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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Father Rutler: The Gateway to Glory

Father George W. Rutler
I used to dread Ash Wednesday because of the endless lines of people coming for ashes. By the end of the day, priests look like coal miners.
   Sociologists may condescendingly consider the phenomenon of crowds coming for ashes, when they do not enter a church at other times of the year, a habit of tribal identity. If the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or Christ dying and rising from the dead, confounds limited human intelligence, there is still a spark of the sense that biological life has an end as real as its beginning. For skeptics, the Easter proclamation “Christ is Risen” may seem like an indulgence of romance or wishful thinking, but no one drawing breath can deny that “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.”
   God gives life and does not intend to take it away. He resents mortality, and when he came into the world that he had made good, he wept to see how it had gone wrong. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), and those tears were not because he was poor or hungry or insulted, or because of bad harvests or unpredictable climate or corrupt governments. He wept because someone had died. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
   Even if some think that is too good to be true, every day radio and television advertisements promise that you will feel better if you take their multiple vitamins or subscribe to their weight-loss programs. This is what philosophers call the “élan vital,” or the will to live. The forty days of Lent, which go faster than health regimens, offer a promise of life beyond death more audacious than any promise of improved nutrition or medical cures.
   In 1970 the film “Love Story” was a real tear-jerker, breaking records for its profits at the box office. Its closing line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It was an altruistic sentiment, but God is love and not sentiment. Divine love is so powerful that, as Dante wrote, it “moves the sun and the other stars.” That power is offered to the human soul, which is in the image of God. “Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Corinthians 6:2).
   Powerful love, sanctifying grace, is available through the absolution of sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We shortchange ourselves of splendor if we do not tell God we are sorry, as “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Lent is not an unwelcome burden, for it is the gateway to glory greater than the sun and the other stars.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Father Rutler: The Power of Silence

Father George W. Rutler
Precisely one year ago in the Italian town of Cremona, there was an imposed silence by order of the local government for eight hours a day, six days of the week for five straight weeks. The purpose was to allow the pristine recording by highly technical equipment of sounds played on the 1700 Antonio Stradivari “Stauffer” cello, the 1727 Antonio Stradivari “Vesuvius” violin, a 1615 “Stauffer” viola by Girolamo Amati, and the 1734 “Prince Doria” violin by Guarneri del Gesù. Cremona’s most famous luthier, of course, was Stradivari, and no one knows how many centuries from now such instruments as the Stradivarius violins can survive.
   It is harder to make silence than noise. Because of modern cacophony, especially in what passes for music in the form of amplified “rock” sounds, young people are growing increasingly deaf. In urban areas, silence is so uncommon that one becomes suspicious of silence, rather like the dog that did not bark in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze” detective story. Sherlock Holmes said that it was Dr. Watson’s “great gift for silence” that made him so useful.
   Satan and his evil spirits are noisy. Jesus told an evil spirit to be silent (Mark 1:25). The Greek Φιμώθητι (Phimōthēti) simply means “Shut up!” Our Lord always was precise. So should we be, in order to hear God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
   The surrealist poet Dame Edith Sitwell said, “My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.” She might have benefitted arts and letters had she been silent more often. But, after all, she eventually made her Profession of Faith at the Farm Street Church in London with Evelyn Waugh as her sponsor. Neither was famous for reticence, but they did profit from moments of quietude. Those who do not think deeply will not understand how painful it is to those who have powers of concentration, to be interrupted by frivolous chatter.
   Saint Anthony helped to change the world by isolating himself in a desert. This is why retreats in one form or another are crucial, for a retreat is actually a frontal attack on the noisy Anti-Christ. The pope himself recently said that folks should put down their iPhones and listen to silence, which has a sound of its own. When Barnabas and Paul spoke at the Council in Jerusalem, “All the people kept silent . . .” (Acts 15:12). We can be thankful that they did not have cell phones.
   God will not have to shout at us if we do not “harden our hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). Instead, as with Elijah, “. . . the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Father Rutler: Prophecy and the Right Use of Reason

Father George W. Rutler
Prophets proclaim the truth, and they predict the future only in a derivative sense of cautioning about the consequences of denying the truth. Thus, the Church distinguishes between holy prophesying and sinful fortune-telling. There is a “psychic” near our rectory, who will tell your future for $10, but you have to ring the bell first, and I should think that if she had the powers she claims, she would not require a doorbell.
The less the Wisdom of God is heeded, the more people rely on fallible human calculations. Inevitably, the list of mistaken predictions keeps growing. We may remember being told in the 1960s that within twenty years, overpopulation would cause universal starvation. Instead, we now have crises of empty cradles and obesity: birth dearth and increased girth. As the new year begins, we can reflect on a prediction of the president of Exxon U.S.A. in 1989 that by 2020 our national oil reserves would be practically nil, while the solid fact is that those reserves are far higher than even back then.
In 1990, The Washington Post was confident that carbon dioxide emissions would have increased our planet’s average temperature about three degrees (and six degrees in the United States) by 2020. The increase has been only about one degree. If we trusted some experts, by now one billion people would be starving in the Third World due to climate toxicity, but instead the World Bank tells us that there has been a significant alleviation of dire poverty, with the assistance of developed countries and access to investment capital and prudent production. 
There still are glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, despite a warning of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2003 that by now they would have melted. In 1997, the Reuters newswire announced that by 2020 some eight million people would have died because of global warming catastrophes, while such deaths actually have reached historic lows. Taking up that theme, a New York congresswoman and former bartender predicts that the world could end in twelve years.
While to err is human and to forgive is divine, as the Catholic sensibility of Alexander Pope opined, forgiveness requires apologizing. Wrong predictions in recent decades are conspicuous for their authors’ lack of contrition. It is as if they had absorbed the bromide uttered at the end of the sentimental film “Love Story” in 1970: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If that were so, there would be no Act of Contrition in the Holy Mass, which is the world’s most sublime manifestation of love. But we are talking here about simple humility in anticipating the future. 
Without accountability to God for the right use of reason, ideology mimics theology, disagreement is treated as heresy, neurosis fabricates its own apocalypse, and mistakes claim infallibility, with no need to say “I was wrong.” 
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Father Rutler: Salvation Means Sanity

Father George W. Rutler
Who the “Wise Men” were is a recurring question for inventive debate, but the point is that these sophisticated scholars were from “a foreign country.”
Here in Manhattan, tourists can be annoying when they stop suddenly to look at a novel sight. But they also do us the favor of noticing what we take for granted. Those Magi from a foreign land pointed out that the locals had missed the greatest event in history. They also wisely distrusted King Herod (his heir Archelaus was even worse, as Saint Joseph knew), and so they ignored him. When Herod found out that a child had come into the world who threatened his complacency, he set out to destroy him, killing many innocents in the attempt.
Christians must always be tourists in this earthly realm, pointing out the wonders that others take for granted. That can be threatening to many. True Christians disturb the settled ways of a culture. People who succumb to the insanity of sin will accuse Christians of madness. That is how we get martyrs, as happened a couple of weeks ago in Nigeria when Muslims killed eleven Christians. Such hostility was an expression of the killers’ conviction that Jesus Christ brought madness into the world.
In a 1959 ”Twilight Zone” television episode called “Eye of the Beholder,” some exceedingly ugly people unsuccessfully perform plastic surgery on a beautiful woman, thinking that she is the one who is ugly. In our decaying culture, there are those who think that history’s Perfect Man was ugly and that those who are like him should be crucified one way or another, usually by ridicule and censorship. The media and demagogic politicians do this as a habit.
In recent days, a woman in Britain gave birth, although she was bearded after hormonal treatments that made her appear as the man she had “transitioned” to be twelve years before. Her partner is “non-binary”—which means neither male nor female, and the “sperm donor” was a man who thinks he is a woman, while the obstetrician, according to vague reports, was either a man who claims to be a woman or a woman who claims to be a man.
Thus, our rattled culture poses a dilemma: either these people are mentally ill, or Christians are. And this is not confined to the esoteric. An Ivy League institution has just mailed forms to alumni, asking them to choose the descriptive pronoun they prefer. This gives new meaning to “institution.” And this is why sane voices increasingly are banned from speaking in such places, because the function of prophets is to point out that inmates are running the asylum.
Observant souls never take for granted the sanity Christ brought into the world. Salvation means sanity. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Father Rutler: Judgment

Father George W. Rutler
Of the “Four Last Things,” the Second Sunday of Advent treats Judgment. While it is superficially pious to ask, “Who am I to judge?” this has nothing to do with our Lord’s admonition: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Christians are obliged to judge (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Judgment is the ability to make a right discernment, and the chronic inability to do that is the definition of insanity. God is the ultimate judge, and all human judgment must conform to his justice. Otherwise, judgment is defective, based on “outward appearance” (John 7:24).
The spiritual director of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, Abbé Henri Huvelin, told a woman who accused herself of pride for thinking that she was one of the greatest beauties in Paris: “Madame, that is not a sin. It is merely a mistaken judgment.”
In the second century, Justin Martyr told the Roman consul Quintus Junius Rusticus: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.”
Great leaders like King Louis IX were just judges. As he was dying on the Eighth Crusade, he left a testament to his son and heir: "In order to do justice and right to thy subjects, be upright and firm, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, but always to what is just; and do thou maintain the cause of the poor until such a time as the truth is made clear.”
The virtue of justice is twin to prudence. Naiveté is eviscerated prudence. So for example, the recent capitulation of some Vatican diplomats to the Chinese government was intended to secure justice for Chinese Catholics, but it only issued in their further oppression. Now, the Communists have ordered that if any church is not to be destroyed, it must replace images of Jesus with that of Xi Jinping. The lack of right discernment leads to untold suffering.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is transferred this Advent to Monday. A depiction of Our Lady as the New Eve portrays her trampling on the head of Satan, shown as a serpent. This fulfills the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. It is the ultimate act of justice, which Mary, along with all Christians, can do by the power of the Just Judge, “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), who is the ultimate crusher of the Prince of Lies.
By no means a Catholic mystic, some inspiration moved Julia Ward Howe to awaken before dawn in the Willard Hotel in 1861 and write with a stub of pencil, the “Battle Hymn” which includes the often-neglected lines: “Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, / Since God is marching on.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Father Rutler: Come, Lord Jesus

Father George W. Rutler
Given the many theatres that are or have been within walking distance of our church on 34th Street, it is not possible to count the number of times stage curtains have come down on a final act. One block away from us is the theatre built by Oscar Hammerstein, to compete with the old Metropolitan Opera House up on Broadway at 39th. Here on 34th Street, in what is now called the Manhattan Center, the Vitaphone sound system was used in 1926 to record the first soundtrack for a moving picture, Don Juan. Before the old Met’s gold damask curtain came down for the last time at 39th and Broadway in 1966, the greatest Madama Butterfly, Licia Albanese, who once sang in my former church,  rendered her last “Un bel dì” and then kissed with her hand the floorboards of the stage as the curtain came down before a weeping audience.
In another venue, my grandmother had a vivid recollection of the consternation at the old Hippodrome up on 43rd Street in the late 1920s when the curtain collapsed on the child star Baby Rose Marie. That forerunner to Shirley Temple survived and lived to be 94. Albanese was still singing when she died in 2014 at the age of 105.
So curtains fall sooner or later, and we have Advent to remind us of that. The superficiality of a life may be measured by how seriously one takes Advent’s four themes of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Advent proclaims that a curtain is falling, even if a premature Christmas celebration with bells and elves, beginning with the Macy’s parade (two blocks east of our church), fabricates a distraction from that.
If thought is not deep, there will be no real joy when the mysteries of God are disclosed. The bane of our times, and possibly of all times, is superficiality. This was illustrated at a synod of bishops in Rome in 2015, when papers of a politically correct nature were read, one after another repeating clichés to address the world’s problems. One consultant broke through the soporific jargon. Dr. Anca Maria Cernea, a prominent Romanian physician, whose father had been imprisoned by Communists for seventeen years, said:
“The Church’s mission is to save souls. Evil, in this world, comes from sin. Not from income disparity or “climate change.” The solution is: Evangelization. Conversion. Not an ever-increasing government control. Not a world government. These are nowadays the main agents imposing cultural Marxism on our nations, under the form of population control, reproductive health, gay rights, gender education, and so on. What the world needs nowadays is not a limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation.”
In the darkening days of Advent, the curtain falls on the old man, in sure and certain hope that it will rise for those who believe that there is born in Bethlehem the Savior, who will die in order to rise. 
Faithfully yours in Christ, Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Father Rutler: Christ the King

Father George W. Rutler
If from time to time you have a sense that all things held dear in both Church and State seem to be collapsing, you might find a comrade in the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
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. 
Yeats wrote that in 1919, and we are now in 2019. Actually, things have been falling apart since the Fall of Man. Each age has to contend with that collapse, and each has had recourse to Christ as the solution. In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed the Feast of Christ the King. Not King of various nations cobbled together, but King of the Universe. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. . . . He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15, 17).
Jesus Christ is the Word that brought into existence all that was in the mind of his divine Father. His kingship consists in the power of his Logos, which orders all things and is energized by the love between him and the Father, which pours forth as the Holy Spirit.  “In the beginning was the Word [‘Logos’] . . .” (John 1:1).
In the logic of the Logos then, all things fall apart without Christ. Physically, all things hold together (sunestēken) in their elemental atomic structures. The compactness of matter requires gravity, electricity, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. The strong force keeps the nucleus together; otherwise it would come apart by the electrostatic repulsion between the positive protons. Christ the Logos prevents all things from collapsing, not only physically but morally and culturally. There will be a time when that happens, with a “loud noise” (rhoizedon), when all the elements, or atoms (stoicheia), dissolve (2 Peter 3:10).
This dissolution happens as well in the human soul when the intellect and will tear themselves from the truth and will of God. This rupture is what is called sin. It affects cultures, too. So the philosopher Giambattista Vico described the transition of cultures from barbarity to civilization, and from civilization to hyper-civilization, and from that to post-civilization. The fourth stage lives off the detritus of civilization. Whether we are in the fourth stage—post-civilization—is disputed, but if and when it irrationally abandons Christ the King, whose power is not political but logical, it will be worse than the first barbarism because its disintegration is accelerated by the tools of its former civilization’s science.
Every Christian is baptized to proclaim the Kingship of Christ, not just for personal salvation, but as a means of saving a culture in which “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Father Rutler: Boldness for Holy Religion

Father George W. Rutler
Most of our Founding Fathers were not deeply informed about Catholicism, but they appreciated moral integrity when they saw it. When Albert Dubois, eventually the first resident Bishop of New York, fled the French Revolution, he lived for a while in the home of James Monroe. Patrick Henry taught him English, and Thomas Jefferson arranged for him to say Mass in the courtroom of the newly built State House of Virginia.
On July 13, 1804, Jefferson wrote to the Superior and Sisters of the Ursuline order in New Orleans: “I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana; the principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.”
Happily, at the end of October, the present Administration redressed restrictions on freedom of religion imposed in prior years. Previously, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had refused federal aid to the foster-care and adoption agencies of Catholic and evangelical Protestant foundations that oppose abortion and the redefinition of marriage. Moreover, the government will no longer enforce a provision in federal law that bars religious organizations from providing federally funded educational services to private schools. Ironically, some of our church leaders, to maintain government funding for pre-kindergarten programs and the like, already agreed to remove crucifixes and religious symbols from parochial school classrooms.
George Washington, who made a significant donation to the Augustinian order, took John Adams to a Catholic Mass in Philadelphia. For Adams, who lapsed into Unitarianism, the chapel might have seemed at first like a Hindu temple, but he found everything so awe-inspiring that he wrote to Abigail: “I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.” What most impressed him was the straightforward “moral” preaching of the priest.  When Adams was only 21, he wrote: "… This World was not designed for a lasting and a happy State, but rather for a State of moral Discipline, that we might have a fair Opportunity and continual Excitement to labour after a cheerful Resignation to all the Events of Providence, after Habits of Virtue, Self Government, and Piety. And this Temper of mind is in our Power to acquire, and this alone can secure us against all the Adversities of Fortune, against all the Malice of men, against all the Operations of Nature.”
Perhaps Providence has saved our nation from the downward spiral of hostility to God. Whatever the future holds, Catholics should pray that their ecclesiastical leaders—and they themselves—will match the fortitude of strong voices now heard in the civic order with boldness for holy religion. 
Faithfully yours in Christ, Father George W. Rutler

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Father Rutler: “Catholic-Lite” Does Not Make Saints

Father George W. Rutler
Last week’s canonization of Saint John Henry Newman will have universal influences that I trust will include our own parish. It should be remembered that his achievements, for the most part, hardly seemed successful at the time. He might even be called a patron saint of the disappointed.
   Newman was so nervous in his university examinations that he got a “Lower Second Class” degree. He played the violin to relax, but the chords of his mind were taut, and he later suffered a nervous breakdown. He failed to attain a professorship of Moral Philosophy. Many Oxford dons derided his views, and eventually he resigned.
   When Newman became a Catholic, former friends thought he had wasted his talents, and some Catholics questioned his free spirit and innovative genius. Not least among these were bishops. In Ireland, Archbishop Cullen impeded his foundation of a Catholic University there and opposed making Newman a bishop. In England, Cardinal Manning, a great man in some ways but not innocent of envy, regularly thwarted numerous projects. The English-language secretary of Pope Pius IX prejudiced the pope’s opinion of Newman, and with no little subtlety, Manning tried to prevent the new Pope Leo XIII from vindicating him with a Cardinal’s red hat.
   Newman left a legacy of 32 volumes of letters, and in some of them he confided his frustrations. But his amiability and patience won over many. In old age, Newman’s Oxford college made him an honorary Fellow, and at Newman’s death Manning himself said, “The history of our land will hereafter record the name of John Henry Newman among the greatest of our people, as a confessor for the faith, a great teacher of men, a preacher of justice, of piety, and of compassion.”
   Neman kept his balance by a steady faith in the uncompromising truth of Christ. This boldly defied the pastiche of true Christianity that was spreading in his time and which he prophesied would become endemic in our own age:
   "What is the world's religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the gospel, its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man's condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth. . . . Our manners are courteous; we avoid giving pain or offence . . . religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal are the first of sins. . . . [I]t includes no true fear of God, no fervent zeal for His honour, no deep hatred of sin, no horror at the sight of sinners, no indignation and compassion at the blasphemy of heretics, no jealous adherence to doctrinal truth . . .—and therefore is neither hot nor cold, but (in Scripture language) lukewarm.” (Sermon 24. Religion of the Day)
   That sort of “Catholic-Lite” does not make saints, and Newman proved that.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Father Rutler: Saint John Henry Newman

Father George W. Rutler
Over forty years ago, I told a wise Protestant theologian that I had been reading the Apologia pro Vita Sua of John Henry Newman (1801-1890). He warned me that it is “a dangerous book.” That was just the sort of advice that makes a young thinker all the more eager to read it. And so I did, and so did countless others whose lives were changed by this book, whose passages are some of the most beautiful in the English language, and whose author’s thoughts considering the psychology of the soul are undying.
Newman wrote that book in four weeks, standing at his upright desk in Birmingham, England, in response to a personal attack on his integrity: “I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind . . . but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.”
Today Newman is to be canonized in Rome, a tribute to his unsurpassed gifts of grace as theologian, historian, writer, poet, preacher and, most of all, a pastor of souls. While preaching and writing immortal words, he also was meticulous in running the Oratory school he founded, even making costumes for school plays, paying coal bills, and playing his fiddle in the school orchestra.
In his honor and in thanksgiving for the Church’s recognition of his holiness, of which the angels never were in doubt, we shall dedicate today a shrine for him in our church. As with all that we try to do in our church, this sculpture is the work of one of our own parishioners. Newman foresaw with uncanny prescience the various challenges of our own day, and this monument should be a reminder to pray for his intercession on behalf of our local church and the Church Universal in a time of spiritual combat, which is a lot like what he faced in his own age. 
To Newman’s great surprise, and even “shock,” the newly elected Pope Leo XIII in 1879 created him a cardinal. He had been so attacked and calumniated for his religious views over many years, that he was satisfied that the “cloud” had finally been lifted. In his acceptance speech he said that his entire life had been consecrated to refuting the doctrine of relativism which held that “Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.”
Today we sing Cardinal Newman’s hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light,” which his own life embodied and faith made bold: “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.”
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Father Rutler: The President's Bold Defense of Life

