Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 30 June 2013 – I’ve Got Something For You To Do


Ordinary 13C – June 30 , 2013 – I’ve Got Something for You To Do

1 Kgs 19:16b,19-21; Psalm 16:1-2,5, 7-11; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

 As you know during the past week the Supreme Court of the United States limited the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act and then declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. How could the same Court have done both? 

In the gospel reading today the disciples who followed Jesus of Nazareth, who taught them to show compassion for everyone, wanted to destroy the people of a village in Samaria. How could the disciples have wanted to do both? We will come back to this question in a moment.

Orthodox Rabbi Brad Hirschfield said that the Supreme Court, which is an imperfect institution, actually voted for equality in both cases. According to the rabbi the Court is saying that all people should be treated the same no matter who they are or where they live. 

Most polls and studies do show that acceptance of same sex marriage is increasing in this country suggesting there is support for the Court’s decision. What a timely act for the LGBTQ community which celebrates Gay Pride Sunday today. 

On the other hand most polls and studies indicate that although much progress has been made, racism and classism still exist in this country. This implies that the Court was wrong to rule against Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Perhaps this country has not changed that much since 1965. Minority groups still face prejudice and suspicion and the gap between wealthy and poor Americans continues to widen.

There are probably different opinions about these Court decisions in this congregation. So, we ask the question: What do you and I understand about the gospel for today? 

If we were to sum up the basic teaching of Jesus of Nazareth what would we say it is? The answer in part is found in the second passage from the Letter to the Galatians. Love God and your neighbor as yourself. This is not an easy thing to do. And, if we accept that challenge to love without compromise, Jesus would also say, pick up the cross and follow me. 

Last week we discussed that picking up the cross means embracing what it symbolizes — the injustices and sufferings in the world and to do our best to eradicate those evils. This week the gospel shows just how difficult it is to carry that cross.

According to the story Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and had this eerie feeling that death awaited him there. He and his entourage were passing through the region of Samaria. His advance team learns that Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village and so the disciples wanted to destroy it. Jesus scolded them for even thinking about that.

The story goes on. As they take another route the disciples pledge their loyalty to Jesus. One disciple asks if she could go and say good bye to her parents first. Jesus surprised her with an answer similar to the one we heard in the first reading. Let the dead bury the dead. Now what could he possibly have meant by that riddle? One interpretation is this: “I have something very important for you to do.” “Are you serious about accepting this responsibility?” “If so, leave everything and everyone behind. Let’s go forward, let’s not look back!”

Jesus was saying that helping and treating one another equally is our top priority, above all else. According to John Pilch, this story about the hatred between Jews and Samaritans in today’s gospel presents a challenge for contemporary American believers: “should we allow cultural and historical differences to divide us?” [1]

That is why both actions of the Supreme Court are significant for us. Treating one another equally is not easy. We also heard in the second reading that Christ set us free and we should not submit to any sort of slavery. That is our inheritance (Ps 16). But finding that freedom to live as free persons is difficult. You and I may not be imprisoned in anyway but there are many others out there who are.

As we get ready to celebrate Independence Day this week it is a good time, once again, to read the Declaration of Independence. Here’s a famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The Word of God said this a long time ago!

Last November, Bill Moyers gave a paper called “The Religion of Inequality” where he stated, “The gods of the religion of inequality have failed. They are false gods. Once we admit this, Moyers said, we can get on with the work of liberating the country we carry in our hearts.” [2]

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1 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1997) pp. 103-105.

2 Moyers, Bill. “The Religion of Inequality” Forrest Church Lecture Series, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY 11/12/12, p. 15

 

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Homily – 23 June 2013 – Shoes and the Cross


Ordinary 12C – June 23, 2013 – Shoes and the Cross

Zechariah  12:10-11,13:1, Psalm  63:2,  3-6,  8-9; Galatians  3:26-29; Luke  9:18-24

Please take a moment to look at your shoes, sandals, sneaks. Could you ever imagine not having any shoes? Not even owning one pair?  You may be familiar with Blake Mykoskie the entrepreneur who founded TOMS (short for “tomorrow’s shoes”). I heard Mykoskie give a motivational address at a convention of architects last week.  

