The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Follow Sunlit Uplands by E-Mail

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Father Rutler: The Feast of Corpus Christi

By Father George W. Rutler
Jacques Pantaléon was an unlikely candidate for the papacy, being neither a cardinal nor Italian, since he was the son of a French cobbler. Nonetheless he became Pope Urban IV after having acquitted himself well as Patriarch of Jerusalem. His attentions also involved him in concerns from Constantinople to Germany and Denmark.
   Two months before his death in 1264, he commissioned Saint Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for a new feast honoring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. There used to be many hymnodic “Sequences,” but over the years they were trimmed down to Easter and Pentecost and, later, Corpus Christi. Although Aquinas had written so sublimely about the Real Presence, Urban wanted song more than prose. Thus we have Pange LinguaTantum ErgoPanis Angelicus, and O Salutaris Hostia. As they have endured nearly nine centuries so far, they are likely to outlast the musical kitsch that guitar-strumming grey heads of a dying Woodstock generation persist in thinking are the heraldic sounds of a New Age. Unlike the works of those more recent composers, whose absent Latin and poor English only serve to express a low Eucharistic theology, the classical hymnody of Aquinas can best be sung in the original and, if sung in translation, needs translators who are accomplished Latinists and masters of English. Two Anglican converts of the nineteenth century, Edward Caswall and Gerard Manley Hopkins, qualified for that.
   The ineffable mystery of the Blessed Sacrament will always be prey to minds smaller than the Doctors of the Church, as they try to reduce mystery to mere human puzzle whose pieces can be arranged according to limited human intelligence. Even in Pope Urban’s age, which by many standards of architecture and scholarship was golden, confusion about the Real Presence in the Mass was spreading. One priest, Father Peter of Prague, while en route to Rome was granted what the Church considers a miracle: blood emanating from the Host. Pope Urban was in nearby Orvieto and sent delegates to inspect the phenomenon. The Feast of Corpus Christi soon followed.
   At the last Supper, our Lord did not subject his apostles to a lecture on how he could give them his Body to eat and Blood to drink. He simply commanded, “Do this.” This is not to deny the vocation of theologians ever since to describe the Heavenly Banquet, but the best of them have known the difference between apprehending and comprehending. “Faith for all defects supplying, Where the feeble senses fail.”
   A Baptist hymn writer in the nineteenth century, Robert Lowry, would certainly have been a bit uncomfortable in the presence of the Dominican master Thomas Aquinas, but one suspects that the Angelic Doctor would have fully empathized with the confidence of Lowry’s hymn:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father Rutler: The Strange Case of Dr. Biden and Mr. Hyde

By Father George W. Rutler

Bishop Miler Magrath (Maolmhuire Mag Raith) of Ireland (1523-1622) wrote his own epitaph for the tomb in Cashel in which he was finally laid in his one-hundredth year.  The syntax is convoluted as was his life: “Here where I am placed I am not. I am not where I am not. Nor am I in both places, but I am in each.” It was his way of recalling that he managed to be a Catholic bishop and a Protestant bishop at the same time. He started out as a Franciscan friar, schooled in Rome, and soon became bishop of Down and Connor, then Clogher before Cashel, exacting rents from all of them, and adding Waterford, Lismore, Killala, and Achonry to his sees, becoming rich, although his cathedral in Cashel was said to be a pigsty, and few of his people were aware of the existence of God. Although he maintained many Franciscan ties—albeit wearing armor as protection against sullen rent payers—he authorized the hunting down of Papist priests while also warning them ahead of time, operating as a sort of double agent. Amy O’Meara of Toomevara married him, but devoutly refused to eat meat on Fridays and reared their nine children as Catholics. Pope Gregory VIII finally excommunicated him, but Paul V legitimized his children.

Bishop Magrath’s creative rationalizing brings to mind his contemporary in England, Simeon Aleyn, who was unable to maintain the duplicity of practicing two religions at the same time. To retain his living as vicar of the leafy and affluent parish of Bray in Berkshire he switched creeds to accommodate whichever might be the religion “du jour” of the reigning monarch. In his charming book of curiosities, “Worthies of England” (1662), Thomas Fuller wrote: “The vivacious vicar [of Bray] living under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, was first a Papist, then a Protestant, then a Papist, then a Protestant again. He had seen some martyrs burnt two miles off at Windsor and found this fire too hot for his tender temper. This vicar, being attacked by one for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling, said, ‘Not so, for I always kept my principle, which is this—to live and die the Vicar of Bray.’” This would inspire a caustic ballad which has from time to time been tailored to fit half a dozen other Churchmen of different periods but with similar qualities of adaptability:

And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

There is a political parallel to this malleability in the former Vice President, Joe Biden, who has decided to run for the presidency as a Catholic independent of the strictures of Catholicism. As vice president, he officiated at the civil “marriage” of two men in 2016, although he had voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. When he was exploring a run for the presidency in 2008, Biden famously said: “I will shove my rosary beads down the throat of any Republican who says I am not a Catholic.” The Bishop of Cashel and the Vicar of Bray could not have said it more eloquently.

On June 5, Biden had a campaign spokesman reiterate his long-standing support of the Hyde Amendment, which, having been passed by Congress in 1977, prevented federal funding for abortions save for pregnancies caused by rape, or incest, and considerations of risk to the life of the mother. Such provisions at the time were considered to be pragmatic for attaining passage of the bill. A day after affirming the Hyde Amendment, Biden gave a speech in Atlanta in which he repudiated the Hyde Amendment, while simultaneously insisting that he was not rejecting his previous position on abortion funding, and added that he would make “no apologies for the last position.” His overnight flip-flop brings to mind the agility with which Senator Kerry in 2004 explained his stance on a supplemental appropriation for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” That was matched and perhaps surpassed by the leader of the Australian party One Nation, Pauline Hanson, who said in 2018 with reference to tax cut legislation: “I haven’t flip-flopped, I said no originally, then I said yes, then I have said no and I’ve stuck to it.” To assure anyone who might put a cynical gloss on Biden’s reversal, one of his campaign officials, T.J. Ducklo, said, “This is about health care, not politics.”

In a flash of honesty, Bismarck said: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable—the art of the next best.” No one can survive in public life if he naïvely denies that situations may require compromise and even reversals. I was fortunate to know Congressman Henry Hyde, who counted his amendment his greatest achievement and told interesting stories of what was involved in getting it passed. I also knew Judge Bork, who was slandered by the rancorous attacks of shameless senators, including Biden, who ranted as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “It appears to me that you are saying that the government has as much right to control a married couple’s decision about choosing to have a child or not, as that government has a right to control the public utility’s right to pollute the air.” Both Hyde and Bork were aware of the art of the possible, but they also knew that when retractions and contradictions affect matters of life or death, accommodation takes on an ominous character.

In “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of another and very different, indeed opposite, Mr. Hyde, but his cryptic message was that Jekyll and Hyde are the same man, and conscience is the serum that frees one and restrains the other: “I (Dr. Jekyll) was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence. Not that I dreamed of resuscitating Hyde; … no, it was in my own person that I was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience….”

Biden was given an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, in 2016, enriching his academic laurels which were tenuous after he placed 75 out of 86 in his Syracuse College of Law class, although he claimed to have been in the top half. But if politics is the art of the possible, one must expect artistic liberties. Drawing on, and perhaps exhausting, his information on Shakespeare, Biden said that his mistake regarding school grades, like his propensity for appropriating sources without attribution, is “much ado about nothing.” Academic rankings are not assurances of intelligence; in fact, Mr.—that is, Dr. Biden told a voter during a campaign stop in New Hampshire in 1987: “I think I probably have a much higher I.Q. than you.” Armed with such confidence, Biden has wrestled with his conscience like a Sumo wrestler, thudding against that “aboriginal vicar of Christ” and bouncing off. Free of constricting guilt, and unafraid of the foolish need for consistency which is the hobgoblin of those little minds with I.Q.’s less than his, Biden now presents himself to the public as a prodigy of rejuvenation. With hair thicker and teeth whiter, beyond the skill of frail Mother Nature, and armed with his lethal Rosary, he is ready to lead America like an eager Boy Scout helping an unwilling lady across the wrong street.

The Bourbon Henry of Navarre, baptized Catholic but reared Protestant and the champion of a Huguenot army, became King Henry IV of France by cutting a deal: he would declare himself Catholic. An intemperate Catholic, François Ravaillac, thought that a threatened invasion of the Spanish Netherlands proved the insincerity of Henry’s conversion, and assassinated him in 1610. Although King Henry had said, “Paris vaut une messe”—by his arcane calculation, Paris was worth a Mass—the Church has never canonized him.  Less saintly is anyone who calculates that Washington, D.C., is worth more than a Mass.

Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016); The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017); and Calm in Chaos (Ignatius, 2018).

Thursday, May 30, 2019

John Paul II and the Cold War’s Decisive Moment

By Father Raymond de Souza

Forty years ago the communists got what they wanted, and lived to rue the day.
When Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków was elected Pope John Paul II in October 1978, the question arose of how Moscow and Warsaw would deal with a potential papal visit to his homeland. The communists wanted no part of a pope behind the Iron Curtain. St Paul VI had accepted the invitation of the Polish bishops to visit for the millennium of Poland’s baptism in 1966, but the Polish regime and its Soviet overlord refused to permit the Holy Father to come.
The wily “Primate of the Millennium”, the now Venerable Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński went ahead with the Mass marking the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Poland at the shrine of the Black Madonna at Częstochowa, concelebrated by Archbishop Wojtyła and the entire Polish episocopate. At the centre of the celebration was an enormous vacant chair, upon which the cardinal placed a portrait of St Paul VI. Everyone got the message.
In 1979, the aging tyrants in Moscow advised their Polish subordinates to close the border to John Paul, as they had to Paul VI. Warsaw knew better; it was simply impossible to refuse the Polish pope entry to Poland, perhaps the world’s most devout Catholic country. So they tried to do the best they could. St John Paul II asked to visit “my beloved Kraków … where every stone and brick is dear to me” for two days in May 1979. He would come for the 700th anniversary of the martyrdom of
St Stanisław, the 11th-century bishop of Kraków, murdered by King Bolesław the Bold himself during Holy Mass. The Polish communist party was aghast; the Polish pope returning to commemorate the anniversary of the state killing his predecessor was simply impossible.
So they refused the proposal for two Stanisław-focused days in May, and offered instead nine days in June. John Paul accepted the “compromise” and announced the nine-day pilgrimage for June. The Polish bishops then decided to transfer the celebration of St Stanisław’s feast to June.
Thus outmaneuvered before the apostolic visit even began, the Polish regime, at best, could only attempt to limit the damage. They clumsily directed Polish state television, for example, not to show any scenes of the massive crowds. Yet they did not manage to get through the first day before suffering a lethal blow.
Landing in Warsaw on June 2, 1979, John Paul made a triumphal entry to the capital city, entering Victory Square, with its tomb of the unknown soldier, for the Mass for the vigil of Pentecost. With a million people packed into Warsaw’s rebuilt Old City, he preached the most important sermon in the thousand-year history of Poland. He began by pointedly recalling that God had seen to it that a pope would visit Poland, even after the refusal of 1966. The words were diplomatic and pious, but there was no subtlety in the message: God had won, the Church had won, the Polish people had won.
“Together with you I wish to sing a hymn of praise to Divine Providence, which enables me to be here as a pilgrim,” he began. “We know that the recently deceased Paul VI, the first pilgrim pope after so many centuries, ardently desired to set foot on the soil of Poland… To the end of his life he kept this desire in his heart, and with it he went to the grave. And we feel that this desire – a desire so potent and so deeply rooted that it goes beyond the span of a pontificate – is being realised today in a way that it would have been difficult to foresee.”
“Difficult to foresee” – perhaps the greatest understatement in the history of papal rhetoric. But John Paul clearly saw what was at stake. It was the same question that led to the martyrdom of Stanisław: would Poland remain free, or would the Polish state claim the things of God?
He continued: “My pilgrimage to my motherland in the year in which the Church in Poland is celebrating the ninth centenary of the death of St Stanisław is surely a special sign of the pilgrimage that we Poles are making down through the history of the Church.”
The witness of Poland, “from Stanisław to Maximilian Kolbe”, could not be understood without reference to Christ and the nation’s Christian faith, John Paul insisted. There could be no justice in Europe without a free Poland on the map, and there could be no just accounting of Poland’s identity and mission without including its faith in God.
As the homily went on, John Paul was repeatedly interrupted, sometimes for minutes on end, by a rhythmic chant of the vast congregation: “We want God! We want God!”
By the end of the homily, only hours after his arrival, the historical moment was already clear. The contest was over between a free Catholic Poland and the communist tyranny that had been imposed upon it from Moscow in 1945. It would take another 10 years to work out the details, but it was not in doubt who would win, and why.
The end of the Cold War cannot be understood apart from Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and the geopolitics of the 1980s. But the decisive moment was on June 2, 1979 in Warsaw, not on a battlefield or in a chancellery negotiation, but at the Mass for Pentecost.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of