Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 31 July 2016 – Closing the Gaps


Favela in Morumbi Sao Paulo Brazil right next to a wealthy neighborhood

Favela in Morumbi Sao Paulo Brazil right next to a wealthy neighborhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 31 July 2016 – Closing the Gaps

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Comedian Steve Wright once quipped, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” It would be easy to interpret this gospel as a bit of wisdom about hoarding goods or decluttering our lives. One could also say it is about giving to others from our abundance. That typical commentary would not do justice to the deep seated message in this gospel. 

Upon closer look this story about the wealthy landowner has to do with something else that defies generalized interpretations. Being attentive to the needs of others, in light of the ways in which we live, requires a more challenging investigation of this text. How might we act in light of it?

Today’s gospel is an example of someone who, somewhere along the way, was misguided. He thought that by piling up riches he would be happy. In short order, God said to the rich man, you are foolish to stockpile things that do not really matter in the big picture.

Lutheran theologian from Camaroon, Elisabeth Johnson, wrote that this gospel asks us to think about how our lives are fundamentally aligned — toward ourselves and our passing desires, or toward God and our neighbor? What should the wealthy landowner have done? “The same thing anyone else in that position should have done: distribute the surplus to others, immediately.” So says, John Pilch

I think there is more, too. This biblical text is not only about sharing financial resources or getting rid of stuff to make room for what really matters in our lives. Each of us also has an abundance of knowledge and particular gifts which are often far more valuable than money. Giving to others generously requires careful, persistent evaluation.  What is it that I have that others need? 

The passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes urges us to take delight in what we have and, in light of our pledges to one another and our covenant with God, not to overlook what others need.  

Let’s take a moment now to think of the abundance that exists in any area of our lives — financial, talent, time, material goods. What is it that we might share with others? Let’s name it to ourselves. 

Now imagine what would happen to us if we shared our resources to the point that our own lifestyles would be transformed!


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Homily – 24 July 2016 – I Pledge to Open Closed Doors


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 24, 2016 — I Pledge to Open Closed Doors

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On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis pushed open the enormous bronze doors of St. Peter’s Basilica to launch a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Walking through a Holy Door is symbolic of taking an “extraordinary step” toward salvation.

Today’s readings offer you and me promises and expectations. We count on both to open doors where walls still exist for many people. God promises presence, that is, to hear our needs: ask and you will receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the doors will open for you. We, in turn, commit ourselves to look out for one another, to provide food, and to forgive as we are forgiven. In this way we can deliver the world from evil.

Biblical scholar Meda Stamper writes the [Lord’s] prayer serves as an affirmation of the worldview Jesus teaches … and, it suggests, how the good news might be made manifest in us, through us. [1]

Brendan Byrne adds, the community that saysthe Lord’s prayer sees itself as a “beachhead of the kingdom in the present world, reclaiming it [the kingdom] for life and humanity.” [2] A beachhead is a foothold — a first achievement that opens the way for further developments.

This week we commemorate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990). Think of the hospitality and dignity expressed when people with wheelchairs and walkers find electronic doors or accessible ramps to welcome them. Imagine people who are deaf who can count on assistive listening devices wherever they go. See visually impaired people navigate sidewalks, corridors and entryways identified with Braille and other raised markings.

Acknowledging and responding to people’s needs can change laws, regulations, even doctrines that no longer make sense or serve the common good. For Pope Francis mercy is known through concrete actions that notice the needs of others; they trump moralizing and casting judgment against others. 

One of the prickly questions for our nation, especially during this draining presidential campaign, is how will either party platform open doors for immigrants, refugees, unemployed parents, veterans, hungry and homeless children.

One of the nagging questions for religious people, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, is how will our church open doors for women, divorced and remarried persons (without an annulment) and the LGBTQ community.

David Brooks was describing what we might call “a kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” when he wrote: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic … to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian … to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic … to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive. [3]

That is good advice for both church and state. While the summer months provide a chance to change our pace, to break from routine we acknowledge there is no vacation for God or for us, partners in the process of salvation. The kingdom is not something that might be waiting for us at the end of our lives. Rather it is something we are called to seek and share everyday. 

To that end we remember the pledges I proposed these past four weeks — to speak the word of God fearlessly, to love enemies as well as friends, and above all, to be kind as we open every door that has been slammed shut.

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  1.  Meda Stamper in https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2918
  2.  Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 104-105
  3.  Brooks, David “Let’s Have a Better Culture War” in The New York Times. June 7, 2016


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Homily – 17 July 2016 – I Pledge to Be a Kind Prophet


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C – July 17, 2016 – I Pledge To Be a Kind Prophet

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Last weekend one of our young servers, Anaya Zullo [1], whispered into my ear, “Do we know who our new girl leader is yet?” I smiled. No, not yet.  We are waiting for an announcement from the Bishop. Years ago Anaya’s question would have been unthinkable. We would have wondered what male priest would be the new pastor.

Today’s gospel is just in time. It provides an opportunity to explore the role of women in the life of Jesus — women as prophets, leaders, models of hospitality — in society and in the earliest churches. The Martha and Mary story is routinely used to compare a contemplative, inquisitive Mary to Martha a multi-tasking homeowner who worries a lot. 

Jesus said Mary chose the better part? Does it have to be an either/or choice? Can we be spiritual beings at the same time we minister publicly to those in need? In biblical scholar Mary Rose D’Angelo‘s interpretation it is a story about the challenges of partnership in ministry.  

Mary and Martha were women well known among early Christians, perhaps as missionaries, but certainly as leaders. [2] Jesus was pointing out to them and the author of this text, for us, that sometimes we need to re-examine our priorities. What is most important? What can be let go for the sake of our ministries among one another.

Although church hierarchies have overlooked the extensive scholarship about the leadership roles of women in early Christian movements, there are occasional glimpses of change. Just recently Pope Francis called for yet another study of the ordination of women to the diaconate, research that has been done over and over again. Maybe, this, time, something new will emerge.

The Greek word for Martha’s “busy-ness” in the kitchen is “diakonia,” a word also used to describe Christian ministry. Brendan Byrne asks, how can we avoid distractions in our lives that may divert our attention away what really matters — true hospitality attends to what our guests want. [3]  This same message is found in the first reading where Abraham and Sarah shared responsibilities in showing hospitality toward strangers.

A good example of women as models of mercy is the 5th Annual “Nuns on the Bus” tour that is focussing on society’s gaps. [4] That tour will visit both Republican and Democratic conventions and will stop also in Albany this coming Thursday, July 21st. Some will respond that religious leaders should stay out of politics. However, any institution that cares about how customs, cultural attitudes and laws affect the lives of all citizens is bound to take action in the public sphere.

Margaret Susan Thompson wrote that American women religious “have been involved in politics since the early days of the republic … a remarkable fact since, for the first century or more of their presence, they were, as women, not even able to vote.”

In another coincidence, this coming Tuesday, July 19th marks the anniversary of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. One of the Declarations of Sentiments drafted  referred to the Church and women’s “exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.” On the next day (July 20th) the Convention passed a resolution, “it is time she [woman] should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.”

Martha and Mary in today’s gospel, are seen as loyal disciples of Jesus from Nazareth who embraced his prophetic vision for a better world. In doing so, they acted in a truly ministerial, priestly, and sacramental way.

For nine-year old Anaya Zullo, who asked me about the next “girl” leader for our parish, the only pastor she has ever known has been a married woman.

We look forward to our partnership with a new pastoral leader.  Like Abraham and Sarah, Martha and Mary, we will continue to pledge to be kind prophets, to pay attention to what really matters, to speak the Word of God without fear and to love our enemies as much as our friends.

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  1.  Anaya’s name is used with parental permission
  2. Caroline Hsu. “Martha and Mary Were Biblical Favorites, but Who Were They?”  01/25/08 in http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-
  3.  Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 102-103
  4.  The full theme is called: Mending the Gaps: Reweaving the Fabric of Society


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Homily – 10 July 2016 – I Pledge to Love Friends and Enemies


images.duckduckgo15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C – July 10, 2016 – I Pledge to Love Friends and Enemies

 

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When reading this familiar Good Samaritan gospel, about that unknown and unlucky traveler who fell into the hands of robbers, images flashed in my mind of the recent, senseless shootings in Orlando, FL, Baton Rouge, LA,  St. Paul, MN, and Dallas, TX.

Last week I proposed that we pledge to speak fearlessly the word of God revealed to us by Jesus of Nazareth. Today, I propose we pledge to love our friends and those who are different from us, even our enemies.

