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Pentecost: “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 4, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

The fire that Moses saw was not by any definition what we know as fire, for it did not burn the blazing bush. The light that shone from Christ in his Transfiguration was not what is light in the canons of natural physics, because it was of an intensity beyond accessible description without damaging the sight of Peter, James and John. Fifty days after the Resurrection, in the Upper Room, there was a noise “like” a driving wind and then flames “as of” fire shone over the heads of the apostles, but the description required similitudes because the noise and the flames were not a natural noise and fire.

Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would enable human intelligence to embrace depths of reality beyond the limits of natural experience. Here at work is the principle of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” The apostles became more intensely human when they received the power of the Holy Spirit, to the extent that they traveled to lands beyond the limited environs of their early years, with a courage never before tested. They received the “glory” that Christ, on the night before he died, prayed that his disciples might share. Because that participation in the divine nature bridges time and eternity, there is an invigorating terror about it: not the dread of being diminished or annihilated, but the trembling awesomeness of breaking the bonds of death itself.

When the Holy Spirit moves a man from aimless biological existence to what Christ calls the “fullness” of life, the reaction is a little like that of someone who has heard simple tunes but then encounters a symphony. Simple pleasure may evoke smiles and then laughter, but the deepest joy can move one to tears, and that is why there is that curious experience not of laughing for joy but of weeping for joy, and the equally enigmatic experience of lovesickness.

Oft quoted is the diary account by Samuel Pepys in the seventeenth century after attending a concert: “… that which did please me beyond anything in the whole world was the wind-musique when the Angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me; and endeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.”

A fan of Jascha Heifetz told him after a performance that his violin had such a beautiful tone. The maestro placed his ear against the Stradivarius and said, “I hear nothing.”  By way of metaphor, it may be said that we exist biologically as wonderful instruments: the brain itself is the most complex organism in the universe. But we make celestial music only when the Holy Spirit conjoins our human nature with the Source of Life.


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

Pentecost: Prophecies Then and Now by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
May 28, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

It is a wise policy, issuing from experience, and one hopes not from cynicism, to distrust email messages that begin by saying that the writer is “excited to share” something. Inevitably, this involves an overuse of exclamation points and much self-advertising. In religion, various movements keep pumping themselves up with excited promises of something great about to happen, some new program or rally or change of custom that blurs the distinction between the Good News and novelty.

Such was the case in the area of Phrygia in what is now Turkey during the second century. A convert priest named Montanus stirred up a lot of excitement when he confused himself with the Holy Spirit and started to deliver various “prophecies” while in a trance. Like the typical fanatic so defined, he was confident that God would agree with him if only God had all the facts. In a languid and dissolute period, his ardor and amiability attracted many as far away as North Africa and Rome, and even the formidable intellect of Tertullian was misled by it.

Sensational outbursts of emotion were thought to be divinely inspired, and the formal clerical structure of the Church was caricatured as the sort of rigidity that quenches the spirit. Maintaining that prophecy did not end with the last apostle, new messages were declared, sensationalism in the form of purported miracles and exotic languages was encouraged, and women like Priscilla and Maximilla left their husbands and decided that they could be priests.

In the twentieth century, the Montanist heresy sprung up again in the Pentecostalist sect, and even many Catholics were attracted to “reawakenings” that gave the impression that the Paraclete promised by Christ had finally come awake, having  been dormant pretty much since the early days of the Church. While bizarre in its extreme forms, such as dancing in churches and barking like dogs while rolling on the floor, any quest for novelty quickly grows bored, for nothing goes out of fashion so fast as the latest fashion.

In preparing for the celebration of Pentecost, the Church prays for a holy reception of the truth “ever ancient, ever new” that comes not through a Second Pentecost or a Third Pentecost, but through an enlivened embrace of God’s timeless grace. Christ makes “all things new” and does not superficially make all new things. (Revelation 21:5) Heresies are fads, but the eternal dogmas of the Faith never go out of date because they never were fashionable to begin with.

Chesterton thus described the romance of orthodoxy by which the Church is like a chariot “thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” That truth needs no artificial excitement or manufactured heartiness, and the Gospel has no orchestrated exclamation points, for when the mystery of God is revealed, everything falls silent (Revelation 8:1), and then . . . the Great Amen.

