Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


3 Comments

Easter Sunday Homily – 16 April 2017


Easter Sunday A – 16 April 2017 

Scroll down to read the homily for the April 15th Easter Vigil 

Click here for the Easter Sunday biblical texts

Henry Osawa Tanner_s “The Three Marys” (1910)

“The Three Mary’s” Henry Osawa Tanner 1910

Years ago some friends and I had the opportunity to march briefly with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The women were protesting the disappearance of their husbands and children. Like Jesus of Nazareth many of those men were kidnapped, punished and executed for not aligning themselves with a government that denied people basic human rights. Fearful of retribution from the police, those mothers found strength in each other.

Today’s familiar gospel tells of another woman — Mary of Magdala. Unafraid of the Roman guards, she went to the cemetery to pay her respect at the tomb of Jesus. When she found the stone removed she ran to tell the other disciples who were in hiding and feeling guilty for abandoning Jesus. Along the way she met up with Jesus raised from the dead.

To learn what happened when Mary reached the disciples we turn to the less familiar Gospel of Mary of Magdala, written about the same time as the Gospel of Luke. According to that text Mary met the disciples and found them weeping and grieving. She comforted them with hugs and kisses and then told them what Jesus said to her.

She said Jesus did not dwell at all on his passion and death for the forgiveness of our sins. Rather, he said that the focus of his teachings is on the goodness of humanity. This comes as wonderful news for people who have been told they are hopeless and shameful as humans.  [1]

The disciples were taken back by her words and began doubting her credibility. Andrew was upset that Jesus spoke such words to a woman. Peter wondered why would Jesus say something to her and not to them. They began to argue among themselves missing the point of what Mary was trying to say to them.  [2]

In the face of rejection and humiliation and with the support of the disciple Levi, Mary of Magdala emerges as a strong, confident, loyal disciple of Christ. According to Karen King, the Gospel presents the most convincing argument for the legitimacy of women’s leadership. 

In reading this gospel of Mary of Magdala, I think of those marching mothers in Argentina, the families crying for the return of their daughters in Nigeria, and, all those who lead marches in this country protesting unstable governments and corrupt legal systems. 

Easter is not only about the one time raising of Jesus of Nazareth from death. By linking the human and divine in Christ, we discover that that mystery cannot be separated from his life time achievements or from whatever may happen in our future.  [3]

For you and me the resurrection points to our own evolving transformations and our deepest hopes. Seeking reconciliation, justice and peace is the undertaking of any group willing to identify with the ethical ideals taught by Jesus.

The second reading suggests we do this first by tossing out the old yeast that gives rise to greed, power and injustice. Then we become a fresh batch of dough desperately “kneaded” into nourishment for people who hunger for a chance to advance their lives in a troubled and increasingly unstable world. The sense of belonging to a larger source of energy is a good reason for belonging to a community like this one.

God continues to act in history. Today and throughout the Easter season, we affirm our place in God’s creative process. This God is not beyond our human experiences, out there somewhere. No. It is a good God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us right now.

__________

  1.  Tausig, Hal. A New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghton,Mifflin Harcourt 2013, 217
  2.  King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.  Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003)
  3.  Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014, 219-220)


Leave a comment

Easter Vigil Homily – 15 April 2017


Easter Vigil 15 April 2017 

Click here for the Easter Vigil biblical texts

Wolf-Rayet star WR-31a in Carina constltn copy

Wolf-Rayet Star, Carina Constellation

A few years ago I took my 9 year old great nephew to the Rose Center for Earth & Space in New York City. He was so excited to read the outline of the known history of the universe. Someplace along the way I asked him, “Jacob, what did God have to do with all of this?” He thought for a moment and said. “God? Oh. God comes along much, much later!”

Like most young people today my nephew would not be so impressed by a biblical explanation of how the world began or, in the words of Ilia Delio, that it was the finite loving outflow of an infinitely loving God. [1] Little wonder then that God, meaning the historic Jesus, comes along much, much later.

In fact, according to environmentalist Larry Rasmussen, if the entire history of the cosmos (about 14 billion years) were written in ten volumes, the earth would appear in volume eight. And, humans materialize only in the final two or three sentences of the very last book. “We are fossils in the making, afloat in God’s creation,” Rasmussen would say.

Human beings emerged out of a creative process that continues to evolve. It is not something outside ourselves. A faith that proclaims God as the progenitor of all creation also affirms that we are one with that divine Being and the cosmos. The story of salvation, summarized in our biblical texts this evening, conveys the ways in which people responded to God as they experienced God acting in their lives. 

