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Showing posts with label Father George Rutler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Father George Rutler. Show all posts

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Father Rutler: Christ the King

Father George W. Rutler
These days I am frequently asked if we are living in the “End Times.” As the grace of Holy Orders does not make me a seer, I defer, as is prudent, to the King of Universe: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). So the answer simply is that we do not know, but as the Coast Guard’s “Semper Paratus” motto exhorts, we must constantly be prepared. That vigilance is contingent on everyone’s immediate obligation to be recollect for the end of one’s own life. For the Christian, this is a stimulus to faith rather than neurosis. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  

The prophets were not like the boy who cried “Wolf!” They were inspired by God to tell what he wants his people to know about spiritual readiness, so that his kingly rule is that of a shepherd guiding his flock through the variables of human experience. In the film The Lion in Winter, Katharine Hepburn as Henry II’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, remarks with regal resignation about her dysfunctional family: “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” Christ’s family the Church has always had its ups and downs, often big time, and many times it has been the lamentable case that the Shepherd King is tasked with herding cats rather than sheep.  

The Church began with a crucifixion when no one expected a resurrection. That sequence of death and life is repeated time and again. There were the persecutions under so many Caesars, heresies with volatile schisms in consequence, sieges, desecrations, destructions, corruptions and civilly institutionalized blasphemies. But each of these crucifixions was followed by a resurrection. This is to be remembered when distress in the Church is accompanied by a confluence of unrest and fear in politics and pandemics. Through it all, the Carthusian motto grows ever more stolid and incontestable: “Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis”—the Cross stands steady while the world revolves. This is most vivid when the revolving world seems to be whirling out of control.  

On November 5, the ninety-year-old Cardinal Tumi of Cameroon was briefly kidnapped by separatists who demanded that he endorse their propaganda. He told his captors that he must preach only what is true: “Nobody has the right to tell me to preach the contrary because I was called by God.” In every cultural crisis, this is the kind of witness that transcends any attempt to speculate about the end of the world, for it takes its strength from the assurance that Christ Crucified in Jerusalem is also Christ the King of the Universe. 
                           His dominion is an everlasting dominion  
                           that shall not be taken away,
                           his kingship shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14) 

Faithfully yours in Christ, 
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Father Rutler: The Prince of Lies

Father George W. Rutler

The Prince of Lies cannot lie in the presence of Christ: know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). And Christ who is the Truth knows him, too: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). 

Satan does not want anyone to know him, and yet in the present discontent that afflicts our culture, many anarchists and Marxists invoke him. The desecration of churches and statues of saints is spreading. Twice recently, our own church has been defaced with Satanic symbols: not just the customary obscenities, but invocations of the Prince of Lies. 

The mystics have known two characteristics of Satan. A Desert Father around 300 A.D., Abba Apollo, had a vision of him: “The devil has no knees. He cannot kneel; he cannot adore; he cannot pray; he can only look down his nose in contempt. Being unwilling to bend the knee at the name of Jesus is the essence of evil.” (cf. Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11) The other malignant quality of the Liar, as revealed to Saint Martin of Tours, is that he can look as attractive as Christ, but he has no wounds. Instead of taking our suffering upon himself, the Anti-Christ inflicts suffering. That is his infernal nourishment and macabre ecstasy. 

Playing the Devil’s game is dangerous. He has concealed weapons, and the chief of them is deceit. At one recent political convention, a Religious sister from a dying community, in secular dress, prayed not to the Lord, but to “O Divine Spirit” in a way that would have been unobjectionable to a Hindu or an Aztec. With concomitant vagueness, she said that an opinion on the killing of unborn life was above her “pay grade.” At the convention that followed, another Religious in full habit, who is a surgeon and former Army colonel, Sister Deirdre Byrne, made clear that naming the lies of Satan was not above her pay grade as she held her “weapon of choice: the rosary.” 

The rosary is the most effective private prayer in defying the Liar. The greatest public prayer is the Holy Eucharist. Four years ago in France, two Islamic terrorists sliced the throat of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel at the Altar of Sacrifice. His last words were: “Va-t’en, Satan!” (Be gone, Satan!) Christ had said the same in the wilderness and on the way to his crucifixion (Mark 8:33; Matthew 16:23). 

Unlike some Catholics, who shy away from mentioning the name of Christ at public gatherings lest they give offense, the evangelist Franklin Graham prayed “In the mighty name of your son, my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Christ himself warned: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). 

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler 

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

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

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Father Rutler: A Light in the Darkness

Father George W. Rutler
In these days of closures, which must soon end, I am able to offer Mass quietly for the intentions of parishioners and others, and I often take the opportunity to use the Extraordinary Form, whose beautiful cadences end with the “Last Gospel.” This Johannine Prologue in hymnodic verse concluded the Liturgy from the earliest days of the Faith, as a reminder that “the Word was made flesh” and, by being received into the flesh of communicants, makes them living tabernacles commissioned to take Christ into the world. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and “the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
   The present pandemic has spread a cultural darkness that contrasts with the growing brightness of late spring days. Any amateur artist, if untutored, must learn by experiment that the brightest colors in his paint box are brilliant on canvass not by themselves but by contrast with dark tones. There is remnant evidence that this application in art goes back about 2,500 years to the Athenian muralist Apollodorus. It may seem obvious, but it was not so until it was tried, and in fact it was gradually forgotten until rediscovered in the Renaissance. The contrast of light and dark, chiaroscuro, was mastered by the likes of Leonardo, Caravaggio and then Rembrandt and Vermeer. It conveys brooding as well as rejoicing, and “film noir” of modern cinematography made as much use of darkness as earlier art made of light.
   It remains to be seen if what we call normalcy will be restored. It is certain that “things will never be the same” because things present by definition can never be what they used to be. Whether this be good or bad depends on what is learned from having passed from darkness into light (cf. Isaiah 9:2). This is the Gospel essence that the first Christians gave to a world that had accustomed itself to a life of shadows. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
   During these long weeks, the absence of votive lights in a darkened church has contrasted with the candles that used to burn here, and I hope that soon there will be even more lit than before. But all this time, a lamp has burned before the Blessed Sacrament.
   One recalls that passage from Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited describing the sanctuary lamp in a desolate chapel during the darkness of a World War: “. . . the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Father Rutler: Mother of the Church

Father George W. Rutler
Eyebrows were raised when Queen Victoria commented that of all her predecessors, she would most enjoy a conversation with King Charles II. In the arrangements of their domestic lives they could hardly have been more unlike, but Charles was a man of attractive wit, and that was her point. In most ways, Voltaire was the perfect opposite of Pope Benedict XIV, but he admired the pope’s gifts as an astonishing polymath and even dedicated a stage play to him.
   The scientific and literary pursuits of Benedict did not concentrate his mind to the neglect of the ministry of the Church. He revived devotion to the Blessed Virgin as “Mother of the Church” in 1748, in the tradition of Saint Ambrose of Milan, who first used the title in the fourth century. As the Church is the body of Christ born of Mary, Pope Paul VI, previously an archbishop in the Ambrosian succession, formally proclaimed the title at the close of the Second Vatican Council. In 2018, our present Pontiff decreed that the Monday after Pentecost be a Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This year on May 1, the bishops of North America put their churches under the protection of Mary, the Mother of the Church.
   Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The Church . . . carries the burdens of history. She suffers, and she is assumed into heaven. Slowly she learns that Mary is her mirror, that she is a person in Mary. Mary, on the other hand, is not an isolated individual. . . . She is carrying the mystery of the Church.”
   In the Clementine Hall of the Vatican is an allegorical painting of a woman nursing symbols of the Four Evangelists. Christians who call themselves Evangelicals might find the depiction startling, but it is a reminder that one cannot be fully a “Bible-believing Christian” without the Church that nurtured the canonical formulation of the Holy Scriptures.
   Deprived of the Church’s sacraments during the pandemic, the faithful can find resonance in the old spiritual: “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The experience is not unique to the present time. In various plagues, churches have had to close. Christians, including missionaries, have also been denied sacramental access due to geographical isolation.
   Sometimes the Church herself has imposed “interdicts” banning public worship for disciplinary reasons: Pope Adrian IV briefly placed Rome itself under interdict; by decree of John XXII, churches were shut in Scotland for eleven years; and Innocent III censured France for nearly a year, Norway for four years, and England for six. The circumstances were complicated and regrettable, but the results overcame previous lassitude and bonded the faithful to the Easter joy of the Blessed Mother.
       Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
       For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
       Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
       Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Father Rutler: Benevolent Solitude