Mortals Did Not Invent the Church by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
May 21, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Often have I reflected on a story that an Australian bishop told me, about a man on a railroad platform who said “I am not a Catholic, but there is one thing about the Catholic Church I have never understood.” The prelate replied, “Only one thing? I am a bishop, and there are many things about the Church I do not understand.”

That is how it must be, since mortals did not invent the Church. The countless sects and denominations structured by humans have a certain cogency and predictability because they are fashioned according to natural understanding. The Holy Catholic Church was planned by divine intelligence, and in consequence there are mysterious elements that are unpredictable and often contradictory to limited logic. The “Church Militant,” which exists in time and space, in contrast to the “Church Expectant” of the faithful departed and the “Church Triumphant” of the saints, will be a mix of the best human accomplishments and the bleakest human foibles, but none of that alters the Church’s supernatural character as the living presence of Christ.

An architect knows where each door leads in the house he has designed, but God made the Church, and so we have to find our way around in it by the guidance of Christ who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). To those who say that they accept Christ but not the institutional Church, the answer is that the Church is an institution because Christ instituted it, and so the Church is indispensable.

With deliberate symmetry, the Lord invoked the pattern of forty days that is threaded through salvation history, spending forty days on earth from his Resurrection to his Ascension. His departure from this world was the means by which he could be omnipresent, no longer confined to one generation in time or one acre of space. His instruction as he ascended was to bring others into his Church: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

When I was appointed as pastor here on 34th Street, the question frequently asked was, “How many Catholics are in that neighborhood?” As our Lord was “taken up,” he did not send his disciples into Catholic neighborhoods, because there were none.  So the right question must be: “How many Catholics will there be in the neighborhood?”

There will be many things we do not understand about the Church. The one thing that must be understood, because Christ made it so very clear, is that he says of himself, and by so saying says of his Church: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).


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

 

You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
May 14, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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A few blocks north of our church, at 1664 Broadway in the old Warners’ Theatre which was demolished in 1952, the first Vitaphone talking film, The Jazz Singer, opened on October 6, 1927. I have been astonished that some of our bright young parishioners never heard of Al Jolson, but history records, as did Vitaphone, his words, “You ain’t heard nothing yet.” The Lord of History said more monumentally: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

The Word could finally be heard, having been “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When that Word rose from the dead, he said, in so many human words, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” The Resurrection was far from a grand finale: it was the start of everything else. As our Lord ascended in glory, he gave the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

This commission is called evangelization, for it means to announce the good news. Our Lord structured the organism for this by creating the Church. If half-hearted Catholics do not evangelize, they are not truly Catholic, and if well meaning people try to evangelize without the Catholic Church, they are not truly Evangelical.

In obedience to the Great Commission, the Holy See has a Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. All well and good, even if not clearly defined. But in recent decades there have been numerous committees and programs to evangelize, with little effect, despite all their meetings and conferences and advertising. Christ was meticulous with everything except bureaucracy. Instead, he sent his disciples out with a commission. Only holiness evangelizes.

Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who died in 2002, has recently been declared a candidate for sainthood for his heroic virtues. Beginning in 1975, this coadjutor archbishop of Saigon was imprisoned by communists in Vietnam for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement. He thought he might go mad, in a cell without light or ventilation, and mushrooms growing on his thin mattress. But his serene example kept converting many of his prison guards to Christianity.

The evangelization of souls, without benefit of councils or committees, was all that concerned him. Shortly before he died, he said, “If Jesus took a math examination he would surely fail. A shepherd had 100 sheep; one of them strayed. Without thinking, the shepherd went in search of it, leaving the other 99 sheep. When he found the lost sheep he put it on his shoulders (Luke 15:4-5). For Jesus, 1 equals 99, perhaps even more . . .”

