Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 17 August 2014 – Who Gets Saved?


20 Sunday Ordinary Time – August 17, 2014 – Who Gets Saved?

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8; Romans 11:13-15,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Last month I was asked to lead prayers at the wake of my cousin’s funeral. She was a 26 year old nurse who was killed in an automobile accident. I was uncertain if she went to church or even practiced any religion. Her long time boyfriend told me, “we never talked about God.”

I do not know if my cousin believed in God but as I read today’s biblical texts the question still lingers with me. The passage from the third part of Isaiah, attributed to a post Exilic prophet, offers some help. Those who maintain justice, love God, become God’s servant, keep the Sabbath and hold to God’s covenant will be brought to the holy mountain, a place we call heaven.

At the end of the passage it says that God’s house is a house for all peoples, everywhere, regardless of background.The author here means that the invitation to salvation is open to everyone. However, we have to ask, if it means you must abide by certain rules or be a member of a certain faith tradition will some people be left out?

In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans saying he was happy in his work — making the Gentiles envious of the Jews so that they would do what it takes to enter salvation. After all God has mercy on all people. But do you have to practice a certain religion?

In the gospel we heard a story about a Canaanite woman who pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter. The Canaanites, we recall, were considered outsiders by the Israelites. Jesus said he couldn’t help her because his job was to save only the lost sheep of Israel. The woman persisted out of love for her daughter. In the end the story shifts our attention away from the miracle and focuses on the Canaanite woman’s faith in Jesus. [1] Her daughter was healed.

So who gets saved? Is faith in God or membership in a particular religion necessary? We have often heard that you have to accept Christ as your savior and be baptized in order to be saved. What about those people who do not talk about God, pray to God, or even believe in God? What will happen to them? If Christianity is the only road to salvation what will happen to our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu friends? The Catholic church “rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” [2]

T. M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford, in a recent article made reference to the “boggle threshold” — a concept introduced by British historian Renée Haynes. The boggle threshold is the level above which we cannot comprehend something when faced with some new fact, report or idea.  [3] You know the expression, “it boggles my mind!” 

Often we believe things because we are products of a local culture or religion. For example, we believe in a God who had a human son whom God allows to be killed on a cross. We accept this narrative even though it boggles our minds. And, given all we know about the universe, can we believe in a geographic location called heaven? It boggles the mind.

Lurhmann goes on to suggest that when we start to think about what is plausible and what is not rational we establish our own beliefs and become more confident in them. Further, she writes, once we assert a belief we are then willing to commit to another. One belief builds on another. If God created all of us we wonder then how could that same God not save all of what God created?

Maybe my deceased cousin and her boyfriend never talked about God. I am still not sure if she even believed in God. So, is she saved? Is she in a heavenly place? We may never find answers to these questions. Still they are good questions.

At the wake countless nurses from three counties joined many others in offering sympathy to my cousin’s parents, her siblings and boyfriend. They all said she was a wonderful nurse who cared lovingly for her patients as she did for her family and friends. In the end, maybe that is all that really matters. As the text from Isaiah states, maintain justice, do what is right and salvation will come.

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1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 169-171

2 Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions October 28, 1965, No. 2

3 Luhrmann, TM. “Where Reason Ends and Faith Begins” in The New York Times,  July 26, 2014. 

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Homily – 10 August 2014 – “Do Not Be Afraid”


19 Sunday Ordinary Time – August 10, 2014 – “Do Not Be Afraid!”

1Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85:9-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

When reading about the stormy weather in today’s biblical texts these words of the poet Rod McKuen came to mind, “How can we be sure of anything? … The sea sends sailors crashing on the rocks, as easily as it guides them safely home. I love the sea but it doesn’t make me less afraid of it.”  [1]

Peter and the apostles must have had a sinking feeling when the squall came up on the Sea of Galilee. Although most of the apostles, except for Mary Magdalen, were fishermen and loved the water, it did not make them less afraid of it.

This section of Matthew’s gospel draws our attention to the demands of discipleship emphasized in Peter’s confession of faith. Some say the boat is a metaphor for the church and the storm symbolizes the persecutions experienced by Jewish Christians — Matthew’s target audience.

In the story Jesus has a calming effect on the storm and those in the boat. The author reckoned that the belief of the early Christians in Christ as a savior would sustain them in their persecutions.

We who are the baptized members of the church, as disciples of Christ, are called to have a calming effect on today’s turmoils. This is a familiar and nagging challenge for us. Many of us ourselves need help in addressing our own problems and fears. Where are we to find the strength to help others?

We have only some control over the forces of nature. We can do some things to arrest global warming and the depletion of natural resources, for example. But when winds, rains, fires grow in enormous proportions lives are lost and dreams are destroyed. On another level it is even harder to imagine what we can do to settle international conflicts.

Where do we find hope in our efforts which sometimes feel so impotent? Perhaps it takes persistence. I heard from my cousin last week who after 41 years of living with his partner was finally able to marry him. Who would have thought just several years ago that that wedding would ever be possible? Other examples of progress are innumerable. Our attention to such unimaginable possibilities like this one can fuel our enthusiasm, calm our fears, give us courage.

Our church over the centuries has maintained a steady and usually reliable course. Today by many accounts, however, it is a ship in troubled waters. We have not reached calm seas on many issues: married clergy, women deacons and priests, shared authority at top levels of decision making, trusting the consciences of it members and incompetence in leadership roles.

Above all, how does our church prepare for the stormy weather in the forecast? How do we reach disenfranchised Millennial and Pluralist generations? How do we plan for a greater shortage of priests? How do we break the chains that continue to moor our church in safe harbors, a church often afraid to jump into the waters much less sail the high seas.

The first reading implies that God is not found in these storms. Instead they are indications of how God works in our lives. God is found in the aftermath of the storms — whatever it is that frightened us to death. The revelation of God in our lives is ever evolving. Our collective awareness of new epiphanies sustains us and gives us courage. There is no one way to understand how God works. We do believe God continues to speak to us. Psalm 85 that we sang this morning challenges us to be still enough to hear the soft, comforting words of God.

Maybe for this week you and I can take time to notice what is stirring in our lives that requires acting beyond our fears. Maybe there is something that is challenging us to take a bold step forward in the face of those fears. Just maybe this is the time to let go of whatever it is that holds us back so that we can chart a course forward trusting that the God of all creation will guide us safely home.

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1 McKuen, Rod. FOURTEEN/The Storm Continue reading