The history of our country is full of movements designed to counter injustices against workers, religious groups, women, people of color, gays and lesbians. On the other hand, there are just as many counterpoint movements and individual voices that spew hatred and prejudice.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks domestic terrorist groups. It reports that over 900 hate and extremist movements and 1,000 anti-government organizations are operating at alarming levels throughout our country today. Many are white supremacists who carry out violent acts.

So, who are the characters in this good Samaritan story? What might we learn from their behavior? How do we identify with their actions given the realities at home and abroad where “other” persons are robbed of opportunities that prevent them from continuing their own journeys?

The Samaritans were a racially mixed society that lived in the northern kingdom of Israel. They were despised by the Jews because, among other things, they practiced a deviant form of Judaism. Jesus went out of his way (literally) to change Jewish hatred of the Samaritans. We remember his meeting at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman, Photina.

The priest in the story could not touch the victim for fear of being defiled himself! The Levite, who also had religious duties, thought that if the priest did not stop why should he. Finally, the Samaritan, a hated enemy of the Jews, felt compassion for the victim of injustice. He took risks to make sure the person would get better. Once again, in telling this story, and by his own actions, Jesus disavowed prejudices aimed at the Samaritans.

When the lawyer in the story asked Jesus how to get to heaven, he heard that one must become a neighbor to anyone and everyone in need. One must reach out with compassion to all people, even to one’s enemies. [1] When life-saving mercy is shown to others, Marilyn Salmon suggests “otherness” stops and we experience instead our common humanity.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul implies that redemption does not take place outside this world. Rather it is the restoration of this created world, one that has fallen into evil hands. The recent, shooting crimes remind us that evil has a strong grip on humanity and that something terribly wrong is happening in our nation that cannot be ignored. 

The summer of 1967 brought racial disorders to American cities. The 1968 report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” When will it ever change? 

We can pray and trust that God will rescue us (Psalm 69). However, to be a neighbor to someone else requires more than having general sentiments of benevolence. It means pledging to love not only those who are like us but also those who are different from us. 

It demands that we take interest in the injustices in our communities and that we do something concrete for people in need. [2] As religious people we cannot stand by and do nothing.

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  1.  John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1996) 109-111
  2.  Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984 – Revised Edition) 485-486, 68-69.


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Homily – 3 July 2016 – I Pledge to Speak Fearlessly


Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time C – 3 July 2016 – I Pledge to Speak Fearlessly

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Each morning in elementary school, even before prayers, we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Say it with me now, please. You may recall the words “one nation under God” were added in 1954.

“One nation under God.” Really? What do those words mean for us now? When Jesus claimed the kingdom is at hand he was not referring to a futuristic heavenly place but life on earth free of all injustices and fears.

How does the cry of Isaiah “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort” ring true with Lady Liberty’s invitation “Give me your tired, your poor … Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?

The prophet Isaiah was writing about restoration, healing and comfort after a post-exilic period of political turmoil. He described a world renewed (65:17) in which “no longer shall the sound of weeping be heard.” 

Jesus summoned his followers to spread this same message. He reminded them that in some places the door would be open while in others slammed in their faces. When they returned the disciples reported that their mission was successful perhaps because they spoke fearlessly, believing strongly that the the words of Jesus would overcome evil in the world. 

Brendan Byrne adds this comment. They (the 72 disciples) had a “deep sense of relationship with God and a knowledge of the destiny to which that relationship leads.” [1] What is that destiny? Where is it?  Alicia Vargas had this thought. It is an “utterly new way of being for those in Christ, made right with God by faith and thereby set free to be and to live in a new, distinction-free form of life.”

For us, current global conditions are daunting, fraught with doubt, anger and despair. In the Global Trends Report for 2015 just issued by the United Nations a record 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. Ban Ki-Moon recently denounced what he called “border closures, barriers and bigotry.” Our own country is slow to welcome 10,000 Syrians. We face criticism from human rights advocates over deportation of Central Americans including women and children. [2] Oh, give me your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free!

The United States Catholic bishops in their statement “Faithful Citizenship” remind us to consider how we are called to help make God’s vision a reality.  “Unlike some places in the world, we have the ability, as Americans, to take an active role in political life without fear of danger or intimidation … we must work together to transform the world around us.”

This Independence Day weekend we celebrate our freedom and abundant harvests with family gatherings, fireworks and patriotic songs. Let us also remember our Christian mission pledging to speak fearlessly, to make real “liberty and justice” for all.

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1. Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 95-96

2.  Sengupta, Somini. “Record 65 Million People Displaced, UN Says” in New York Times, June 20, 2016, A3