Blue Ridge Mountains in Winter

Follow Sunlit Uplands by E-Mail

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Father Rutler: Extremism

Father George W. Rutler
The foundational documents of our nation were influenced by Catholic political philosophers such as Aquinas, Suárez, Báñez, Gregory of Valencia and Saint Robert Bellarmine, who wrote before theorists like Hobbes and Rousseau. This contradicts a popular impression that democracy was the invention of the Protestant Reformation. Luther and Calvin considered popular assemblies highly suspect. The concept of the Divine Right of Kings, which was a prelude to what we call “statism” and “big government,” was systematized by the Protestant counselor to King James I of England, Robert Filmer.
For all his vague Deism, Thomas Jefferson might have acknowledged those Catholic sources, if obliquely, in his eloquent phrases. The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests for public office were developments rooted in the Thomistic outlines of human rights and dignity declared in the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbraoth.
This was lost on some senators who have violated Constitutional guarantees by subjecting judicial nominees to religious tests. One senator complained to a Catholic nominee for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Two other senators said that the President’s nominee for a federal district court in Nebraska was unsuitable because his membership in the Knights of Columbus committed him to “a number of extreme positions.” Members of their political party consider opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion “extreme.” This would characterize the Pope as an extremist, but at least he is not a judicial nominee.
In the Statuary Hall of our nation’s Capitol are sculptures portraying heroes who represent the best of the history and culture of each state. They include Saint Junípero Serra of California, Saint Damien de Veuster of Hawaii, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Maryland, Father Eusebio Kino of Arizona, General James Shields of Illinois, Chief Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana, Father Jacques Marquette of Wisconsin, Patrick McCarran of Nevada, Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, John Burke of North Dakota, John McLoughlin of Oregon, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart Pariseau of Washington, and John Edward Kenna of West Virginia, all of whom were Catholic. These canonized saints, statesmen, soldiers, jurists and pioneers would be extremists unworthy of public office in the estimation of some current senators for whom subscription to natural law and obedience to the Ten Commandments are violations of what they fantasize as the norm of moral being.
The coruscating illiteracy of such senators burlesques reason. At every performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, audiences wait for the fifth scene of the second act, when the haunting statue of the Commendatore comes alive and knocks on the door to the sound of trombones. Would that all those statues of some of our nation’s greatest figures might come down from their pedestals and challenge the vacant minds of those inquisitorial senators to explain what constitutes extremism.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Father Rutler: Herod's Heirs

Father George W. Rutler
Researching the Birth Narrative of our Lord on the computer can be a source of unintentionally mordant humor. On one of the prominent encyclopedia sites, we are told in the entry for King Herod that “most scholars agree” that he was entirely capable of massacring the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem. But the same source, under the entry for Holy Innocents, says “most scholars agree” that the account was a myth, since no one would do such a thing.
The emperor Augustus, who was content to have Herod as a client ruler, punned in Greek that he would rather be Herod’s pig (“hys”) than be his son (“huios”). Herod had murdered three of his sons along with one of his wives and a brother-in-law, not to mention three hundred military officers who were abrasive to his paranoia, even though he had 2,000 bodyguards from as far away as what now are France and Germany. Augustus was appalled by the crassness of Herod, rather as the Nazis, for all their malevolence, were taken aback by the sadism of the Soviets in the Katyn Forest and the insouciant viciousness of the Vichy leaders.
To this day, remnant stones and bulwarks testify to the large-scale engineering wonders with which Herod impressed and intimidated the populace: the extension of the Second Temple, the Herodium and Masada fortresses, the port town of Caesarea Maritima, which was enabled by his development of hydraulic cement, and his shipbuilding industry made possible by the asphalt he dredged from the Dead Sea.
The Wise Men from the East, whatever else they were (and we do not know precisely from where they came or how many they were) were good psychologists. They quickly seized upon the paranoia of Herod and outwitted him, provoking the massacre of male infants two years old and under. The historians Josephus and Nicholas of Damascus do not record that slaughter because the victims were babies, and for Roman chroniclers, babies were not as important as adults. Contrary to the inspired Jewish religion, the dominant protocols of the Western world permitted the killing of infants by the paterfamilias for any reason, including inconvenience, deformity and birth control. In Sparta, only a child strong enough for development into soldiery had a right to life.
By an indult of Providence, and in contradiction to many “virtue-signaling” cynics, our current Executive branch of government has become the most pro-life since Roe v. Wade, but that is a fragile assurance and one with no promise of permanence. There are vastly more infanticides now than in Herodian Bethlehem. If our civilization lasts two thousand years more, there may be a “majority of scholars” who will say that in 2019 there were people capable of such iniquity, and another “majority of scholars” who will insist that people back in 2019 could never have been so cruel.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Father Rutler: All Creatures of Our God and King

Christians in the Indian state of Kerala are about 20% of the population. An amateur film recorded there shows some workers struggling with a power shovel to rescue a baby elephant from a ditch. I do not know if they were Christians, Hindus, Muslims or a mix, but they succeeded. The happy juvenile dashed back to its herd, and as the adult elephants formed a line to depart, they raised their trunks in salute to the rescuers. That was one example of their enigmatic sensibility. That they have long memories is no myth: they can remember watering holes from years back; they can communicate by subsonic rumbles along the ground faster than sound can travel through air; they have rituals for mourning their dead; and they peacefully spend sixteen hours a day eating, which is more than the average New Yorker.
Every creature has gifts that science is gradually discovering, such as the almost mathematically improbable migratory habits of penguins and the telescopic vision of hawks. These are prodigies of God’s extravagant love. The Christ Child arranged to be born in a makeshift menagerie rather than in a hotel where pets might not have been allowed. This Child “. . . is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature . . .  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:15, 17). Animals at least could provide some body warmth, which in that fragile first moment of the Child’s exposed human nature was more important than any rhetoric, and more practical than the lofty song of angels.
It may not be too fanciful to think that, as a donkey can live up to forty years, God’s providence might have arranged for a donkey in that stable to be the one that the Child grown into manhood rode into Jerusalem. At least it was some donkey, that with its hellish bray and flapping ears looked like the “devil’s walking parody” as Chesterton said, but equipped for that final triumph with “a shout about my ears, / And palms before my feet.” In 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II entered Jerusalem on a white horse. In 1917 General Allenby pointedly entered on foot. A scraggly donkey was the most royal beast, for the rarest jewel of rulers is humility. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Perhaps at Christ’s coming, with their sensory gifts we cannot yet fully understand, the animals in the stable knew more about the Holy Child than humans realize. In that first Christmas moment, they were able to do what only saints in heaven can do, for they gazed upon the face of God.
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).



Saturday, December 1, 2018

Father Rutler: Holy Reminders

A bishop condescendingly asked John Henry Newman, “Who are the laity?” To which the great saint, and, one hopes, future Doctor of the Church, replied that the Church would look foolish without them. 
The same might be said of those who are consecrated in the Religious life. The difference is that most of the Church consists in laypeople, while monks, nuns, and other consecrated Sisters and Brothers are a small fraction of the People of God, but are needed to remind all the baptized that our true home is in heaven. The distinctive habits that they wear are reminders of their role.
Since the Second Vatican Council, many ill-advised Religious have abandoned conventual life and even those Religious habits. It was an abuse of the Council’s modest prescriptions for updating the consecrated life, and in fact, it often fostered dissent from the Faith itself. Since 1965 the number of women Religious in the United States has dropped from 181,421 to fewer than 47,000 today. Eighty percent are older than 70, so the death rattle is ominous in at least 300 of the 420 Religious institutes. Yet, many refuse to admit their mistakes, rather like the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
But there is also a dramatic upsurge in Orders that live the traditional counsels, teaching, caring for the poor and sick, and not wasting their time in “workshops” on climate change and nuclear weapons.
Some of these new communities are growing dramatically: the Dominican Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, and our own New York-based Sisters of Life (who share our parish’s hospitality), among others. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, whose mother house is in Michigan, have grown in just twenty years to more than 140 Sisters with an average age of 32. They teach in preschool through college throughout the United States and this coming year will open another large convent in Texas for 115 sisters.
A choir of these Sisters in their traditional habits was invited to sing at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington. This is a big change from just a few years ago when an earlier Administration threatened to sue the venerable Little Sisters of the Poor for maintaining Catholic moral principles.
The Advent season bids us to think more deeply about Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The Religious are consecrated to remind the faithful about these Four Last Things. “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16.).