Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 29 September 2013 – St. Vincent’s on a Mission!


26 Ordinary September 29, 2013  – St Vincent’s on a Mission!

Amos 6:1a,4-7, Psalm 146:7-10, 1 Timothy 6:19-31 and Luke 16:19-31

 The spiritual and political prophet Mohandas Ghandi once said. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Our parish is known for finding ways to advance and expand the ministry of our patron Saint Vincent de Paul in many ways. “St. Vincent’s on a Mission” is a terrific example involving over 200 adults and youths ever since June when Betsy Rowe-Manning who pastors this faith community announced the initiative.

Volunteerism is the backbone of this country. If not for volunteers many adults and children would be denied basic human rights. In 2011 according to the Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering 34.4% of all Americans and 26.5% of New York State citizens were involved in some form of volunteer program in their religious institutions. 

Some might say that volunteerism only provides temporary relief to a larger problem; that more drastic solutions are required to provide better services for people in need. The United States is a country of abundance but the distribution of our riches is out of balance; the amount of food and other resources wasted is embarrassing.

Last week in church we heard the fiery prophet Amos speak against those who took advantage of others. Today we read how he denounced privatized luxury, a criticism echoed in Psalm 146. The prophecy of Amos serves as a preface to today’s gospel. [1]

According to the story ascribed to Luke, Lazarus is down and out. He is weak, poor, homeless and hungry. The rich man on the other hand is impervious to the needs of Lazarus. He is more concerned about his own good fortune. [2] Pope Francis recently decried such apathy in our period of history as the “globalization of indifference.” The Pope said, “ We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.” 

Volunteerism is a way of recognizing and responding to the needs of others. It is to acknowledge that when laws or customs are not working they need to be fixed. One does not have to be religious to have this awareness. However for those of us who do practice a religion volunteering can take on another layer of meaning — we become ministers with others. We are all in need of others who will minister to us.

This gospel story is about reversal of fortune, a frequent literary device, but it is not intended to scare us or make us feel guilty. It is, nonetheless, a clear reminder that all baptized members of the churches, clergy and laity, are called to ministry. The liturgy is a good example of this principle. The Mass is not the private prayer of the priests; something the laity watch. It is the work of the whole church.

Active, conscious participation during liturgy means more than singing and praying together or training to serve in a liturgical ministry. It is about identifying with the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We see in ourselves how God continues to act in the world, how the message of Jesus is still a compelling one and how a holy Spirit guides us. During the liturgy we practice a way of living, connecting all of our actions here in this church with what we do out in the community.

I asked Angela Warner who organized this weekend what happens after St. Vincent’s on a Mission is over. Angela said in so many words: Our Mission doesn’t end with the parish-wide weekend of service. Service is integral to living our faith as Catholics – we live the mission; we do not just participate in it every once in a while.

Yesterday when we finished our work at the Regional Food Bank we gathered in a circle. Different parishioners spoke of what serving others meant to them. Some talked about the transformations taking place in their lives because of ministry. Others approaching retirement said they now know how to spend some of their time. Still others indicated they wanted to continue to work at the Food Bank. 

St Vincent de Paul once wrote: “Let us love God, my dear friends, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” 

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1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984) Revised Edition, 507-508.

2 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 142-144.

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Homily – 22 September 2013 – Sukkoth and Service


25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – SEPTEMBER 22, 2013

Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113:1-2,4-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and Luke 16:1-13

 With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur over our Jewish friends are now celebrating Sukkoth. It is a commemoration of their historic survival against impossible odds and their dependence on God. As the Israelites searched for a homeland they lived in temporary tents. Jews erect such huts or sukkahs during this holiday, simple in design and rich with symbolism. This holiday reminds Jews and all of us, I suspect, that possessions alone do not make us happy.

Some Jewish scholars point out a strong social justice connection with Sukkoth. Rabbi Menachem Creditor writes about mythical visitors to the sukkahs — called Ushpizen. They included a biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes and heroines. Each of these guests is a reminder of an action through which “the brokenness of our world is repaired.” [1]

We might imagine that Amos, perhaps the most provocative prophet, would be one of these visitors. He repeatedly reminded Israelites to act with justice, exercise humility and not be arrogant in their faith. During his time there was peace and prosperity in Northern Judah. However, that good life came at the expense of people who were poor and powerless. Amos, as we heard in the first reading, criticized the corrupt business practices of an emerging wealthy class. [2] (Probably something like the 1% of our time.)

The gospel of Luke picks up this message. One way to interpret this complex and often confusing story is to think of that dishonest steward as a store manager who instructs his employees not to report everything they sell thus cheating the store’s owner. Ironically the owner thought his irresponsible manager was pretty clever for finding a way to make a commission. (But, he still fired him!)

However, what makes this story hard to understand is that the dishonest manager does not take the commission after all. He thinks by impressing the workers now they might take care of him later on when he can no longer work. (He was probably worried about his pension and health insurance.) In other words, for the moment, the manager took action against his own self interests. [3] All too often the opposite happens.

Today we know that some big businesses look after themselves at the expense of their employees. Governments cut programs which serve the poorest people and then they spend the money on satisfying the agendas of political action committees. It is hard to imagine justice prevailing, rolling like a river, when some people always put their own interests ahead of everyone else. 

 Jesus tells this story to urge his disciples to be unselfish and creative, to find ways to counter injustice. What are we to do? The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council teach us that our “liturgy must lead to the creating and nourishing of a peaceful and just society.”  [4] We  do not often hear or think enough about this vital connection between worship and social action. Theologian Nathan Mitchell once explained that liturgies intend to socialize people over time into particular ways of acting and participating in the larger society. 

And, this is exactly what we are doing next weekend. “St. Vincent’s on a Mission” is designed to take us out into the community. Many of us are involved in different ministries right here in the parish, which is wonderful. However, the big challenge that comes with the sacraments of baptism and confirmation is that we also are called to minister beyond the walls of this parish, to be global citizens. 

During the past couple of days I helped lead an intensive seminar for young Jewish scholars studying to be cantors and rabbis. We also celebrated Sukkot and created a virtual sukkah filled with the stories that sustain our faith. There were stories of our parents, friends, spouses, partners and strangers. There were stories of happiness and of injustice.  A sukkah has no doors; it is a temporary shelter open to all people. (Our parish is like that. All are welcome in this place.) My friend and colleague Rabbi Larry Hoffman reminded us of something I believe we all know. The presence of God is found in each and everyone of us and that we are called to make a difference in the world.

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1 Creditor, Menachem. “Sukkot 5774” in Chag v’Chesed: Holiday Dvar Tzedek (ajws.org)

2 Tucker, G. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 1216

3 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke”s Gospel. (Collegeville: the Liturgical Press) 2000, 134

4 Weakland, R. “Revisiting Economic Justice for All” (www.commonwealmagazine.org/american-pastoral) November 13, 2012

 

 


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Homily – 8 September 2013 – What Do We Pray For?


TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – SEPTEMBER 8, 2013 – WHAT DO WE PRAY FOR?

Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90:3-6,12-14,17; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

What does God want of us? How do we know? Do we find out while praying like King Solomon did as recorded in today’s first scripture reading? What are Bashar al-Assad and Barack Obama praying for? What about us? How do we seek the counsel of God? 

Solomon was asking God about his duties as the King of Israel. He then prayed for wisdom and a holy spirit. The book of Wisdom was written by a Jew who was encouraging other Jews to take pride in their faith. The central figure in the book is Sophia, Woman Wisdom who is presented to us as a symbol of “God’s power and glory.” [1]

What a time we live in. There are so many issues to wrestle with not only in our personal lives but in our communities and around the globe. Where is God’s power and glory to be found? 

This weekend we have been asked by our bishops to pray and … take action on both the situation in Syria and immigration reform in our country. It would be easy to push these issues aside or ignore them altogether and carry on in our own worlds. Why should I care about the human rights of Syrians or Egyptians in distant lands or the human rights of women, migrants and minorities here in our country?

What did Martin Luther King Jr pray for fifty years ago? A couple of weeks ago we remembered his “I have a dream” speech.  We now know that that historic march on Washington was about freedom and equal rights for people of color and dignity for all human beings regardless of race, creed, gender or income. Things still are not right. 

The recent anniversary of the 19th amendment on Women’s Equality is another reminder of an elusive dream. It is hard  to believe that some big department stores today will not pay women the same wage that they pay men for doing the same work. 

And now this weekend we are asked to pray, to seek counsel and the wisdom of God about the conflict in Syria and our broken immigration system. What are we going to do? What do we pray for?

The gospel for today is about discipleship.  What does God ask of us? The text attributed to Luke, who never knew Jesus personally, includes two brief parables about the cost of going to war and starting something we cannot finish. The wisdom of this text may be interpreted in this way. It makes no sense to engage in war without first trying to negotiate lasting peace. It makes no sense to start a project without having a way to complete it. 

And so it is with the collective wisdom about Syria, a foreign land, and the immigration laws in our land. Regarding Syria, Pope Francis, bishop of Rome, asks us to fast, pray and act wisely so that all efforts to promote clear initiatives for peace in Syria, are always based on dialogue and negotiation. [2]

Regarding immigration. The American bishops [3] and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious also are asking us to fast, pray and act wisely to bring about a change in our attitudes about migrant workers, to foster moral courage among elected leaders as they prepare to vote, and to advocate for migrants in our own communities. [4]

It is still not too late to contact your elected leaders in the Senate and House to let them know what you think on both of these issues. 

To be a disciple of Christ is to make a commitment to work tirelessly for the common good. Last Wednesday evening here in our church Bishop Howard Hubbard inspired and challenged us. [5] He said the role of the laity, and the clergy, is not only to be involved in their own parishes but to be proactive in the larger community. This is what it means to live as a Christian, he said. That is Bishop Hubbard’s wisdom, his prayer for the church. It is ours as well.

That is why “St. Vincent’s on a Mission” is such an important program — just three weekends away. It is an invitation to spread our ministerial wings into the larger community … beyond the walls of our church buildings. We can make a difference!

For fifty years we have been saying that liturgy is the source and summit of all we do. So … we gather here every week to bless God and become mindful of each other’s needs. We do so in a spirit of humility and justice. In his prayer King Solomon wanted to know what he should do as king of Israel. Our collective prayer is a source of wisdom and power that gives us strength to make the right decisions in our lives and the lives of others. What does God want us to do?

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1 Tobin, Thomas in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1350

2 Vatican Information Service 9/6/13, Year XXII, No. 168

3 http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml

4 https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/publications/files/lcwr_newsletter_8-13.pdf

5 Speaking at the St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry Convocation, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY