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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Father Rutler: The Temptation to Fly

Of the temptations to which our Lord allowed himself to be subjected, the most difficult to understand was the temptation to fly. Actually, wanting to fly is not all that peculiar, if by peculiar is meant unique or unusual. Everyone is tempted to fly. By that I do not mean the impetus that drove Icarus and the Wright Brothers. No, Satan’s flying is contempt for reality. Wanting everything my way is flying in the face of facts.
 

Jesus, who walked on water, could have flown if he had subjected his human nature to his divine nature. He walked on water to teach Peter something, not to impress him. Satan tempted Jesus with the baser use of his divinity, to be superhuman instead of supernatural, Superman instead of Saviour. Our Lord’s response was: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
 

Our world, and certainly our nation, is suffering a crucible of temptations. In many ways we have already succumbed to them, which is why great saints have called ours a “Culture of Death.” Attitudes and even sometimes laws have flown against reality: vice is freedom, decadence is dignity, killing unborn children is righteous, the unnatural is natural, maleness and femaleness are not facts but moods, and marriage is whatever the ego wants it to be.
 

Ego . . . for the temptation to fly is the primeval sin of pride, living a lie, and pretending that the world made by God is the world re-invented by man. By refusing to fly, Jesus saved us from the degradation of acting like idiots in a world of nonsense. It was expressed well by Alice as she prepared to enter Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it is isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?’
 

Tragically, there are those now who do see it that way and want the world to be Wonderland. The late and lamented Justice Antonin Scalia summoned some of our national patrimony’s most formidable common sense and elegant expressions of it, graced with scintillating wit, to say that positive laws are rooted in realities deeper than whim. While some other jurists lived in Wonderland, he lived in God’s creation.
 

Even Justice Scalia could be astonished at the ways man succumbs to fantasy. Crossing Park Avenue on a bright spring day, he stopped in the middle of traffic when I told him that the Dalton Books chain, now gone, had classified a book by the Hemlock Society about how to commit suicide, under the category “Self-Improvement.” By God’s grace, he can smile now before the God of both justice and mercy, but I think he must also grieve that so many still in this world think that they can fly.   

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