Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Easter Sunday Homily – 31 March 2013 – Now What Do We Do?


Easter – March 30-31, 2013 – Now What Do We Do?

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; Col 3:1-4;1 Lk 24:1-12

Was it worth it? Was the crucifixion of Jesus worth it? The Testament of Mary, written by Colm Toibin, is now in previews on Broadway. I saw it last Wednesday. The play depicts the life and death of Jesus through the weeping eyes and tormented mind of his aging mother Mary, played by Fiona Shaw. Throughout his adult life his mother warned Jesus about the danger he was in. Mary even questioned and challenged the intentions of some of the disciples. She saw them as cowardly misfits concerned about their own affairs and how they might market the message of salvation. “He died so everyone could be saved?” she asked. Really? All people? Mary herself could not bear to watch the tortuous crucifixion of her son. In the end the mother of Jesus declared: “It was not worth it.”

This morning’s gospel tells us about three very surprised women who ran to tell the other disciples about the empty tomb. But the men did not trust the testimony of these women. In their minds it was unreliable. But, Joseph Ratzinger tells us, in spite of cultural factors, in this gospel the women do take precedence over the men. [1] Perhaps there are good reasons for paying more attention to what women in our church are saying.

I have often wondered what Eve said to Adam said after they ate the apple. Now what do we do? What did Miriam say to Moses after escaping Egyptian enemies as they came to the edge of the raging Red Sea. OK, brother. Now what do we do? What went through the minds of the women at the foot of cross and the threshold of the empty tomb. Now what do we do? Lent is over. Easter is here. Now what do we do? The new members of our church – Camille, Ron, Star and Wendy – who were initiated last night, might now be saying. Now what do we do? And how about those who say my church no longer speaks to me or for me. Now what do we do?

How often do we find ourselves going along in life, busy about whatever it is we do, only to encounter an interruption —  the destruction of a home, the loss of a job, the discovery of cancer in our bodies, getting the flu. Life is a series of passages. We may never get to where we want to go or do all we want to do. We are caught in what seems to be a never ending and routine cycle of ups and downs, good days and bad, joyful events and sad announcements. The stories we hear in the bible are ancient ones. Yet, they speak to us as if they were written today about our eager aspirations and our devastated dreams.

All of the symbols and songs, the prayers and processions of Lent, Holy Week and Easter are secondary to what they symbolize.They help us touch what is beyond our understanding, beyond our grasp, something that is so sacred and mysterious it is often hard to take in all at once. That which is holy comes in bits and pieces in life — in a birth, a favor, a smile, a hug, a cure, a raise in salary, an empty tomb.

So, now what do we do? The Old Testament prophets had a tradition of saying that “sacrifice without moral reform is an empty gesture.” [2] Let us not be too eager, then, to celebrate Easter or any other Christian feast for that matter if you and I are not ready to take on and try to overcome the evils in the world, the problems in our communities. The front pages of today’s papers may feature Easter egg hunts, parades and Easter finery but inside the tabloids we find articles about warfare and welfare, socio-cultural debates over gun control, reproductive rights and the definition of marriage. So, now what do we do?

The new members of our church — Camille, Ron, Star and Wendy — are fresh models for us. They show us enthusiasm for the word of God, a hunger for the eucharist and other sacraments, a desire to help others find the peace and companionship they have discovered in this church. Perhaps, they can re-energize those who are just hanging on, and, hopefully, somehow they can inspire those who have left the church.

Was it worth it asked the mother of Jesus? Was the death of Jesus worth it? Did it save us? From what? Consider how Pope Francis answered the questions. On Holy Thursday he countered long standing authoritative traditions and church rubrics by washing the feet of young men and women. The Pope himself may have remembered the admonition of the Old Testament prophets — ceremonies are empty without moral reform. As he left the detention center he turned to the prisoners and said, “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Always go forward” he said.

So, now what do we do on this Easter Sunday? Go forward. We go forward with hope!

_____________

1 Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 2011, 263

2 See Wills, Garry. Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. (NY: Viking) 2013, 74


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Homily – 24 March 2013 – Open Some Doors


Palm Sunday of the Passion of Jesus Christ – March 24, 2013 – Open Some Doors

Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9,17-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

Tomorrow evening during the Passover meal Jews will open the front door to their homes so Elijah may enter. Elijah was the prophet who challenged the corrupt King Ahab (871-852 BCE). He also healed people who were sick and he was kind to those who lived alone. According to the story Elijah never died but was taken to heaven in a chariot. Legend has it that periodically he returns to earth to reenergize those who want peace. For Jews, Elijah’s fiery stance against injustice symbolizes the promise of a messiah. [1]

The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem marks another arrival, another opening of doors. In our first Gospel reading we heard about the pilgrims (on their way to Jerusalem for Passover) accompanying Jesus shouting “Hosannahs!” This exclamation of joy, once used to welcome people into the Temple, took on another meaning. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote “it had become a designation of the one promised by God.” [2] For Christians, Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus is a new Elijah.

During our holy week, like our Jewish friends, the stories of our ancestors in faith become our stories. We boldly confront the realities of today like they did in their time. Full of hope, we too imagine justice and peace entering our lives. For this to happen doors have to be opened.

There is a need to clear the pathways for young undocumented immigrants who want to work and get an education. These youths are like our sons and daughters who themselves just want to succeed. There is a cry to open doors for women who have been exploited by patriarchy and hurt by male domination. Here at St. Vincent’s, we open our doors wide to welcome all who have been neglected or misunderstood in other churches.

But sometimes doors have to be shut for our own protection. Slam the door on the private sale of guns without universal background checks; shut the doors on businesses employing unfair labor practices; close doors on laws that discriminate and stigmatize people because of race, religion, disabilities or sexual orientation. There is a need to stop mean-spirited people who use social media to harm the reputation of others; and a need to “shield us from a culture of militarism and an ideology of consumerism.” [3]

Doors swing both ways. We open them to let in fresh air of opportunity; we close them to keep out what is toxic. Jesus died on the cross because he was convicted of doing what Elijah did — challenging corrupt authorities, healing sick people. In reflecting the voice of Isaiah the poet and prophet Jesus strongly announced that the “reign of God has begun in his person and the authority of the Roman Empire (and unethical religious leaders) is overthrown.” [4]

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson suggests, the cross stands in history as a “life-affirming protest against all torture and injustice, and as a pledge that the transforming power of God is with those who suffer to bring about life for others.” [5] Who suffers for the life of others? Last week Pope Francis I called all of us to be protectors. He said, “it means protecting … each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about ….” The pope continued, “In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.” [6]

Let us enter the doors of holy week with eager anticipation. On Holy Thursday, after supper, we celebrate a eucharist touching the real presence of Christ found in one another. On Good Friday we focus on the cross. It calls attention to the injustices in the world and beckons us to eradicate them. At the Easter Vigil we open the doors of new life for our Elect, Camille, Ron, Starr and Wendy with a baptismal bath, a fragrant anointing, and a mystical meal of bread and wine.

Celebrate the holy week. Come … open some doors.

___

1 http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2258/whats-the-deal-with-the-prophet-elijah

2 Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 2011, 7

3 Brueggermann, Walter. The Liturgy of the Passion. http://www.odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible/walter-brueggemann-on-the-liturgy-of-the-passion-isaiah-50-4-9a

4 Brueggermann, Ibid.

5 Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Jesus and Salvation,” Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America 49 (1994) 15 in Hilkert, Mary Catherine. Source Theological Studies. 56 (2):341-352. 1995 June

6 Pope Francis I. Inaugural Homily March 19, 2013


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Homily – 10 March 2013 – Take Off the Blindfolds


4 Lent A – March 10, 2013 – Take Off the Blindfolds 

1 Sm 16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Today I would like to introduce you to two works of art that you may or not be familiar with: Synagoga and Ecclesia. You can find these sculptures while entering the main portals of some European and British cathedrals. Ecclesia is standing upright and looks very confident. That statue represents the church. Synagoga, on the other hand, is drooping and wearing a blindfold, which is a reference to Jews who did not accept Jesus as the messiah. 

Similar sculptures were used earlier in history to depict debates between orthodox teachers and heretics. [1] In this example they symbolize the cultural and doctrinal attitudes of Medieval Christians who believed that, because of Jesus Christ, Judaism was no longer necessary. Today the Catholic church no longer teaches this theology.

In today’s gospel we heard the familiar story of Jesus restoring sight to a man born blind. One interpretation is that the man represented the struggle between early Christians and the synagogue authorities. [2] The two statues, Synagoga and Ecclesia, could have easily symbolized this late first century confrontation. 

The gospel purposely focusses on the humanity of Jesus and how he cared for other humans. It stresses that through the historical Jesus, God entered history to provide a way to be saved from all that is evil. The blind man in the gospel, like last week’s Samaritan woman, gradually comes to accept Jesus as the sovereign one, the messiah. His testimony was the celebration of a major change in his life.

In our time we are careful not to equate physical blindness with not being able to recognize Jesus Christ. What message, then, do we Christians take away from this gospel? People can experience the radiance of Jesus Christ’s bright light when they take off their blindfolds. The message is a call for reshaping our own lives. In this week’s second scrutiny we pray that our Elect — Ron, Camille, Wendy and Star — will continue to grow in awareness of God as the source of light.

The two statues, Synagoga and Ecclesia, represent the ability to perceive things clearly or not. But, it is not always easy for us to remove the blindfolds. Do we accept ourselves as we really are or as we think we ought to be just to please others? How do we appreciate and respect people who are quite different from ourselves? Are we quick to judge people because of their color, the clothing they wear, how they speak, what their physical abilities are, where they went to college? Do we live in sociological and political ghettoes defined by labels like rich or poor, Catholic or Jew, Democrat or Republican? 

The Dominican priest Timothy Radcliffe, in his book What is the Point of Being Christian, [3] describes Catholics in a couple of ways. He wrote that Kingdom Catholics are those who identify with Jesus Christ who broke boundaries and reached out to everyone. Their theology is outward looking, rooted in experience and emphasizing liberation.