Jesus said, “. . . a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). I expect that when Cardinal Van Thuan died, he heard a voice saying: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”


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

 

May 2017: Mother of Fair Love by Fr. George Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
May 7, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The month of May stirs feelings most in lands where it follows dismal winters. In the northern damps Chaucer chanted: “And after winter folweth grene May.” By understandable instinct, it is the month specially dedicated to our Lord’s “Mother of Fair Love.” This May 13 will have a special elegance of symmetry, marking the hundredth anniversary of the day three children in the remote village of Fatima north of Lisbon said they had seen the Virgin Mary.

That was a “private revelation” which, since it is not part of the essential deposit of faith, is not like a doctrine that Catholics must acknowledge as true. But what happened at Fatima in 1917 is one of twelve apparitions which the Church considers “worthy of belief.”

Lucia Santos and her two young cousins claimed to have received heavenly messages and visions on the thirteenth of each month from May to October. Jacinta Marto died shortly after that at the age of nine, and her brother Francisco died at ten. This week Pope Francis will go to Fatima and declare both of them saints. The beatification process began a few years ago for Lucia, who died in 2005 at the age of 97.

The  ways that some have tried to read their own ideas into the messages do not detract from the astonishing manner in which these untutored visionaries conveyed such powerful descriptions of things eternal, and even spoke of  Russia and the Communist revolution, of which they had no earthly knowledge. Most riveting was the promise the Lady gave of a “sign” which then happened exactly on the appointed day on October 13 when over 60,000 people, including many who had come to scoff, saw the sun appear to spin and seem to plummet near the ground.

In 1981 as a student in Rome, I saw the chaos on May 13 when St. John Paul II was shot. A year later, he went to Fatima and presented one of the bullets to the shrine, saying that he had come “because, on this exact date last year in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, there was an attempt on the life of your Pope, which mysteriously coincided with the anniversary of the first vision at Fatima, that of 13 May 1917. The coincidence of these dates was so great that it seemed to be a special invitation for me to come here.” It has been said that coincidences are God’s way of remaining invisible.

In 2000, the future Pope Benedict XVI, having visited Sister Lucia, wrote: “The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word.”


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

Emmaus: This road will take you wherever you wish to go by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
April 30, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Rare is the obituary that can match that of Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (1880-1963) who died as the most decorated soldier in the British Army. He was born to a Belgian father and Irish mother, though reputed to be an illegitimate son of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. His mother died when he was six, and his English stepmother sent him to the Birmingham Oratory School in England, founded by Cardinal Newman. He entered the University of Oxford, but dropped out to join the British Army and fight in the Second Boer War. He married Countess Friederike Maria Karoline Henriette Rosa Sabina Franziska Fugger von Babenhausen, the eldest daughter of an Austrian prince. Soon he went to British Somaliland with the Camel Corps to fight Mohammed bin Abdullah, the “Mad Mullah.” There he lost an eye and part of his ear.

Carton de Wiart returned to fight in the First World War in France, was wounded seven times, shot through the skull and ankle, hip and leg, and lost his left hand. After the war he resided on the estate of his Polish aide de camp, Prince Karol Radziwill, in a wetland larger than the Republic of Ireland, until the Nazis invaded. Dispatched to Serbia, his aircraft crashed in the sea off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya, and he began three years as a prisoner of war in Italy. Upon his release, Churchill sent him to China; en route he attended the 1943 Cairo Conference with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek.

A fervent anti-Communist, Sir Adrian later criticized Mao Zedong to his face. He retired in 1947 to County Cork in Ireland, laurelled as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Companion of the Order of the Bath, Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and recipient of the Croix de Guerre of France and Belgium, but first of all, of the Victoria Cross, and above even that, he was renowned as a vigorous Catholic.

Wandering down a country lane one day, lame and partially blind, he asked a very young colleen where it led. Un-phased by his scars, she gently said, “Oh sir, this road will take you wherever you wish to go.” This is not without application to these Easter days, for the two grieving men on the Emmaus road were wounded by disappointment in Jesus whom they expected to be their Messianic hero. It was when he took them to a wayside inn that they recognized him. He told them that their road was not only the way to Emmaus, but “wherever they wished to go.”

The road depends on whether one follows Christ, or one’s confused ego. At the Last Supper when Saint Thomas asked the Risen Lord where he was going, the answer was: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

        

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

 

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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.   

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