Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 27 September 2015 – A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

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Homily – 27 September 2015 — A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Click here for today’s scriptures

Every so often an event happens, a person comes along, that makes us pause in our lives, to think and talk to each other about what really matters in life. The visit of Pope Francis is one of those occasions. Many of you have followed his apostolic journey and have your own comments and opinions. I am privileged to have this chance to share some of mine and how I thought of our parish as I listened to the Pope.

There is little doubt Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. We are moved by his humble demeanor, his non disparaging speeches, his warm smile and his focus on lifting up marginalized people to dignity. For the Pope all people matter as does our common home.

The title pope is derived from the Latin word Pontifex and means bridge builder. One of this Pope’s constructive tools is a concept known as integral ecology. He puts issues of human rights, the environment and economic justice all under one umbrella. He believes that care for our fragile planet is synonymous with caring for one another. These urgent concerns require undivided attention to assure there is a future for our children and people of all ages especially often forgotten elderly persons.

In addressing Congress he reminded us that political activity must promote the common good of all persons and be based on human dignity. This activity he claimed requires a spirit of solidarity and commitment. He graciously pointed out how four well known citizens of our country took action to assure that all people regardless of sexual orientation, class, race, creed or religion could live out their dreams without fear of rash judgement, prejudice or denial of religious and personal freedoms.

The Pope reemphasized these remarks in his speech at Independence Hall on religious liberty and immigration. “It is imperative that followers of various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and respect of others.”

There is a lot for us to think about in light of these papal nudges for living in a better way. This weekend in our parish we draw upon the memory of our patron saint, Vincent de Paul. In his lifetime France had serious problems: inflation, falling wages and rising taxes. Religious divisions at that time resulted in bloody wars. It was acceptable practice for Catholics to kill Calvinists and to be openly anti-Semitic. In this context Vincent and co-worker Louis de Marillac built bridges to ease the pain especially for those who were most vulnerable.

Today we keep St. Vincent’s memory kept alive by working in the food pantry, sharing resources and love with RISSE, [1] ministering to those in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, supporting our sister parish in Panama and innumerable unnoticed acts of kindness toward one another. Here in this parish we do our best not only when we gather to worship God but also by our cooperation with other agencies in the Capital District.

The Pope urged the United Nations General Assembly not to be satisfied with merely identifying problems, making to do lists, drawing up proposals or even writing checks. He encouraged the members to take action, to stop environmental degradation which causes human degradation. He called upon all of us to lead lifestyles that do not deprive others of the same goods and opportunities that we cherish.

In his homily at the liturgy in Madison Square Garden the Pope called  us to be purveyors of “A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others.” This afternoon our young brothers and sisters will learn about building relationships, tearing down walls that divorce people from greater opportunities in life. We imagine our youths will discuss not only those issues that they worry about but also the concerns the Pope encouraged all of us to ponder.

In the first reading today we heard how God shared the spirit given to Moses and Miriam with other people in the tribe. Moses wondered wouldn’t it be nice if all of God’s people were prophets. (The word “prophet” here does not mean someone foretelling the future. It means, rather, someone who tells it like it is.) The disciples in the gospel were not of the same mind. They were suspicious of others outside their club who were also doing good work. Jesus encouraged them to understand that good deeds are welcomed no matter who carries them out. It was an “invitation to the disciples to look away from their own distinctiveness and privilege to find goodness wherever it exists.” [2]

Jesus’ mission grew out of an apocalyptic worldview. His prophetic sharpness was derived from the seriousness of the issues at stake. This is the same agenda that Pope Francis has. The Pope said “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.” I think the Pope was talking to all of us — to be prophetic, to care for others, to be bridges over those troubled waters that drown people in oppression. It is a call to take action to lift the lowly up out of despair and lead them to new horizons filled with hope and mercy.


1. Refugees & Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, Inc. is housed in St. Vincent de Paul church.

2. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 153-155


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.

One thought on “Homily – 27 September 2015 – A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

  1. When are people no longer considered on the fringes? If the U.S. government (a/k/a taxpayers) provides shelter, food, education, healthcare, additional money for each illegitimate child (with no man around to pay any share of child support because he/they have vanished from the picture), and “spending money, where do we draw the line with helping the recipients of these services? Haven’t we already done what Jesus has asked — provided them with the basics of life and then some?? Are we supposed to help forever? Where in all of this do we inject the morality and “tough love” that will help change this situation for people? Instead, we seem to perpetuate the problem, throwing money at it rather than actually fixing the problem(s) and putting them to a stop. The “normal” for children growing up in this type of environment is one of entitlement rather than one where there are expectations placed on them to succeed at something. I highly question that these types of scenarios are the poor about whom Jesus spoke, and I wonder if the pope is fully cognizant of the American welfare system, how much goes into it, and how it is abused by so many. Is it truly compassionate to keep people locked into a lifestyle of handouts because so little is asked of them? I would argue that it is not. Rather, I think it is an arrogant judgment call that such people are helpless and unable to survive without constant financial support that keeps them in their place. Would Jesus find our system one of helping our neighbor or one that keeps them down? Aren’t we supposed to teach a man to fish so that he’ll eat for a lifetime? Learning how to access a system is NOT the same thing. I find myself mentally anguished over what I see — and now I am professionally immersed in it — and fail to see any attempts to get to the root of the problem in a pro-active manner rather than reacting in what is turning out to be an unsustainable Band-Aid-like fashion. We’re not looking for solutions. We’re making ourselves feel good by pretending to help, when in reality, we are headed for some kind of a showdown. We can’t build bridges with straw. Money is straw. Giving the green light to any kind of behavior and backing it with dollars to show our compassion is twisted thinking, and it isn’t working. What say you?


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