Father George W. Rutler
Among logical fallacies, the argument from authority, “argumentum ad verecundiam,” means accepting a proposition because its source is authoritative, even though the matter is outside that source’s competence. Such a fallacy, for instance, might approve Einstein’s view on politics or religion because he was such an important physicist. However, precisely because of his inventiveness, it is not fallacious to accept as valid his assertion: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind.”
   Einstein was a remote disciple of the quirkily brilliant early nineteenth-century philosopher Schopenhauer: “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
   There is some consolation in that at present, when “cabin fever” is an ancillary affliction of the coronavirus. One does not have to be a physicist or philosopher to know that while “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), there is a difference between cursed loneliness and benevolent solitude. The integrity of one’s spiritual life can be measured by understanding the difference. Thus Pascal, who was a Christian mystic and a mathematical scientist, famously said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.”
   The Nazis locked the Dominican nun, Blessed Julia Rodzinska, in a cement closet for a year, and witnesses remarked on the radiance of her face. The Venerable Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan spent thirteen years in a Vietnamese prison, nine of them in isolation. I can attest to the serenity of three men I met who never were lonely in solitude. One was Bishop Dominic Tang of Canton, who spent seven of his twenty-two years in prison in solitary confinement. Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei of Shanghai was thirty years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. Father Walter Ciszek died in New York after five years in isolation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison and fifteen years in the Gulag.
   These names came to mind when I read of a CNN commentator, who has shown condescension for the Church and promoted an article calling for the abolition of the Catholic priesthood. He tweeted that, after some weeks in lockdown, during which he kept his lucrative job, he “crawled in bed and cried.”
   Saints in solitude often did not have a bed to crawl into, but they were with God, and would have been embarrassed for the Governor of New York, who said of the pandemic: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.”
   Another governor, the fifth of the Roman province of Judaea, was told: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). We know who said that.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Father Rutler: Surprising Events

Father George W. Rutler
Clichés should not be ignored just because they are clichés. Facile repetition of what is true does not make it false. Of course, it can be annoying to hear a phrase repeated often without giving it much thought. Some expressions are not false simply because they lack originality. There are many invented lies, but there is no truth that has not always been true.
   Only a dull mind would be annoyed by the truism that “Life is full of surprises.” Our first surprise happened when we were born and realized that there is a world outside the womb. The most stunning surprise in history, literally earth-shaking, was the Resurrection of Christ. No one expected it, and those few who recalled Christ’s prediction, denied it: “Now, on the next day, which is the one after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” ’ ” (Matthew 27:62 ff). Not to risk the chance of a hoax, they arranged for the tomb to be guarded.
   The closest disciples did not understand that Jesus really meant what he said, beyond metaphor. Even in the afterglow of the Transfiguration, three of the apostles seem to have dismissed his prediction of death and resurrection as a pious cliché. There was even a subtle humor in the way the Lord surprised them: the way the Magdalen at first thought the distant figure was a gardener, and the way young John dropped for a moment his self-effacing humility by mentioning that he outran Peter to the tomb, and Jesus’ conversation with the two men on the Emmaus road almost like an elegant tease at first, and the food he ate in the Upper Room to prove he was not a ghost, and his commanding serenity when he showed Thomas the wounds.
The element of surprise affirms the integrity of an event. The Risen Lord said to Cleopas and his companion: "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). That is the one instance when he called anyone a fool. At first it would seem to contradict his command not to insult people by calling them “raqa” which means empty-headed. But here, in the glory of the Resurrection, there is no malice attached to what he says. There is only what some have called a gracious mirth.
   If life is so full of surprises that we are no longer surprised by them, the solution is to recall that for forty days after the Lord rose from the dead, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Father Rutler: We'll Meet Again

Normally each Easter, the Resurrection Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom replaces our regular column, with his paraphrase of Saint Paul’s “Death, where is thy sting? Grave where is thy victory?” (Corinthians 15:55). But these are not normal times. Their abnormality includes my own difficulty in not preaching the Three Hours on Good Friday for the first time in fifty years. But this sudden breakdown of the life we were accustomed to living has a power of its own, like the tension of Holy Saturday between Friday and Sunday.

   This jolt is a reminder that the Resurrection of Christ was the most unusual thing that ever happened. Perhaps it takes a cancellation of Easter-egg hunts and an absence of chocolate bunnies, to renew the shock of an end to sorrow. The Magdalene recognized Jesus only after she wept: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It must have been very quiet in the garden by the empty tomb, when the Voice called to her by name. The whole world has now become silent enough for us to hear that Voice. And when the Master told the Magdalene not to touch him, he was not setting an example for “social distancing.” He was telling her not to cling to him, because he had more to do over forty days, before he entered eternity, making himself available everywhere, cancelling all emptiness.
   In 590, Rome was reeling from what evidently was Bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, which pandemic over several decades had killed an estimated one hundred million people in a population much smaller than now. Pope Pelagius II was one of its victims. His successor, Pope Gregory I, had been Pelaguis’ ambassador or “apocrisiarius” to Constantinople where he learned the custom of their penitential processions. On April 25, he organized a procession of seven groups representing the different regions of Rome, and prayed the prototype of our prayer, the “Regina Coeli”: “Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia: For he whom thou hast deserved to bear, alleluia, Hath risen, as he promised, alleluia.” He said he heard it from angels. Then he had a vision of Saint Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword, and the pestilence ended.
   Divine Providence arranged long ago that our church’s patron should be Saint Michael the Archangel. Our parish has the honor of pastoral responsibility for the emergency hospital with a capacity for over three thousand patients at the Javits Center. In every country people are responding in different ways to the specter of desolation that has haunted each generation in various ways.
   On Palm Sunday, Queen Elizabeth spoke words as maternal as they were monarchical: “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” Those with memories long enough will recognize that the Queen was evoking the World War II song: “We’ll meet again. Don't know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” Her words were broadcast from the same castle where, nearly eighty years before, as a girl herself, she sent her first radio message to all the children who had been sent away from vulnerable cities and towns to a variety of locations in England and other countries to escape the bombings: “We know, everyone of us, that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.”
   There are wars made by men, but there are also wars of pestilence that are not invented, but are even deadlier for having been inflicted. Yet there never is a day without the supernatural combat that engages each soul: “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). In that battle, the Risen Lord clothes us with the mantle of victory, if we are willing to bear the weight of its glory. That is why Pope Gregory, after the people had prayed the “Queen of Heaven” prayer in that procession, chanted a new line as Saint Michael appeared: “Pray for us to God. Alleluia.”
   In hard times people have consoled each other with the promise: “We’ll meet again.” Because of the cruelties of circumstance, not all did meet again, not in this world. But the joy of Easter is this: Just as the disciples met again the Lord they thought they had lost, so may we meet Him on what our limited language calls “some sunny day.” He is the Living Word who made all things, so he says in speech not limited by mortal intelligence: “A little while, and you will no longer behold me; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Father Rutler: Keep on Playing

Father George W. Rutler
Geniuses often are thought to be absent-minded. Archimedes was so preoccupied with a mathematical diagram he was constructing during the invasion of Syracuse in Sicily in 212 BC, that he told a Roman soldier about to slay him: “Let me finish my numbers.” He was not professorially absent-minded, but present-minded. His obligation to truth took precedence over life itself.
   In our exceptional times, the President has declared a national emergency. This is not unprecedented, and I have an oral tradition of my own family witnessing to the influenza epidemic of 1918, when my grandparents’ venerable parish rector survived the infection while ministering to the ill, but whose two daughters died. The causalities were much higher than now, with a much smaller global population.
   We pray for our leaders, and the scientists enlisted to mitigate the spread of infection. We also deplore those who would exploit this crisis for political gain. Our Lord had the greatest contempt for demagogues. It is thankworthy that months ago, our government prudently imposed barriers on immigration from China, in spite of criticism from politicians who faulted that policy for what they called “xenophobia.”
   In any generation, crises provoke a reaction to the fact of human mortality. In their anxiety, those unwilling to acknowledge that tend to decry catastrophes as if they were intrusions into the obvious circumstance that life is a fragile gift. So they become paranoid about disease, demographics, climate change and other metaphors for the simple reality of impermanence.
   Death is nothing new. Until now, everyone has done it. Our Lord would speak of it with a strange mixture of gravity and nonchalance. It is prelude to a permanent realm of which every anatomical breath is an intimation by virtue of its impermanence. Anxiety ignores the promise that accompanies the warning: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
   Saint Charles Borromeo led a procession in prayer to mitigate the plague in Milan in 1576, caring for upwards of seventy thousand dying and starving people. Death meant nothing to him, save an opening to Paradise. For all his mystical intuitions, he also enjoyed playing billiards, and when asked what he would do if he had only fifteen minutes more to live, he responded, “Keep playing billiards.”
   One of the Church’s youngest saints, Dominic Savio, told Saint John Bosco that if the Holy Angel blew his trumpet for the end of all things while he was on the playground, he would just keep on playing. That is how we should want to play each day of our lives, in a friendship with God that will not find Heaven unfamiliar. In 1857, fourteen-year-old Dominic’s last earthly words were: “Oh, what wonderful things I see!”
   A saint is one who can stand at the eternal gates and say, “Hello. I am home.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Father Rutler: Grace Proportioned to the Trial

Father George W. Rutler
On September 10, 1919, General Pershing led his returning troops up Fifth Avenue before crowds numbering two million. In front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, he dismounted from his rambunctious white horse “Captain” to greet Cardinal Mercier, who had arrived in New York by ship the night before. The General made a point of expressing his esteem for the Belgian prelate. Perhaps the name Mercier means little to many today, but over the course of several weeks, he received an unprecedented series of welcomes in the United States, excelling even the welcome tour of Lafayette in 1824-1825.
Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier
   Cardinal Mercier had become a hero to the world for his defense of Belgium during its sufferings after the German invasion. It is edifying to read on the Internet the account of the celebrations in America recorded by Father Thomas C. Brennan. In it, he describes the prelate addressing Protestant leaders in English, rabbis in Hebrew, and academics in a Latin more fluent than their own, as they bestowed honorary laurels upon him.
   This archbishop led a revival in studies of Thomas Aquinas, but more than that, he was an image of moral integrity, a cardinal honored more for himself than for his title. The response to the Donatist heresy established with certainty, through the articulation of such as Saint Augustine, that the personal attributes of a cleric do not affect the legitimacy of his priestly acts: the sacraments of a weak bishop can confer the same grace as those of a saint. But the moral integrity of a cleric empowers his encouragement of souls. Weak leaders and their bromide-churning bureaucracies have scant moral influence.
   Cardinal Mercier had a zeal that issued from a love of doctrinal truth. In the wartime chaos of 1917, he told his priests not to tell their people to love if they could not explain the theology that justifies love. He gave a practical formula for happiness:
   “Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:
   O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.
   If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you strength to carry it, and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise laden with merit.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Father Rutler: Socialism is Communism Not Yet in Power

Father George W. Rutler
Materialism, fantasy, and false worship were the temptations Satan thrust at Christ, and he is tempting our nation the same way. These seductions are a formula for Socialism, which Winston Churchill in 1948 defined as “The philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”
   A poorly educated generation succumbs to adolescent idealism, bereft of history, unaware that a cult of the state has been a consistent failure, costing countless millions of lives in modern times.
   State worship was resisted by the earliest Christians, who refused to offer incense to Caesar. Socialism is simply Communism not yet in power, and its smiling face in the guise of “Democratic Socialism” quickly scowls once it has control. As the economist Ludwig von Mises showed in various ways, the essence of Socialism is coercion and manipulation. Pope John XXIII, quoting Pope Pius XI, taught in 1961: “No Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.”
   Socialism in the guise of benevolence exploits the naïve. As a corollary, Yeats said: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Lack of conviction moved appeasers to sign the Munich Agreement, and in present times it has ceded the Church’s integrity to the Chinese government. Naïve people were scandalized by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but Stalin and Hitler were simply Socialists in different uniforms. Just as the National Socialist manifesto of 1920 tried to replace the Church with a pastiche of “Positive Christianity,” which was Christianity without Christ, so has the Chinese government ordered that images of Christ be replaced with images of Party leader Xi Jinping.
   In 1931, Pope Pius XI denounced the exaltation of the state as “Idolatry.” He insisted that “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” From a conviction born of suffering under National Socialism and Soviet Socialism, Pope John Paul II maintained that “the fundamental error of Socialism is anthropological . . . [because it] considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism… .”
   As the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, Catholics should note what a present candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, who calls himself a Democratic Socialist, said years ago: “I don’t believe in charities . . .government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.” But Pope Benedict VI has said: “We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces . . .”
   The prophet Samuel warned the Israelites who wanted a king in charge of everything: “He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel 8:17). That voice is louder now. 
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Father Rutler: The Practical Guide

Father George W. Rutler
Earnest preachers use their personalities to lead people to Jesus without obstructing him with themselves. They may honestly boast that they have been given the best information to convey, and we have it in the form of what we call the Bible—that is, the Biblia, or Books. 

   At the start of Lent, our Lord makes us privy to the forty days he spent confronting the Anti-Christ. The only reason he made this public is that he, “who knew all men” (John 2:24), conquered with a blithe insouciance the same three temptations that we mere mortals, whom he loves, confront every day.
   The temptation to turn stone to bread is the seductive power of disordered passions: trying to gratify the wants of the flesh with gossamer seductions that never satisfy for very long. Besides uncontrolled sexuality, this includes gossip, anger and abuse, such as that of drugs and drink, and creates an illusion of pleasure that God alone can give without end. The temptation to defy gravity afflicts human souls by wallowing in fantasy every day, ogling at what others have. The temptation to rule kingdoms is the seduction of the ego to measure ourselves by the prestige others accord us.
   That temptation to rule kingdoms is the most vicious temptation because it elicits and animates the original sin of pride. Not everyone has political power, but each human being is tempted to make a kingdom of his own imagining. Every generation is witness to the futility of that vanity, such as befell the King of Babylon who said in his delusion, like Lucifer: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13).
   Catholicism is practical, which is why its supernatural power may appear among what is deceptively ordinary. Even superstitions, kitsch art, and scandalous behavior by some who identify as Catholics, witness to the fact that the supernatural character of the Church does not depend on human virtue. In some respects, heretical partisans are more virtuous and sober than Catholics, but that is because they depend on themselves, with the result that their populations become monochrome and have no tolerance for exceptions.
   G.K. Chesterton said that if he were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book, if he wanted impress people he would ask for something by Plato or Aristotle, and if he expected to remain stranded a long while, he would want Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers. But if he wanted to get off quickly, he would want Thomas’ “Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.” The Church is the Barque of Peter and, as such, has the most practical information for those who are stranded in a fallen world and want to get off quickly into the vibrant and colorful civilization of the saints. To begin Lent, the Church provides the guide.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler