Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 25 June 2017 – Fear Nothing


Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time A – 25 June 2017 – Fear Nothing

Click Here for Today’s Biblical Texts

When he was elected president in the midst of the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged the American people to regain faith in themselves. The depression took a toll on this country – taxes were rising, industries were unproductive, foreign trade was almost non-existent, farmers had no markets and the savings of many families were erased.

In his inaugural address, FDR outlined in broad terms a perspective he would bring to his leadership. He reminded Americans that the nation’s common difficulties concerned only material things and, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Not all people in this country today have the same fears that some of our forebears had in the 1930s. But different kinds of anxieties can create a collective panic attack. Journalist Edward Luce lists these symptoms — a growing opioid epidemic, the decline in life expectancy, increasing intolerance for other people’s points of view, and a fading enthusiasm to join social groups.  [1]

If you are in prison today you fear the inmates and guards. If you are homeless you are scared of other people on the street. If you are without food you worry about your health. If you are a gay or lesbian or transgendered person you fear prejudice. Whatever your color you are afraid of the consequences. If you are traveling you worry about terrorism.

How does God figure into these concerns? In the first reading Jeremiah delivers bad news to the Israelites. The city of Jerusalem would be captured; Jews would be arrested and detained in a humiliating encampment. Although he described God as one who would protect people from oppression Jeremiah himself was persecuted and jailed for “denouncing” the ruthless king Nebuchadnezzar. (DeBona 193-94) 

In the gospel Jesus sent his followers on a mission and, as he often did before, he predicted that they would face difficulties, that their message would be rejected. Many early Christians were persecuted, jailed, murdered for sticking to the moral principles and lifestyles Jesus modeled for them. Nevertheless, Jesus told them to “fear nothing.”

Pope Francis added his thoughts in a recent TED talk. He warned the world’s powerful leaders to be more humble or face ruin. He called on all of us to join him in a “revolution of tenderness” to “react against evil” by putting ourselves “at the level of the other,” to listen and to care.

We do not face the same problems that existed in this nation after the Depression. But whenever we are afraid to speak up for justice or to practice a Christian way of living we contribute to the problems. Sometimes we let the opinions of others, true or not, prevent us from doing what we know to be right. Sometimes, by ignoring the problems or pretending they do not exist, we perpetuate them. 

President Roosevelt died in 1945 while in the fourth term of his presidency. In 1960, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt published a book called You Learn by Living. In the chapter titled “Fear – the Great Enemy” she wrote, ”The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  [2]

Our belief in God’s unconditional and tender love for us gives us strength and confidence to advance the kingdom of God against all odds. However, belief will not by itself accomplish peace and justice in our communities unless we take action. In that 1933 inaugural address FDR also said “this nation asks for action and action now.”

Many of us agree but do not know exactly what to do.  Today as we eat bread and drink from the cup, as we claim again that we are the body of Christ, let’s imagine our lives not marked by fear, but rather by bold determination and solidarity.


  1.  Luce, Edward. The Retreat of Western Liberalism. (NY: Atlantic Monthly Press) 2017, 38
  2.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1841 essay Heroism, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”


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Homily – Trinity Sunday – 11 June 2017 – Reimagining a Mystery


Trinity Sunday A – June 11, 2017 – Reimagining a Mystery

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Apple just released a new device called HomePod. It is designed to compete with other companies in the field of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality. Farhad Manjoo wrote, “Apple seems to be transforming itself into a new kind of company, one that prioritizes the nerdy technical stuff that will become the foundation of tomorrow’s intelligent machines.”

Many mainstream religions also are experiencing transformations while others avoid making any significant changes. Our church, just like Apple, eager to serve its customers in order to stay in business, also needs to reinvent itself from time to time. Theologian Fr. Joseph Martos wrote, otherwise Catholicism is destined to become a church of beautiful ceremonies that have little to do with the real lives of people. [1]

In this light, how do we grasp one of the doctrinal anchors of Christianity, the Trinity? It cannot be ignored or dissolved but it does need to be reinvented or re-imagined in order to make sense in this age. The doctrine is not explicit in scripture and took close to 350 years to develop in theological circles. So too, to grasp what it means to say we believe in a triune Godhead today requires continued investigation.  

Jesuit Roger Haight writes that although God is a mystery the doctrine of the Trinity, should not be beyond our comprehension. Haight continued, it is the story of human salvation as the Christian community has encountered it.  [2] For us then it is a very real story of the creative action of God; the failure of humans to care for one another and creation; the liberating mission of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s chosen one; and, the spirit of that mission entrusted to us as a powerful force in our lives.

Today’s gospel helps us focus on one part of the story. The passage this morning follows Jesus’ conversation with a Pharisee, Nicodemus, about what it means to be born again of water and the spirit. The reading calls our attention to the action of God in our lives, revealed in three persons: “God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” How this Godly action is manifested today depends on our response to it. 

