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Priests are ordained to shepherd their flocks daily toward the border of time and eternity by Fr. George W. Rutler

 

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Infinity

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FROM THE PASTOR
April 23, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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In these fifty days of Easter, there are natural echoes of rebirth: the skyscrapers rising daily within our parish bounds, and the change of weather. But were this neighborhood decaying as it used to be, and were we south of the Equator moving into Autumn and then Winter, the joy of Easter would still be vivid, and perhaps more so, for Christ’s triumph over death contradicted the melancholy of the culture in those days.

Each year, the suffering of Christians in many parts of the world bears witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. While the genocide of Christians has discomfited much of our media, who would rather reduce Easter to a quaint Rite of Spring with no emblems more serious than bunnies and funny hats, in his Easter message our President cited the Christians martyred on Palm Sunday in Egypt. Those faithful died while chanting the Palm Sunday Hosannas when they left this world for the Heavenly City.

In the church just outside Cairo and in the cathedral, are icons of Saint George who is the patron of Christians in the Middle East. His feast on the Latin calendar is transferred this year from today to Monday, in deference to the Easter celebrations. The images of Saint George slaying the dragon perdure, and I am doubly blessed to have him as my patron, while being pastor of this parish under the patronage of Saint Michael, who also wore armour in the great spiritual combat.

Recently a lady told me that her Jewish husband has always venerated Catholic priests, and for a solid reason. He was a boy in Germany during the Second World War, orphaned in the Holocaust, when a priest smuggled him through dangerous territory to the border with neutral Switzerland. As the priest entrusted the boy to the border guards, and waved goodbye, he was shot from behind by two Nazi soldiers. Such has been the office of priests since the Risen Lord instructed the apostles in the forty days after he rose from the dead.

Like Joshua leading the Jews across the Jordan into the Promised Land, priests are ordained to shepherd their flocks daily toward the border of time and eternity. Then their task is done. For this reason, a bishop does not carry his pastoral staff, the crozier, at funerals, for he no longer has charge over the souls of the departed.

Christ the High Priest meets the soul, not waving farewell but opening his arms as on the Cross, the Good Shepherd whose judgment separates the sheep from the goats, while willing that none be lost and all be saved. In the words of the eighteenth-century Welsh hymn:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.   

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
April 16, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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To write about the Resurrection of Christ is the hardest task, for the event is the deepest of all mysteries, and yet it is also the easiest to address because its power permeates every human action. This was planned by God from the start of creation, and the Risen Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

In his last walk from Jericho up to Jerusalem, Jesus knew what he must do to conquer death. He must die as no one else had died, as both divine and human. That Jericho road is about the distance from mid-Manhattan to Yonkers, but it rises from the lowest spot on the face of the earth, more than 800 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem, more than 2,300 feet “on high.” This was to fulfill what had been planned from the beginning of time, and only Christ knew the content and pattern of that plan because “Before Abraham was I AM.”

The psychology of defective pride would seek to thwart the Lord of History. Sin is an attempt to outshout the Word that uttered all things into existence. At the climactic moment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem to defeat the Anti-Christ, men of earthly power tried to silence those who welcomed him, and he said with serene confidence that if they were silenced, “the stones themselves would cry out.”

Jerusalem was a magnificent triumph of human engineering. The same sort of human intelligence that built it builds our modern cities. These days in our parish, buildings are rising in the vast Hudson Yards project. Across the street from us to the south, one skyscraper nearing completion will be taller than the Empire State Building. Many of the workers on those buildings come to our church for the sacraments, but if all of them were silent, the buildings themselves would be hymns “crying out” to the Creator who endowed mortal minds and muscles to raise up all that stone and steel and glass.

Christ loved Jerusalem and he loves all civilizations, which is why he wept when the city did not understand why he had come into the world. All cities rise and fall, but Christ rises “never to die again” and promises that all who live and believe in him will not die forever.

Saint John Chrysostom lived in the great city of Constantinople in a chaotic time. He died in the year that the British soldier Gratian declared himself Roman emperor, only to be assassinated and succeeded by Constantine III, and the same year that what now is France was invaded by the German Vandals. In his great Easter homily, the Hieratikon, he set his sights on another city:

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!   

        


Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).


Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is www.StMichaelNYC.com

 

Palm Sunday 2017 by Fr. George W. Rutler

Palm Sunday Attack

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FROM THE PASTOR
April 9, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The first Psalm engraved in my memory was the 24th, which as a child I found especially cheerful. Our grammar school principal, Miss Booth, would ring a large handbell to summon us in from the playground for the opening exercises of Scripture-reading, prayers and the Pledge to the Flag. This was a public school in a time untouched by the neurotic political separation of the Creator and his creatures. Miss Booth’s favorite Psalm obviously was the 24th, because it was the only one in the whole Psalter she seemed to know by heart. She may have thought it the best for starting the day, especially on occasions when the Superintendent of Schools arrived: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, even lift them up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:9).

The whole meaning of that song of David became clear when the real King of Glory entered Jerusalem, with children joining adults in waving palm branches. But on the same day, that King wept over Jerusalem for the indifference of most of its people.

A few days ago I spent some good hours in the company of David Alton, with whom I have often corresponded, while he was visiting our city. Now Lord Alton of Liverpool, he has been a major champion of pro-life causes in the House of Lords and has promoted awareness of the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and the modern slave trade.

Just as the persecution of Christians is nervously ignored in our social climate, so are most people unaware that there are more slaves now than in all previous centuries combined: by varying estimates between 21 million and 46 million laboring in domestic servitude, forced labor, sex trafficking, child labor, indentured servitude and forced marriage. Certainly the angels of the millions of victims of legalized infanticide always behold the Father’s face (Matthew 18:10), and the modern martyrs join them. Those enslaved know that Christ can set them free morally, even as societies enchain them physically. While such enslavement is most common in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia and Qatar, this bondage exists nearly everywhere in clandestine and subtle forms.

On Palm Sunday, Christ enters New York and every city, and in each one there are those who joyfully greet him, and others whose sullen indifference or contempt move his human nature to tears. That is the drama of free will, which is why each of us is a kind of city unto ourselves, and the gates of our hearts may either open or close to him. He is never alone, for the Father is always with him, but he wants us to be with him too. I am indebted to my old principal Miss Booth for ringing that school bell and leading that Psalm.   
      


Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).


Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is www.StMichaelNYC.com

 

 

Hells Kitchen’s Church of St. Michael Towers Above its Skyscrapers by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
April 2, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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When the original and lamented Pennsylvania Station designed by McKim, Mead & White was under construction in the first decade of the last century, our parish was not in a salutary area. The New York Tribune described it as a “whirlpool of slime, muck, wheels, hoofs, and destruction . . . a waterfront as squalid and dirty and ill smelling as that of any Oriental port . . .” The president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt (brother of the impressionist painter Mary Cassatt), in competition with the Vanderbilts’ New York Central, secured property from our parish which then was parallel to our present church, fronting on 32nd Street. While Mr. Cassatt was an astute businessman, he was outmatched by the second pastor of St. Michael’s, Father John A. Gleeson (pastor from 1890 to 1919), who drove a hard bargain. After negotiations that were the most costly and lengthy of all the Railroad’s hundreds of real estate dealings, the corporation paid for the re-location of the church, convent and school to their present location.

Our “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood is far different from what the New York Tribune described, although there still are many social problems: just a few days ago a young man was stabbed to death near the church, and Father Gleeson’s present successor regularly deals with violent addicts and all sorts of unmannerly folks. Nonetheless, this parish is witnessing the most intense real estate development in the history of the nation, and skyscrapers are going up all around us.

This Lent there is something parabolic about the scaffolding going up to repair the cross on the roof, which was in danger of falling. It will be standing tall by Easter. A heating system over a century old sometimes failed this winter, and is in constant need of repair, the most recent work costing over six figures. Our faithful people were without complaint on recent winter Sundays when there was no heat at all, while I had the advantage at the altar of warming my hands over the heat of the thurible. None of this is a complaint, since we rejoice in the tremendous potential of our neighborhood, already manifest in the growing number of impressive young adult Catholics assisting in many ways.

While a parish is by definition parochial, it is part of the wider Church which Christ has made universal. It is gratifying, for example, that missives from our parish now reach more than seven thousand readers, many of whom correspond from different states and foreign countries. I try, though not always well, to answer them, but they are a welcome part of our extended parish family. A pastor is humbled by the generosity of so many friends of his parish, especially since we very rarely speak of financial matters. But Lent in particular enjoins all to draw closer to God through prayer, to grow stronger in ourselves through discipline, and to unite more closely with each other through almsgiving.
Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).
Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is http://www.StMichaelNYC.com

Enemies of the Cross of Christ by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
March 26, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Laetare Sunday is a relaxation from what, in our culture, are usually the not-too-rigorous rigors of this penitential season. Thoughts of the Heavenly Jerusalem occasioned the hymn “Jerusalem the Golden.” Ours is a translation by the Victorian classicist, John Mason Neale. The hymn is the fourth part of a poem by Bernard of Cluny in the twelfth century. He had dedicated it to the Abbot Peter the Venerable who oversaw the operation of nearly two thousand monasteries nurturing the revival of European civilization. In his attempt to better understand the twisted zeal of the Saracen Muslims who were massacring Christian pilgrims, Abbot Peter translated into Latin the Koran and various Arabic astronomical texts.

“Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest . . . I know not, O I know not, what joys await us there, What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.” The imagery, based on the divine Revelation of Saint John, is light years removed from the materialist Paradise envisioned in the Koran, with its rivers of wine to make up for earthly abstinence, and the free use of women.

Mistaken ideas of Paradise are rooted in rejection of the mystery by which Christ conquers death by the victory of the Cross. The one consistency in such heresies is the typical resentment of the Cross. A friend of mine who is a priest has bravely gone to Iraq to assist the persecuted Christians there. Along with pictures of bombed Christian towns and burned churches, is the evidence that “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18) have destroyed every image of the Cross. To drive home the point, the graves of Christians have been desecrated, bodies exhumed, and coffins left littering the ground.

In Mosul in 2007, a 35-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest and three sub-deacons refused to renounce Christ and were martyred. Father Ragheed Ghanni had been secretary to Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who promoted many good works for the local people, including an orphanage for handicapped children. Both had studied in Rome at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), where I did my theology with the kind and bright Dominicans. A year later, the Archbishop, having opposed the imposition of Shariah law, was martyred.

For years, it was politically incorrect in our own country to publicize these sufferings. The same university students who retreat to psychoanalysis when they hear views contrary to their own, act as though the genocide in the Middle East did not exist. Christians in the Middle East must feel betrayed to hear comfortable clerics in the West speak glibly of “dialogue” with their persecutors. Ignorance is not innocence, and naiveté is not knowledge. But Laetare Sunday now is enriched by the heavenly help of modern witnesses who embraced the Cross:

“They stand those halls of Zion, all jubilant with song, And bright with many an angel, and all the martyr throng.”

Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).
Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is http://www.StMichaelNYC.com

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Jesus is the Living Word because he explains the true meaning of words: by Fr. George W. Rutler

Twisted Words

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FROM THE PASTOR
March 19, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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In an age of moral confusion, there are those who would suggest that the word “not” has been interpolated in several of the Commandments. It is easy to make words mean what one wants them to mean: in fiction, Humpty Dumpty did that in Wonderland and in fact, the Anti-Christ did that in the Wilderness. Satan is clever at quoting words out of context to make them mean what they do not mean. After forty days, Christ mocked that deceit. “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7).

Jesus is the Living Word because he explains the true meaning of words. He abhors hypocrisy because it twists words, and will actually crucify the Word himself: “But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth” (John 8:40).

Recently, a befuddled theologian tried to justify his misrepresentation of doctrine by saying: “Theology is not Mathematics. 2 + 2 in Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with God and the real life of people.” Only in Wonderland does reality contradict the real life of people, and only in the Wilderness does the Tempter try to make God contradict himself. The Church is clear on that: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159).

Denial of reality is the vice of superstition, which comes in various forms, abusing the virtue of religion. A religious enthusiast who says God can twist reality is as superstitious as the atheist who says there is no God at all, or the positivist who says that man is God, or the pantheist whose god is the world.

Professor Einstein wrote, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Those words have been twisted vainly by some to suggest that the theoretical physicist was a religious man. Later in life he spoke of a “cosmic religious feeling,” and that made it difficult to pigeonhole him as either an atheist or a secret believer. Challenging what seemed to be random disorder in quantum theory, he remarked in 1926 that God “does not play dice.” Other than that, he revered the objectivity of truth, and would not allow the relativity of matter to justify philosophical relativism. 2 + 2 can never equal 5. That would be a mistake in physical science, and it would be a superstition in religion.

One Christmas in Princeton, carolers sang “Silent Night” outside Einstein’s house on Mercer Street. He did not sing their words, but he accompanied them on his violin. That was more honest than any aberrant theologian who crucifies the Living Word by wrongly conjugating him.

Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).
Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is http://www.StMichaelNYC.com

Jesus’ Temptations: Hedonism, Materialism, & Egoism by Fr. George W. Rutler

Temptations

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FROM THE PASTOR
March 12, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Since no one was with our Lord during the forty days he spent in the wilderness, it is obvious that he later related it to his disciples. Perhaps this was among the secret things he revealed during the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. His three temptations: hedonism, materialism, and egoism, are the sum of all kinds of assaults we endure throughout life.

The physical temptation of hedonism is symbolized by bread. Christ taught us to pray for our daily bread, for man needs food to live, but we are not meant to live for food. That kind of satisfaction never satisfies.

That first temptation leads to another: the desire for power through things. This inverts the other part of the prayer Christ taught: wanting my kingdom instead of the Father’s. Recently a rancher in Colorado announced that he is the rightful king of England. That sort of curiosity makes whimsical headlines, but it is equally as eccentric to claim that one’s personal will is superior to the will of God.

The most subtle temptation is to misuse the imagination. Represented metaphorically by trying to fly, egoism goes back to that forbidden fruit in Eden. God gave us a brain, the most complex organism in the universe, so he does not want us to be stupid. But he forbids misusing that brain to deny reality by calling good evil and evil good.

The day before his election as pope, Cardinal Ratzinger preached about that third temptation, which has become a cultural phenomenon: “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

That relativism is dictatorial because it subordinates reality to the pampered self. Thus in our universities, which are supposed to be centers for learning the truth, ideology tramples reality. Often these days, speakers who contradict others’ egos are shouted down and even physically attacked.

“. . . the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Denial of objective truth is slavery to the ego, Adam’s fantasy that he could be a god. But, as Pope Benedict said, “We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”
Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).
Make a Donation, of any amount, to the Church of St. Michael.

Our website is http://www.StMichaelNYC.com

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