For us, the traditional storyline is quite logical. God creates beauty. Humans deface beauty. Prophets imagine rehabilitation. God rescues humanity. Our role in this story is not only significant but urgent. With a broader cosmic perspective, we are better equipped to discover more reliable equations for repairing the world, particularly our environment and its inhabitants. Energy sources for all. Potable water. Bread for the world.

Jesus of Nazareth emerged out of the same evolutionary process as we did. His task was to model for us pathways whereby we can live our lives with goodness. In another text, the Gospel of Mary Magdala, Jesus does not dwell on his passion and death for the forgiveness of sin. Rather, he said the focus of his teachings is on the goodness of humanity. This comes as good news for people who have been told they are hopeless and shameful as humans. [2]

Easter is not only about the one time raising of Jesus of Nazareth from death. By linking the human and divine in Christ, we discover that that mystery cannot be separated from his life time achievements or from whatever may happen in our future.  [3] For you and me the resurrection points to our own evolving transformations and our deepest hopes.

Seeking reconciliation, justice and peace is the mission of a community that identifies with the ethical ideals taught by Jesus. Roger Haight interprets human cooperation with God’s act of creation as a way of experiencing God at work the history of humanity. [4]

It is a collaboration that includes the labors of Moses, Miriam, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth — the characters in tonights readings. The story also includes you and me. This sense of being part of a larger source of energy (creation), a bigger story, leads to the importance of belonging to a community like this one.

Christopher Dean and Katria Foster, tonight you will become members of this faith community joining us in caring for creation and other human beings. The celebration of these sacraments affirm that God is already at work in your lives. 

Tonight, we, each of us, also affirm our place in God’s creative process, not as something beyond our human experiences, but united with a God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us.

__________

1. Delio, Ilia. Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015)

2. Tausig, Hal. A New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghton,Mifflin Harcourt 2013, 217

3.  Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014, 219-220)

4. Knitter P and Haight R. Jesus & Buddha: Friends in Conversation. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015, 110-11)

 

 


2 Comments

Homily – Palm Sunday of the Passion – 9 April 2017


Palm Sunday of the Passion A – April 9, 2017

Click here for today’s biblical texts

LDS Bible video, He is Risen.

LDS bible video “He is Risen”

Last Thursday evening some parishioners and I were in jail. We had not done anything wrong or even brave. The volunteers visit the Coxsackie Correctional Facility every Thursday to lead the prisoners in prayer and bible study. What we did that evening was timely but somewhat unusual. We performed a version of the Passion that used prison jargon or street talk. A dozen prisoners and some volunteers took part in the play. Biblical stories come alive when you see yourself in them.

At the end of the passion we asked a question.”Did you identify with any one character in the passion?” One prisoner said he felt like Judas because, as a criminal, he betrayed his wife and children. Another thought of himself as Peter because he often questioned his relationship with God. Yet another identified with Jesus because he felt he had an unfair trial. 

With whom in the story did you identify? With Peter who lied? With Judas who betrayed his good friends? With Mary who just could not understand why her son had to suffer so much? Or did you align yourself with the women who remained loyal to Jesus or Simon of Cyrene who lightened his burden.

Current scholarship teaches that Jesus died not so much to save us from sin but because of the sinfulness so prevalent in the world. Jesus was executed by the Romans because he was a threat to their power. For us, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new way of relating to God and to one another.

To repair this world requires community action. Our Jewish friends, who celebrate Passover tomorrow, call it Tikkun Olam. On Good Friday, we have an opportunity here in our parish to take a turn carrying the cross through the church. We took this cross off the wall and put it in our midst so we can claim its significance for each one of us. Salvation or the repair of the world is not something delivered to us. We have to work for it together. 

After that inspiring prison passion play I attended a conference in New York City on the political theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today marks the 72nd anniversary of his death. The lectures focussed on the relationship of faith and good works and how the strength of both spiritual and temporal kingdoms can help us deal with urgent issues today.

Traditionally, we learned that only God can repair our fractured world, our broken relationships with one another and God. The expression used is “justification by faith or grace.” Recent Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, however, help us realize that faith without good work is incomplete. See James 2:14-26.

The Lutheran theologian Bonhoeffer, believed that all humanity is embraced by God and that any crime against humanity must be met with resistance. Authentic witness of the church today means taking action not just to protest but to resist whatever fuels war mongering, economic inequity, white supremacy, prejudice against strangers and climate injustice.

The eradication of sinfulness becomes a reality when we take action and that can be a messy task. New Testament scholar, Brigitte Kahl noted at the conference “the grace [of God] is costly when living for the other.” Bonhoeffer called it the cost of discipleship.

The Coxsackie prisoners often say how much they appreciate the prayer and bible study sessions led by our parishioners and others. Aware of their own sinfulness, their crimes, they have hope that God does not discriminate against them and still walks with them.

The story about the passion and death of Christ does not bring to an end the prisoners stories or ours. Next weekend we turn the page to Easter and the promises of new life. 

To hasten that day, Alan Boesak, anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, said it is time to turn our words into action. The time for pietistic talk, he said, is over.


1 Comment

Homily – 2 April 2017 – Become One With God


Fifth Sunday of Lent A — April 2, 2017 – Become One With God

Click here for today’s biblical texts

These biblical stories are so vivid there is the strong temptation to imagine them as if they were true stories. We know that one of the purposes of scripture is to enlighten us about how God works in our lives. Parables and testimonies are helpful to us. However, all too often, we focus on the spectacular parts of a story (creation, the flood, the exodus, or miracles of Jesus) rather than trying to unwrap their deeper meanings. 

The first reading from Ezekiel is a good example. The cultural identity of God’s people was threatened by the severe unjust treatment by more powerful nations. Freedom from that oppression, Ezekiel wrote, will be like rising up out of a grave. Further, Ezekiel identified God as the one who would deliver the people out of captivity and into a new age.

What about Lazarus? Scholars continue to debate whether or not Lazarus was really dead or in a coma. No one really knows and it doesn’t really matter. Rev. Beverly Bingle remarks that the story is a statement of faith in ongoing transformation made possible by following the life of Christ. Scholar John Pilch puts it this way. The eternal life that Jesus gives his followers does not abolish death but rather transcends it.

For the past weeks we have been focusing on the miracle stories in the gospel of John purportedly to promote belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was an “aha” moment. When she became aware of who Jesus was she became a disciple. 

Similarly with the man born blind. That act of healing conveyed how living a life of faith and good work can bring about great rewards. So too, the story about Lazarus signals to us that death is a sign of a deeper awakening to the fullness of life, the “eternal life” that comes with Christian faith. 

I like to think that Jesus was giving Lazarus a second chance. Lazarus you cannot die yet. You have too much to do. Get up and get out there to take care of others. It was also a clear message to Lazarus’ sisters and friends that the promise of eternity comes after hard work.

In metaphorical terms, if the stories about the woman at the well and the one born blind are references to Jesus as the living water and the light of the world then this gospel refers to Jesus as a liberator from all that holds us captive.

What the scriptures ask us ultimately is to become one with God. This is hard to do if we keep imagining that God is out there somewhere, different from us; that God is pulling all the strings — forgiving us, pushing us, getting us out of hot water. 

To become one with God is a day to day commitment to practice compassion, to stand by those who are excluded from society, denied food, health care and living wages, abandoned by surrogates and peers, entrapped by power and greed. 

Jesus of Nazareth was the premier revelation of a God who desired to communicate with us. God cannot be apprehended by temptation, oppression, suffering and death. By becoming one with God we too can transcend death.

Christopher Dean is coming closer to his baptismal bath often described as dying and rising with Christ. Both Katria Foster, who is seeking full membership in our church, and Chris will celebrate the spirit of God that dwells within them and sustains all of us on our journeys. Together we dare to be witnesses of a God who cannot die.

 


2 Comments

Homily 26 March 2017 – I Can See Again


Fourth Sunday in Lent A — 032617 – I Can See Again!

Click here for today’s biblical texts

I have often wondered how ophthalmologists interpret this gospel. When my father’s vision became more and more blurry we persuaded him to have a cataract operation. My dad could not believe the change. He could see again, clearly and in color. He called the doctor a miracle worker.

Would’t it be wonderful today if we had a miracle, something astonishing to open our eyes to the world around us? Our awareness of spaces and people is so confounded by distractions competing for our attention. Also, because, it is said that in this part of the world, we develop just two senses for getting information, we can easily overlook a lot.

The stories we hear during Lent serve to grab our attention and draw us more deeply into the life of Christ. Jesus had a keen sense of awareness so much so it seemed like he could look right into people’s hearts and minds. He was aware of their physical needs, their mental anxieties and spiritual cravings. Because of his acute perceptions he knew how to respond to people all the way up to the end of his life.

Last week Elizabeth [Simcoe] helped us imagine how Jesus looked right into the Samaritan woman’s heart and mind and recognized her desires. Once the woman, whose name [Photina] means seeker of wisdom, learned something more about who Jesus was, her eyes were opened, she saw the light and became one of Jesus’ earliest female disciples.

The one born blind in today’s gospel is another example of what an expanded vision can do. Once his eyes were opened the man also became a disciple of Christ and testified about Jesus being the One. The healing occurred at the pool at Siloam, a word that means “messenger.” People touched by God become God’s messengers.

In both readings Jesus moved people with touches and glances, words and actions. Just as the living water in Jacob’s well reminded us of our baptismal commitments, today’s text reminds us how the flame of the Easter candle spreads among us filling you and me with the light of Christ. 

As we approach the Easter feast these biblical texts are invitations to examine our sensibilities, sharpen our senses, broaden our perspectives about our lives and those of others around us. 

Scholar Guerric DeBona suggests it is also a season to scrutinize how “culture colludes with blurred vision by covering up the truth.” [1] John Martens adds, “the true light of Christ cannot be faked.” [2]

Fifty years ago today Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical on the Development of Peoples. He wrote, “We must make haste. Too many people are suffering. While some make progress, others stand still or move backwards; and the gap between them is widening.” [No. 29] How prophetic!

Taking action, speaking the truth, are important characteristics of being a disciple. Resisting laws that jeopardize health care for people, the protection of our environment, liberty for strangers, help for struggling families, can produce results.

The NETWORK Advocates of Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters insists that “Catholic social justice teaches us to look at reality through the eyes of those who have been made poor by oppression and injustice.”

Both the Samaritan woman and the one who was blind took action once they sensed the presence of God in their lives. We are urged to do the same, to be aware of the irresistible light of Christ glowing within us. When that happens we become the light for everyone around us to see. We do not put it under a bushel basket.

At the Easter Vigil we will initiate Christopher Dean into the church. Bathed in baptismal waters and the light of Christ, Chris will join us in giving new life to others. Walking with him on his journey has inspired us to renew our own commitments to the gospel. 

Christopher, we continue to pray that your eyes, and ours, will be opened wide to see the radiance of Christ shining in our midst.

____

  1.  DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 76
  2.  Martens, John W. The Word on the Street. Year A (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2016, 31


1 Comment

Homily – 5 March – Giving Up Sin for Lent


First Sunday of Lent A — 5 March 2017 — Giving Up Sin for Lent

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Lutheran pastor Dawn Hutchings, wrote these words about Lent: It is a season when we are reminded over and over how sinful we are. So, we thank God that Jesus died that bloody death on the cross to redeem us.

Where did we get this notion that we are such bad people and that Jesus had to die to save us? As I look around this church I don’t see any really bad people. Go ahead. Look around. Do you see any really bad people here?

The English philosopher, John Locke, like other later Enlightenment thinkers, believed that humans were born clean and pure, and that it was society that caused evil. We are innately good human beings until, of course, using a free will, we make bad decisions that can be sinful.

As we embark on the season of Lent — forty days of fasting, praying, reconciling, almsgiving — we ask ourselves why exactly was Jesus’ death on a cross the only way for us to be saved from our sins? This season focuses on that teaching. Commentators tell us that without this sense of personal and corporate sin we will fail to grasp the necessary role that Christ plays as redeemer. 

But why would God, who stopped Abraham from slaying his son and who established a motherly covenant with the Israelites, send Jesus, God’s only son, to be sacrificed? Couldn’t the all loving and merciful God who created everything and everyone come up with a better plan? 

This perplexing question begins with Adam and Eve in that familiar but non historical narrative about creation. Eve is often blamed for the sins of humanity but it was not her fault. If you read the verses before the ones we heard today we learn that Adam was warned by God to stay away from that tree of good and evil. 

But Adam never told Eve! So Adam (a name that means “humankind” or “of the earth”) was the problem. That act of disobedience set the stage for a history of salvation whereby we would have to be saved by someone other than ourselves.

The second reading provides further clues about why Jesus had to die to save us from our sin. Theologian Kevin McMahon wrote that Augustine developed the notion of original sin in the 6th century. He did so after reading Paul’s discussion of sin in the letter we heard this morning. Jesus, unlike Adam and Eve, was obedient to the will of God. He died on the cross not so much because he chose to do so freely but out of an acceptance of God’s will.

It wasn’t until the 11th century when St. Anselm reasoned that redemption could only be the work of a sinless man who was also divine. This is called atonement theology. It teaches that Jesus’ life and death makes it possible for us to be “at one” with God. By following the life of Christ as an exceptional model of human behavior we can restore our relationship with God and live in harmony with each other.

Jesus knew first hand how difficult it would be for us to continue his mission. He himself struggled to overcome temptations like the ones listed in today’s gospel. New Testament scholar Audrey West, suggests Jesus beat the devil, a symbol of the cultural pressures of his time, because he refused to be distracted from his mission by alternative temptations. 

No doubt we are both saints and sinners. We cannot negate the Catholic theology of atonement and the importance of Jesus’ redemptive life or our reliance on the grace of God given freely to us. Our prayers and song lyrics during this season are infused with that language. 

We can however look for ways to focus less on our potential for being bad. Instead we can concentrate on the goodness of God’s creation and the innate goodness of humanity. It is not to ignore the need to forgive and be forgiven but to recognize that God is still at one with us. 

Through our faith, our hope and our social action we can appreciate and celebrate that, fundamentally, we are really good people who occasionally make bad decisions.


5 Comments

Homily – 26 February 2017 – We Cannot Forget One Another


8th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – 022617 – We Cannot Forget One Another

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Today’s reading from Second Isaiah describes the anxieties of the Israelites during the Babylonian exile. They felt abandoned by God. God rejected the Israelites’ complaints and promised to give them a new start in the City of Jerusalem. In this passage Isaiah presents a strong yet tender image of God, who, like a mother, would not forget her children. 

Many people are feeling abandoned today because of actions taken by the government in this country. Students, teachers, farm workers, fast-food workers and others are now in exile and their futures are at stake. One freshman from Austin, TX said, “the fear is starting to become more evident. The uncertainty and anxiety is real….” Like the Israelites did, immigrants, refugees and those seeking asylum, fleeing poverty, oppression, torture and death could legitimately wonder, “where is God.”

During these past few weeks we have been listening to excerpts from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Sometimes the teachings of Jesus, often couched in metaphors or parables, can be confusing. 

In last week’s gospel, for example, Jesus is quoted as saying, “offer no resistance to someone who is evil.” Really? How can we sit back when so many injustices prevail in our country not to mention our own local communities? 

Today’s gospel offers what seems to be another utterly impossible challenge for many. “Do not worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself? Really? Who here does not worry about their children or their elderly parents? Who among us does not have concerns about the environment, tax reform, health care or job security?

Written by a tax collector, the gospel starts with a well known line, “You cannot serve God and wealth at the same time.” In other words, “You cannot have your cake and eat it too,” or, we cannot have more than we deserve or is reasonable. These proverbs urge us to choose what guides our everyday actions and decisions. 

The second reading prods us to unravel and respond to the often perplexing challenges of God’s words. Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego did just that recently when he took a public stand against evil. Bishop McElroy spoke boldly and radically about resisting the administration in Washington that, according to church historian Massimo Faggioli,  is now very clearly opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ on a number of moral and social issues. 

The Bishop addressed the deportation of undocumented persons, fear of Muslims, anti-Semitism and of potentially damaging health care and nutrition laws. He also said, “We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor … those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.”

What do we do? How do we respond to God’s challenge? Just last week Pope Francis wrote: “As Christians and all people of good will, it is for us to live and act at this moment … since certain present realities … are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.”

Here at St. Vincent’s we gather weekly around this table to celebrate the gifts of God, to be nourished and then to return to the streets and neighborhoods to continue to resist what is unjust. That’s our Christian calling. Worship here provides us with renewed energy and it has the power to interrupt us and wake us up when we become too complacent.

We also trust, as today’s gospel suggests, that God continues to love the human race, dancing with us in joyful times and, like a loving parent, providing for us in times of trouble. Our faith in God comes alive when we grasp each other’s hands on those difficult journeys in life.

As you know Lent starts in a few days. It is a season to refresh our convictions, to recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises. It is a time to prioritize what matters most in our lives and to do what is right to advance God’s kin-dom on earth. God, who did not forget the Israelites held captive by injustice, will not forget us. If we believe that then we cannot forget one another.