Richard S. Vosko

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Homily – 14 May 2017 – Things of Heaven & Earth


Fifth Sunday of Easter A  – May 14, 2017 – Things of Heaven and Earth

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Fatima 051317

Thousands of pilgrims at Fátima this weekend!

This weekend Pope Francis is visiting Fátima, Portugal’s most renowned pilgrimage site. The pope will canonize Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the children who saw visions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, 100 years ago.

Apparitions of Mary like the one at Fátima and others in Mexico, Ireland, France and Belgium, challenge the limitations of human thought. Consider what Hamlet said to Horatio after seeing a ghost: “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your (our) philosophy.” Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Each Easter season our scriptures give us some idea of what may have happened to the followers of Christ after his post-resurrection appearances. They are stories of fear, disagreements, excitement, hope, skepticism and belief.

What is most curious is that, although Mary the Mother of Jesus is so highly regarded today as a model for facing problems of adversity and healing and even political strife, the bible does not tell us much about her presence or her contributions to these emerging communities after the resurrection of Christ.

What we do know about Mary is that she knew Jesus better than anyone else and after his death she had to confront loss, misunderstanding, isolation. You would think that early church leaders eagerly would have turned to her for her wisdom about what she had learned as the mother of Jesus and what he would do and say in various circumstances.

Spreading the gospel in the first century was not easy. Tensions existed because missionaries like Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others were evangelizing in places where there were diverse cultures. Just as in any community today the questions had to do with leadership, community power, political resistance, jealousy, fear and handling emergencies. Today’s first reading tells us the community was concerned about who would tend to hungry persons and those with few resources especially some widows?

To address this concern for people who were hungry the author of Luke-Acts wrote that seven reputable men were chosen to serve, a choice that was not arbitrary but acceptable to that community. Guerric DeBona, an expert in biblical and cultural studies, wrote that “consensus occurs when the community is gathered for consultation,” and that the “good order of the community allows for the word of God to move among the people.” [1]

Similar realities and diversities are present in our church today. As memberships in mainline religions continue to dwindle in some regions, the question for you and me is: how do we experience and sustain a modern day faith community? Our house has cracks in it that need attention otherwise the structure will collapse. 

Fixing the fissures, keeping the family together, requires teamwork, sharing the blame, telling the truth, seeking consensus and listening to different voices. Sometimes we will discover that clinging to the status quo is no longer sufficient and that new spiritual awakenings are important.

The second reading from Peter offers a blueprint for renewal and restoration. We are the living stones, the ministers chosen by God to be built into a spiritual house where we and others can find purpose, refuge and strength. [This is the kind of home where our children who share in holy communion with us for the first time today will find new life and nourishment.]

Jesus also used architecture to make a point. In his farewell address to his friends in that “Upper Room” he urged them not to be troubled. He said he was going home, to a very big house, and he would reserve a room for anyone willing to live justly and walk humbly. God’s house is so big there is room for everyone. No one is turned away.

Like a mother comforting her children Jesus’ words were reassuring to his followers. Our Lady of Fatima offered similar consolation in 1917 when she promised that prayer and good works would help end World War I. Her message still has merit today. At a candle light vigil Friday night in Fátima, the pope urged the pilgrims to “tear down all walls and cross every frontier … to make known God’s justice and peace.” This is something we can do together.


DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 130


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Homily 7 May 2017 “Open Wide the Gates!”


Fourth Sunday of Easter  – May 7, 2017 – Open Wide the Gates!

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A classmate of mine in the seminary has a son who is a border patrol officer in Arizona. His job is to keep Mexicans and other Latin Americans from crossing illegally into the United States. Fair enough. 

Human rights groups, however, are concerned about the way border crossers are detained while waiting for their cases to be reviewed. Other sources tell us that, since October 2000, more people have perished trying to enter this country than have died in the September 11 attacks and in Hurricane Katrina combined.

The biblical texts for today are familiar. They are about gateways, gardens, and gatekeepers. We’ve heard the comforting words of the psalmist often, in different contexts — God is a shepherd who protects us and provides verdant pastures and restful waters and, we have need of nothing else. But this promise cannot be true. There is plenty we want.

Consider the children, men and women in refugee camps worldwide trying to cross borders into more secure and fertile pastures. Hundreds of thousands are stuck in Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Jordan. These are not temporary settlements. The gates in these camps do not swing both ways. Too far away for you and me to be concerned?

As many of you know the fastest growing immigration detention system in the world is right here in the United States. It holds illegal immigrants caught trying to enter this country; asylum seekers escaping brutal regimes; anyone with or without a criminal record. Sometimes legal, permanent residents are detained on the suspicion of being here illegally. 

How would we talk with those confined in these camps and centers? How would we explain an absentee shepherd? The passage from Peter reminds us that the death of Jesus, the good shepherd, liberated all of us. But that theological aphorism does not seem to apply to everyone. How do we understand this promise in light of present global realities?

What locks the gates of opportunity for ourselves and others? Could it be power mongers who govern nation states? Could it be that the privatization of detention centers is a big business? Maybe what blocks us are our own cultural mindsets, our personal political leanings, our subjective fears of the stranger or ancient theological assumptions about who gets saved. Who gets into the sheepfold? Who is left out?

The gospel of John insists that the only way to have life more abundantly is to repent, get baptized and follow Jesus into the safety of the sheepfold. And then, what?  What happens after repentance and baptism? Tithing? Ministry? Charitable works? Is that it? How does the care of the divine shepherd reach oppressed people or those who have been shunned by their church? Where is the shepherd leading you and me?

Lutheran theologian Anna Carter Florence wonders if, unwittingly, the church itself is a boundary between the saved and the not- saved. She suggests that the sheep gate we heard about today merely marks the boundary between where we are in our lives and what we are to do next.  [1]

If Jesus is our liberator; if his life’s work is a model for us; if his cross is a symbol of injustice; if you and I are called to tackle the sinfulness symbolized by that cross then … you and I are bound by our baptism to open the gates that lead to pastures where all people can find food, shelter and the opportunity to grow in freedom.

Samuel Moyn, a religion and ethics writer for ABC, reminds us, historically societies world wide cultivated robust theories of governmental obligations toward individual rights, but also of individuals toward one another.” However, the problem today is that my right to be free from oppression does not always translate into my duty, my obligation to eradicate injustices so that others would not have to suffer.

Our religion and our nation are both founded on making it possible for all to live in freedom and without fear. We, as human beings, are called to be gatekeepers of heaven and earth; to open wide the doors of opportunity for ourselves, for others close to us and for all people on this earth. 

1. Florence, Anna Carter. Working Preacher Year A.  (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary 2016) 62