Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


2 Comments

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


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

Click here for today’s biblical texts

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.

__________

  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

 

Advertisements


4 Comments

Homily – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People


 All Saints Day – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People

Click here for today’s scriptures

A couple of weeks ago I went to the birthday celebration of my 7-year old grand niece, Charlotte. She appeared at the party venue (Darlings and Divas!) all dressed up as Mal from Disney’s TV movie “Descendants.” This was way over my head. I needed to know more about the movie and the costume she wore.

In the movie Ben, the good teenage son of the King and Queen, takes the throne and offers a chance of redemption to teenagers. Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay were poised to follow in the footsteps of their bad parents.

But something happened. These siblings, who grew up surrounded by evil, started to hang out with children of goodness. Soon, they became focussed on self-confidence, personal responsibility and teamwork. They learned they did not have to grow up to be bad.

I thought my niece wanted to associate with bad players. Instead, by dressing up like Mal, my niece was advocating (in my theological mind anyway) conversion, transformation and redemption. I am sure none of this crossed even her wild imagination. Charlotte just wanted to be cool!

The gospel today lists a few of the eighty beatitudes that are sprinkled throughout the bible. This text was written long after Jesus lived. It was a time when a small number of powerful and wealthy families were ruling society. They were supported by bureaucrats, a mighty military and self-serving priests. They were not the good guys in this story. 

Each of the beatitudes falls into two parts. The first part describes the humiliation of the present, the second the glory to come. Jesus, always looking to turn things around, was quoted in this Great Sermon as paying attention to powerless people, outcasts and others living on the fringes of the community, who were just trying to make ends meet. [1]

The word “blessed” in Greek is “makarios” and can also mean “happy” or “fortunate.” It may describe someone who is in a fortunate position because they were recipients of God’s provisions or favors. “Highly esteemed” or “honored” is another way to think of the word. [2] High esteemed are those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy (by God).

By announcing these beatitudes or favors Jesus brought a fresh interpretation to worn out teachings. This is something that wise spiritual leaders do every so often once they learn from their members or followers that certain beliefs or customs no longer provide adequate sustenance for living. 

As Pope Francis remarked about the Synod on the Family, “It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.” [3]

Too many people are struggling to survive on this planet near and far. Whether fighting for a dignified minimum wage in this country or seeking refuge in other lands many are not happy and do not feel blessed by God. As long as goodness and mercy are replaced by “blinkered viewpoints” they will never experience God’s fortunes and provisions.

Today, All Saints Day, comes in between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It is a triduum that reminds us life is complicated, full of fears and happiness at the same time. We put on masks and costumes to scare away what is bad. We dream of a happy endings for ourselves, perhaps surrounded by angels and saints. We invoke help from our deceased spiritual ancestors who have endured this journey before us. 

Living and dying, successes and sufferings, are part of the same human story that cries out for mercy and compassion. Life requires a constant eye to reform governments, societies, religions or any system that deprives people from experiencing God’s free blessings and favors.

The icons in our church are looking at us, reminding us that we are not alone and that we, too, are holy ones. We belong, in a mysterious and holy way, to an exemplary family of men and women, saints and sinners, who, by their faith and good works, have contributed to the common good.

My great niece, Charlotte, and her little friends seem to grasp in a very young and playful way that being good is much better than being bad. Highly esteemed and happy are these little peacemakers, all children of God. They hunger and thirst for peace and justice in the world. With our help they shall be satisfied.

____

  1.  Duling, Dennis in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, page 1667
  2.  Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 28-30
  3.  Pope Francis. “The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.” Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS) 


3 Comments

Homily – 18 October 2015 – Missions Impossible?


Twenty-ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time – Missions Impossible?

Click here for today’s scriptures

I wonder what the interfaith leaders at the World Parliament of Religions (Salt Lake City) might have to say about this text. The Parliament, with its thousands of participants from diverse faith traditions, seem to be of one accord in its attempts to resolve problems that affect all of us, for example, women’s rights, income inequality and several others.

I wonder what the bishops at the Synod on the Family (Rome) might have to say about this text. There appears to be much less agreement among the bishops especially regarding same sex marriage and divorce, which are only two of the many topics being considered in Rome.

Created as part of Vatican Two reforms by Pope Paul VI the Synod is mandated to read the signs of the times and find fresh ways to interpret the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis is calling for mercy in every instance. Some bishops, not happy with this more pastoral approach, are looking to strengthen existing doctrines. Can our church apply a one size fits all solution for 1.2 billion Catholics living in diverse cultures?

To resolve the issues being discussed at both gatherings seems to be an impossible mission. Today, World Mission Sunday, offers a small window of opportunity to think about the complexity of the problems around the world. Just to be aware of these situations is a good first step for us even before trying to figure out what to do about them.

The discussion in today’s gospel, between Jesus and two of his earliest missionaries, is provocative. For the third time Jesus was explaining that death awaits him, that the road to glory is not easy, that hard work and endurance are essential. To be a missionary of Christ you have to give something up.

However, the apostles did not comprehend what Jesus was talking about. They were confident that he was the messiah, who would atone for all the sins of the world. Scholars generally agree that the understanding of Jesus as a suffering servant is a reference to the prophecies attributed to Isaiah. Also, the Letter to the Hebrews, which we read today, presents Jesus as a high priest who, like Old Testament priests, would atone for sins. But, Jesus was a layman.

Thinking that Jesus is the savior and that there was nothing left for them to do the disciples negotiated with him about who would have a lofty place in heaven, without doing any heavy lifting. More exasperating they apparently were not at all concerned about the other disciples. [1]

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, would say “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Jesus rebuked his disciples who wanted special favors, “can you handle the work load first?” “Can you drink from the same cup I am?”

What does that question mean for us? Pope Francis reminds us: “Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries.” Maybe we join local coalitions working for justice. Maybe we help agencies who assist poor people. Maybe we take a closer look at our diocesan and parish budgets and our priorities. Maybe each of us chooses to do something, large or small, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Learning to be a 21st century missionary is a hard thing to do especially for those among us who struggle with daily necessities. Popular author, Marylynne Anderson, wrote recently, Christianity is meant to be hard. We realize then why these familiar biblical challenges, the Words of God, are important to our faith tradition. No mission on earth is impossible when we work together for the common good.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “The grace of renewal cannot grow in communities unless each of these [communities] extends the range of its charity to the ends of the earth, and devotes the same care to those afar off as it does to those who are its own members.”

Watching those televised images of refugee families fleeing their countries in search of new life is overwhelming. I think of the small children in my family and how blessed we are to live in a country that is free and full of opportunity.

I do not know what I can do to ease all the pain that exists abroad. I am more aware, however, that large numbers of God’s creatures are vulnerable and poor while only a few humans have way too much power and wealth. I am grateful for the leaders and missionaries of all faiths doing what they can do to help people in a merciful way. I am thankful for this chance to think about my responsibilities as well.

___

1. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 166 ff.