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Of Cabaret, Nazis, and Progressives by Fr. George W. Butler

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FROM THE PASTOR
July 2, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The film Cabaret is better known these days than the novel The Berlin Stories on which its screenplay is based. Christopher Isherwood described the dissolute culture of a demoralized people, which gave rise to the National Socialists. Heroes in the German Church defied the Nazi outrages, and thousands became martyrs. Bishops who honored the apostolic witness included Felhauber, Galen, Preysing and Frings, while some others were satisfied to adjust to those barbaric times. The heroes had not much support from the papal nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, who told Preysing: “Charity is well and good but the greatest charity is not to make problems for the Church.” The German bishops made a better showing than the Tudor bishops who caved in to Henry VIII, save for John Fisher, who became the only saint among them.

Pope Benedict XVI, who lived during those hard days in Germany, said in 2002:  “Heroic virtue properly speaking does not mean that one has done great things by oneself, but rather that in one’s life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God.” This is the universal call to holiness of which Saint Francis de Sales preached so solidly.

The German cardinal Walter Kasper has described a “Revolution of Tenderness and Love” that would seem paler than the bold summons of Pope Benedict and St. Francis de Sales. In 2014, Cardinal Kasper said: “Heroism is not for the average Christian.” Many seem to have accepted that, for the German Church is in demographic meltdown: priestly ordinations have dropped by half in the last decade, and Mass attendance has plummeted to 10.4%. This contrasts with the amazing growth of the Church in Africa, but Cardinal Kasper has said: “They should not tell us too much what we have to do.”

Last Sunday a parade down Fifth Avenue with its raucous obscenities surpassed in decadence anything described in The Berlin Stories.  At the same time, I was accompanying a group of visiting “wounded warriors” from Walter Reed Hospital unable to get through the traffic. One young soldier strove to carry his luggage with two prosthetic arms, while trying not to look at the street vulgarity. Such heroism is precisely what bewilders those who take pride only in their lack of heroism. Hilaire Belloc wrote:

“The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marveling that civilisation, should have offended him with priests and soldiers . . . .”


Father Rutler’s book, He Spoke to Us – Discerning God’s Will in People and Events, is now available in paperback through Ignatius Press.

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

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And Will God Not Vindicate His Elect? by Fr. George. W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 25, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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The legend of King Robert the Bruce, exiled from Scotland in a cave off the Irish coast in 1306, resembles a similar story in the Bible about King David when he was a boy. King Robert watched a spider finally manage to make a web after failing in several attempts.  Thus the child’s rhyme: “If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again.” Our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is about a poor widow who persisted in getting the judge to hear her case. The refined translation says that the judge wearied of her importuning, but the Greek has the judge fearing that she would punch him. That was a woman who would not give up.

To discourage is to lose heart. It is a trick of the Anti-Christ and the very opposite of Christ who encourages. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The widow in the parable reminds one of the Damas de Blanco—Ladies in White—who are wives and mothers of political prisoners in the gulags of Communist Cuba. Mostly Afro-Cubans, they formed in 2003 to protest the large-scale arrest of their kin who included journalists and human rights activists. From then on, every Sunday, they attend Mass in Havana and then process in white clothing to a park where, despite their peaceful witness, they frequently have been beaten and jailed.

Their persistence has been an embarrassment to many outside Cuba who choose to ignore the devastation wrought by Marxism. Even some leading churchmen indulge the gossamer hope that appeasement will convert evil to good. The Ladies in White were hurt but not thwarted when a U.S. presidential executive order in 2013 lifted sanctions against Cuba, while requiring no reform of its dictatorship. “Peace for our time” was predictably delusional, and political oppression increased: there were 1,095 detainees in 2016, up from 718 in 2015. Our social media applauded the capitulation, its accompanying festivities, and our own government’s “easy speeches” that, as Chesterton said, “comfort cruel men.”

On June 16 in Miami, our President fulfilled a campaign promise by signing a directive imposing sanctions that will not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and holds free elections. He also explicitly mentioned the persistence of the Ladies in White. Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White, whose husband has been serving a twenty-year sentence, replied: “These days, Mr. President, when most of the world responds with a deafening silence to the harassment, arbitrary detentions, beatings, house searches, and robberies against peaceful opponents, human rights activists and defenseless women, your words of encouragement are most welcomed.” It was like the parable of the undaunted widow: “And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?”


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

God and the Mosquito: by Fr. George W. Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 18, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

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Our Lord’s admonition that much will be required of those to whom much has been given, applies most vividly to us. We have been given so much in the way of inventions and medicine and comparative wealth, but above all in knowledge of the world around us. No king in his silken bed at Versailles knew the luxury of instant information that we have. “YouTube” gives us access to great music for which the Bourbon monarchs had to summon their court musicians, while we need only press a button on the computer.

   I have been listening on YouTube to the choir of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London singing the Victorian John Stainer’s setting of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” They are the most wondrous and mysterious words ever spoken and have to be sung, for they are a love song. A young man shyly told me that he knelt to propose marriage to the girl he loved, even though he thought she might laugh at him. But in the humility of true love, he meant what he said, and they are now married.

   God so loved the world. That means all he has created in the world. I confess that I do not yet share my Creator’s affection for all things. For instance, I do not like, let alone love, mosquitoes. Perhaps our Lord sees, through his aesthetic lens, a mathematical symmetry and power of endurance that I will only appreciate during my first years of assimilation in Purgatory. For that matter, I find it hard to like, let alone love, some of the people rambling along 34th Street at a snail’s pace, oblivious to those behind them, and speaking loudly and rudely on their cell phones. I am not God, who loves them as I try only feebly to do. He even died for them. And for me.

   Jesus became human, but from the perspective of heavenly glory, he might just as easily have become a mosquito. In the divine eye, humans are no more or less attractive than bugs, but God took upon himself the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7) because humans have the unique gift of reciprocating the love that made them. By reflecting that love, through worship and service, we are God’s agents in making the world into what he wants it to be.

    I am not a mosquito, but that makes no difference to my Creator. In the seventeenth-century words of Samuel Crossman, now accessible on YouTube:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?


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

 

 


 

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Trinity Sunday: Human intelligence needs God’s help to apprehend the inner reality of God by Fr. George Rutler

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FROM THE PASTOR
June 11, 2017

by Fr. George W. Rutler

The Feast of the Holy Trinity follows Pentecost because it is only by the inspiration of the Third Person of the Trinity, who leads into all truth, that the mystery of the Trinity can be known. Human intelligence needs God’s help to apprehend the inner reality of God. Certainly, human reason can employ natural analysis to some extent to describe God in terms of causality and motion and goodness. Saint Anselm, who models the universality of Christendom by being both an Italian and an Archbishop of Canterbury, said that “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

A house is a house because it houses. But what is in the house is known only by entering it. Since creatures cannot enter the Creator, he makes himself known by coming into his creation. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18).

Had we invented the Trinitarian formula, it would be only a notion instead of a fact. There are just three choices: to acknowledge what God himself has declared, to deny it completely, or to change it to what makes sense without God’s help. That is why most heresies are rooted in mistakes about the Three in One and One in Three.

Unitarianism, for example, is based on a Socinian heresy. Mormonism is an exotic version of the Arian heresy. Islam has its roots in the Nestorian heresy. All three reject the Incarnation and the Trinity but selectively adopt other elements of Christianity. Like Hilaire Belloc in modern times, Dante portrayed Mohammed not as a founder of a religion but simply as a hugely persuasive heretic, albeit persuading most of the time with a sword rather than dialectic. These religions, however, are not categorically Christian heresies since “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith . . .” (Catechism, 2089).  Only someone who has been baptized can be an actual heretic.

Cultures are shaped by cult: that is, the way people live depends on what they worship or refuse to worship. A culture that is hostile to the Holy Trinity spins out of control. In 1919, William Butler Yeats looked on the mess of his world after the Great War:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .

   That is the chaotic decay of human creatures ignorant of their Triune God. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” But to worship the “Holy, Holy, Holy” God as the center and source of reality is to confound anarchy: “For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . .  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).


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: “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

 

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