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“Deification” is a Grant by God’s Will by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 31, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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One of my parishioners, now gone to the Lord, taught himself at least eight languages. This served Vernon A. Walters well in various important diplomatic roles and as a translator for presidents. Charles de Gaulle said, “Nixon, you gave a magnificent speech, but your interpreter was eloquent.”

In a higher realm, something similar might be said of Sylvanus, sometimes called Silas (1 Peter 5:12). What Peter dictated was of the Holy Spirit, but Silvanus gave it a fine grammatical touch, and so we have some expressions as eloquent as they are immortal, like the “precious promises” by which “you might be partakers of the divine nature . . .” (2 Peter 1:4).

These words have to be understood carefully, lest they be twisted into some sort of Buddhist or Mormon confusion about humanity and divinity. “Deification” is a grant by God’s will. Saint Maximos (d. 662) said, “All that God is, except for an identity of being, one becomes when one is deified by grace.” Peter, along with James and John, was dozing as the Master prayed to his Father in his Agony: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22-23). Yet Peter had already seen this glory with the same sons of Zebedee on the mountain of the Transfiguration, which feast we celebrate this coming Saturday. Christ had to explain to Peter the meaning of the divine light that had bewildered him.

That glorious occasion was followed immediately by chaotic scenes at the base of the mountain: a sick boy thrashing about, and fierce words from Jesus about Satan. It is an instruction to us about life in the Church, for glimpses of glory are often followed if not overshadowed, by suffering and sin. In my book He Spoke to Us there is a chapter called “The Transfiguration of the Church” because the Transfiguration of Christ is a lesson in the drama of the Church throughout history: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are in tension, but they never blend into a mess. That is as true here in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and any neighborhood as it was in Galilee.

In the temporal life of the Church are some of the saddest disappointments precisely because the same Church is the home of the world’s hope; and scandals and human failings are made more lurid in contrast to the sublime radiance which is the Church’s bright gift to a dark world that otherwise would accept evil as the norm. No syntax of Silvanus could make more elegant the essence of the humble Fisherman’s astonishment: “We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18).

With the opening of the new #7 Subway Line’s Hudson Yards station, it’s now easier to visit and attend Mass at St. Michael’s. Click for more details

Creation is Logical in Christ the Logos by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 24, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The city during summer has a different tone, with many people away but also with all sorts of tourists. In these weeks we are deep into “Ordinary Time” and unless the liturgical meaning of that is understood, it does not seem very interesting. Crowds do not gather to see something that is advertised as perfectly ordinary. But Ordinary Time means that the weeks are numbered. The English word “order” comes from the Latin word for numbers in a series, ordinalis. The fact that there is any order at all in the world is a splendid mystery, but if you don’t believe that a Creator ordered it, the astonishing mystery is only a bewildering puzzle.

Creation is logical, and Ordinary Time is a celebration of the truth that the source of that logic, the “Logos” became a human being and dwelt among us. The ordinariness of Jesus confused those in his hometown: “Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mathew 13:56) In religions invented by ordinary people, the gods and wonderworkers are exotic. In defiance of that naïve convention, Jesus was deceptively ordinary precisely because he created the universal order. That structure was broken by the first sin, which is behind all other sins: the illusion that human egos can replace God. That is why the Perfect Man seemed odd, but it was rather like thinking that someone who is healthy is the odd man out: “He must be out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

Ancient cultures held that history is cyclical: the “Wheel of Time” eventually repeats itself, with creatures tethered to an inescapable fate. But God has revealed a different picture: history is progressive, and the Bible, which begins in an earthly Garden, ends in a heavenly City. We have a free will to determine the steps we take in that progression. In As You Like It, Shakespeare might give the impression that biography is a fatal cycle, for on the world’s stage “all the men and women merely players” start as infants “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” and end life frail again in “second childishness, and mere oblivion…” But that apparent oblivion is not the end, nor do the players reincarnate or linger as dust on some Wheel of Time. The voice of the Logos calls to each soul as to Lazarus: “Come forth.”

The whole mystery is so wonderfully ordered that it hardly seems wonderful at all. George Eliot wrote: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” That is just another way of saying that the most extraordinary thing about the world is that it is so ordinary.

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Facing East at Mass as One by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 17, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea to be Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with instructions to continue a “reform of the reform.”

After the Second Vatican Council, many changes in the liturgy were done virtually overnight, with no mandate from the Council, but motivated by what Pope Pius XII would have called a romantic “historicism” based on a mistaken understanding of the early Church’s liturgy. Even some well-intentioned but misinformed Catholics have thought that inferior contemporary music and completely vernacular texts were the aim of Vatican II. A growing number of young Catholics understand better what the popes want for the liturgy than some aging people who have not outgrown the confusion of the 1960s and 1970s.

One change, never mentioned by Vatican II, was having the priest as a “presider” face the people all through the Mass. It came at a time when people were increasingly preoccupied with themselves, and it encouraged a psychology of self-absorption. The venerable “ad orientem” posture of the priest, always kept in the Eastern rites, is not a matter of turning his back to the people. Rather, the priest faces East to direct the faithful’s attention away from himself and toward the horizon symbolizing the Resurrection.

The readings and preaching (the “synaxis” or synagogue part) are done facing the people for they are instructive, but the Holy Sacrifice (the “anaphora” or temple part) is offered with everyone facing in the same direction, rather than in what Pope Benedict XVI called an “enclosed circle.” Pope Francis celebrates ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel. It has nothing to do with the placement of the altar, for the venerable manner—as in ancient basilicas—is a free-standing altar. In our own parish church, the ad orientem use is suitable for the altar in the nave as easily as at the older altar.

As Cardinal Sarah points out, liturgical innovations were supposed to invigorate Mass attendance, but they had the opposite effect, not to mention the countless millions of dollars spent on church renovations which in too many cases ruined fine art. His Eminence has asked that parishes institute the ad orientem in the Ordinary Form by Advent, as a thing “good for the Church, good for our people.” Actually, no permission is needed for that, since the original General Instruction of the Roman Missal left the position as a legitimate option, so it may be instituted at any time. The ad orientem use will be a modest change, different from the way innovations were made in the 1960s with tactless abruptness.

Cardinal Sarah said, “The liturgy is not about you and me. It is not where we celebrate our own identity or achievements or exalt or promote our own culture and local religious customs. The liturgy is first and foremost about God and what he has done for us.”

Europe Cannot Survive Without a Christian Sense of Mankind by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 10, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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In 1988 as Pope John Paul II began his speech to the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, a member for Northern Ireland, shouted that the pope was the Antichrist. Another member, Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, seized and with the help of a few others pushed him out of the hall. Since the Archduke was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, it was as if a thousand years of popes and Holy Roman emperors had come alive again. In 2004, Otto had the joy of watching John Paul beatify his father, the Emperor Karl, in whose army the pope’s own father had devotedly served.

Shortly before his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI wrote a book entitled Europe: Today and Tomorrow. It was prophetic, and poignantly so, in light of the troubles that the European Union is having these days. The constitution of the Union studiously avoided mentioning the role of Christianity in the formation of Europe. The same Union has promoted many policies hostile to moral sanity, which have architected the structure of what successive popes have called a Culture of Death.

Hilaire Belloc said that “the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.” This could be a very limited and parochial view, but an expansive interpretation means that Europe would not be a triumph of civilization had it not been for the Christian sense of mankind. Europe cannot survive as a cohesive culture with a logical ground for its existence without Christianity as its animating force. This sense is lacking now, and the spiritual life of Europe generally speaking is materialistic and indolent, slothful about any transcendent perspective on life.

In 1980 Pope John Paul II named Saints Cyril and Methodius, representatives of the Eastern or “other lung” of European Christianity, co-patrons of Europe along with Saint Benedict, whose feast we celebrate this week, and whom Pope Paul VI had proclaimed patron of Europe in 1964. In contrast to the functioning model for European unity—which seems to be, for the European Union, an entity bureaucratically sustained—Saint Benedict preserved and promoted European culture through his carefully structured and maintained system of monastic confederations. This was not unlike, albeit in a supernatural order, the structure symptomatic of fast-food chains or international corporations.

Saint Benedict could once again be a unifier of Europe more effective than any bureaucracy in Strasbourg or Brussels. As he wrote in his Rule: “No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brother love in a chaste manner, fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else, and may he lead us all to everlasting life.”

Foundation of all moral liberty—not the rising sun, but the risen Son whose light Never Sets by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 3, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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In Independence Hall is preserved a chair crafted in 1779 by the cabinetmaker John Folwell, with a sun on the horizon carved at the top. For nearly three months in 1787, George Washington used it during the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin mused: “I have . . . often in the course of the session . . . looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.” On each subsequent generation falls the obligation to keep that sun rising, a task which requires the virtues that animated Washington as described by Henry Lee III: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. . .”

But July 4 is about two Georges, and the sun of King George III is occluded in a mental darkness. Both Georges—true to their name, since it means husbandman—loved few things more than farming. When the American painter Benjamin West told the king that Washington had spurned a crown to return to his plantation, George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Washington let drop his Augustan dignity when he raged at the report that New Yorkers had torn down an equestrian statue of the king in New York City. The horse’s tail is preserved in the Museum of the City of New York.