Communion Catholics, claims Radcliffe, view the post-Conciliar church with skepticism. They feel that if the church is absorbed by secularism it will lose its identity, its doctrines and traditions. According to recent surveys most Catholics, however, do agree on the need to reorganize the way the church does business. Where is the common ground? Right now, both groups are feeling left out of the church and are blaming each other. 

The cardinals in Rome have been discussing their expectations regarding the new Pope, the governance of the Holy See and its offices, the Vatican Bank and the organization of the Curia. Now, it would be a remarkable historic moment if the cardinals found a way to consider the concerns of both Communion and Kingdom Catholics not to mention countless others who have left or are leaving the church. What would be required? Taking off the blindfolds.

____

1 Rowe, Nina, The Jew, the Cathedral and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century, 2011, Cambridge University Press

2  Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, pp 1816 and 1833

3 Radcliffe, Timothy. What’s the Point of Being Christian (NY: Continuum) 2005 in Dionne, E.J., “Polarization, Church and Country,” Commonweal 03/04/2013. http://commonwealmagazine.org


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Homily – 3 March 2013 – Women at the Wellspring of Life


3 Lent A – March 3, 2013 – Women at the Wellspring of Life

Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; Jn 4:5-42

One hundred years ago today, March 3, 1913, five thousand women marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. They were demanding the right to vote. Imagine. Up to 1920 (when the 19th Amendment was finally ratified) the President of the United States was elected by only the men in this country! 

In the past 100 years there have been great cultural and attitudinal shifts about women’s equality and emancipation. However, all of the problems pertaining to women’s rights have not been solved. The stronghold of patriarchy is still locked in place. In the words of writer, Stephanie Coontz, gender equality is stalled. [1]

Our own Catholic church continues to sanctify a patriarchal model. The future leader of 1.2 billion Catholics once again will be selected by an elite hierarchical all male electorate. While not all Catholics are anxious to protest this custom there are signals that multitudes are exercising their baptismal rights to object and to call for a more egalitarian approach to church governance.

In a recent adult faith formation class between the Masses we reminded each other of the potential each person has to be holy. We know this in our hearts but sometimes we forget that God speaks to all people in diverse ways. We forget that different voices can give credence to the same Holy Spirit. This morning’s psalm begs of us: if we hear God’s voice, harden not our hearts, close not our lips. Boast in hope of the glory of God (the second reading today).

Today’s gospel suggests that we pay attention to essentials. Most scripture scholars believe this story never took place. The other three gospels do not mention it. The Syrophoenician woman, Photina by name, was not suppose to speak to a strange man in public much less a Jew. Further, as a woman she would have been forbidden to speak to the crowds in town about her experience with Jesus.

So why do we read this story attributed to John the beloved disciple? Commentators suggest that the author was stressing the divinity of Jesus which, at the time, was a topic of debate between Jewish authorities and Christians. Jews and Samaritans were enemies; they held nothing in common; they accused one another of worshiping on the wrong mountain; they considered one another to be unclean and impure. Apparently Jesus did not get this memo. 

This passage offers a peaceful compromise. The reference to water is not to be taken literally as the woman did. She thought she would never again have to go to the well to get water for her family. Rather, Jesus was referring to an inner wellspring that provides nourishment for all who follow his example and serve as advocates of global peace and justice. 

Jesus shocked his entourage to prove this point. While there may be disagreements over accidentals like which mountain to worship on, where is a common ground? What can diverse camps, partisan philosophies and theologies, agree to? Changing aging cultural and religious attitudes is not easy. Changing the way our church selects a pope will take a major effort. Jesus’s ministry was the beginning of a reformation that continues today. 

The woman in the story is not a foil for Jesus or the author. Jesus clearly presents to the woman a new way of looking at life. Photina collaborates in Jesus’s agenda. She runs to spread the word that she met the messiah. She is the first disciple to the Samaritans. Could it be that the author was suggesting a new role for women in a cultural period when women were underestimated and ignored. How is it possible that some nation states and organizations still undervalue women thousands of years later?

Like other women in the bible, named and unnamed, Photina (which means light) is illuminated in a spirited way. Our elect, Star, Wendy, Ron and Camille are also enlightened by the same spirit. Their journey to the Easter sacraments is a reminder that each one of us also is a light to the world, each one of us is a refreshing drink of water for each other.

March is Women’s History month. We remember the women in our lives who paved the way for us by their courage and wisdom. We recall those 5,000 women whose march on Washington 100 years ago made a difference in women’s rights. We embrace their convictions and visions. We look ahead on the path to human rights and justice for all. That was the path that Jesus was on. He died along the way but his Spirit lingers on in all of us. Let us pray that that same Spirit will be at work in the Vatican in the days to come. 

______

1 Coontz, Stephanie. “Why Gender Equality Stalled” in The New York Times February 17, 2103, SR1

2 Rensberger D. revised by Attridge, H. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 1815

3 Wills, Gary. What the Gospels Meant (NY: Viking) 2008, 174-178