Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


Homily – 28 June 2015 – Renewing the Face of the Church

Homily for June 28, 2015 – Renewing the Face of the Church

Click here for today’s scripture readings

“Equal Dignity.” These two words taken from the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage express what we heard also in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. Everything and everyone that God created is good. The creatures of the world are wholesome … in the image of God’s own nature God made them.

The implications of the historic events that took place last week require patience, study, conversation and sensitivity. How, together as a nation and as a people of God, do we respond to racial violence in the United States? How do we respond to the new law governing same sex marriage declared by the Supreme Court?

In his eulogy at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney President Obama said for too long we have been indifferent “to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.” He surmised, the amazing grace of God moved people to forgive and bond together in their grief and hope.

The people of Charleston SC are examples of healing and unity. We are challenged to change our attitudes about issues that divide and hurt us. The cries of the LGBTQ community to be treated equally and with dignity have been heard. However, a mixed response to the new law is already evident. Will we allow an amazing grace to guide us and heal us?

Today’s gospel tells two tales of healing and faith. Although there is no biblical reference to Jesus actually curing someone from disease he was a healer. Scripture scholars help us understand. John Pilch wrote that through healing people regained a sense of value in their lives and resumed their rightful place in society. Australian Brendan Byrne suggested, “It is a genuine exercise of faith that brings about the release of divine power.”

One of the saints in our icon collection, Kateri Tekakwitha, is a good example of healing power. An outstanding miracle was attributed to her intercession. A relic, a piece of Kateri’s bone, was placed on the body of a young boy with a flesh eating bacteria. The next day after months of fruitless health care the infection stopped its progression. No scientific or medical explanation; just the amazing grace of God at work again.

The image of Kateri in our church is looking at us this morning. Can we approach questions of equality and dignity in ways that heal? Two weeks ago I spoke of growing strong trees with branches that sustain all of God’s creatures. Last week I discussed surviving on this fragile planet by treating nature, animals and other humans with respect. This week, can you and I think of ways to renew the face of our church?

Some say we are a church that is divided and broken apart on many issues? Same sex marriage is one of them. Some people leave our church because it denies them dignity or seems irrelevant to their lives. Others are hopeful and stay because the church is slowly showing signs of change.

Our parish of St. Vincent de Paul has been evolving. In addition to our increased presence in the public square most notably here we have rearranged ourselves for worship. Gathered in this circle of friendship and faith we affirm our equal presence at this holy table and that each of us presides over this meal. This ecclesiastical change is no less revolutionary than what we have witnessed this past fortnight on a national level.

In a 2013 speech Pope Francis said: “Let us accept others; let us accept that there is a fitting variety, that this person is different, that this person thinks about things in this way or that — that within one faith we can think about things differently.” The pope continued, “Uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we want to impose uniformity on everyone, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”



Homily – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21 June 2015 – Weathering Storms: A Christian Survival Kit

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time B Cycle – June 21, 2015 – Weathering Storms: A Christian Survival Kit

Click here for today’s biblical texts

How can we explain the suffering endured by Job in the first reading when Job clearly was a just man who walked with God? How can we explain the violent and senseless killing of nine faithful church members who clearly believed in the mercy and justice of God?

The shootings in Charleston South Carolina were carried out by a young man who apparently felt threatened by people who were different from him. He harbored deep hatred toward the “other.”

Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote to his congregation last week, “a part of our human condition is paranoia and fear. The more we feed them the more fearful we become. We then need to separate ourselves or protect ourselves from them or actively find ways to destroy them.”

The psalm this morning describes people who are thankful for God’s care and protection from stress. During our liturgy we plead with God to protect us from all fears and anxieties. How, then, do we explain God’s apparent lack of concern in devastating situations. How do we respond?

Last week some members of our parish and I were at Coxsackie Correctional Facility for a bible study program. One inmate stood up and reiterated the question that is on everyone’s mind. If God is present to us and promises to protect us how could such a Godless act take the lives of good people … in a church nonetheless. Here is how I tried to answer it.

God does not leave us alone during tragic events. Rather, an evil action such as those church killings or the holocaust or any act of torture and terrorism ignores God’s presence and becomes an agent of destruction. Natural disasters are not acts of God. Evil actions carried out by human beings are not the work of God.

Last week I talked about strong trees with many branches. There, all of God’s people can find safety, sustenance and salvation. I am reminded here of the phrase in our Eucharistic Prayer that says God loves the human race and continues to walk with us. However, while praying to God for guidance and assistance we cannot always wait for God to intervene or tell us which way to turn.

