Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily for Easter 2016 “Go Ahead. Eat the Apple!”


Easter C – March 26-27, 2016 – “Go Ahead. Eat the Apple!”

Click here for the Easter Vigil scriptures

Click here for the Easter Sunday scriptures

Easter — a cosmic earthy festival. The word itself is derived from Oestre, a mythical goddess of sunrise and spring. In Pope Francis’ words this weekend “we celebrate Christ Risen, the centre and the purpose of the cosmos and of history.”

Our story of salvation begins with God, two people, and a snake. The narrative continues in the Hebrew bible — how God created everything, mercifully saved Isaac, protected and liberated the Israelites, loved and forgave those who sin. On the new testament side we heard that those who trust in God, accept Christ as a model for living and abide by a Spirit-filled energy will be rewarded with eternal life.

We know that the story about creation, Adam and Eve and the snake is a fantastical myth that eludes proof. The legend however helps us to think about making choices in life. Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge thinking it would offer them more possibilities for living. 

Supposing Eve and Adam never ate that apple? Would they and generations to follow live in paradise forever? There would be no original sin or centuries of sinfulness? The flood would not have happened. The Exodus story would make no sense. Jesus would have had no mission. His death and resurrection would have been unnecessary.

What would the world look like today if Adam and Eve did not bite? The global stage would be free of endless, senseless wars. People of color would not be shunned. Women would be treated equally with men. There would be income equity for all classes. Family life would be without quarrels. We would not pollute the earth. Religion would hold no power over people.

But Adam and Eve did bite the apple and now you and I have to make choices of our own. Are we free to do so or are we puppets in the hands of God? Did Adam and Eve have any choice or did the story set us up to think less of ourselves and the world we live in thus preparing the way for a deity who would save us? 

In a provocative essay the author John Gray proposes that when compared with humans, the life of the puppet looks more like an enviable state of freedom. [1] His argument is that marionettes do not have a conscience, they dance above the ground and do not have to worry about what steps they take.

In Gray’s words, instead of becoming an unfaltering puppet we make our way in the stumbling human world. That had to have been the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. He chose the messiness of life, he practiced mercy and justice and died for his convictions. In doing so he left us with a challenge.

What choices do we make that affect not only our lives but those of others? How does our faith in a risen Christ make a difference in society today?

God saw every aspect of creation good — day and night, land and sea, animals and plants, man and woman.“History is no longer meaningless and largely a failure, writes Richard Rohr, but has a promised and positive direction. This creates very healthy, happy, hopeful, and generative people; and we surely need some now. All I know for sure, Rohr writes, is that a good God creates and continues to create an ever good world.” [2]

Go ahead take a big bite of the apple knowing that together we are strong enough to embrace our part in the struggle to make the world a better place.

_________________

1. Gray, John. The Soul of the Marionette. (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 2015

2. Rohr, R. “God’s Victory” <http://www.globalpulsemagazine.com/news/gods-victory/2838>

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Palms & Passion – 20 March 2016 – Embrace the Embrace*


Palms and Passion 20 March 2016 – “Embrace the Embrace” *

Click here for today’s scriptures

Crucifix at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NYMarch Madness is here again and the competition is keen. If a team loses one game it is out of the tournament. There are no second chances.

Life, too, is about winning and losing and it can be just as competitive. But losing a game is quite different from losing a job or a home. Even these material loses do not compare with losing a partner or spouse, a child, a relative or friend. We also fear losing honor and pride, memories and dreams. Not many of us are prepared to deal with such losses.

Today we commemorate a loss of life. The family, followers and friends of Jesus lost a leader. Jesus lost big time when you think about what he started out to do. He believed there was evil in the world and that he was called to save Israel from oppression. In the end Jesus had no choice but to give up. His disciples and even his God abandoned him. It was over.

Is there anything in today’s bittersweet biblical texts that can help us handle losing something we cherish or someone we love? The first reading from the prophet Isaiah – a servant song – is read today because of its references, for Christians, to the life and death of Jesus. 

Tired of the empty promises of liberty the Israelites protested. Isaiah, although persecuted, was just as stubborn as his opponents. He wanted to win them over, to let go of their selfish ambitions and to trust more in the presence of God. 

Today, too, we are upset with empty promises. People are using strident strategies to state their opinions, to demonstrate their passions. The ideologies behind the rallies vary. Some people in this nation are perturbed by what they have lost because of big government, foreigners, unemployment, income inequity. 

This fear of loss has triggered a divisive atmosphere that has the potential to weaken if not destroy the foundations of this republic. We are witnessing unfortunate dissensions within political parties and even within religious groups. For us, fundamental Christian values are at stake. Why are so many humans so ready to crucify other humans because they are different in race, creed, nationality and class?

What did those who grieved over the loss of Jesus do? What did they fear most in his absence? His disciples took the loss so badly they denied knowing him and fled the region afraid that they too would lose their lives. It was mostly women who stood by the man they embraced as a son, a lover, a brother, a friend. 

These loyal and intimate companions were in denial. They could not understand how such a merciful king, so welcomed with open arms into the City of David, could suffer such an ignominious and humiliating death. How could God abandon him? The usual answer — Jesus had to die so we could be saved — is not sufficient.

Rather than think of Jesus only as a savior who died to redeem us from sin, this day, in the midst of so much national and global chaos, we can also remember him as a model for living. Jesus was a vulnerable and humble man willing to forego praise and glory, power and wealth, and to win by losing — by dying on a cross. Remember he was killed because people called him “King” of the Jews, a title he would not have given to himself.

As baptized Christians we are called to embrace that cross not merely to remember Jesus’ heinous crucifixion but as a gesture that we too are willing to pick it up and follow him. Our Christian calling may not make us less afraid of the evils in the world. Jesus himself was scared to death. The embrace of what is wrong in our world, however, may help to clarify our place in society, and give us the means to confront evil together. 

On Holy Thursday we will share a family meal and a ritual meal — the eucharist. We will give thanks for the way Jesus taught us to live, for calling us to minister to one another. On Good Friday before we venerate this cross, some will take turns carrying it throughout our church.

We took this cross off that wall and planted it right here in the center of us so we would not forget how much Jesus embraced saints and sinners, allies and enemies. When we “embrace that embrace” * we don’t give up, we press on with our values, we live as if against all odds.

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* Deacon Paul Kisselback uttered this challenging phrase in a 2008 class on worship & sacraments in the St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Thanks, Paul.


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Homily – 6 March 2016 “Welcome Home”


The Fourth Sunday in Lent C – March 6, 2016 – “Welcome Home”

Click here for today’s scriptures

The parable of the lost son and brother is one of the most popular stories in the New Testament. It appears only in Luke’s gospel and comes after fables about the lost sheep (15:1-7) and the lost coin (15:8-10). They are sequences to Jesus’ preamble about the cost of discipleship (14:25-33) — that is, what does our membership in the body of Christ ask of us?

Most often sermons on this parable focus on the young son who left home or the angry son who stayed home or the father who loved them both. The story offers lenses about the generosity of God, how God does not abandon us no matter how much we mess up or lose sight of our purpose in life. The story is also an invitation to see things in a new way or to challenge worn out assumptions.

Nowhere does the story about the prodigal son tell us why the younger brother left home in the first place. This question offers us a chance to look at this parable in a new light. Here are a couple of real time examples. The United Nations reported at the end of 2014, 20 million people around the world fled their homes because of persecution. Another 38 million were displaced by conflict within their homelands. How will these persons ever taste and see the goodness of God? (Psalm 34)

The prophet Joshua announced God freed the Israelites from slavery and guided them to a home of their own and they were fed along the way.

Our country and innumerable organizations in it like the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants are known for finding ways to assist those who have left or lost their homes, uprooted by choice or force.

And, there are families and youths right here in our own country for whom “home” is not easily defined. A 2006 study at the University of Pittsburgh said 60,000 allegations of child maltreatment, including reports of neglect, and physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are reported each week! The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is nine. Thousands of youths are abandoned or purposely trafficked every year. 

In a recent lecture at the College of St. Rose a former prostitute said the average age that girls become escorts is between 13 and 14. She said she never felt loved or even heard the words “I love you” while she lived at home so she left.

Countless youths live with pressures and conflicts at home, in school and among peers. Many are victims of bullying. Often they do not know how or where to get help. Some question their identity or reason for being. Many run away. Few are found again. The National Runaway Switchboard reports that on any given night there are about 1.3 million homeless youths living unsupervised on the streets of our cities.

The good news is that there are myriad examples of adults who adopt  very young children who have been abandoned and older children who leave home for other reasons. One teenager from our parish wrote that without her new parents, who adopted her when she was ten months old, she would not be an athlete, she would not be educated, she would not be given even a fraction of the opportunity that she is provided with today.

Many young people return home because they cannot make it on their own and need the security of an established household. We can only conjecture about the details in the gospel parable. Did the traumatized father throw the party as an act of parental remorse? Did the son say I am sorry or thank you? Did big brother ever get over his jealousy? What we do know is there is no mention of sin or penance in this story, only love, mercy and healing.

So, what does it mean to be a member of the body of Christ? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians suggests we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5) Parishioner Amy Biancolli uses more convincing language in an article on pursuing peace. “God deputizes us to bring peace to each other. It is our “assignment” she wrote.

On the old church calendar today was called Laetare Sunday — a day to rejoice and take a little break from the challenges of the Lenten season. Let’s do that. And, let’s use this day to rethink what the word “home” means to each of us and to those with whom we share a home. And one more thing, how might you and I help others find one?