Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 20 November 2016 – “Who Do We Think We Are?”


Christ the King of the Universe 112016 – “Who Do We Think We Are?”

Click here for today’s biblical texts

In his science-fiction film Arrival, [1] Denis Villeneuve tells of a linguist enlisted by the US military to interact with creatures from an alien craft that has landed on earth. She has a difficult time understanding the foreign sounds and hieroglyphics and becomes frustrated and frightened. Countries around the world, imagining a global disaster, begin to panic.

In the movie, which challenges a linear way of thinking and speaking, the linguist realizes she is not alone in the universe which can be both comforting and scary. Eventually she comes to think in the unfamiliar language of the aliens. The underlying message in this “head and heart” film is applicable today. Our experiences of and with others reshapes our understanding of our humanity, relationships to each other, and our God.

I have been thinking, as I know you have, about the implications, both rumored and real, the election of Donald Trump may have on our nation and the world. There are many who are comforted and there are others who are scared. That our country is divided on many issues is real. The need to meet with and understand others who do not agree with a certain way of thinking, one way or another, is imperative if we are to move forward together as a nation.

Pope Pius XI instituted today’s feast of Christ the King on December 11, 1925. Church historians argue he did so to address the swift emergence of nationalism and secularism particularly in the countries of Italy, Germany and Russia. In our nation, at that time, the “Roarin’ Twenties” signaled prosperity and hope even while protests against Catholics, Jews and people of color were raging in the streets. 

President Obama speaking in Athens, Greece last Wednesday echoed the Pope’s admonition, unintentionally I am sure. He warned that Americans and people everywhere, “are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity, or tribalism.” 

Nationalism, especially ethnonationalism, is an ideology that emphasizes belonging to a particular nation state. It stresses independence from other nation states and avoids anything that might threaten the culture or identity of a country especially people who do not fit the ideology. Patriotism or national pride, on the other hand, may be expressed precisely in the different characteristics of a country including ethnic, racial, cultural, political, religious or historical aspects.

In his 1925 encyclical Quas Primus, Pope Pius XI offered some wisdom for Catholics. To affirm Christ as sovereign over all, by allowing Christ to reign in our lives, the Pope wrote, should sanctify us and our actions … as instruments of justice unto God.” The pope surely was offering a counterpoint to the emergence of dictatorships.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI renamed today’s feast as Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe. By then most European countries had agreed to assure democracy for its citizens and to protect the rights of individuals. [2] In our country, during the 1960s we experienced assassinations, we passed laws on civil rights, we moved to end an ugly conflict in Vietnam. It was decade of cultural rebellion, at the same time we landed on the moon and watched the Jets and Mets win championships against all odds.

Pope Paul VI created a bigger picture. As members of a cosmic family he implied we could take comfort that the sovereign Christ walks among us encouraging us to take care of each other. As the Year of Mercy comes to an end today what do we do now? How should we act?

Professor of Sociology Linda Woodhead wrote “…religion flourishes when it is enmeshed with the lives of those it serves and dies when it no longer connects.” Religions depend on a healthy relationship with their societies, she said, even when there is mutual criticism. In the words of Sister Simone Campbell,“My faith tells me that now, more than ever, we need to mend the gaps and bridge the divides among us.”

This coming week offers just a couple of examples how we might fix the fractures in our society. Today is a day of remembrance honoring lives lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. How do we respect members of the LGBTQ community? At the end of this week is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. What will we do to stop discrimination against women? 

And, on Thursday we will gather in thanksgiving for the gifts we have — the gifts of God, family, friends, our land and our universe. So much to be grateful for! Next weekend we begin a new liturgical year with great hope and yearnings for the advent of peace and justice. We have the capacity to act in the spirit of our Catholic Christian heritage.


  1.  An adaptation of science-fiction writer Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life.
  2. The Maastricht Treaty (formally, the Treaty on European Union) undertaken to integrate Europe was signed on 7 February 1992

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.

2 thoughts on “Homily – 20 November 2016 – “Who Do We Think We Are?”

  1. The image of a king seems outdated. Biblical images of God as king, shepherd, warrior, husband, or father are metaphors, comparisons used by people who had nothing else to draw on but their own experiences of roles that people played. The God who is pure spirit has no body with which to father a child or fight for the outnumbered Israelites. When the Chosen people want a king like all the other nations around them, God – who should be their only king – inspires a prophet to tell them that they’ll not only get an impressive, glorious leader, but someone who will tax them, conscript their sons to fight for him, and place other burdens on them. When they go to war, the king probably won’t be killed, but their sons will.

    However,n when Jesus uses these images, he turns them upside down: Rather than have his people die for him, Jesus the king dies for them.

    I wouldn’t like titles like Christ, Chairman of the Board, or President Jesus as more contemporary images, would you? So until someone thinks of a better title, I’ll be satisfied with Christ the King.


  2. Your challenge to us through your question “How do we respect members of the LGBTQ community?” raises the bar (of expectation) for/of me. Still impressed by the response from the members of the South Carolina church who had 9 members murdered at a Bible study – “Be kinder than necessary” – I’ll show respect for all by the same principle. Further, I believe so strongly that “Conversation is the currency of change” (Gil Rendle) that I hope to respectfully engage others in wholesome dialogue. And through it all the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi is my bedrock theology. Thanks, as always, for the challenge to grow!


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