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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

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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

The Real Sacred Numerology by Fr. George W. Butler

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FROM THE PASTOR
March 5, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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A “psychic reader” near our church has a sign telling what bell to ring for her to open the door. If I ever have the chance, I shall ask why, if she has psychic abilities, does she need a doorbell? Superstition is a sin against holy religion, and one can look for meaning in numbers to the point of excess, which is one form of superstition. But God’s historical involvement with us seems intertwined with certain numerical configurations that can be hard to ignore. Foremost among them, of course, is the number seven, but there is also forty.

In simple physics, negative forty corresponds on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales, but that is only a curiosity. In Sacred Writ, however, it rained forty days during the Flood, spies scouted Israel for forty days, the Hebrews wandered for forty years, the life of Moses divided into three segments of forty years, and three times he spent forty days on Mount Sinai, not to mention Goliath challenging the Israelites twice a day for forty days. Some of that might be swept aside, but then Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness of Judea, and walked among men for forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension. It is perhaps obtuse to ignore that.

The number forty has something to do with fear. There are two kinds of fear: servile, which is fear of the unknown, and holy, which is the awe instilled by the Holy Spirit. Servile fear may be legitimate, though it can also be irrational. It is reasonable to fear poisonous spiders, but it is irrational to fear all spiders all the time.

The ancient Greeks were better psychologists than the less introspective Romans, and so they gave us the term “phobia” for irrational fear. Today, however, ignorant people slur anyone with a rational aversion to false religion or to perversion as “phobic.” But if Roman culture lacked the psychological sophistication of the Greeks, it was precise about social realities, and Latin has words for different kinds of fear: metus, terror, timor, pavor, formido, trepidatio and, that more-subtle form of fear suffered by sensitive people expecting the worst: praetimeo.

Jesus knew these temptations without succumbing to them. He knew them so well that he sweat actual blood. He warned against irrational fear as sternly as he urged holy fear: we should fear no harm to our bodies as much as we should fear eternal destruction in hell (Luke 12:5, Matthew 10:28). In his glorious resurrection he forbade fear, and the Beloved Apostle took up this theme: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

In one of P.G. Wodehouse’s books, Jeeves quotes Psalm 30 to the amiable dunce Bertie Wooster: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” For those perplexed by fears worse than the ones Bertie Wooster suffered, that is what the splendid forty days of Lent are about.
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

“The purpose of Lenten disciplines, not salvific in themselves, is to train voices to join their chorus of faith” by Fr. George W. Rutler

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

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There is nothing new in being told that we are dust and shall return to dust. We hear it every year. Ezekiel pondered that when he saw a valley of dry bones. The answer came when God breathed, and the bones came alive again, “an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).

One of the longest discussed, and often most harshly argued, questions for Christians has been how much divine breath, or saving grace, is needed to give eternal life when physical breathing stops. The idea that man is “totally depraved” took wide hold in the sixteenth century, but had already been engaged in the fourth century. Self-styled Reformers had lost their grasp on the original form of creation. All heresies are an exaggeration of a truth, to the exclusion of its subtleties. The Council of Trent affirmed the truth that man cannot be in harmony with God’s plan, or “justified,” by his own good behavior without the breath, or “grace,” of God which comes through Jesus Christ. This is why Christ said that no one is good except God (Mark 10:18). But Trent also rejected the lie that “since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished.”

Dry bones and limp lives can come alive by giving God permission (as St. Teresa of Calcutta often said) to make us what he wants us to be. While no one is good except God, each of us can become perfect (Matthew 5:48). This is not a contradiction. Goodness is a quality of being; perfection is the result of contact with that goodness. Perfectionism is a neurosis based on the confusion of goodness and perfection. The secular progressivist dreams of building an ideal society on earth through human effort, and learns the hard way that utopias end up being hells.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry said that perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. Perfectionism tries to add, as though goodness were a sum, while perfection subtracts that which obscures goodness. Michelangelo said that he sculpted Moses simply by chipping away from the marble all that was not Moses, as Moses had been there all along.

Exactly two years ago this month, twenty young Coptic Christian Egyptians were kidnapped by Islamic State militants while on a work crew in Libya. They refused to renounce Christ and chanted in chorus “Ya Rabbi Yassou!”—“Oh my Lord Jesus!” A black youth from Chad, Mathew Ayairga, not a Christian, was watching and, when asked by the captors, “Do you reject Christ?” he replied, “Their God is my God.” He was baptized by blood when all twenty-one were beheaded. While these martyrs had never heard of the theological disputes over grace and justification, they were confident that Christ can raise life eternal from dust and ash. The purpose of Lenten disciplines, not salvific in themselves, is to train voices to join their chorus of faith.