Father George W. Rutler
At the start of October, life in Manhattan recovers from those late September weeks when the opening of the United Nations General Assembly ties up traffic, even blocking many streets, and takes over many hotels and clubs for expensive receptions—some of the costliest, it seems, being those of some of the poorest countries. With so many heads of state in town, battalions of Secret Service agents and bodyguards eye everyone with suspicion.
This year there was one bright spot, although largely ignored by much of the media. Representing the United States, our President gave what was perhaps the most forceful address that any of our Chief Executives have spoken there. Denouncing the United Nations’ scheme to promote abortion, first drafted in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the President said that “Americans will also never tire of defending innocent life. We are aware that many United Nations projects have attempted to assert a global right to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, right up until the moment of delivery. Global bureaucrats have absolutely no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.”
Such boldness must have shocked many diplomats present, like those in the 1942 film “I Married an Angel” who were aghast when Jeanette MacDonald, as a blessed angel, tells them the truth, upsetting their cocktail party. Our nation has never had an angel for president, and its Constitution in fact prevents that. But Abraham Lincoln invoked “the better angels of our nature” and confounded those who had dismissed him as an untutored vulgarian with ambiguous views on abolition. The first Christians in Jerusalem were suspicious of Paul’s conversion, and theologians like Tertullian and Justin, some years before Constantine, thought it impossible that any emperor would ever defend Christianity.
Ironically, there are highly placed prelates who have shied away from mentioning these matters in secular forums, hoping that subtlety might be more persuasive. Such naiveté, as in the instance of the Holy See’s diplomats cajoling Communist China by compromise, accomplishes little. In his United Nations speech, the President said: “The world fully expects that the Chinese government will honor its binding treaty, made with the British and registered with the United Nations, in which China commits to protect Hong Kong’s freedom, legal system, and democratic ways of life.” The Holy See has not commented on the popular demonstrations in Hong Kong, which may explain why the youths there struggling for freedom, and inspired by the heroic Cardinal Zen, are waving the Stars and Stripes and not the Vatican flag. 
“For he that shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation: the Son of man also will be ashamed of him, when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26).

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Father Rutler: The Scandal of Particularity

Father George W. Rutler
As with quotations that are variously attributed, journalists including Charles Anderson Dana of the “New York Tribune” and John B. Bogart of the “New York Sun” are said to have coined the aphorism: “‘Dog bites man’ does not make the news, but ‘Man bites dog’ does.” Human nature is fascinated by what is exceptional and scandalous. But “skandalon” really means more than that. It is a “stumbling block” that trips up the way mere mortals think things are supposed to be.  
Theologically, there is the “Scandal of Particularity.” It has two aspects. First is the doctrine that the Creator of the universe has solicitude for every minute detail of it, even every sparrow and each hair on your head (cf. Matt. 10:29). This has ramifications even in mathematics where the “Chaos Theory” proposes a “Butterfly Effect,” meaning that something as slight as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in New Delhi might cause a hurricane in New York. So too it is with people.
Every human action can have consequences beyond fathoming. There is the prime example of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that started a domino effect leading to the First World War. His chauffeur spoke only Czech and did not understand the orders of German security officers to follow a route safe from assassins. So he drove according to the original plan and came within feet of a radical Bosnian who had not expected such luck. It might be said that 17 million people eventually died because one man took a wrong turn.
The second part of the Scandal of Particularity is the acknowledgement that Christ, whose divine nature has no beginning or end, came to our small planet with a human nature as the unique savior from sin and death. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a). His divine nature enables him to see “the big picture” while his human nature involves him in the minutest details of ordinary life. If this is scandalous, it is because presently we are limited to categories of time and space, and we find it hard to think of importance without being overwhelmed by size and power.
In another quotation variously attributed, Stalin is said to have remarked: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic.” The same dictator mockingly asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” He knows now – though a bit too late. But the biggest scandal of all to the limited mind, and so bold that it is refreshing when it expands the mind, is the Lord’s declaration: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father apart from me” (John 14:6).

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Father Rutler: The Light of the World

From time to time someone will remark that our national flag hanging from the choir loft appears to be faded. It is actually in good condition, but the white stripes are printed with the names of those who were killed in the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001. Hardly anyone in our parish was not affected by that, one way or another. When offering Mass this past week for the dead, I remembered how, as people panicked in a stalled subway from Brooklyn when the electricity failed and smoke filled the passageways, a blind man guided them to the exit. During his life he had learned to manage without the light of day.
Christ is the original Light of the world, uncreated, and from whom all earthly light proceeds. Without Christ, the intellect darkens, and this moral myopia is the affliction of our present time. Celebrities illuminated by stage lights can utter some of the darkest blasphemies against human dignity. Professors who think of themselves as “bright” can obscure the logic of their students. When the lights of truth go out, and the corridors of civilization fill with the smoke of Satan, the only sure guides are the prophets and saints. 
In saying that the blind will lead the blind into a ditch (Luke 6:39), Christ was referring to the morally blind, and not the physically blind, as depicted poignantly in that painting by Pieter Bruegel. The contemporary term “Fake News” does indeed expose the tendency of prejudiced opinion to conceal the Light of Truth. 
This week the Church celebrates the life of Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a man of superior intellect, though his mental brightness was not flawless. Most conspicuously, he made the mistake of rejecting the heliocentric theory of the priest Copernicus and his friend Galileo. The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, and Pierre Duhem before him, cut him some slack by arguing that the saint objected to presenting a hypothesis as an irrefutable conclusion.
But Bellarmine’s real business was to lead people out of temporal darkness into eternal light. This he did by his theological learning and commentary on culture, including his exposure of the fallacy of the divine right of kings (or what we might call government absolutism), but above all by his dictum: “Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.”
In garishly bright city streets filled with people in danger of moral meanderings, each church is meant to be a beacon that saves people from falling into the ditch. The Vigil Lamp before the parish altar may seem frail, and its flame small, but it is a flickering reminder that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Father Rutler: "Without Christ All Things Fall Apart"

Father George W. Rutler
If there is no objective truth, there are no heresies. For the lazy thinker, the mellow refrain suffices: “It’s all good.” The etymology of “heresy” is complicated, but it has come to mean a wrong choice. Yet, if the mere act of choosing justifies itself (as when people declare themselves “Pro-Choice”), then no choice is wrong. But we live in a real world, and so everything cannot be right. Thus, we have a new religion called political correctness, and anyone who is politically incorrect is accused of being “phobic” one way or another. Suddenly what claims to be liberal is decidedly illiberal, and what is called “free speech” is anything but free. 
   This confusion is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of creation itself. The world follows an order; otherwise all would be chaos. As God has revealed himself as its Creator, there are truths about the world that cannot be denied without illogical anarchy. Every heresy is an exaggeration of a truth. For instance, Arianism teaches the humanity of Christ to the neglect of his divinity, and Apollinarianism does the opposite. The long list of heresies with complicated names illustrates how many deep thinkers made mistakes by relying only on their own limited powers of deduction. The two most destructive heresies were Gnosticism and Calvinism, which totally misunderstood creation and the human condition. Thus, we have the romantic fantasizing of Teilhard de Chardin and the sociopathic astringency of John Calvin. 
   In the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul sets the orthodox template by raising his glorious theology to an effervescent canticle praising the mystery of Christ “who is the image of the unseen God and the first born of all creation.” This hymnody animates the Office of Vespers in the weeks of each month: “. . . for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth . . .”
   By natural intelligence, we would know God as the Designer of the universal order (Romans 1:19-20), but only by God’s revelation can we know the existence of Christ transcending time and space. By Christ’s enfleshment and the shedding of his blood on the Cross, as Saint John Paul II said, quoting Colossians, “the face of the Father, Creator of the universe becomes accessible in Christ, author of created reality: ‘all things were created through him . . . in him all things hold together.'” So Christ cannot be understood as just another wise man in the mold of Confucius or Solomon. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria proclaimed: “We do not say that a simple man, full of honors, I know not how, by his union with Him was sacrificed for us, but it is the very Lord of glory who was crucified.” 
   Without recrimination or censoriousness, but just looking around at the disastrous state of contemporary culture, logic can conclude that, if all things hold together in Christ, without Christ all things fall apart.

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).