Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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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)


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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)

 

 


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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.


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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


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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.


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Homily – 5 February 2017 “Put Me in the Game!”


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 020517 — “Put Me in the Game!”

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A few nights ago in a basketball game the underdog team was losing by 20 points. Yet, it did not give up and, incredibly, found a way to win. How do athletes acquire a desire for victory, motivation to practice, confidence to compete against the odds? Does it depend on raw talent, teamwork, gutsy instincts, inspiring coaches?

Tonight’s Super Bowl game will be full of hype, political advertisements, coaching strategies and a strong desire on the part of both teams to win. It is a metaphorical reminder of the innate drive that all humans have to survive and win no matter what it takes.

Have you ever wondered if Jesus of Nazareth was athletic? We know he walked a lot but did he work out or play any sports? In every film, painting and sculpture he looks fit and trim. And, who motivated him to preach like he did, to compete against the opposition and to dream of human rights? Maybe his mother Mary was his coach. We know she was a no nonsense woman determined to speak her mind in opposing unbridled power and selfish wealth.

In today’s gospel Jesus continues the great sermon on the mount, a pep talk to his team. You are the salt of the earth! The light to the world! Get out there and play hard. Show the opposition that you are the good news that will win out against all odds. The speech was a call for teamwork similar to what we heard in the oracle from Third Isaiah concerning the ethical and religious behavior of the Israelite community. [1] Do not turn your backs on your own! Protect them. Share your food. Shelter the homeless. Your light shall erase the fears of the night.

Jesus looked for the same accountability in his followers. This gospel stresses the conduct of his teammates. He did not challenge them to become the light and the salt. You ARE the light and the salt, he told them. He encouraged them to believe in themselves and that they could succeed in their mission.

Scripture scholar Barbara Reid reminds us “Salt in the ancient world was used for seasoning, preservation, purification and judgment.” Reid also points out that Cicero (Cataline 4.6) described Rome as a “light to the whole world.” Jesus challenged that political boast. It is “not the imperial domination system but [Jesus’] beatitudinal way of life, carried forth by his disciples, that is the light of the world.” [2]

The Falcons and the Patriots tonight are ready, practice is over, the playbook is memorized. All they have to do is compete to the best of their abilities with each player making contributions.

Jesus’ game plan focused on a vision for establishing the kin-dom of God on earth. In each encounter he used a play option to resist attacks by oppressors but he could not do it alone. He needed his teammates to help win the game. Blockers to protect him. Runners and receivers to reach the ultimate goal line.

Professor Karoline Lewis (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN) wrote that this Gospel asks each of us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, to speak and act when anyone at all loses her way. The Gospel urges us to not to stand on the sidelines but to move into the fray, into the global arena.

Athletes work hard to succeed in their sport. For Christians, taking action to resist whatever or whomever opposes human rights is the cost of our discipleship. 

___________

  1. DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013), 166
  2.  Reid, Barbara. Parables for Preachers: Year A. (Collegevile: Liturgical Press, 2001), 48 and 53

 

 


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Homily – January 29, 2017 – What Do We Crow About?


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 012917 — What Do We Crow About?

Click here for today’s biblical texts

hahn/cock

Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch (2013) East Wing Gallery, Washington, DC

This weekend our Chinese friends celebrate a new year — the year of the Fiery Rooster! I don’t know much about roosters. The closest I came to one was when I was little and spent time on my grandparents’ farm. They had gardens and orchards, they grew acres of corn and hay and they raised dairy cows, horses, pigs and chickens.

I vividly remember playing by the chicken yard one day, fascinated by the behavior of an extra large bird. The single rooster proudly paraded around, pecking the chickens who strayed into his territory. He seemed to be quite cocky, as he protected the hens who were nesting.

In Chinese culture, the Rooster represents fidelity. People born in the year of the Rooster are dependable, kind-hearted, honest and strong. On the other side, they can also be arrogant, frequently promoting themselves beyond what is factual. 

When you comb the bible you find that roosters or hens are mentioned just a few times. In Proverbs 30 the king is described, in a positive way, as a strutting rooster, striding before his people, strong against the attacks of enemies, tearing down borders made of wattle. The most familiar New Testament reference to a cockerel is when Peter disowned Jesus three times.

The passage this morning, from one of the least known prophets, Zephaniah, we learn that God actually looks for humble people who will seek justice, who speak no lies and are not vain. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, is a bit more specific. God chooses people whose job it is to shame those who are arrogant, powerful and greedy. It is not OK to boast about oneself. It is OK to boast in the name of God. Why? Because the requirement of Christian-hood is to imitate the moral message of Jesus.

But, what is the strength of such moral authority when threatened by autocracy, wealth and power asks Russian-American journalist, Masha Gessen? Almost invariably, she writes, “moral authority seems to be encased in a frail body, perhaps because it takes years and decades, and risk and injury, to amass. Yet the words of certainty, spoken softly, pose a threat to power secured through the conventional means of force and title.”

Matthew’s interpretation of the sermon on the Mount is an example of Jesus’ “words of certainty.” The sermon is the first of five discourses given by Jesus very early in his ministry. Although his words are familiar to us we want to understand the beatitudes in today’s context. Let us listen to just a few interpretations written by the storyteller and visionary Jan Phillips. As we do, we remember that the word “blessed” in the Greek language means “recipient of a divine favor.”

Blessed be the earth and those who tend her, for she is the source and sustenance of our lives.

Blessed be the children who hunger for food, learning, and homes that are safe, for their future is shaped by our choices today.

Blessed be the refugees fleeing the violence of war and poverty, may they find shelter, peace, and work that sustains them.

Blessed be those who are calling for freedom, resisting oppression and risking their lives in the struggle for justice, they are the shapers of a brighter world.

Reginald Fuller suggests that Jesus’ sermon was addressed to those who left everything to follow him. The second half of the beatitudes is a call for action. That’s where we come in. But, there are few if any among us who can afford to do that today — detach ourselves from work, family life, school to spend our time protesting injustice. But, it is good when any one of us does something.

In a 1948 tragicomedy by the playwright August Wilson, called “Seven Guitars,” the recurring theme is an African American man’s struggles for his human rights in the face of personal and societal ills. In the play a rooster is a symbol of the man’s strength and identity. In one scene a neighbor complains that the rooster keeps waking him up early in the morning. The owner of the rooster said, that’s what roosters do! 

When the rights of human beings — citizens, immigrants, refugees — are threatened, we Christians hear that wake up call. What are our strengths, our words of certainty? What are we going to crow about?