 

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

The Wise Man is Known by the Fewness of His Words by Fr. George W. Rutler

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

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An oral tradition holds that in the course of a reception during the Constitutional Convention, the hearty Gouverneur Morris on a wager, after bowing to George Washington, patted him on the shoulder. Washington cast an icy glare at Morris, and the room fell silent. A man of grace and tact, Washington nonetheless had no patience for what he considered boorishness.

At the age of sixteen, Washington had laboriously copied out a long list of “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour” compiled by French Jesuits in 1595. Rule 47 said, “Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance . . . and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasant, abstain from Laughing thereat yourself.” Similarly, Rule 64: “Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth. Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion. . . ”

None of this was a formula for pomposity. This simply was the protocol for avoiding behavior that masks pride as humility. Philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Seneca the Stoic agreed that the virtuous man is one of piety, dignity, manliness and gravity. Saint Benedict (480-547) raised this up a notch by associating these virtues with true humility. He writes in his Rule for monks: “The tenth degree of humility is when a monk is not easily moved and quick for laughter, for it is written, ‘The fool exalteth his voice in laughter.’” Then: “The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaketh, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: ’The wise man is known by the fewness of his words.’”

Benedict was a happy man, and his monasteries were beacons of joy in a darkening society. He knew the difference between honest happiness and suspect giddiness, just as no one today would want to buy a used car from a man who is constantly giggling. Slapping a man on the back may be fraternal, but it also may be a subtle form of domination. And clownish behavior can be an indication of insecurity. In the days of vaudeville, the advice was to hold a baby and wave the American flag if the audience started to boo. When institutions are failing, false informality serves as a desperate distraction from that fact, and when someone is insecure, levity becomes a substitute for virtue.

The irony is this: those who are silly on the outside can be sly on the inside, and the comic can be cruel to those who see through the charade. The witty Chesterton nonetheless spoke of the “easy speeches that comfort cruel men.” Cruel men dressed Jesus as a clown on the way to the Cross, but he never lost his dignity. His humility made the governor so nervous that with studied ambiguity Pilate nailed a sign over his head calling him a king.
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

Gossamer Hopes and Tinsel Messiahs by Fr. George W. Rutler

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

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Europe and its contiguous lands were in a chaotic condition in 1240: the Mongols were destroying Kiev, the Novgorod army virtually wiped out the Swedes along the Neva River, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, was pillaging the Papal States using Islamic Saracens as his mercenaries. Pope Gregory IX’s attempt to rally a Crusade against the invaders failed, and his good friend Saint Clare was virtually bedridden as the Saracens besieged her convent at San Damiano. Her beloved Francis of Assisi had died fourteen years before. In this emergency, she left her invalid couch, went to the window and exposed the Blessed Sacrament in a silver and ivory ciborium, and the alien troops fled.

In northern Mexico until just a few years ago, drug- and gang-related violence had made Ciudad Juarez one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Following the example of Saint Clare, missionaries turned to the Eucharistic Lord for help. A perpetual adoration chapel was opened in 2013 when the murder rate was forty people a day, with soldiers and policemen joining the gangs. Increasing numbers of devotees urged the soldiers to join them in Holy Hours. Few now dismiss as only coincidence the fact that within five years the annual murder rate dropped from 3,766 to 256.

That rate is far lower than many cities in the United States now. With dismaying insouciance, statisticians in our nation over recent years have coldly taken for granted its moral decay. Besides graphic violence in the streets, there are over 500,000 abortions each year. In many places, births out of wedlock are the norm, teenage suicide has doubled in little more than a decade, 40% of all children live in broken homes, school diplomas and college degrees have generally become meaningless, marriage has been redefined into surreality, and freedom of religion has been intimidated by false readings of constitutional rights.

Recent political shifts in our nation offer a faint glimmer of genuine promise for a change in all this, as more people realize that in the past they had placed their confidence in gossamer hopes and tinsel messiahs. But the ballot box is no substitute for the Tabernacle. A well-known Pentecostal preacher surprisingly admitted that most miracles happen in the Catholic Church because “Catholic people revere the Eucharist.” If more Catholics themselves understood that, there would be more miracles. Now, miracles do not contradict nature: they are God’s will at work at high speed. Christ promised to be with us “until the end of the world.” Eucharistic adoration is simply the recognition of his presence. Saint Clare prayed, “My Lord, if it is your wish, protect this city which is sustained by your love.” The Lord answered, “It will have to undergo trials, but it will be defended by my protection.”
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

Saint Thomas Aquinas Sanctioned Border Control by Fr. George Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
February 5, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler
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In the margin of a public speaker’s manuscript was the notation: “Weak point. Shout.” Such is the rhetoric of those who place emotion over logic and make policy through gangs rather than parliaments. In Athens 2,400 years ago, Aristophanes described the demagogue as having “a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, cross-grained nature and the language of the marketplace.” That marketplace today includes the biased media and the universities that have become daycare centers.

