Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 9 November 2014 – Moving in Sacred Circles


Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome – 9 November 2014 – Moving in Sacred Circles

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm: 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22

The story of Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux, a medicine man, who later became Catholic, is told in a 1932 book by John Neihardt. Here is an excerpt from Black Elk Speaks. “Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind whirls. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round.

Even the seasons, according to Black Elk, form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a person is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where Power moves.

Circles are potent symbols of unity, justice and equality. They have no beginning and no end. Circles can expand and contract to make room for everyone and everything, both familiar and unfamiliar.

You and I now gather in a circle [1] to worship God – creator of the universe, Christ of the Cosmos, Spirit in the sky. We gather as a priesthood of prophets and dance partners in a sainthood. Christ, symbolized by our communion table, is in our midst. According to the Roman Missal “the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.” [299]

Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome in 324 CE by Pope Sylvester. That Basilica and not St. Peter’s, is the the pope’s cathedral. The Holy Father goes there when he has something to say to the whole church about faith and morals. We celebrate that building today as a sign of our union with a larger Catholic church, our participation in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. What a wonderful feast it is as we gather in our renewed house of worship.

The biblical texts for today provide a foretaste of our celebration of this enhanced place of worship next weekend. However, these readings are not only about a building. They also are about you and me and, in the words of Black Elk, our lives that move in sacred circles.

The passage from Ezekiel is a visionary drawing of the first temple yet to be built by the Israelites. Its flowery language tells us that it was to be a sign of God’s presence and action in the lives of the people. From that building a sacred river would flow bringing life to all of creation. We are that sacred river that nourishes and washes the world with hope. Our baptistry area is a symbol of that sacred river and today we baptize two young persons with that holy, living water.

The second reading from Paul shifts the emphasis away from buildings to the people of God. The early Christians saw no need for a new temple. They did not start building churches until the late 2nd and  early 3rd centuries. Their bodies, they thought, were the temples of a holy spirit functioning, surviving with the strength of their common bond.

Paul was trying to build up the church as a corporate entity, speaking in unison and not intersecting monologues. In our church building we stand together, praying, singing, processing as a sacrament of unity, marching in sync (and sometimes not in sync) so to make a difference in the world. There is no part of this liturgy that belongs to one person.

In the gospel of John there is the teaching that Jesus Christ perceived his own body as a holy temple. Although he was crucified before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem the author infers that the risen Christ replaces the old temple. This passage is also a reference to the old worship rituals that were to be replaced by new ones – not focussed on the building or high priests but the Body of Christ, the Church, the people of God, the priesthood of the faithful, you and me.

Next Sunday as we gather here with our Bishop, let us ponder — what does it mean to be a renewed church, a transformed spiritual edifice? Let us focus on our calling to be priests and prophets in a time that is ever demanding and challenging.

Let us see ourselves as one great circle — dancing together as a revolutionary people, learning new steps, practicing hospitality, embracing each other, treating everyone with respect and an eye for justice.

Let us acknowledge that the world and our church is flawed; that all of us are in need of reconciliation with one another, the environment and all of God’s creatures. We gather here to be encouraged and strengthened by our sacred circle, to bless and thank God and one another for all we do.

St John Chrysostom (349-407) in one of his Easter sermons said “it is not the building that makes the people holy. It is the people who come into the building who make it holy.” This church building of St. Vincent de Paul is holy because you are holy. God’s house is our house, too.


[1] St Vincent de Paul Parish Church, Albany, NY, has been renovated. The assembly now sits in concentric circles around the altar, the symbol of Christ, placed in the center of the nave.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily – 9 November 2014 – Moving in Sacred Circles

  1. Thanks Richard; the body absent the building and the unity behind it all is a beautiful picture: combined with the circle can be seen every day as this gigantic, worshiping body with Jesus at the center. This is further seen at how the messages of different churches get linked regardless of the tradition they are found in. Peace!

    Your Baptist Friend,


  2. Excellent Homily Richard. If it’s ok with you I will be sending the Homily I wrote/presented at this last weekends “Communion Service” at Coxsackie DOC on Saturday.
    Great job on yours… You had an entirely different spin, and I feel richer for having read it.
    don Wilson (former student at SBSTM.


  3. Thank you for reminding us that we are holy. If we remember this about ourselves and others, it could change the world!


  4. Hi RIchard,
    I loved sitting in the sacred circle, under the stars, hearing you describe what we are – holy. Thank you.



  5. The renovations are beautiful just by the pictures….makes me miss Albany; the new worship space looks warm and inviting! BRAVO. Thank you Fr. Vosko for keeping us on task about the community of worship and the circles in our lives and the circle of life.


  6. Yes, sitting in a circle around the altar is very meaningful. (Didn’t know Black Elk became RC!) I was happy to think back to when I was at St John Lateran 2 years ago on the feast of the North American Martyrs! You mentioned the circles of the galaxies. These continue down to the smallest units of the universe – the nuclei of the atoms are circles by their electrons. From the largest things in the universe to the smallest, these are organised in the proportion of 1:1.6 – sacred geometry, or so I heard at a lecture by a very old sister/iconographer at a lecture at the RPI chapel some years ago.
    Good homily!!!


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