Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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MY EXTENDED SABBATICAL


Dear Friends, Parishioners, Readers of my blog:

As many of you now know I am taking an extended sabbatical to complete a number of writing projects concerning Post-Conciliar church architecture. My research will build on the work I have been doing for the past 45 years. Of course, the award winning St. Vincent de Paul church, Albany, NY will be featured.

Although the entire schedule is hard to determine right now, it is important for me to take sufficient time to complete the tasks ahead. In this light, I will not be posting a homily on this blog until further notice.

Know of my sincere appreciation for the helpful comments and suggestions you have given me since I began this blog in February 2010. You have helped my preaching immensely. Thank you.

Peace be with you.

RSV

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Homily 9 July 2017 – Lighten Everyone’s Load


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – 9 July 2017 – Lighten Everyone’s Load

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Earlier this week I visited the Shaker Museum in New Lebanon to see a very small exhibit called “Break Every Yoke: Shakers, Gender Equality and Women’s Suffrage.” Given the gospel for today I was intrigued by what the Shakers meant by sharing the yoke. The members (two remain) hold that God is both male and female. They have always been cognizant of the impact that that belief has on the roles women played in spiritual and secular societies. 

I read part of an 1865 speech called “The Renovated Woman” by Antoinette Doolittle. She called for women to release themselves from the yoke around their necks. Here is what she wrote about women seventeen years after the First Woman’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.

“Now we hear a trumpet voice sounding loud and clear calling her to come forth from the tomb wherein her best powers and capabilities have been buried and lain dormant for so long.” [1]

The gospel we just heard celebrates a knowledge of God that comes to us from Jesus Christ himself. This intelligence is rooted in Jesus’ understanding of his relationship with God. We can share in that relationship by responding to his comforting invitation, “come to me, the yoke is easy, the burden is light.” What makes subjugation, bondage, light for women and men today? Who can ease our worries and troubles? 

Jesus’ words echo the passage from Sirach 51:26 “take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her.” Scholars tell us Jesus is the incarnate voice of the wisdom of God. In this Old Testament passage wisdom is depicted with female pronouns.

We are thankful for whatever blessings we have in our lives. We also realize there are things that can weigh us down. Working our way through life we grow in our appreciation of the liberties we have in this nation, the support of close friends, our family members and the sustenance found in our faith based communities. Each of these relationships helps us overcome our fears by lightening our yokes and easing our burdens.

The word “yoke” can mean different things. It can be a heavy device placed on the neck of a defeated person. It can be a wooden frame placed over the shoulders of strong animals working together in the fields. A yoke can be a bad thing or, it can be a good thing. 

These scriptures help me realize how women and men, working together, pick us up, nourish us, encourage us. But, what will it take to free each other from all forms of oppression? How do we help release the gifts and talents we possess?

The poet and activist, Audre Lorde wrote directly to women, about the passion women feel in their bodies. In her words, “As we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like our only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.” [2]

As I read her essay I have a better appreciation for whatever cohorts of faith do to free people up so they can realize their full potential as children of God. We often speak about those who are hungry (like the 10,000 individuals served by our pantry so far this year), homeless people, or those oppressed because of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.

Today’s biblical texts speak to us, using the comforting words of God’s wisdom, to help us see where there are yokes around our necks. When we share each other’s burdens we can ease our pain if not entirely set us free.

Jesus called us to live in a kingdom where there is peace, where the yoke is easy and the burden is diminished. This is our vocation as Christians — to lighten the load for everyone.

_______

 1. Antoinette Doolittle, “Renovated Woman” in Shakers and Shakeress, No 5. January 1875.

2. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984) 58


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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 15 January 2017 “What Are We Looking For?”


Second Sunday in Time A – 011517 – What Are We Looking For?

Click here for today’s biblical texts

john-bap-lamb-of-god-hugo-jaacobszAn altarpiece by the Netherland artist Hugo Jacobsz shows John the Baptizer standing in a crowd pointing to Jesus in the middle of another group. We can almost read John’s lips. “Hey, I am not the one you are seeking. Look over there. He’s the One you’re looking for  — the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.”

In this morning’s gospel John proclaims the servanthood of Jesus. After 30 years of silence, this everyday craftsman from Nazareth arrives to take away the “badness of the world” (Jean Grosjean). It is just the first part of the story. The next two verses read, “When the disciples heard him say this, they trailed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following him and asked, “What do you want?”

Lutheran theologian Audrey West noted that Jesus’ ministry did not begin with a command, do this or do that, but with a question “what do you want?” How do you and I answer that question? 

Why do we, week after week, gather to praise God whose son was born to take away all the sins of the world but has not? Why do we petition God in word and song to come to our rescue when, it seems, God is often silent? Why do we visit sick and home bound people? Why distribute food to hungry households? Why go to prisons to support incarcerated men and women?

We do so because God chose us to do so! The first reading from Isaiah is a vocational call to the Israelites who struggled to keep their trust in God while living under duress. They were being called by God to be servants to one another and all the nations! New Testament scholar Guerric DeBona interprets this invitation as a radically personal call to each one of us. We are summoned to “recognize Christ’s presence in our own baptism and in all creation.” [1]

John the baptizer restored hope to the tribes of Jacob when he introduced his cousin Jesus, as the lamb of God who would bring salvation to the entire world. The connection between Isaiah’s reference to Israel as a servant nation and John calling Jesus the lamb of God is helpful to us. 

The Aramaic word “talya” can be translated as boy, child, servant or lamb. When John refers to Jesus as a “lamb” of God, the Aramaic speakers of the early church could have heard “child of God” or “servant of God.” [2]

Many people are at work to take away the sins of the world today. Next Saturday (January 21, 2017) — the day after the presidential inauguration — there will be a march here in Albany to protest the “sins of the world” — any government agenda marked by oppression and hate.

(Note: the Women’s March on Washington also takes places on January 21, 2017.)

Other people have served as models for us. Today marks the birthdate of Martin Luther King Jr. Few would disagree that this Christian man embodied the suffering of his race; that he acted as a servant to them and others; that he risked his life to speak the truth in pursuit of justice for people of all religions, races and cultures. 

Our remembrance of King, like our memorial of Jesus’ life, his work and his own death, urges us not only to be mindful of the wrongs in our society but, as Psalm 40 reminds us today  “to announce the justice of God to a massive, widespread assembly of people.” *

Another model is John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, who was at the side of King when he was assassinated, and is still a voice of conscience in the House of Representatives. Lewis, who continues to speak out passionately against racism and other crimes against humanity, once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” What are we looking for? Strategies and actions for achieving reconciliation, justice and peace.

I know, it is one more task for us to consider amidst many other responsibilities. Although we cannot take action to oppose every injustice, we can give focus on at least one issue. What is important is that each of us does something to take away the sins of the world. We are called by God to do so.

  1.  DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 154-157
  2.  Martens, John W. The Word on the Street. Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2016, 65


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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.