Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 2 July 2017 – Keeping Our Households Together


Ordinary Time 13 A – 2 July 2017 – Keeping Our Households Together

Click here for today’s biblical texts

This time of the year can be wonderful for many families — reunions, graduations, first communions, weddings, the 4th of July holiday. But at the same time family gatherings can also be disheartening when disagreements turn to resentment and even separation. 

On a broader scale, the same thing happens in religion and politics. For example, in our church and our nation we have discord over cultural and humanitarian issues. How do we keep our households together?

In the time of Jesus the Middle Eastern household was large and extended. Everyone — parents, siblings, cousins — all lived together in the same compound. To leave the family or marry outside it was unthinkable. Belonging to the family group provided protection, housing, food and value systems by which to live. 

The first century followers of Jesus, therefore, could not believe what they heard Jesus say as quoted in today’s gospel — that to be his disciple one must not love mother, father, siblings, children more than him. 

Today, in our society households are defined in a variety of ways.  Few families live together in the same neighborhood much less the same house like they did during times of assimilation or the Depression.

Of course, this is not true for everyone. While they learn to speak a new language and find work, refugees and immigrants in our Capital District huddle together with family members and friends in worn out apartments not far from this very church building. Like our ancestors who migrated here these people sustain one another until they can get established on their own.

What does it mean to extend hospitality to strangers? The involvement of this parish in the Family Promise program brings to life the story in the first reading. A woman of influence tells her husband they should furnish a room for the prophet Elisha who was holy not because he preached orthodox doctrine but because he did the work of God. Grateful for what we have, we extend hospitality, new life and hope, to strangers because it is the responsible thing to do.

During this Independence Day weekend these readings help us think about the ideological American household and what is keeping us together. We examine the relationships between faith in God and faith in our nation. According to Massimo Faggioli Church teaching actually favors acceptance of the nation-state as the ideal means to develop a political dimension of human life that promotes the common good. 

This assertion creates a conundrum for Catholics in the United States. Not all of us agree on every cultural issue. How do we look out for one another at the same time we respect our differences? When do we oppose the passage of laws that deny human beings the right to live decent lives without fear? What words do we use to voice our abhorrence when elected officials use morally reprehensible rhetoric?

The Second Vatican Council taught us that God works through culture. When dominant trends in a society contradict faith in God and Christian values, faith communities tackle the causes of those trends. Confronting such inclinations by employing Christian perspectives on community life becomes a task especially for the local parish family.  [1]

Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about in today’s gospel. Adhering to and acting upon the values he taught will require serious consideration on our part. He was not really commanding his followers to leave their families as much as he asked them to extend the hospitality, the values, the security they experienced in their Mediterranean households.

On local level it may mean being involved in our parish social justice programs — the food pantry, the sister parish in Darien, prison ministry and Family Promise to name a few. On another level it may mean listening to others intently, understanding different viewpoints on issues, seeking ways to keep the family together.


  1. Curran, Larry. Overview of the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, Report #10, 1989. An old study but still valuable.
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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 – 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?