Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 26 October 2014 – The Priesthood We Share


30 Ordinary Time A – 26 October 2014 – The Priesthood We Share

Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3.3-4.47.51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Today in the United States we are encouraged to speak about the priesthood and the calling that priests have. Some would say the shortage of priests in our Diocese and elsewhere is bad news and it is. There are many reasons for the lack of vocations and why the ministerial priesthood is not open to more members of the church. The good news, however, is that there are about 330,000 Catholics in our Diocese who are also members of the priesthood of Christ.

I would like to focus our attention on the priesthood of the faithful, how the ministerial priest, usually referred to as the ordained priest, fits into the larger family of God and how our renovated place of worship is designed to be a celebration of the priesthood we all share.

There is only one priest, Jesus Christ. This priesthood is to be transmitted to the entire church, the people of the new covenant, you and me. All who are baptized and anointed in the spirit are members of this priesthood. Although there are diverse ministries and talents in the priesthood we share there “exists a true equality among all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ.”  [1]

“The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood differ essentially and not only in degree … are none the less ordered one to another; [since] each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ”. However, “the essential difference between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood is not found in the priesthood of Christ. Further, ministerial priests do not possess a greater degree of holiness when compared to other members of the church. ” [2]

Ministerial priests are called in the Spirit to assist the people of God in exercising the common priesthood which the Church has received.” [3] The ministerial priesthood is always at the service of the common priesthood. It is in this sense that we priests are different. Not that you cannot do it, our specific job description is to model for the entire church a ministry of service, worship and teaching. This is why it is upsetting to us when some priests commit crimes.

The Catholic religion by its nature is a hierarchical religion. We are organized under and with our bishops who are our chief shepherds, our chief teachers, in matters of faith and morals. Nevertheless, listening to and working with you are essential characteristics of the ministerial priesthood in the Church. Further, the understanding of how God works in our lives is not reserved to the ministerial priesthood. We do not have all the answers. The ongoing revelation of God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth is something we all share in different ways, under different circumstances.

How do we all practice the priesthood? As we know, the Vatican Two Council, recovered many of the ministries once shared by members of the church. These different ministries became obscured and clericalized over the centuries. What we do together out in the vineyard is a good example. Visiting the homebound, working in the food pantry, teaching catechism to our children, ministering to prisoners are some of the ways we can serve others. 

What we do together while here in church is also important. Readers, acolytes, musicians, servers, singers, ministers of communion, ushers and greeters and everyone else in the assembly all carry out a ministry during Mass. There are no spectators. It can be said that you the church celebrate the liturgy with your priests. The priest does not say Mass for you. How we learn to worship together matters a great deal. But, how we learn to worship together takes time.

Our renovated place of worship, which we will return to next weekend, is a celebration of our common priesthood. The new arrangement of our seats in concentric circles and the location of our ritual furnishings — font, altar, ambo — will serve to enhance all of our ministerial roles. In time these spatial modifications will transform us, the way we worship God and treat each other.

The thousands of stars in the ceiling will help us remember we are part of God’s incredible cosmic enterprise and that we are caretakers of the environment and every creature in it. The baptismal area is a reminder of our initiation into this church. It is the place where we are baptized as prophets and priests! The eight new icons of the saints, chosen by you, will help us recall that we are part of a larger family of God, both living and deceased. 

The centralized platform in the middle of our sanctuary will call our attention to the sacramental actions we carry out together. We will be gathered like a family around the altar table. That altar is venerated because it is a symbol of Jesus Christ whose priesthood we share and who is the high priest of every Mass. The crucifix will be in our midst to help us embrace the suffering and the hope it symbolizes.

The message in today’s readings from Exodus and the gospel of Matthew invites us to think about inclusion and compassion. The Old Testament passage is taken from a code of ethics dealing with social conduct. It calls us to practice a way of living based on tenderness and tolerance for one another and strangers especially underprivileged persons.  [4] This reading is poignant today as we read about the rejection of children crossing our southwestern borders seeking opportunities for survival. It is so hard to believe how some Americans reject these children as if they were dangerous aliens.

The gospel helps us remember that we cannot love God and not love our neighbor. That spirit, that law, is the foundation for the priesthood you and I share. If there is a gift that we Catholics can give to the world it is exercising the priesthood you and I share for the sake of others. 

As we return to our renewed place of worship next weekend let us recall a line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (NRSV 3:28) – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you [us] are one in Christ Jesus.“ This line from scripture conveys what we distinctly know about the priesthood of Christ — treating each other with dignity, equality and respect inside and outside our church walls. 

