Rolling Hills of Mid Devon, England, by Simon Ward.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Happy Birthday to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

 "I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die."
~ Thomas Ford, quoted by former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies

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, April 5, 2020

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for Palm Sunday


Saint Peter's Square

Sunday, 1st April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Palm Sunday procession we join with the crowd of disciples who in festive joy accompany the Lord during his entry into Jerusalem. Like them, we praise the Lord with a loud voice for all the miracles we have seen. Yes, we too have seen and still see today the wonders of Christ:  how he brings men and women to renounce the comforts of their lives and devote themselves totally to the service of the suffering; how he gives men and women the courage to oppose violence and deceit, to make room for truth in the world; how, in secret, he persuades men and women to do good to others, to bring about reconciliation where there had been hatred and to create peace where enmity had reigned.

The procession is first and foremost a joyful witness that we bear to Jesus Christ, in whom the Face of God became visible to us and thanks to whom the Heart of God is open to us. In Luke's Gospel, the account of the beginning of the procession in the vicinity of Jerusalem is in part modeled literally on the rite of coronation with which, according to the First Book of Kings, Solomon was invested as heir to David's kingship (cf. I Kgs 1: 33-35).

Thus, the procession of the Palms is also a procession of Christ the King:  we profess the Kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as the Son of David, the true Solomon, the King of peace and justice. Recognizing him as King means accepting him as the One who shows us the way, in whom we trust and whom we follow. It means accepting his Word day after day as a valid criterion for our life. It means seeing in him the authority to which we submit. We submit to him because his authority is the authority of the truth.

The procession of the Palms - as it was at that time for the disciples - is primarily an expression of joy because we are able to recognize Jesus, because he allows us to be his friends and because he has given us the key to life. This joy, however, which is at the beginning, is also an expression of our "yes" to Jesus and our willingness to go with him wherever he takes us. The exhortation with which our Liturgy today begins, therefore, correctly interprets the procession as a symbolic representation of what we call the "following of Christ":  "Let us ask for the grace to follow him", we said. The expression "following of Christ" is a description of the whole of Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does "to follow Christ" actually mean?

At the outset, with the first disciples, its meaning was very simple and immediate:  it meant that to go with Jesus these people decided to give up their profession, their affairs, their whole life. It meant undertaking a new profession:  discipleship. The fundamental content of this profession was accompanying the Teacher and total entrustment to his guidance. The "following" was therefore something external, but at the same time very internal. The exterior aspect was walking behind Jesus on his journeys through Palestine; the interior aspect was the new existential orientation whose reference points were no longer in events, in work as a source of income or in the personal will, but consisted in total abandonment to the will of Another. Being at his disposal, henceforth, became the raison d'être of life. In certain Gospel scenes we can recognize quite clearly that this means the renouncement of one's possessions and detachment from oneself.

But with this it is also clear what "following" means for us and what its true essence is for us:  it is an interior change of life. It requires me no longer to be withdrawn into myself, considering my own fulfilment the main reason for my life. It requires me to give myself freely to Another - for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, goes before me and shows me the way. It is a question of the fundamental decision no longer to consider usefulness and gain, my career and success as the ultimate goals of my life, but instead to recognize truth and love as authentic criteria. It is a question of choosing between living only for myself or giving myself - for what is greater. And let us understand properly that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a person. By following him, I enter into the service of truth and love. By losing myself I find myself.

Let us return to the liturgy and the procession of the Palms. In it the Liturgy has provided as the hymn Psalm 24[23]. In Israel this was also a processional hymn used in the ascent to the hill of the temple. The Psalm interprets the interior ascent, of which the exterior ascent is an image, and explains to us once again what it means to ascend with Christ. "Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?" the Psalm asks and specifies two essential conditions. Those who ascend it and truly desire to reach the heights, to arrive at the true summit, must be people who question themselves about God. They must be people who scan their surroundings seeking God, seeking his Face.

Dear young friends, how important precisely this is today:  not merely to let oneself be taken here and there in life; not to be satisfied with what everyone else thinks and says and does. To probe God and to seek God. Not letting the question about God dissolve in our souls; desiring what is greater, desiring to know him - his Face...

The other very concrete condition for the ascent is this:  He "who has clean hands and a pure heart" can stand in the holy place. Clean hands are hands that are not used for acts of violence. They are hands that are not soiled with corruption, with bribery. A pure heart - when is the heart pure? A heart is pure when it does not pretend and is not stained with lies and hypocrisy:  a heart that remains transparent like spring water because it is alien to duplicity. A heart is pure when it does not estrange itself with the drunkenness of pleasure, a heart in which love is true and is not only a momentary passion. Clean hands and a pure heart:  if we walk with Jesus, we ascend and find the purification that truly brings us to that height to which man is destined:  friendship with God himself.

Psalm 24[23], which speaks of the ascent, ends with an entrance liturgy in front of the temple gate:  "Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in". In the old liturgy for Palm Sunday, the priest, arriving in front of the church, would knock loudly with the shaft of the processional cross on the door that was still closed; thereupon, it would be opened. This was a beautiful image of the mystery of Jesus Christ himself who, with the wood of his Cross, with the power of his love that is given, knocked from the side of the world at God's door; on the side of a world that was not able to find access to God. With his Cross, Jesus opened God's door, the door between God and men. Now it is open. But the Lord also knocks with his Cross from the other side:  he knocks at the door of the world, at the doors of our hearts, so many of which are so frequently closed to God. And he says to us something like this:  if the proof that God gives you of his existence in creation does not succeed in opening you to him, if the words of Scripture and the Church's message leave you indifferent, then look at me - the God who let himself suffer for you, who personally suffers with you - and open yourself to me, your Lord and your God.

It is this appeal that we allow to penetrate our hearts at this moment. May the Lord help us to open the door of our hearts, the door of the world, so that he, the living God, may arrive in his Son in our time, and reach our life. Amen.