The Rev. Emma Akpan of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said she would like to pray for Charleston, SC but cannot. “Prayer doesn’t seem like enough, she cried. I need action. I need change.”

We have the freedom to make choices. God seems to be absent only when we will God to be absent. When we do not recognize the presence of God in our lives and in the lives of others all day long, all week long, we risk making serious mistakes that affect our lives and those of others.

Here’s a good example. As we know last week Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’  — “Praise be to you.” The title is taken from the Canticle of Creation written by St. Francis of Assisi — one of the saints chosen by you to be in our collection of icons.

The encyclical frequently refers to St. Francis as an example of care for vulnerable persons. Francis is a model of the inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for poor people, commitment to society and interior peace. There is much to ponder in this encyclical but I want to point out an important thread known as “integral ecology.”

To be morally good and just, economic development must consider people’s need for freedom, education and meaningful work. The pope said confronting the climate crisis will require a “deeper, spiritual transformation of society, replacing consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”

Throughout the encyclical Pope Francis argues that everyone and everything is interconnected — to God, to creation, to one another. Job was punished not because he was a bad guy. He was being tested to see whether or not his sense of justice included others or was self-centered.

We do not know when the end times will be. We do know that if we want to partake in the beauty and grace of God’s creation, if we want to assure that every one else, including our children, will be able to live without fear and enjoy with equity this fragile planet of ours, we would be wise to take action to protect it and all of its inhabitants.

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Homily – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14 June 2015 “Planting Seeds of Faith and Courage”

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 14, 2015 – Planting Seeds of Faith and Courage

Click here for today’s biblical texts

As you know the recent storms and at least one tornado in our region lifted enormous trees up from their roots. I wondered how can such large trees with presumably deep roots topple over? Experts explain that, in urban areas, roots in shallow soil struggle to take hold, they do not have the room to spread out, they decay.

Trees are important symbols of strength and comfort. Poets and painters love them. We name streets after them. Trees convey meaning in different religions. The Jewish Kabbalah explains God’s interaction with creation. It is called the Tree of Life. In Christianity the Christ of the universe is the cosmic carpenter and, historically, Jesus died on the tree of the cross. The mighty cedar of Lebanon in today’s first reading stands for the restoration of David’s kingdom after the exile. The branches refer to all the nations of the world.

The gospel, known as a kin-dom parable, offers a slightly different message. There are actually two seeds in this parable. The first one is a reference to the foundational ministry of Jesus. The kin-dom of God, although still not complete, continues to emerge ever so slowly. It manifests itself depending on how we respond to the Word of God in Spirit.

The second seed is the mustard seed. It grows into a shrub with large branches that offer shelter for birds of the sky. This image suggests there is room for every person, every kind of human being, in the enormous kin-dom of God. We believe, while only God is responsible for bringing the kin-dom about, we are partners with God in that effort.

Think of the opportunities we have to plant seeds on solid, fertile ground that will grow and bear fruit for a long time. For example, the seeds planted by the founders of our country. I am not referring to George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s arboretum at Monticello. Rather, consider the vision they and others had for a country rooted in the principle of equal opportunities for all — a vast nation that provides room and shelter for diverse peoples of all classes. Our American flag reminds us of their foresight.

Think of the seeds planted by Pope John XXIII, one of the saints written in our collection of icons. I am not referring to his recent canonization but his vision for the Catholic church. In his opening talk he boldly insisted the Vatican Two Council must allow the church to “dedicate itself resolutely and fearlessly to the task which our times require.” He called for using the “medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

Think of the seeds planted by the parents who are baptizing their children in this church today. I am not referring to the mysterious effects of this sacrament. Rather, think of the contributions that these children can bring to the world as they grow up among us inspired by the good work of their parents and whatever community will nurture their faith in the future.

There are many branches in our spiritual trees, many religions and ways of life. You and I are those branches. As members of God’s kin-dom on earth we provide shelter and sustenance for each other. Sometimes we sway uneasily in the winds of uncertainty but our faith and good work can steady us. Some of us break off from the tree in search for other fruits.

Paul challenged the people of Corinth to be courageous in their faith. It was the same message presented to the Israelites at the end of their oppressive captivity. They were urged not to return to the status quo of pre-Exilic times but to imagine brand new possibilities for living without fear without forsaking their traditions or their visions.

Faith can serve as a strong foundation to restore life to our families, societies and religions. However, that faith must grow. We can make all things new again not by returning to old rules but by planting seeds of hope in fertile ground so that strong branches of fruits and flowers can grow.

And, there is something else. Once protected within a forest, large tall trees become vulnerable and can fall down when left standing alone in a storm. The same is true with us.