After trying four different business adventures Mykoskie took some time off and visited impoverished areas in Argentina. There he learned that children could not go to school unless they wore shoes. This meant barefooted children in households that could not afford shoes would not get an education much less play safely in their neighborhoods. 

Blake decided to do something about it and came up with an idea: how about designing low cost shoes and give away one pair for every pair purchased from the company? Since then 10 million pairs of shoes have been given away to children in Argentina and elsewhere. More recently, for every pair of TOMS eyeglasses purchased one pair will be given to someone who cannot afford glasses. Also, there are resources to pay for cataract operations.

I found myself thinking about Mykoskie’s story while trying to make some sense of today’s gospel. What does this line mean? “If anyone wishes to come after me, he/she must deny himself/herself and take up the cross and follow me.” Perhaps there is a connection between shoes and the cross.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth requires effort. It is not easy. He was an unusual Jewish layman who walked humbly and lived simply. He had no ambitions of becoming a king or starting a religion. For Jesus the cross was a cruel punishment for challenging corrupt religious leaders, breaking cultural boundaries and promoting new laws and lifestyles. It was a death penalty.

For contemporary Christians the idea of taking up a cross is strange. Christians do wonderful things but who really wants to die for even a noble idea? Developing a personal relationship with a loving, forgiving, wonder working Jesus is more palatable, easier. So what does the cross mean for us in the 21st century? Is it just a reminder of what Jesus endured? How can we embrace it?

The cross for us is a standard, a sign. It represents the sufferings and inequities, the dirty feet in an impoverished world — bare feet that deny opportunities to advance. But, the cross, we believe, has a dual identity. An empty cross means that evil, suffering, death can be eradicated. The cross can be a new pair of shoes that takes people to places of opportunity, where a person’s dignity and rights are honored. It is a crossroads that can lead people to new directions.

Traditionally, we Catholics fixate on the crucifix. We say the death of Jesus saved us. However, the empty cross presents us with with another challenge. As we heard in the reading from the letter to the Galatians, united by our faith, our baptism, the cross invites us to work together to transcend all barriers of nationality, race, social standing, and gender. [1]

We try hard to practice this message in this parish. You have heard about “St Vincent’s on a Mission” — it is the theme of our parish-wide weekend of service — September 28-29, 2013.  This year each one of us will be invited to get involved in a new ministry. In doing we hope to make a difference not only in our church but also in our local communities.

To claim that Jesus of Nazareth and his Spirit are the revelations of God to be imitated is not to be thought of as an easy pathway to heaven. Rather, it is a bold acclamation that we are ready and willing to take up the mission of Jesus of Nazareth that is still unfinished. Author Michael Benedikt suggests God is the good we do. [2]

Putting shoes on bare footed children living in places where there are few opportunities to advance is one example of how humans are capable of doing good for others. 

Blake Mykoskie never once mentioned religion or faith during his talk. He did tell the story of two brothers in Argentina. The older one had shoes and went to school. The younger one did not. The older brother decided to share his shoes so his kid brother could go to school. They took turns going to classes every other day. That is one good example of what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus of Nazareth. I do not know about you, but, every time I put on a pair of shoes or sneakers, I will think of the cross.

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1 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today ((Revised Edition), Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 pp. 478-480

2 Michael Benedikt, God is The Good We Do. Theology of Theopraxy (New York: Botting Books) 2007

 


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Homily – 2 June 2013 – The Body & Blood of Christ – Feed Them Yourselves!


Body & Blood of Christ – June 2, 2013 – Feed Them Yourselves!

Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

“They all ate and were satisfied.” Each year we hear different ways to interpret this text. Recently I came across a story about bonobos. Bonobos are like chimpanzees only smaller and more slender. They are among the closest primates to humans. I learned that Bonobos gladly will share their food with strangers and even give up their own meal when a stranger responds socially. [1]

Today is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. An Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liége, lobbied for the feast in the 13th century (c. 1264 CE). At that time adoring the eucharist was more important than sharing the eucharist. The priest was thought to have enormous power because he alone could turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The people gazed at the sacrament with awe.

Medieval philosophers and theologians debated over when and how the bread and wine is changed. Although the word transubstantiation was used as early as the 12th century the action was not defined as a doctrine until the 16th century. 

The readings from the book of Genesis and Psalm 110 today are important in understanding how celebrating the eucharist as a sacrifice became the prerogative of the clergy. These texts are the only references in the Old Testament to King Melchizedek of Salem. In Genesis he exchanges gifts with Abraham who just returned from battle. Most scholars think these verses are not the work of the primary sources for Genesis. [2]

Catholic priests are ordained into the order of Melchizedek – a priesthood that is considered eternal. But, interestingly, Melchizedek did not have a priestly lineage. Scholars do not know where he came from or how long he lived. In Psalm 110, according to Reginald Fuller, “Melchizedek is taken as the prototype of the priest-king. The author of Hebrews takes up this psalm because it enables him to develop his own teaching on Christ’s high priesthood.” [3]

In the Letter to the Hebrews Jesus is presented as the new Melchizedek, an eternal high priest who offered himself, not animals, as a sacrifice. Some believe that this Letter was written by an unknown author to appease Christian Jews who longed for the sacrificial acts of their ancestral priests. 

Jesus, however, was not a priest. He was a Jewish layman. He did not belong to the Levitical tribe of priests. He never offered sacrifices in the Temple and in fact he was critical of a corrupt priesthood of his time. What he did do was eat meals with all kinds of people — with his family and friends, strangers, misfit disciples and social outcasts. In doing so he embodied what he stood for — treat all people equally and eradicate injustice. We memorialize his actions whenever we gather to celebrate the eucharist, which, we believe is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In the post New Testament period the leader of the community was accepted as the presider of the eucharist. Later, only bishops who were the overseers in communities, and then other elders called priests, assumed the authority to preside at the eucharist. 

By the mid second century the liturgy was believed to be a sacrificial act. Ordained men continued to preside in the person of Christ. The laity were no longer involved in various ministries according to their gifts. They became spectators which was, in part, what paved the way for adoring the sacrament they were no longer sharing. 

In today’s gospel when the disciples tell Jesus the crowd has nothing to eat, he tells them, “Give them some food yourselves!” Then the miracle took place. Just like the bonobos the people shared their food with strangers. There is the lesson for us. The eucharist is something we do together. It is what we are together. Fuller again: “We generally think of the last supper as the institution of the Eucharist … the New Testament sees two further bases for the rite — the meals of the earthly Jesus with his followers and the appearance meals after the resurrection.” [4] 

The eucharist is not just about the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which we believe. It is also about our transformation. The mystery of faith is found in the church. We are called to share our resources, even giving up our own assets and supplies, so others can share in the favors, the graces, the gifts of God. 

The role of the priest then is not to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ as if it were some solitary mystical magical act. Our role is to gather people of faith into the body and blood of Christ, to build up the church so we can bring justice to the world. It follows logically that all baptized persons share in this ministry. A priest cannot do it alone. As the late Father Andrew Greeley once wrote, even though the priest is the one who presides at eucharist, “the priest is not necessarily better than anyone else.”  [5]

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1 Bhanoo, Sindya. “Milk of Human Kindness Also Found in Bonobos.” The New York Times, 01/07/13, D3

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

3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 444-46, 59.

4 Fuller. Ibid.

5 Greeley, Andrew. The Catholic Imagination. (Berkeley; University of California Press) 2000, 149