The recent action of our government’s executive branch to protect our borders and enforce national security is based on Constitutional obligations (Art. 1 sec 10 and Art. 4 sec 4). It is a practical protection of the tranquility of order explained by Saint Augustine when he saw the tranquillitas ordinis of Roman civilization threatened. Saint Thomas Aquinas sanctioned border control (S. Th. I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3). No mobs shouted in the marketplace two years ago when the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act restricted visa waivers for Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The present ban continues that, and only for a stipulated ninety days, save for Syria. There is no “Muslim ban” as should be obvious from the fact that the restrictions do not apply to other countries with Muslim majorities, such as Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Turkey.

These are facts ignored by demagogues who speak of tears running down the face of the Statue of Liberty. At issue is not immigration, but illegal immigration. It is certainly manipulative of reason to justify uncontrolled immigration by citing previous generations of immigrants to our shores, all of whom went through the legal process, mostly in the halls of Ellis Island. And it is close to blasphemy to invoke the Holy Family as antinomian refugees, for they went to Bethlehem in obedience to a civil decree requiring tax registration, and they violated no statutes when they sought protection in Egypt. Then there was Saint Paul, who worked within the legal system, and invoked his Roman citizenship through privileges granted to his native Tarsus in 66 B.C. (Acts 16:35-38; 22:25-29; 25:11-12) He followed ordered procedure, probably with the status of civis Romanus non optimo jure—a legal citizen, but not allowed to act as a magistrate.

It is obvious that the indignant demonstrators against the new Executive Orders are funded in no little part by wealthy interests who would provoke agitation. These same people have not shown any concern about the neglected Christians seeking refuge from persecution in the Middle East. In 2016 there was a 675% increase in the number of Syrian refugees over the previous year, but while 10% of the Syrian population is Christian, only one-half of one percent of the Syrian Christians were granted asylum. It is thankworthy that our changed government now wants to redress that. The logic of that policy must not be shouted down by those who screech rather than reason.
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

 

The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns Book by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
January 29, 2017
by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The Stuffed Owl is an amusing anthology of bad verse, first published back in 1930. I was reminded of it with the popularity of the new historical dramatization “Victoria” on television, for one of The Stuffed Owl’s choicest specimens is a contribution by one of Her Majesty’s afflicted subjects:

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes,

Into the tomb the Great Queen dashes.

It is matched perhaps only by “Lines Written to a Friend on the Death of His Brother, Caused by a Railway Train Running over Him Whilst He Was in a State of Inebriation” by James Henry Powell. These were amateurs, but, as Dryden said, “Even Homer nods.” That is, even experts make mistakes, and Dryden himself has more than one entry in the anthology along with the likes of Tennyson and Wordsworth.

C.S. Lewis did not care much for hymns, which he said were usually fifth-rate poetry set to fourth-rate music. Exceptions include the great works of Charles Wesley, John Mason Neale, John Henry Newman, and the like. Those were sturdy adaptations of classical theology set to splendid tunes. As such, they stand out from the bad verse and banal tunes that have descended on congregations from the culturally bleak 1970’s onwards. Some hymns from the older Protestant writers are more in accord with solid doctrine than the insipid twaddle heard at some Masses and may be approved for Catholic praise, like the music of Bach and Handel. They harken to a tradition earlier than their times, as did the work of James Renwick, the Anglican architect of our own St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The Liturgy itself is a hymn. The current Ordinary Form permits other hymnody, but this is in the form of “tropes,” as commentary on the sacred texts. The Church’s basic hymnal consists in the Psalms. The Greek “psalmos” is a song accompanied by stringed instruments. Psalms 120-134 even have notations for the instruments.

In the tenth century, the sublime music and ceremonials of the Byzantine rite persuaded Prince Vladimir to adopt it for his lands from northwestern Russia to southern Ukraine. While the Latin rite, performed according to its canons, also has an innate power to evangelize, these days its music is often wanting and its lack of care regrettable.

Nearly twenty years ago I published a book about the history of some hymns, called Brightest and Best. This week it is being re-published as The Stories of Hymns. Perhaps these stories will help readers to appreciate better what St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote:

You must every man of you join in a choir so that being harmonious and in concord and taking the keynote of God in unison, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, so that He may hear you and through your good deeds recognize that you are parts of His Son.

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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 (Kindle only).

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

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

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