Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

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Homily – Fourth Sunday of Lent – 30 March 2014 – Light and Insight

4 Lent A – March 30, 2014 – Light and Insight

1 Samuel 16:1B,6-7, 10-13A; Psalm 23:1-3A, 3B-4-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

After many years of helping Christian and Jewish congregations renovate or build their places of worship I have learned this: Where we pray shapes our prayer and how we pray shapes the way we live.

In planning for the enhancement of our church our hope is that as the building is being transformed so will we. Light is one of many important features in a house of prayer and so we are paying close attention to its power. It affects how we pray. Many religions use light in symbolic and metaphorical ways to convey the mystical actions of God. 1 Our windows and electrical lights here serve that purpose.

Lighting helps us to see one another. It focusses our attention on the font, the ambo and altar. It can highlight the art, architecture and people in our midst that we may otherwise overlook. The lighting in our church has something in common with the Word of God for today.

In John’s gospel we heard a familiar story about the man born blind. However, it is not about physical blindness or even darkness [The use of the word “darkness” as a metaphor for evil in the bible is unfortunate and should not be interpreted as having something to do with the color of one’s skin.]. Rather the gospel it is about feeling the radiant presence of God in our relationships with other people, animals and the environment.

Along with the first reading from Samuel this gospel invites us to look, listen to, touch, smell and taste the beauty and grace of God’s creation. God’s creative process is still operative. The light of the world heightens our awareness, our consciousness and attention to what is going on all around us. It may even challenge our assumptions and help us see things in new ways, ways we never thought of before.

For example, in the first reading Jesse presented the sons he thought would be best for the job of king. Samuel urged him not to be swayed by outward appearances but to look more deeply into the character of his children. In the end the young, ruddy, shepherd David gets chosen and is anointed. To be anointed is to feel the oil of gladness poured over your body and to know that you are appointed to use your gifts and resources to do good work.

At Easter our catechumens Abby, Olyvia, and Tracy and Peter, who is already baptized, will be anointed as members of our our priesthood, chosen to build up the kindom of God.

The familiar gospel story is also about finding new ways of perceiving the never ending presence of God. The text is calling us to be a community that grows in a new awareness so we do not overlook anything especially those injustices that plague us. It is a gospel that challenges us to free people from want of food and water or income equality and respect.

Parishioner Marge Addeo writes in today’s Parish Bulletin about how the dispirited woman in her story arrived at a new way of seeing because of others who cared for her. “And so, her ‘eyes opened’ a little more with each work of mercy; she began to see herself as worth loving, as deserving an end to turmoil. And, Marge also writes about her experience. “My ‘eyes opened’ to the truth that I don’t work alone; that the love of others is as essential as my efforts, that I may not get to see the happy ending, but the light I need for the next step will always be there’.” 2

The person born blind in the story was washed in the life giving waters of Siloam. That pool is a prototypical reference to baptism. The word baptism means to be immersed, to be bathed in the light of Christ. In the early church those who prepared for baptism were called enlightened ones.

Again, at our Easter Vigil, Abby, Olyvia and Tracy will be washed with water as a sign of their transformations. During that time and all through the Easter season you and I will be invited to turn up the light of Christ in our lives. When church buildings are dedicated they are called beacons on a hill — a metaphorical expression that refers to the people in the church.

Question. How do we learn to perceive, to focus on the radiant presence of Christ in our lives when many of us are so busy? This may sound mundane in light of the substance of these texts, but what about our tendency to multi-task? Research in neuroscience alleges that it is impossible for us to give complete attention to more than one thing at a time. So, here’s a challenge for the next week in Lent. Can you and I give up multi-tasking even just once a day. Maybe that moment will provide just the kind of insights reflected in Marge Addeo’s story and the scriptural texts for today.

It is so good for us to be here. If you are visiting or come to church only once in awhile know that there will always a place for you at our table.



Homily – Third Sunday of Lent – 23 March 2014 – Yearning for Living Water

Third Sunday of Lent A – March 23, 2014 – Yearning for Living Water

Exodus 17:2-7; Psalm 95:1-2,6-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

My maternal grandparents had a farm. They had cows, chickens, horses, cats, pigs and a dog named Sport. There were vast fields, a garden and an orchard. The food was always fresh and home grown. But, there was one problem. A high sulfuric content in the ground affected the taste of the water that was pumped into the farmhouse. So, there was a big tank along side the house that collected rain water from the roof. That water was used for cooking and drinking.

According to conservative statistics, one out of every six people in the world does not have access to safe drinking water. Every twenty seconds a child dies from a water related disease. According to Professor George Zacharia the water crisis is not an issue of scarcity but of access and equitable distribution in the community. [1]

Zacharia argues that water has become a commodity with a price tag. Water is auctioned to multi-national corporations to attract capital. Clean, fresh water for every human being is becoming more unattainable. The other side of the argument of course suggests that we buy water because the local water is not good. What if you cannot afford it?

Today’s scriptures are about yearning for water both real and spiritual. In the first reading we heard the story of the Israelites who hoped that God would deliver them from bondage and lead them to a land of sustenance, of milk and honey. But they found themselves stuck in the desert thirsting for water. 

They complained to Moses that God had abandoned them. God acted with compassion and water sprang miraculously from a rock. Such a restorative and creative act of God brought hope where there was desperation. According to Paul in the second passage you and I have access to this grace filled presence of God because of our faith. We are called to boast in this hope and then participate in the glory of God’s work.

The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well was not ready to boast. She was unsure of herself. Like the Israelites parched in the desert this woman, whose name was Photina, was thirsting for something that she thought spring water in the well could not give her.

As the story unfolds we find that both Jesus and Photina were helpful to each other. Both were thirsty. He did not mistreat her because she was a woman, a Samaritan, or because of her past. Rather, he engaged her in a conversation that inevitably offered new possibilities for both of them.

Natural water is essential for our physical bodies. The living water that Jesus spoke of is good for the soul. The soul needs the body and the body needs a mind. They are all connected and essential for developing our full potential as human beings. We need both kinds of water in order to survive and grow.

Today we celebrate the first scrutiny of our catechumens Olyvia, Tracey and Abbey. Called the Elect of God they are chosen by God to participate in God’s work of restoring the planet, animals and humankind so that all people would be free from any want. In a few weeks these Elect will be baptized in living water, water that satisfies their physical, cognitive and spiritual yearnings … water that we believe brings hope in place of despair.

To  accompany them on their journeys is also to awaken ourselves to our own yearnings and our own possibilities. What if we pay attention to our use of water this week? What if we note how much we use or waste; how much we buy? What changes in our consumption of water would whet our thirst for transformation in our own lives?

It is so good for us to be here today. If you are visiting or come to church only once in awhile, know that there will always be a place for you at our table.


1.  Zacharia is professor of theology and ethics at United Theological College in Bangalore India


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Homily – First Sunday of Lent – 9 March 2014 – Freedom from Want: A Human Right

First Sunday of Lent A – March 9, 2014 – Freedom from Want: A Human Right

Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

In his state of the union address in 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed four freedoms that people everywhere ought to enjoy: freedom of speech and worship and freedom from fear and want. His address proposed that the United States abandon its isolationist policy established after World War I. He described “freedom from want” in global terms where every nation ought to provide economic security for its inhabitants.”

During this Lenten season our parish has adopted a service initiative called “Freedom from Want.”  It is designed to help us grow closer to people in our community who want for food, shelter, a sense of belonging, compassion, healing and friendship. We are all invited to participate in this activity in some way.

Freedom from want. What do we want out of life? What is it that will free us up, help us reach our full potential? For some it may be it respect, equality, a chance to get ahead, freedom from slavery. For others it may be an education, a path to citizenship, a job. For still others it may be finding their own voice, feeling better about themselves, who they and what they do … without worrying what other people think about them, without feeling inferior. All people, however, want access to basic freedoms like food, water and shelter.

The focus of our “Freedom from Want” initiative is hunger. Fifty million Americans, including 17 million children—struggle to put food on the table. In this country, hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty and greed. One in seven people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half are children. One in every two babies born in the United States is enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC).

These statistics help us connect with today’s biblical texts and the challenge to bring about freedom from want. The story from Genesis is about Adam and Eve and us. We cannot blame either Adam or Eve for what is wrong in the world. God’s creativity provided everything we need to live well and peacefully. But, Adam and Eve wanted more and gave in to the voice of temptation.

We like to remember we are made in the image and likeness of God. But we sometimes forget who we are as Christians and what our obligations are in the world. It is understandable that we are preoccupied with our own welfare — looking after our children, putting food on our tables. Have we been called to find a way to do something a little extra to take care of others?

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus never forgets who he is; he does not lose his identity, or his self definition. This is what made it possible for Jesus to say “no” to the voices of temptation. Knowing who we are is very important. Walter Brueggeman explained this gospel story as a meditation on the practice of faithful living.

Jesus was prepared to confront the tempting voices that promised a life of protection, food and leadership. He remembered what he was taught as a young Jewish boy and chose to be still long enough to listen and be obedient to the voice of God and none other.  [1]  In doing so he became our model for Christian living. We often say Jesus came to redeem us from the sins of humanity. We could also say he came to restore God’s original idea expressed in creation: all human beings, animals, the planet itself, could live in a harmonious way.

The Lenten season is not about what we do or don’t do. It is about the work of Christ in our lives – in a holy Spirit. [2] As we prepare for Easter can we slow down our pace, be still for awhile and listen for the voices of the good spirits in life? Can we find the energy to ward off the bad spirits? 

We are not alone in this task. Other Christian churches and other faith traditions are doing their part. And, in our church new members continue to find hospitality and nourishment in this faith community. In the Cathedral this afternoon our catechumens Olyvia, Tracy and Abigail will take part in the Rite of Election. Peter, who is already baptized, will participate in the Call to Ongoing Conversion. We stand by these women and men as they come closer to communion with us. Inspired by their vibrant faith, we recommit ourselves to listen to the word of God, to overrule the voices of evil and to respond to the cries of those people who want freedom from want.

It is good for us to be here this morning. If you are visiting for the first time, or if you come only once in awhile, know that there will always be “a place at the table” for you. [3]


1. Florence, Anna C. (Ed.) Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggeman (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011) p. 38-39

2. Guerric DeBona.Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal (Collegeville: Liturgical Press 2013) 60

3. The  film “A Place at the Table” was shown after the liturgy today.