We strive to love the beauty of creation without trying to control it. We yearn to repair the world and to rejoice in the wonders of God’s continual creativity. We strive to make the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth tangible by our deeds and to pass those teachings on to others. We look for ways to give thanks for our liberty and to embrace our responsibility to redeem others. Our calling is to create a kingdom of  God on earth, a beautiful, peaceful world filled with dignity, truth and justice. [3]

These three actions — creation, redemption and revelation — comprise the narrative shared by all of us. They recognize that the work of God continues in our lives today. They remind us of the healing power of reconciliation. They give us hope for tomorrow.

There is really nothing mysterious about the doctrine of the Trinity unless we choose to keep it a secret. Karl Rahner was keen on saying the Trinity resides in us. Built on centuries of human narratives, the teachings about the triune God continue to pave a path for us. Although our journeys are not the same, they are guided by the same holy spirit. 

Apple did not invent the computer, the smart phone or any other popular device. It is a successful company because of its willingness to reinvent technologies in order to be relevant in the marketplace. Religions like ours need to do the same. 

Our belief in a triune God is not to be underestimated or disregarded. However, our convictions need to be lived out in ways that are constantly being reimagined in order to be effective in a modern world.

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  1.  Martos, Joseph. Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual (Eugene OR: Resource Publications) 2015, 298
  2.  Haight, Roger. “What is the Trinity?” A lecture at Carrs Lane United Reformed Church, Birmingham, UK, October 27, 2011
  3.  Paraphrased from Turning Life Into a Prayer. Central Synagogue, New York, NY 2014

 


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Homily Pentecost – June 4, 2017 – It’s Getting Warm in Here!


Pentecost A June 4, 2017 – It’s Getting Warm in Here

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A recent issue of Sports Illustrated published a story on Jeffrey Glasbrenner who lost his leg as a young boy while working on the family farm. In the hospital, another boy, in the adjacent bed, was dying of cancer. His mother said to Jeffrey’s mother, You can “raise him to be independent, or raise him to need everyone around him for the rest of his life.” [1]

Traditionally, on the feast of Pentecost, we analyze the meanings behind the graphic images of hurricane force winds and descending tongues of fire. We imagine a group of people with overlapping questions. What’s next? How do we do it? Would their mission, to establish unity among God’s people, be an independent campaign or a movement that would depend on a partnership with others?

Let’s first look at the imagery. The driving wind described in the reading from Luke/Acts echoes God’s presence in several Hebrew scriptures — the radiant sunshine that would come after raging storms. There is the warmth of hope and a new creation emerging from frightening times.

The reference to fiery tongues suggests, in a modern day context, that we have moved away from the scattered, independent communities, described in the text as a cacophony of diverse voices, toward unification by the Spirit. [2] No one person, no one religion, no one country can survive alone on this fragile planet. Solidarity and interconnectivity fill us with blessings, gladness and new life the Spirit.

Although in John’s gospel the reception of the Spirit occurs on the day Jesus was raised from the dead, it is celebrated, as we do, fifty days after the resurrection. Pentecost is a word Christians borrowed from Greek speaking Jews and occurs at the same time our Jewish friends celebrate their second greatest feast, Shavuot, a commemoration of the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. This year these two feasts occur during Ramadan the month of fasting and prayer on the Muslim calendar.

As a trinity of religions, linked by common ancestors, we are distinct but not separate in our peace seeking efforts. Our task is to foster unity and love among all people, and even among nations. As Christians we give primary attention to what human beings have in common and what promotes unity among us. [3]

President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw our country from the Paris climate agreement presents another viewpoint on how people might work together. Two of the president’s top advisors wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the president has “a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” [4]

This executive decision is of concern for Christians and others because it contradicts the story and the spirit of Pentecost that extol working together to solve problems, to move forward, to make progress. The Spirit in that upper room did not suggest that the mission of Jesus should be kept a secret or, that it was to serve only a select few.

Ironically, tomorrow, June 5th, is World Environment Day, a United Nations initiative to raise awareness around climate justice. It could be a day when, as a Christian church birthed in the spirit of Easter and Pentecost, we recommit ourselves to the reduction of our own carbon footprints.

We can undertake the mission of Jesus alone or with the help of everyone around us. Jeffrey Glasbrenner, the subject of that sports story, grew up to become a world class athlete and the first American amputee to scale Mt. Everest. He did not do it alone.

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1 Murphy, Austin. “Peak Performer” in Sports Illustrated May 8, 2017, 27

2 DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 147-48

3 The Vatican Two Ecumenical Council, “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (October 28, 1965) No. 1

4 McMaster, HR & Cohn, G. “America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone” in the Wall Street Journal. May 30, 2017