concern is to protect our children, to provide safe home and school environments and to give them opportunities to succeed in life no matter where they grow up or what they want to be.

All of us belong to a larger human family. Although our personal relationships and family ties are most important and demand much of our energy and resources, there is an added responsibility for us as a Christian community that reaches far beyond the confines of our church buildings and our own homes. 

We know there are way too many children on this planet who are victims not only of family violence but of trafficking, hunger, homelessness, physical and mental abuse. Too many adult relationships on this planet are damaged by antiquated religious and civil marriage and divorce laws. In the past, the biblical Holy Family would be presented as a model for all families. However, today, it is unlikely that any one model can serve to protect and promote healthy human relationships, loving marital unions and stable family structures. 

The world needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane for all peoples. [4] That’s what Samuel and Jesus did. Our second reading provides us with a catechetical lesson, a Christian ethic. [5]  “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Our prophetic stance in an age when nothing is certain but anything is possible is to help create a global holy family. 


1 See The 2012 American Values Survey: How Catholics and the Religiously Unaffiliated Will Shape the 2012 Election and Beyond (Public Religion Research Institute, Washington, DC) Released October 23, 2012.

2 McCarter Jr. P. Kyle in Harper Collins Study Bible (NY: Harper Collins) 2006, 389 ff.

3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1984 Revised Edition, pp. 23-24, 393-395

4 Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

5 Fuller, ibid.


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Homily – 25 December 2012 – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Christmas Morning 2012 – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Isaiah 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2: 15-20

As you probably know, Pope Benedict, in his new book, wrote that there were no animals in the Bethlehem stable when Jesus was born. [1] Well how did these animals end up in our nativity scenes? And what about the angels in the air, the magi or the shepherds in this Christmas morning gospel? What the pope did was prompt a question about the way we read scripture. 

For example, the gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke deal with the nativity in different ways. Luke’s gospel, the one we read this morning, refers to a census called by Caesar Augustus while Quirinius was governor in Syria. Scholars say Luke did this for two reasons. He believed Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. So, he had to get them to Bethlehem somehow. The book of Micah said the savior would come from Bethlehem.

The problem is this: Quirinius was governor in Syria in the year 6 CE after Jesus was born. So, the census could not have taken place as Luke claims.  [2] We also know this gospel was written between the years 85 and 95 after the destruction of the Temple.  The census of Quirinius, which was held in the year 6 CE, resulted in the rebellion of Judas the Galilean which started the Zealot movement which led to the Jewish revolt against Rome which ended with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. The people reading this gospel needed a good story to lift them up out of their despair and hopelessness.

Scripture scholarship has made it possible for us to read the bible through new lenses. The biblical texts are full of stories and testimonies of human beings like you and me. The bible is hardly an accurate book of Middle East history. So while these inconsistencies are interesting they are not a problem for us. The Vatican Two Council taught us that any interpretation of sacred scripture should carefully investigate what meaning the writers intended. (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation 3, 12)

The manger, the crib, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, magi and the star in the sky, and the animals are all part of the story we love to tell at this time of year. We tell it not only to counter what seems to be, more and more, a frenzied consumer oriented holiday but to remind ourselves of the often heard cliché “the real meaning of Christmas.”

There are different meanings. For some it is about redemption; that God sent God’s son to save us from damnation. For others, the incarnation is less about redemption and more about God’s gift of creation. The birth of Jesus breaks the barriers between heaven and earth and opens up for us the realization that we are part of a much larger, longer story. It is a story that starts with the Christ of the universe and continues with us as players, actors in God’s creative process. [3]

The shepherds knew they were in the right place when they found the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. And although not mentioned, the animals are important. We read in Isaiah 1:3 God’s complaint against Israel. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of the Lord but Israel has not known me nor understood me.” The manger then is a symbol. When the shepherds find the babe in it, and then praise God, it is a way of saying the people of God finally have recognized the One who is to come. [4]

Like the shepherds and the angels, like Mary and Joseph, like Elizabeth and her skeptical husband Zechariah — all those characters in the drama — we too have been summoned to adore the babe, to walk with him as he grows up, to deal with the inequities and difficulties in life as he did, to bring hope to those who despair and moments of joy for everyone. That is the gift you and I unwrap this Christmas morning. Peace on earth, good will to all. 


1 Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (NY: Random House) 2012

2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 2000, 31-33.

3 Bacik, James. Excerpted from Reflections, December 2012

4 Brown, Raymond. An Adult Christ at Christmas (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1978 pp 15-20.


Homily – 23 December 2012 – From the Wombs of Women

4 Advent C – 12/23/12 – From the Wombs of Women

Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Today’s gospel celebrates the tenacity, faith and courage of two prophetic women. Mary and Elizabeth lived in a place and time where and when women had few opportunities to make choices about their own lives. These two did.

In many areas in the Middle East social institutions, traditions and religious laws continue to keep girls and women at a disadvantage in schools, the workplace, in divorce cases, and as victims of violence. [1] These cultural aberrations did not emerge overnight but over long periods of time.

In ancient Israel, for example, the man was the dominant member of the household. Many biblical episodes speak about women as property of the husband, slaves in market place, rape victims in their homes, powerless and impoverished people in the community. A woman’s first duty was to give birth to a son to continue her husband’s name and lineage.

Today’s gospel is an incredibly powerful story in this cultural context where women were perpetually treated as inferior human beings. From the first moment we meet Mary in the bible we know that she is an extraordinary young teenager — feisty and fearless; willing to challenge the assumptions of the status quo.

In the ancient Middle East women never traveled alone but usually in groups or caravans. [2] Yet, the gospel tells us Mary may have walked three or four days alone to visit Elizabeth. Mary is not the meek, weak, docile, silent woman so often depicted in art and devotional prayers.

This story celebrates women’s participation in God’s work. [3] God depended upon women to bear the message, to announce the Word, that the world can be a bright and safe place for all. Think of the craziness. Elizabeth was too old get pregnant; Mary was a virgin. Can you imagine how frightened and giddy they must have been. Yet, each one said “yes,” I can do this. Those decisions not only changed their lives but ours as well.

In that moment Elizabeth proclaims Mary to be full of grace and Mary responds with a revolutionary song of praise (Luke 1: 46-55 is unfortunately omitted from today’s gospel). “My soul proclaims your greatness, God. You have shown strength; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have fed the hungry with good things, you have sent the rich away empty …”

One has to question why some major religions continue to keep women from opportunities to stand equally with the men who are delegated to proclaim this very same message.

Homiletics scholar Barbara Lundblad tells us that Mary went to the house of Zechariah but spoke to Elizabeth. The man’s house became the house of women while the tongue of the priest (Zechariah) was silenced. The bouncing baby in Elizabeth’s womb was a revelation [4] that God was about to stir things up on earth. Ah. Peace on earth at last from the wombs of women.

These two women who belonged to a class of poor people (the anawim) speak to you and me about the experience of God in our lives. It is not defined only by the doctrines of organized religions, magnificent church art and architecture or an all male model of leadership. Instead these two women make a strong case for liberating all women from worn out stereotypes.

As one parishioner told me, “the two women did what women do — they connected. Whether it’s breast cancer, violence, births, deaths, work [or play] — women reach out.”  As the season of Advent gives way to Christmas we are given yet another opportunity to say yes like Mary and Elizabeth did. We can connect with and support one another. We can gather our strength and convictions, to reach boldly into our imaginations and give birth to the kindom of God where peace and justice reign for all human beings.



2 Pilch, John J. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1997. pp. 10-12.

3 Rachel G. Hackenberg “Joy to the Women” in (12/05/12)

4 Lundblad, Barbara. Classnotes from “Got Sermon” Series, October, 2012, Union Seminary, New York, NY

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Homily – 2 December 2012 – What’s On Your Christmas Wish List?

1 Advent C – December 2, 2012 – What’s On Your Christmas Wish List?

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

With only 22 shopping days left what do you want for Christmas? What’s on your list? Do you think you will get what you want?

As a Pakistani Christian is it an end to religious intolerance? If you are a Catholic woman is it equal rights in your Church. If you are a victim of a natural disaster maybe nothing is more important than a swift rebuilding process. If you were an Israeli or Palestinian youth a two state solution might be a great Chanukah gift.

Each year the season of Advent comes at a time of great expectations and collides with a “capitalist extravaganza.” [1] Originally Advent, which means arrival or coming, was a time of doing penance. Modeled after Lent it was also a period of instruction for those who were preparing to become Christians on the feast of the Epiphany.

Today, Advent emphasizes preparation for two events: 1) Christmas — the memorial of the incarnation of God and 2) the second coming of Christ, a much more mysterious time, when God’s presence will be completely realized and apparent to all. The second one is more compelling because it involves you and me working to advance the kin-dom of God now.

We do not know when the second coming will occur. We do know that we have very concrete hopes between now and then. Advent is a time when the spirits of Scrooge and Santa clash. So much that is still not right in the world is noted on our calendars: Eliminate Violence Against Women Day, Human Rights Day, World Aids Day, Migrants Day, Persons with Disabilities Day. That shopping list is endless.

According to today’s gospel there are signs in the sun, the moon and the earth, signs of redemption drawing near, signs that transformation is going on all around us. Be alert! The world is constantly changing. Be alert for signs in the Middle East, in Congress, in the Vatican, in our church, in our lives. We are often so busy we seldom find the time to think about what is going on around us that affects us.

The first Sunday of Advent offers you and me a time to reflect on what direction our lives are taking. What might be ahead for us as citizens of this country, as members of this church? What might be in store for our parish, our families, our neighborhoods?

In the text we heard from the book of Jeremiah, written either during or after the exile — a slow time of rebuilding and restoration — God said to the Israelites: a branch of “social solidarity” would sprout up for King David who would then spread justice through the lands. Jesus, you and I come from that same root.

The people of God, as described in today’s text from Luke often lived in fear and distress like so many on the planet do today. We heard Mark’s version two weeks ago. Unlike Mark, Luke suggests that the early church will survive, that it will not default, that, in fact, it is just getting started. The synoptic apocalypse such as this one was constantly adjusted to speak to the ever-changing situation of the early Christian community. [2] So too this gospel speaks to us weighed down by problems but buoyed up by faith, hope and love.

The world is not coming to an end. However, there are signs of urgent need for change. As members of this church we have work to do. The second reading today suggests that God calls us to be abundant in love for one another.

At the celebration of confirmation last Thursday night Bishop Hubbard urged us to adopt a preferential option for serving the least, the most vulnerable people, among us. We do that here at St. Vincent’s through the many choices we make as a faith community — our food pantry, the Giving Tree and the many other parish sponsored programs.

The Youth Day program after liturgies today will focus on Christian virtues and the instruction to love God and one another. Our tradition, to strive for the common good, is being handed down to another generation. We who make up the church are not defaulting but we are changing. We have a future but it is hard to tell what we will look like.

In the meantime, by remembering that we are part of a large human family we engage in a spirit of reciprocal giving. When we serve others we too are sustained. In doing so we continue to give credence to the popular Advent song that Emmanuel is the God who is with us here and now.

Scrooge? Santa? The arrival of real hope, now, through us? What’s on our Christmas wish list will make all the difference.


1 An expression used by CathyT in

2 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (The Liturgical Press. 1984, Revised Edition), pp. 377-379