Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Op-Ed Piece – 29 November 2015 – Living Wage … a Moral Imperative


Living Wage in N.Y. … a Moral Imperative [1]

Low-wage workers across the country have been pressing for a $15 minimum wage and union rights. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated that he will push to phase in a $15 per hour minimum wage across New York.

While there are differing viewpoints about how a minimum wage increase will impact the economy, the heart of the debate is not an economic disagreement. It is a moral one. There is a more fundamental question is: “Who in our society deserves to live a decent life?” 

As a Catholic priest, I believe all people deserve a decent life. My church is not alone in its teachings that all creation, all life, has value. Christians are in accord with other faith traditions and with people who do not adhere to a religious belief system in this matter. We share an uncompromising commitment to uphold the inherent dignity of all human beings.

Tragically, the way our economy is currently structured, millions of New Yorkers find themselves stuck in poverty with no access to a basic standard of living. According to the Department of Labor, a single adult in New York State needs to make $15.91 per hour at a full time job to provide for themselves. Almost half of working New Yorkers make less than that, and almost 2 million make the minimum wage of $8.75 or just above that.

Those of us who believe in the dignity of all people should take offense at these numbers. In our society, wages are the primary means to a decent life. In 1963 Pope John XXIII wrote that all human beings have the right to bodily integrity and to the means required for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and necessary social services. Pope Francis has reiterated these rights. But millions of New Yorkers instead can only find jobs that keep them in poverty or near poverty. 

The issue of income inequality is not about supporting any political or religious ideology. It is not even about socialism vs. capitalism. It is about a moral imperative to provide all workers with a wage that can enable individuals and families to live with dignity. It is time for the minimum wage to be a living wage for all workers all across New York State.

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  1. Albany Times Union – Perspective Section – November 29, 2015 – Page D1
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Christ the King Sunday – November 22, 2015 – The Illusive Kingdom of God


Christ the King Sunday – November 22, 2015 – The Illusive Kingdom of God

Click here for today’s scriptures

Building up the kingdom of God on earth is a very difficult task. In addition to the inequities and injustices that confront us in our own communities, unconventional warfare strategies on a global level have rendered prospects for world peace almost inconceivable.

Human history, of course, is full of conflict and war. From biblical times up to now the battle for power, wealth and natural resources as well as domination over innocent people, have been unwanted staples of life.  Pope Pius XI established today’s feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at a time of great global turmoil and tumultuous shifts in the governance of countries. The pope himself was a prisoner in the Vatican because the Kingdom of Italy invaded and dismantled the papal states.

Pius XI in part sought to subject secular leaders to the divine initiative and authority of God. Some commentators say he also wanted to free the church from civic domination, alleviate the anti-clericalism that was rampant in Europe and restore the right of the church to govern people in matters pertaining to salvation. That may have been a “medieval way of thinking.” What does the feast mean for us today?

In this morning’s gospel, attributed to John, we find Jesus being questioned by a government official about his alleged royal status. This was a claim that would have been considered a threat to the Roman Empire.

However, Jesus of Nazareth was not interested in calling himself a king anymore than he was intent on starting a new religion. He was a humble itinerant Jewish teacher. Like many other women and men in history Jesus prophetically offered an alternative way of living based on caring relationships and mutual love.

For Jesus, people were not objects in a political, geographical or even a religious kingdom. Rather, because human beings are created as the image of God, there can be no structured boundaries, xenophobic laws or religious prejudices that deny people access to the realm of God.

We must be cautious, however, not to boast that our brand of Christianity is better than the other faiths practiced on this planet. Our doctrines do not constitute the only lock and key combination to achieve wholesome, dignified relationships with others. What matters is that we respect people of other faiths and work with them to achieve peace.

Our belief system is not based on power or wealth nor on arrogance or acquiescence. Our scriptural base prompts uncompromising love for ourselves and for others who, although different in color and creed, race and region, are also members of God’s fragile family.

This fundamental option, to treat one another fairly, is what prompted members of our parish to lobby with other citizens for a fair wage last week. Our compassion for others also encourages us to take tags from our Giving Trees and to continue to support our food pantry and other ministries.

Also, donations to the Campaign for Human Development today will help create local and global initiatives to fund housing, education and the development of job opportunities.

Establishing powerful kingdoms, nation states or caliphates on earth that suppress and destroy human beings is immoral. To employ a rhetoric of fear that could deprive desperate and innocent people the opportunity to seek refuge is reprehensible.

In 1943 ten Norwegians risked their lives to thwart a Nazi nuclear bomb project. On the base of a statue honoring 96 year old Joachim Ronneberg it reads: “Peace and Freedom are not to be taken for granted.” In a recent interview Ronneberg worried that there is still a reluctance to understand “it is not a stable world and that peace is not guaranteed.”

By celebrating this feast of Christ the King of the Universe we are saying to ourselves and to the world there are alternative paths to freedom and peace. By maintaining our belief that God has entrusted us to care for one other and our planet we can continue to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.


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Homily – 8 November 2015 – Stand Up For A Living Wage in NYS


32 OTB – 8 November 2015 – Stand Up For A Living Wage in NYS

Photo by Mick Hales

Photo by Mick Hales

Click here for today’s scriptures

About 45 years ago a mentor of mine and I went on a tour of utopian communes. We wanted to learn why certain communities got started and who belonged to them. After a week of staying with a number of diverse groups we sought out more familiar places like New Skete in Cambridge and the Bruderhof in Rifton.

Our last stop was the Catholic Worker farm in in Tivoli, New York. As many of you know, the Catholic Worker Movement was founded in 1933 by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, whose birthday is today (1897-1980). The farm, once known as Rose Hill, was one of many places on the East coast where someone could find free food and shelter.

According to historian Audrey H. Cole, the Movement was a peculiar blend of anarchism, communism and Christianity. The idea was that people who had much should accept a degree of poverty and share their goods with those who had very little. [1] Being able to “see Christ in others” one could strive toward goodness.

Day was the editor of the Movement’s newspaper The Catholic Worker She used the medium to criticize corporations, call attention to racial inequality, encourage labor strikes and condemn war. Richard Rohr described Day as a woman who could not be silenced. During her life she did not want to be called a saint. Now many are promoting her cause.

This parish chose Dorothy Day to be one of the new icons in our church. You can almost hear her protest: “We must cry out against injustice or by our silence consent to it. If we keep silent, the very stones of the street will cry out.” [2]

There are many women who give of themselves unselfishly for the good of others. There are mothers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and daughters, who nurture family members. There are activists in the public sphere, women who take risks to challenge institutions and cultures that cling to age old anachronisms. And, there are the two unnamed women in today’s biblical texts who gave to others not what was left over from their meager possessions but from all they had.

In the first reading the woman was worried that she would have nothing left to eat for herself and her son if she shared her goods with Elijah. He encouraged her to trust; God would not forsake her.

In the gospel the author tells the story where Jesus criticizes the scribes, chief priests and elders who roamed the Temple. These experts in Mosaic Law, who dressed in fancy cloaks of piety, had too much power and influence over the daily lives of the citizens of that society. [3]

Jesus, in a crafty way, draws attention to their acts of injustice through the story of the widowed woman. She too trusts that God will not abandon her in her poverty. Trust in God? I am not so sure we do that today even though our currency says we do. How many of us would take all of our savings and give it to others trusting that God will take care of us?

What we are being asked to do is to find some way to use some of our resources to help those who have little or nothing. There are many ways to do so. Here is one invitation.

Next Tuesday, November 10th, Faith for a Fair New York will join a nationwide day of action to strike down income inequality in the workplace. There will be local rallies in the Capitol at Noon and on the West Capitol Lawn at 5:30 PM. Join us in the fight for a living wage. Information about leaving from our parking lot is in this weekend’s parish Bulletin.

According to the 2015 Report on Inclusive Prosperity, “Firms in the US have been profit- able, but their success increasingly translates into income for shareholders and top management, not for employees. It is, therefore, entirely understandable that middle-class families feel that something is amiss when companies are profitable but wages are stagnant.”

If Dorothy Day were to join us she would say, “The stand we are taking is not on the grounds of wages and hours and conditions of labor, but on the fundamental truth that people should be treated not as chattels [property], but as human beings.” [4]

Her tireless cry for dignity and the witness of the two biblical women beckon us to take action. As we look at the icon of Dorothy Day we see that she is looking back at us … wondering what will we do.

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  1. Cole Audrey. “The Catholic Worker Farm: Tivoli, New York 1964-1978” In the Hudson Valley Regional Review. Vol. VIII, No. 1, (March, 1991), 26
  2.  Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Dorothy Day, Selected Writings: By Little and by Little (Orbis Books: 1992), 273.
  3.  Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 194
  4.  Day, Dorothy. House of Hospitality. (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1939) Chapter 8, 4


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Homily – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People


 All Saints Day – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People

Click here for today’s scriptures

A couple of weeks ago I went to the birthday celebration of my 7-year old grand niece, Charlotte. She appeared at the party venue (Darlings and Divas!) all dressed up as Mal from Disney’s TV movie “Descendants.” This was way over my head. I needed to know more about the movie and the costume she wore.

In the movie Ben, the good teenage son of the King and Queen, takes the throne and offers a chance of redemption to teenagers. Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay were poised to follow in the footsteps of their bad parents.

But something happened. These siblings, who grew up surrounded by evil, started to hang out with children of goodness. Soon, they became focussed on self-confidence, personal responsibility and teamwork. They learned they did not have to grow up to be bad.

I thought my niece wanted to associate with bad players. Instead, by dressing up like Mal, my niece was advocating (in my theological mind anyway) conversion, transformation and redemption. I am sure none of this crossed even her wild imagination. Charlotte just wanted to be cool!

The gospel today lists a few of the eighty beatitudes that are sprinkled throughout the bible. This text was written long after Jesus lived. It was a time when a small number of powerful and wealthy families were ruling society. They were supported by bureaucrats, a mighty military and self-serving priests. They were not the good guys in this story. 

Each of the beatitudes falls into two parts. The first part describes the humiliation of the present, the second the glory to come. Jesus, always looking to turn things around, was quoted in this Great Sermon as paying attention to powerless people, outcasts and others living on the fringes of the community, who were just trying to make ends meet. [1]

The word “blessed” in Greek is “makarios” and can also mean “happy” or “fortunate.” It may describe someone who is in a fortunate position because they were recipients of God’s provisions or favors. “Highly esteemed” or “honored” is another way to think of the word. [2] High esteemed are those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy (by God).

By announcing these beatitudes or favors Jesus brought a fresh interpretation to worn out teachings. This is something that wise spiritual leaders do every so often once they learn from their members or followers that certain beliefs or customs no longer provide adequate sustenance for living. 

As Pope Francis remarked about the Synod on the Family, “It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.” [3]

Too many people are struggling to survive on this planet near and far. Whether fighting for a dignified minimum wage in this country or seeking refuge in other lands many are not happy and do not feel blessed by God. As long as goodness and mercy are replaced by “blinkered viewpoints” they will never experience God’s fortunes and provisions.

Today, All Saints Day, comes in between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It is a triduum that reminds us life is complicated, full of fears and happiness at the same time. We put on masks and costumes to scare away what is bad. We dream of a happy endings for ourselves, perhaps surrounded by angels and saints. We invoke help from our deceased spiritual ancestors who have endured this journey before us. 

Living and dying, successes and sufferings, are part of the same human story that cries out for mercy and compassion. Life requires a constant eye to reform governments, societies, religions or any system that deprives people from experiencing God’s free blessings and favors.

The icons in our church are looking at us, reminding us that we are not alone and that we, too, are holy ones. We belong, in a mysterious and holy way, to an exemplary family of men and women, saints and sinners, who, by their faith and good works, have contributed to the common good.

My great niece, Charlotte, and her little friends seem to grasp in a very young and playful way that being good is much better than being bad. Highly esteemed and happy are these little peacemakers, all children of God. They hunger and thirst for peace and justice in the world. With our help they shall be satisfied.

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  1.  Duling, Dennis in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, page 1667
  2.  Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 28-30
  3.  Pope Francis. “The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.” Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS)