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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