Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – First Sunday of Lent B – 22 February 2015 – Lent: Fact or Fiction?


1 Lent B – February 22, 2015 – Lent: Fact or Fiction?

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-10; 1Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

In writing about the Academy Awards film critic Steven Rea asks, is “Hollywood more interested in the story than in the facts.” [1] As we enter another forty days of Lenten practice are we taken up with the biblical stories and liturgical traditions? Is there a way for us to delve into the deeper dimensions and opportunities this season offers us?

Religion like movies can challenge the way we think about issues: Human dignity, war, feminism, and the environment are just a few. One has to be cautious not to accept every movie as factual. According to Rea some of the movies up for an Oscar this year alter or omit facts trying to “squeeze messy realities and relationships into neat stories.”

For example “Selma” suggests that President Lyndon Johnson was antagonistic toward the civil rights movement. Some would say he was sympathetic. Friends of the real Alan Turing called him likable, socially nimble and up front about being gay. The movie, “Imitation Game” did not depict him like that at all.

Today we heard two readings that have been featured at one time or another in a movie. For example, the great flood. A rickety ark loaded with creatures bobbing in a raging sea, coming to rest on a mountain located in present day Turkish Kurdistan at the foot of a rainbow nonetheless? Fact? Fiction?

Inside Noah’s story we are reminded that the creator God is capable of changing courses. Rather than destroying people who are, as we are, inherently flawed, God comes to the rescue inviting people to repent from their evil ways. We remember that the phrase “to repent” means “to change” not to do penance.

What moving picture do you have of Jesus in the desert? A parched, hungry, tired, miracle worker looking to get away from the crowds?

A Jewish peasant seeking wisdom from God while being taunted by a pesky devil who plays mind games with him? Jesus’s time in the desert was a test of character. Did he have it in him to do great things for us?

We, too, are called to do great things on earth. What tests, what changes in our lives will help us? Joining a new religion like Meg Bassinson and Jessica Burns? Kicking a bad habit? Sitting still long enough to sense the presence of God? Whatever the goal, how do we get started in order to do great things?

Pamela Druckerman writes, “If you are not living up to your potential, clutter is probably the culprit.” [2] She lists a number of things that often prevent us from focusing on what is most important to us, things that are often overlooked because of … clutter!

Addictions to social media, drugs, work, power, lying and procrastination are some examples of what clutters our lives. Often we put on our stage faces to mask our addictions. The actor, Michael Keaton, in “Birdman” was caged by his ego, his false image of himself and could not escape. There are others things in life we would like to change but feel totally helpless in doing so. Terminal illness, war, abuse, unemployment, even the weather can prevent us from making progress in our lives.

The words “being tempted” in Greek mean “being tested.” Like Jesus, we are all tested one time or another in life. Jesus spent forty days among the demons and beasts, symbols of the conflicts he would later encounter. He was not harmed by the beasts because he was protected by angels, messengers reminding Jesus that God was walking the journey with him. [3] It is the same story line we heard in the first reading today.

Faith in God and each other matters in life even though it may not answer all our problems. Lent is a time to figure out how to handle the tests that life gives us. Confronting the clutter, the demons, the addictions, the diseases in our lives can be a challenge. That is why we need each other’s help to focus on the positive, the good things life brings to us.

Film writers can blur the lines between facts and fiction. We cannot do that with our lives. In the face of temptations and in our weakest moments, we are called to live honestly and truthfully. Sometimes that means changing our hearts and our minds.

____________

1. Rea, Steven. “Hollywood More Interested in the Story than in the Facts” Philadelphia Inquirer 2/9/15

2. Druckerman, Pamela “The Clutter Cure” in New York Times, 2/17/15, A23

3.  Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 35

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Homily – 1 February 2015 – “Deflation and Liberation”


4 OTB – February 1, 2015 – Deflation and Liberation

Dt 18:15-20; Ps 95: 1-2, 6-7, 7-9; Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28 (71) 

Today millions of people will either party or watch the Super Bowl. The allegation that the New England Patriots deflated footballs has not dampened the excitement. But for some the suspicion lingers. We do not know if the coach and quarterback are telling the truth. We do know deflated footballs make them easier to throw, catch and carry.

Historian and theologian, Martin Marty, suggests the deflation issue points to a more important ethical question. He thinks if the New England Patriots are cheating and lying about deflated footballs we need to explore why do they need to do so? [1]

With so much information available to us on every topic imaginable how do we identify what is true? Has the spouting of falsehoods become so frequent it is accepted as normal behavior. Do we listen only to those who promote our viewpoints that, ironically, are being shaped by those very same sources! If so how can we accept other possibilities? (William James once wrote, “Our view of the world is truly shaped by what we decide to hear.”)

Today’s gospel describes one of the earliest public acts of Jesus. The crowd marveled at his teaching authority and even the demons respected him. What was it that Jesus said or did that was so believable?

The Book of Deuteronomy provides some background. It contains records of Israel receiving the ten commandments along with other religious and civil laws. Like Jonah in last week’s scriptures Moses had to deal with a rebellious people who, even though they were close to the promised land, had lost patience with God and their leaders. Moses said that God would send someone who would deliver to them what was promised. 

Much later Jesus accepted this challenge. He believed he was the one to bring peace and justice not only to Jews but all people especially those who are vulnerable and powerless. Mark’s gospel testifies and emphasizes his teaching authority and the role of Jesus in restoring life to God’s creatures.

While some people were suspicious of what Jesus said the man in the story, with an unhealthy spirit, was not. He had been sitting in the synagogue for years and heard nothing from the scribes that would help change anything in his life. Jesus, on the other hand, was announcing a new way to live which countered false prophecies. He was demonstrating God’s victory over evil. One might say he took the air out of the demon.

Scholar Brendan Byrne suggests the demonized man represents everything that holds us back from moving forward with our lives. Jesus’s teachings and the exorcism of the unclean spirit both were acts of liberation. [2] Jesus freed up the man so he could regain his dignity as a human being.

Who has the credentials and authority to guide us on our spiritual and mental journeys today? According to the Catholic Catechism the authentic teachers in our church are the bishops in concert with the Pope. [3]

The late Richard McBrien offered another view. In his book Catholicism he wrote the broadest definition of authentic teachers in the church would include the priesthood of the faithful. [4]

This understanding, that all of God’s people are spiritually mature enough to advance the kingdom of God, to live faithful and just lives, is hard to realize in any religion dominated for so long by singular points of view. Without denying the teaching authority of religious leaders, we realize that God works in all of us. There are many people among us who speak truthfully about the ongoing revelations of God in our lives.

By working together, treating each other with respect, and speaking honestly to one another we will realize that God is walking with us on our journeys. As long as we believe that each of us can do something and say something to make things right, to advance God’s kingdom on earth, unlike footballs … our hopes for the future can never be deflated.

______

1. Marty, Martin. “Football and Ethics” in Sightings. (University of Chicago Divinity School) January 26, 2015

2. Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000, 44-46

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Allen, TX: Tabor Publishing, 1994) No. 888-92

4. McBrien, Richard. Catholicism. (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1981) 828.