Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 26 May 2013 – Trinity Sunday – A Community of Equals


Trinity Sunday – May 26, 2013 – A Community of Equals

Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

This is the season for life cycle celebrations: baptisms, communions, confirmations and graduations. This past Friday I attended my niece’s high school commencement. The students speaking on behalf of the class each thanked the parents and teachers for the privilege of getting the gift of a good education. And, interestingly, they also challenged their classmates not to forget their responsibility for other persons who do not have adequate resources in their lives.

Today we celebrate God as a holy Trinity. As I listened to the graduation speakers I thought why have we made the Trinity such a big mystery. This morning I invite all of us to put away the triangles and the shamrocks, the tools we have used to try to grasp the presence of God in our lives. Let us see if we can expand our thinking about the Trinity. 

The definition of the Trinity was finally confirmed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. (The Council of Nicea, 325 CE, first addressed the doctrine, in part, to counter the heresy of Arius who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.) But where did the idea of a triune God originate? The Old Testament speaks of God in pluralistic ways. In this morning’s reading from the Book of Proverbs God is understood as wisdom. This concept was familiar in mythology and later would be use to express God’s presence in the Word and Spirit. Other images in the bible present God as a mid-wife, mother, a warrior, navigator, lover. 

There are ample references in the New Testament to God as Father, Son and Spirit but not as the Trinity defined later in history. The author of today’s gospel calls attention to the relationship that Jesus had with his Father and the Spirit; that they were one. It is important to note also that although Jesus related to God as a Father figure, God is seldom assigned a particular gender in doctrinal circles. [1]

Why is God a trinity? Our faith tradition like some others believes that God is the creator of everything. From the outset God is involved in a relationship with nature and humanity. Logically then, all humans, all creatures and the environment embody this relationship. It is like kinship in a family where all members love and care for each other.

The story of salvation history is filled also with episodes of trust and mistrust, success and failure, solidarity and division. Along the way prophets announced that a savior would arrive to deliver the people from oppression and poverty. For Christians Jesus is this liberator, the wisdom of God revealed. Every relationship depends on loyalty, protection and the willingness to rescue the other in times of affliction.

The early Christians did not worry about defining God in trinitarian terms. They were more concerned about survival and relationships; how they were to stick together in times of transition, joy and trouble. Today we worry about how our children will manage in the world and make decisions about their lives. How will we stand by them and each other. The inner spirit of Jesus the Christ impressed the early Christians and stuck with them. This same spirit, found deep inside each one of us, nourishes and sustains us in a holy and sacred way.

There is a verse in one of our songs today that illustrates the son of God as the “Lover’s own beloved.” St Augustine (354-430) used the expression long ago when he described the Trinity in terms of the Lover, the Beloved and the Love which exists between them. 

This relationship is a model for the way the church functions in the world. God loves the evolutionary process, the development of creation. Jesus exemplified that love as he championed diverse peoples without compromise. That spirit of Christ is enkindled in the people of God, the church.

At the graduation the other day something unexpected happened. Before getting their diplomas the graduates left the stage to give their parents or guardians a handwritten note thanking them for their love and support. The relationship between the students and their parents expressed in this unusual graduation ritual was palpable. In that moment you could feel a holy spirit in that place.

The triune God need not be such a mystery in life. Vast textbooks try to explain and explore its meaning. It is not about trying to connect with or receive something from a distant God. It is about naming and sustaining our relationships with each other and with those in desperate need and recognizing God in those moments. In the words of Barbara DiTommaso, Director of our Diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice, we might think of the triune God as “a community of equals” to which we belong.

_____

1. See Platte, Daniel (Ed.). The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 2012, 1251

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Homily – 19 May 2013 – Pentecost Sunday – The Fire in Our Bellies


Pentecost May 19, 2013 – The Fire in Our Bellies

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 14:15-16, 23b-26

The table was set for the feast. As was the custom in this ancient village a parent said to one of the children “go into the street and find a poor person and invite him or her to join us for supper.” The child went out and came back crying saying one of the neighbors was murdered. Before tasting any food the parents of the household sprang up from their table to help others bury the victim. Afterwards everyone returned to the table and ate the cold festive meal in sadness. 

The village was Nineveh. The parent was Tobit, a pious Israelite. The festival was Pentecost, a Greek word meaning the Feast of Weeks. It was originally known as Shavuot, a time to remember when God gave the Israelites laws on Mount Sinai. Jews celebrated Shavuot last week. 

Our story of Pentecost conjures up images of wind, fire and the gift of tongues. David Henson wrote, “On Pentecost, God gives divine voice to the languages of a bunch of nobodies and a crowd of commoners. It is an act of liberation, both for humankind and for God.” [1]

Pentecost ushered in a new age of hope for all peoples. The spirit of God broke language barriers, blew down walls of division and opened up doors of justice. It was a terrifying but strangely comforting declaration that things would be different after Jesus the anointed one. There would be a sweet spirit in the house of God that would make all of us rise up from our tables of plenty to reach and out and serve others. 

But where is that spirit today? The evils that Jesus worked to erase still haunt us. Patricia Chappel, Executive Director of Pax Christi, wrote “Pentecost People are deeply disturbed … confronting the devastating violence that we see daily because of a lust for greed and dominance over others.” [2]

Speaking at Spring Enrichment last week Fr. Anthony Gittens, CSsP, believes that the spirit is weak today because we expect God to solve our problems and that we have forgotten our dignity and our calling to be disciples. Gittens said the spirit inspires but also disturbs us. It moves us out of our comfort zones. Indeed. Tobit’s family feast at Pentecost was interrupted by tragedy in the neighborhood and they responded. Who has that spirit today?