In my work I frequently have used the following statement about our places of worship and I believe it. “Where we pray shapes our prayer. How we pray shapes the way we live.

_____________

1 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,  n. 32.

2 “ The Common Priesthood of the Faithful and the Ministerial Priesthood” in On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Ministry of the Priest. August 15, 1997, Part 1, 1

3  John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992), n. 17: AAS 84 (1992), p. 684.

4 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 196-98

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Homily – 12 October 2014 – “Come to the Feast … Maybe”


28 OTA 12 October 2014 – Come to the Feast

Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23:1-3.3-4.5.6; Philippians 4:12-14.19-20; Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10

Have you ever felt left out? Maybe you or your child did not get an invitation to a party. Maybe you have been ignored because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation? Maybe you have been bullied because of your looks, your clothes, your name, your social class?

In today’s gospel we heard a story about the king who threw a party for his son. At first he wanted everyone to come. We can only surmise why people turned down the invitation. The author of the gospel lived in the Roman empire which was hierarchically ordered and had no middle class. 

A few powerful men, like the king in the story, ruled the empire and had the all the wealth. They were supported by big business, the military, farmers and fishermen. Women, children and outcasts were at the bottom of the social pyramid. Jesus was an advocate of this lower class; he threatened the status quo. The kingdom of heaven in this parable is offered in contrast to the Roman empire. [1]

Perhaps this parable sets up an ideal. The past two weeks we heard about the vineyard. It was used by the gospel writers as a symbol of God’s people. It was not a reference to property or buildings but people. The king’s banquet this week is a symbol of what God is doing in the world. Or, to put it another way. What in the world is God doing? If God is inviting everyone to come to the banquet why do many people refuse or feel left out. Why are so many mistreated because of who they are or how they dress?

The wedding garment is a reference to having a change of heart rather than a change of clothes. Street people and outcasts would not have such a garment. Yet, they would be eager to do what it takes to get food and shelter. Still they were abused because they did not satisfy the dress code on the invitation.

There are many examples today of people being shut out of the feast because of who they are or what they do. The Third Extraordinary Synod of the Family, now taking place in Rome, offers one illustration. Among other topics clergy and very few laity are currently discussing family life, same gender marriage, premarital cohabitation, divorce and remarriage. 

The Catholic church is not sensitive to the marriage of same sex couples or the reception of the eucharist by someone who is divorced and remarried without an annulment. Further, family planning is thought of as something that follows natural law and not any artificial means. Some church leaders are challenging each other about the definition of marriage. One was quoted as having said, “I will stick with what Jesus said.” Another remarked in so many words, “I will stick with everything that Jesus said!”

One of the bishops made a statement during the Synod that offers a glimmer of hope and, perhaps, that a change of heart might be on the horizon. The statement indicated that pastoral care must not be exclusive, of an “all or nothing” type, but must instead be merciful, as the mystery of the church is a mystery of consolation. [2] Could this be a clue that new attitudes and teachings about family life and human relationships are emerging?

Another Synodal conversation had to do with “gradualism” as a theory in Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice. [3] Often unmentioned in local Catholic church circles, the concept suggests that none of us is perfect and that we grow gradually in our understanding of the teachings of the church, which can be demanding. When someone falls short of perfection it is better to encourage positive elements in that person’s life rather than chastise their flaws. 

Gradualism would apply both to church leaders and the membership. We all grow “gradually” in our understanding of what God expects of us in helping to build up the kindom of heaven on earth. 

We think of our eucharistic liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This language is beautiful but mysterious. The readings from Isaiah and Matthew today suggest that the banquet is for everyone and that God will provide for everyone. Not everyone on this planet has experienced this merciful God for one reason or another.

Theologian Karl Rahner was a great exponent of the theory that our liturgy is for the world. What we do together at Mass is a celebration of the life, the cosmos, the animals, nature and the humanity we enjoy. Our liturgy is not intended to be the adoration of a distant God but the expression of our relationship with that God and one another. [4] Thus, any judgements about who may or may not participate in eucharistic banquets borders on the sensitive acknowledgement that community life is dependent on and develops out of personal relationships.

Membership in this community has its advantages. Invitations to the banquet of life are not about the clothes we wear on our human body but the spiritual values that hold and enfold us throughout each long day of our lives. [5] In other words, membership in our church is all about open-hearted inclusivity [6] Come to the feast!

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1 Dennis C. Duling in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) p. 1666

2 The seventh general Congregation, The Synod on the Family, The Pastoral Challenges concerning an openness to life. Vatican Information Service, Vatican City, 9 October 2014

3 See John Allen’s Crux: Covering All Things Catholic, October 8, 2014. <http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/10/08/the-synods-key-twist-the-sudden-return-of-gradualism/?s_campaign=crux:rss>

4 Jerry T. Framer, “Ministry in Worship” in Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines. The Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2005) p. 151 ff.

5 Sandra “What Will You Be Wearing?” in Catholica. October 11, 2014. <http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=thread&id=162911#p162911>

6 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, pp. 148-150.


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Homily – 5 October 2014 – Good Stewards in God’s Vineyard


27 Ordinary Time A – October 5, 2014 – Good Stewards in God’s Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9,12-16,19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

Dear Jessica and Meg. [1] Today you have publicly stepped forward to declare your intentions to continue your journeys toward membership in the Roman Catholic church. Meg, you have expressed a desire to engage more fully in the life of this church. Jessica, you have indicated your willingness to join us in embracing the cross that symbolizes the injustices plaguing the world. It is a cross of hope and options for others.

The Catholic church is an old religion and our history is bittersweet. It is filled with injustices heaped upon powerless people while offering peace and possibilities to others. This faith community of St. Vincent de Paul is your launching pad and hopefully your Catholic home for a long time. Like our namesake we are dedicated to eradicating injustice. Our response to poverty is one that joins the efforts of other religious traditions.

In 2012, for example, our food pantries, soup kitchens, health care assistance, housing initiatives and family aid served 17 million clients in the USA. One in six patients — 128 million people — are treated at 600 Catholic hospitals, 67% of which are located in urban areas. Thirty percent of all refugees annually are resettled by the Catholic Conference’s migration and refugee services. [2]

The list of the wonderful attributes and ministries of the Catholic church goes on. Yet, there is more to do. We cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot be lax. We want to be cautious that our efforts are not driven by power but evangelization. We must always serve humbly and with respect for all life — human life and animal life — in a spirit of environmental and ecological responsibility. We continue to honor our traditions while exploring new, bold, yet to be tested, ways to be Catholic in the 21st century. 

The renovation of our place of worship is an architectural and artistic symbol of the ongoing transformation of our church – you and me. Discipleship is costly and time consuming. 

Today’s scriptures present a valuable lesson for us and the leaders of our religion. The gospel attributed to Matthew is heavily dependent on the passage from Isaiah. It was a common practice for absentee landlords to rent their properties to tenant farmers or share croppers who would hire workers. These farmers had big overheads (taxes, religious tithes and the rent) leaving little room for profit. The workers always got the short end of the deal. To put more money in their pockets, the farmers balked at paying the rent. In fact they killed the dues collectors, even the land owner’s son, thinking they would now own the property themselves. 

This is a story of power and greed that is still rampant today in many ways where respect for life is completely obliterated. For example, more than 16,000 workers — 80% victims of wage theft  — come to the Interfaith Worker Justice centers for help each year. Wage theft happens in every industry to millions of workers. Billions of dollars are stolen when employers pay less than minimum wage; refuse overtime pay; misclassify employees as independent contractors; steal tips; and fail to pay workers at all. [3]

The two vineyard stories share common elements. The owner of the land was God. The vineyard was Mt. Zion, the temple and Jerusalem and the tenant farmers were the leaders of Judah. The story behind the scripture story is this. When leaders do not act responsibly for the welfare of others and not just themselves, the responsibility will be taken away from them and given to someone else who does care.

This story is not just about people in supervisory roles like clergy, business owners, educators, law enforcers and government officials who may place power before people. It challenges all of us to treat each other — strangers, family members and friends of all ages — with respect, dignity and tolerance. We are all human beings and in need of each other’s care.

This church is pleased, Meg and Jessica, that you are becoming Roman Catholics. We need you to inspire and encourage those of us who are long time Catholics and our younger teens and children. We all can learn more about our religion and then find ways to translate our proud heritage into social action. After all, our goal is for all of us to be better stewards and responsible co-workers in God’s vineyard.

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1 Jessica is a catechumen and Meg is a candidate for full communion.

2 The Church in the 21st Century Center, Boston College, C21 Resources (Fall 2014 p.31) http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/schools/stm/c21online.html

3 Interfaith Worker Justice http://www.iwj.org/issues/wage-theft