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1/29/2009
OPINION
Homily reflects on 'Called to be Church'
BY REV. RICHARD VOSKO


What a week it has been for us as a Church -- as a nation. 

First, we learned of a pastoral plan that would guide our Diocese into the future. 
Then we witnessed the inauguration of our first African-American president, who has inspired many with hope for the future. 

And, as if to provide a bedrock for managing bold and brave changes, we marked the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's announcement of the Second Vatican Council.

When Pope John called for an ecumenical council in 1959, he sought to rejuvenate the Church. In doing so, he challenged the status quo. The key word to describe the work of the Council was "aggiornamento" -- Italian for "update." 

The Pope said he wanted to "come to grips, in a clear and well-defined way, with the spiritual needs of the present time." Since then, our Church has gone through a significant transformation that has touched the global religious community.

In a similar vein, President Barack Obama recognizes, as many do, that our country is in need of an aggiornamento. In his inaugural address, he said, "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- and that the source of our confidence is the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny." 

For me, Obama created a NASA-like perspective: This planet is but a tiny dot in the known universe, and if we care about it and its inhabitants we will have to change the way we live.

Bishop Howard Hubbard has called us to aggiornamento as we reshape ourselves in this Diocese. The "Call to Be Church" is not just about closing buildings and merging parishes, not just a palliative for a clergy shortage or a response to shifting demographics. To think of it only in these terms is to overlook its significance. 

The process is about the possibility of understanding ourselves as Catholics in a new and refreshing way - as Pope John XXIII imagined 50 years ago. The task of updating is never finished.

Some scholars suggest that today's first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) is less about Jonah and more about God. Jonah was a recalcitrant prophet, set in his ways. He was not open to change like God was. 

God was going to destroy Nineveh, a major religious center and the capital of the Assyrian Empire. It was a time when the Jewish community had to think about how to maintain its traditions in a new and challenging milieu. 

But God repented and had a change of mind. Rather than destroy the Ninevites, God had faith that they would do the right thing -- and they did. They changed their way of living and it paved the way for the future with hope rather than despair and destruction.

Today's Gospel from Mark (1:14-20) introduces us to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus quit His job as a carpenter to start His second career as a missionary. Needing help, He began to recruit disciples. 

His message was simple and similar to the charge found in the Book of Jonah: Repentance is the way to reap the benefits of the emerging but not fully realized kingdom of God. 

The word "repentance" here is not just understood as sorrow for sins or doing penance. It literally means, "to change one's mind or heart" -- to reorient one's whole attitude toward God and others. It means to "update."

Faith allows us to change our perception of God: for example, learning to think of God as a loyal partner more than as a judge. Such a change can result in a different relationship with God, which, in turn, will change the way we live with one another. 

In today's second reading (Corinthians 7:29-31), Paul urged the Corinthians who, like Paul, were expecting the world to end sooner than later. He admonished them to concentrate on fundamental Christian values and principles. 

But it is hard break old habits. The call to accept the challenges of change is no less difficult for us the people of this Diocese, or the citizens of this country, than it was for Jonah, the people of Nineveh, Paul, the Corinthians or the people Jesus touched. 

It is a call that Jesus made to all of us regardless of age or status in society or religion. We have been summoned to be pro-active in the work of refreshing our Church, reforming our Diocese and renewing our nation.

(Rev. Richard Vosko delivered this homily Jan. 25 at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany.)







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