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Sunday, January 9, 2011

From the Pastor - 'A Living Force for All Mankind'

A Weekly Column by Father George Rutler

"The Baptism of Jesus" by Leonardo da Vinci

Jesus did not need to be baptized, yet he did so to occasion another “epiphany” announcing his divinity. St. Gregory Nazianzen said: “Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens, like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent.”

In an age cynical about heroes, it is important to remember that there really are heroes, and the greatest heroes are those who have been faithful to their baptism. One example is Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880 – 1963).  He was born of an influential Catholic family in Belgium. His Irish mother died when he was six, and his father, an international attorney, took him to Cairo where he learned Arabic. From there the young Adrian went to the Birmingham Oratory School founded by Blessed John Henry Newman. He later left Oxford University to become a soldier in the British Army and fought in the Boer War and both World Wars. He lost an eye and a hand and was shot up with shrapnel, which was removed only late in life. This did not stop him from being a first-class game hunter in Hungary, Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia, and a fox hunter and polo player.

This flower of the Edwardian Age was admired by Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek and challenged Mao Tse-tung to his face. During World War I, while serving in the Somaliland Camel Corps, Carton de Wiart was wounded in a foray against the “Mad Mullah” Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan and was shot many times in the battles of the Somme, Passchendaele and Cambrai. His wife was a Polish countess and taught him her language. He was sent to Poland with the British Military Mission and got to know Charles de Gaulle. There he engaged in a shootout with the Bolsheviks, befriended the pianist and premier, Paderewski, and the future Pope Pius XI, then nuncio to Poland, whom he encouraged to remain when Warsaw was under attack.  After an air crash, General de Wiart was a prisoner in Lithuania.

In World War II he fought in Norway. En route to defend Yugoslavia against a Nazi invasion, his plane was shot down in Libya, and he became a prisoner of Mussolini in Italy. Released, he was sent on a mission to China by way of India, fought in Burma, and consulted General MacArthur in Tokyo.

In his autobiography, de Wiart neglected to mention his various decorations and knighthoods, including the Victoria Cross. But he remembered that he had been baptized. He was the kind of hero St. Gregory spoke of: “Today let us do honour to Christ’s baptism . . . He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven.”

Fr. George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of our Saviour in New York City. His latest book, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, is available from Crossroads Publishing.


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