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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Father Rutler: Petulant Jacobins

Father George W. Rutler
July waves Old Glory and Le Tricolore. Jacques-Louis David based the French flag on the cockade of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been urged to help the American colonists by the Duke of Gloucester, in a funk because his brother, King George III, disapproved of his marriage. At least there was no Reign of Terror in Philadelphia.
   Our unofficial “National Hymn” was written by a professor of English literature from Wellesley College after a trip in 1893 to Pike’s Peak, from whose twilight purple summit she could see grain fields hued in amber. An elderly parishioner of mine was a student of Professor Katharine Lee Bates and remembered her reciting the final 1913 draft of “America the Beautiful.” The melody, “Materna,” had been composed in 1882 by a church organist, Samuel Ward, on a ferry from Coney Island to Newark.
   In the “political correctness” and “cancel culture” of recent days, there have been attempts to censor “America the Beautiful” on the grounds that it is unfeeling to make reference to “alabaster cities [that] gleam undimmed by human tears.” En route to Colorado, Bates had visited the World’s Columbian Exposition where crowds were stunned by Nikola Tesla’s incandescent light bulbs. The illuminated “White City” was plaster and not alabaster, but it envisioned a culture enlightened by the Heavenly Jerusalem, just as another lady of letters, Julia Ward Howe, in the Civil War had seen earthly struggle from a divine perspective: “Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel.” No naïf, Professor Bates knew all about the human tears in Chicago slums and had worked with Jane Addams and her Hull House. But souls today, bereft of critical judgment, would decry mention of a “White City” and an exposition honoring Columbus.
   There are also demands to eliminate our National Anthem because the author owned slaves. In fact, Francis Scott Key freed his slaves and pleaded before the Supreme Court for the liberation of 300 African slaves captured off the ship “Antelope” along the Florida coast. He also worked with John Quincy Adams in the “Amistad” case to free 53 slaves.
   Key’s anthem was based on verses he composed in 1805 to celebrate the victory over the Muslim slave-trading pirates on the Barbary coast: “And pale beam’d the Crescent, its splendor obscured / By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation. …” Although the founder of Islam was a slave trader, the bigoted zeal of contemporary rioters hesitates to menace mosques.
   Some of these petulant Jacobins demand to replace our National Anthem with the pretentious doggerel of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon: “Imagine there's no heaven / It's easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.”
   That is not quite Francis Scott Key, Julia Ward Howe, or Katharine Lee Bates. When the opioid bubble bursts, heaven and hell remain. Take your choice.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Father Rutler: "Peter Pan" Adolescents

Father George W. Rutler
Stalin, killer of at least 20 million people, said “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” In mid-nineteenth-century China, the civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion cost upwards of 30 million lives.
   The feast of Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, on July 9, is a reminder that the persecution of Christian missionaries and native Chinese, begun in the mid-17th century, continues into our time. Augustine had been a soldier assigned as a prison guard for the French missionary bishop, Louis Gabriel Dufresse, whose martyrdom in Chengdu moved Augustine to request baptism, after which he became a priest and was tortured and killed in 1815. Later, in the Boxer Rebellion, 30,000 Christians would be slaughtered.
   There are magnificent witnesses in China today, among whose champions is Cardinal Zen, indomitable at the age of eighty-eight. The insouciance with which some timorous Western ecclesiastics have cast a blind eye to the persecution of the Catholics in China, will be remembered as a dark blot on the history of our time.
   Mao killed at least 40 million. His “Cultural Revolution,” which executed upwards of 3 million, excited mobs of youths as agents of government repression. Monuments of ancient culture were destroyed. These included nearly 7,000 priceless works of art in the Temple of Confucius alone as part of the frenzied attack on the Four Olds: Old Customs, Old Habits, Old Culture, and Old Ideas.
   In our own country, the debutantish radicalism of hysterical youths whose misguided idealism makes a venomous brew when mixed with poor education, is exploited by more sinister strategists. James Madison described such mobs as: “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
   Young people eager to condemn the immorality of forebears, while exulting in their own undisciplined lives, recently pulled down a statue of Saint Junípero Serra. It evoked the attack on the Franciscan mission in Alta California on November 4, 1775, when 600 native warriors pierced the friar Father Luis Jayme with eighteen arrows as he called to them: “Love God, my children!”
   Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, the one Iraqi combatant to receive the Medal of Honor, has said that our universities are turning out “Peter Pan” adolescents who would profit better if they joined the Army where they would be taught how to be men and women.
   After the destruction of the statue of Saint Junípero Serra, the wise Archbishop of San Francisco did not engage in polemics. He simply went to the site of the vandalism and said the exorcism prayer of Saint Michael. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Father Rutler: Demagogues and Vandals