Washington fathered a nation but no children, and perhaps fortunately so, since that precluded the possibility of a dynasty. Names such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton and Bush were unknown to him. George III was the loving father of fifteen and defied court convention by his faithfulness to the Queen Sophia Charlotte. He promoted science, founded Maynooth Seminary for Irish Catholics and proposed the emancipation of slaves in Virginia, where Jefferson, in contempt for moral consistency, kept slaves while accusing the king of condoning the slave trade.

Great Britain has had its own Declaration of Independence recently in the “Brexit” vote, for good or ill depending on which pub is polled. But the two Georges shared one assurance as the foundation of all moral liberty—not the rising sun, but the risen Son whose light never sets: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

 

Most Modern Music is Degrading by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 26, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The maxim that the greatest art is to have no art means that the aim of an accomplishment is to give the impression of effortlessness. An Olympic swimmer does not splash like a man drowning, and a concert pianist glides his fingers over the keys as though it were as natural as breathing. The Italians, who have not been without a long sense of this, call this deliberate nonchalance “sprezzatura.”

I have had enough experience of the opera to marvel at how the difficult music is sung as though the singers were blithe canaries. Only from the front seats is the hard breathing and sweating palpable. It is the opposite with bad art and poor artists. Singers of limited talent affect anguish, and this is particularly so with Rock entertainers who give the impression of suffering labor pains. The grace with which an artist performs is directly related to the quality of the art. The worse the work, the more pained seems the performer.

Aristotle taught that music imitates the passions or states of the soul, and “when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion, and if over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form.”

Around 500 A.D. when he was only twenty years old, the Christian philosopher Boethius drew on Aristotle, maintaining that “music is part of us, and either ennobles or degrades our behavior.” Some of his exquisite writing was set to music a few centuries later and, after a score was recently discovered in a German library, it was performed this year at Cambridge University for the first time in one thousand years. The ethereal experience was a world away from today’s popular music.

Knowing that aesthetic barbarians will display their coarseness by severely attacking any critic, it takes courage to say that most modern music is degrading. I trim my courage by hiding behind Plato speaking of certain musicians who corrupted classical culture: “. . . by composing licentious works, and adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitudes with lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they could judge for themselves about melody and song . . .”

When the terrible shootings began in the Parisian theatre and the Orlando nightclub, the first reaction was the same: the lamented revelers thought the gunfire was part of the music. They would not have made that mistake had the music been Chopin or Mendelssohn, or the lyre and lute setting for Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. But a decadent culture fatally takes pleasure in pain at high decibels and finds incoherent the logic of God: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

St. Anthony & Moral Corruption by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 19, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Saint Anthony, whose feast we recently celebrated, was an Augustinian canon in Portugal who joined the new Franciscan order in 1220, having been moved by the martyrdom of five Franciscans who had been beheaded by Muslims in Morocco. The year before, during the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis of Assisi narrowly escaped execution when he preached the Gospel to Egyptian Muslims who had killed about five thousand Christians a few days before in Damietta. Anthony went to Morocco but became gravely ill, worked his way home via Sicily, and spent the rest of his 36 years preaching a combination of loving patience and mercy with bold insistence on Christ’s truth and stern reproof of lax clerics.

This is to be remembered when many voices today equate doctrinal orthodoxy with “rigidity” and portray the moral demands of Christ as distant ideals, if not impractical encumbrances. Saint Anthony preached against the fanatical Albigensian heretics in southern France whose misunderstanding of creation denigrated marriage and family life while promoting abortion, sodomy and assisted suicide. They considered themselves more “spiritual” than Catholic “doctors of the law” and took Pharisaic pride in boasting that they were not Pharisees. Bold St. Anthony was not an “Albigensian-phobe,” and reasonable people now are not phobic when they tell the truth about mental illness dressed as “transgenderism,” borders open to illegal immigrants excused as hospitality, and denial of religious freedom adjudicated as social pragmatism.

The first Christians knew well the degrading course of systemic moral corruption (c.f.: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11). They would not have been surprised at how the Canadian High Court has modified certain strictures against bestiality, the government of Massachusetts no longer identifies femaleness and maleness as biological categories, people weep when a gorilla is shot to save the life of a human child, and a student in a major university is given a light slap on the wrist for violating a young woman while being complimented for his athletic ability. But they would have been astonished at the politically correct reluctance to identify the religious motivation of terrorists who massacre people. In 1951, General Douglas MacArthur said, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”

A cartoon some years back showed a Lilliputian looking at Gulliver and saying, “Either he’s very big or we are very small.” In the instance of Christ, it is not either/or: he is very big, and we are very small. But we need not remain small if by a spiritual awakening we “attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).St,

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