Today’s second reading was addressed to early Christians who met regularly in their homes but came together weekly for worship and a covered dish supper. They often argued over issues of power and control; who had the better gifts and talents. The disciple Paul reminded them that the spirit of God is given to each person. 

The late John Kavanaugh wrote that this holy spirit is not found in one place, one group or one person. It does not reside only in laws, sanctuaries, hierarchies, sacraments, scriptures, or people who are rich or poor, powerful or weak. [3]

 No. The spirit of Christ cannot be contained. No one — no bishop, no priest, deacon or even a parish life director can give the spirit to us as if it were a commodity. The spirit of God is given at birth. It is given to all creatures by God to be developed.

This ever evolving spirit will continue to growl and grow inside everyone of us until at last all are transformed, liberated from whatever holds us down. You can ignore it but you cannot avoid it. If you are having a difficult time in life for whatever reason dig deeply until you find that inner, holy spirit and you will be lifted up. That spirit will challenge us to change as quickly as it loves and sustains us. How can you and I tap into the spirit dwelling within us, to develop ourselves, to work together for the common good?

Before leaving the disciples, Jesus urged them to remember everything he taught them. He said they would soon get some help (an advocate) so they could cultivate his spirit within themselves. The holy spirit Jesus spoke of was the fire raging in his belly, the same fire entrusted to us to keep burning inside ourselves. It’s the bright light of the risen Christ. 

[This is why we are so happy for our young children who will share the eucharist with us for the first time on this Pentecost day. At this banquet they are nourished by the holy spirit, the body of Christ, this spirited people of God. We pray they will mature in that spirit and someday, as teenagers, confirm that they too have abundant gifts and talents.]

Pentecost is a feast of endless possibilities and discoveries. It is a time to thank God for the laws by which we try to live justly and humbly; it is a time to give back to God the fruits of the earth. It is a memorial of the spirit that possessed Jesus … one that can still challenge, disturb and inspire you and me. 

_______

1 Henson, David. “The Divine Protest of Pentecost” http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2013-05/divine-protest-pentecost

2 Chappel, Patricia. “Pentecost: A Feast of Listening and a Celebration of Witness” Pax Christi Letter, May 2013

3 Kavanaugh, John. The Word Engaged: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures (Maryknoll: Orbis Books) 1997. 72-74.


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Homily – 5 May 2013 – Journeys of Hope


6 Easter – May 5, 2013  – Journeys of Hope

Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Psalm 67:2-3,5,6,8; Rev 21:10-14,22-23; John 14:23-29

We are a lot alike our friends in the animal kingdom who forage for food and seek shelter. We humans are constantly on the move. From the time we are born until the day we die we keep planning ahead trying to figure which way to go, how to find the pleasant roads and avoid the perilous ones. Some trips are rewarding and relaxing while others are dangerous and risky.

Two weeks ago I attended a play called La Ruta. It was about migrants from Mexico crossing the border into the United States. Our small audience was herded into a dark, long, narrow trailer. The play gave us a momentary glimpse of the anxieties of immigrants. With them we feared and reviled the mean-spiritedness of the coyote (someone who traffics people) and the indifference of the driver who called all of us “cargo.” We experienced the humiliation of border crossers who according to drama critic, Daniel Gold, were “frantic enough to risk everything for a better life.” [1]

Last week a PBS program on immigration, The Undocumented, reminded us that thousands do not finish the journey. It reported the stories of families of border crossers. With the help of volunteers they search for the remains of loved ones who died following their dreams of living in a promised land, like our ancestors did. 

Since Easter Sunday this year we have been listening to biblical texts about the journeys of people in the formative years of the church. Paul, Barnabas and others traveled far and wide to evangelize people. These scriptures are records of endurance and dreams, of debates and compromises, of trust in God and one another. 

For example, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a companion to the Gospel of Luke, we heard about the controversy over whether or not non-Jewish converts to Christianity had to be circumcised. The conference ended in a compromise. The Gentiles did not have to be circumcised like the Jews but they were obliged to observe a number of laws. [2]

How has the word of God and our liturgical celebrations this Easter season helped us chart a new course in our lives? How have they assisted us in walking with each other, dealing with issues that confront us? La Ruta, the drama about the dangerous journeys of immigrants, changed my understanding of migrant workers. I am an interested reader about immigration. Now I am searching for ways to become more proactive. 

I was also struck by the faith of the families of deceased border crossers depicted in that PBS documentary. They seemed to hold on to a trust in God even as they buried the bodies of their relatives. Perhaps this morning’s Psalm 67 was on their lips, “May your way be known upon earth, so all nations may know salvation.” Still, a pall of fear and uncertainty defines the lives of so many people on this planet. Those who participate in today’s Albany CROP Hunger Walk are doing their part to feed countless families around the world.

In the gospel of John today, Jesus is saying goodbye to friends and followers. It must have been a sad time. After all he was their sage, their mentor. Gurus in many religions are traditionally thought of as manifestations of God. Jesus promises the frightened, despairing disciples that a new spirit will energize them, pick them up, send them forward.

He was urging them to claim their own inner authority — a holy spirit.  Often we are so busy figuring out our physical and mental journeys we give less thought to the development of our spiritual ones. They just might be the tickets we need to give us a new sense of direction in whatever we do.

As we move through this Easter season, challenged by God’s word, we search for ways to trust in God and one another. Like the immigrants of today, the early Christians persevered in their belief that the road they were on, although not always clear or straight, was indeed the way to freedom and justice. Let us keep that path open for all of God’s creatures — ourselves and others we do not know.

___

1 Gold, Daniel M. “Smuggling A Captive Audience Across a Border” in The New York Times (April 27, 2013) C7

2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1984 Second Edition. 434-435