Father George W. Rutler
As the local churches gradually open again, one is reminded of the persistence of Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, president of the College of William and Mary, ringing the school bell during seven years of closure after the Civil War. It is yet to be seen how many return to our churches after the quarantine, but the churches will be strengthened by the perdurance of the truly faithful, and I have been edified by their patience.
   Nor have I been scandalized by those who call worship of God non-essential. No surprise here. I write this on the feast of Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More, the only bishop and the one high-level magistrate who placed Christ before the Crown. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3).
   Perhaps not by coincidence have social riots accompanied the health crisis. The anarchists, whose numbers include ignorant pawns, are the latest effervescence of the ancient Gnostic heresy which in modern times has assumed the fatal dialectic of Marxism.
   The supine “virtue signaling” of failed leaders bending their knees to barbarians makes them poster children for what Lenin called his “useful idiots.” Civilization stands on the precipice of what already seemed chaotic as William Butler Yeats perceived over one hundred years ago. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
   Demagogues who lack all conviction ignored one of the most important civil acts of recent times: our President’s “Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.” On June 2 he dared to proclaim that “Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative.” The First Amendment is not “non-essential” because, among other instances, thousands of Christians have been slaughtered in Nigeria, in attacks ignored by Westerners who claim to be champions of black lives, and in China churches are being destroyed by a government with which ecclesiastical bureaucrats have tried naively to cut deals.
   In the present cultural war, parishes are on the front line. We have our obligations to the needs of the larger church, but we exercise the “principle of subsidiarity” by assuring our people that any donations specified for the support of our local church will be honored as such. After months of closure, our parish, perhaps like most, is in financial peril. But the greater peril is surrender to vandals who would smash the very fundaments of our civilization. If “the centre cannot hold,” such is only the case with the material order. Christ is the true and unfailing nucleus of all life: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Father Rutler: The Cruelest Illiteracy

  
 After the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews relied on literacy to preserve their culture, with the Mishna as the written record of what until then had been an oral tradition of rabbinic commentaries. While functional illiteracy seems to have been common, our Lord asked his listeners at least four times: “Have you not read . . . ?” (Matthew 12:3, 12:5, 19:4 and Mark 12:26). On the very day of the Resurrection, he explained the prophetic writings to the two men on the Emmaus road, just as Philip later would baptize the obviously well-lettered official of the Ethiopian royal household.
    Romans often had Greek slaves as teachers, because they were better educated than themselves. King Malcolm of Scotland did not bother to learn how to read, but was charmed by the way his wife, Saint Margaret, could read to him, and the subjects she chose gave her much influence.  
   The first part of the Eucharistic Liturgy is the “synagogue part” because it teaches from the Sacred Books. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Since the transmission of knowledge and its ancillary wisdom is fragile and dependent upon faithful stewards, civilizations require civilized people.
   Many were surprised in 1953 when President Eisenhower warned in a commencement speech at Dartmouth, without notes or teleprompter: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.” Having considerable experience of war, he had seen the consequences of thought control. 
   Back in 1821 Heinrich Heine wrote: “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn people too.” The destruction of the libraries of Alexandria by Muslims in 640 and Cluny by Huguenots in 1562 had irreparable consequences. This also applies to the mutilation of art in all its forms. This is not a question of taste or optional aesthetic judgment. It is simply the fact that to rewrite history is eventually to resent history altogether, to live in the present without past or future.
   The cruelest illiteracy consists in a pantomime education that commands what to think rather than how to think, and that erases from a culture any memory of its tested and vindicated truths. In George Orwell’s “1984” dystopia: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler