Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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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.

__________

  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 – 26 February 2017 – We Cannot Forget One Another


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

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


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

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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?