Father George William Rutler Homilies
2020-04-05 - Palm Sunday

2020-04-05 - Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020

5 April 2020

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

NOTE: Due to the Covid19 / Coronavirus Emergency the Archdiocese of New York has cancelled all public Masses for an indefinite period. The homily attached hereto was given on 9 April 2017, Palm Sunday, Year A, using the same Readings as for today, 5 April 2020.

Passion According to Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 + Brief Homily

35 Minutes 0 Seconds

(Homily begins around 29:37)

Link to the Readings:


(http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032920.cfm (New American Bible, Revised Edition)


From the parish bulletin of Sunday, 5 April 2020:

  The term “parochial” is frequently used in a condescending sense, but no one today can get away with thinking that to be parochial is to be isolated from reality. As I write, the Navy hospital ship “Comfort,” last seen here on the Hudson River after the World Trade Center horror, is passing by our rectory windows. The convention center nearby, usually home to flower and boat shows, is being converted into a huge emergency hospital.

   This is how we approach the start of the Holy Week in which the faithful observe the most important thing that ever happened since the world was created. With powerful shock this Lent, mortifications have been imposed by circumstances beyond human control and not chosen by the exercise of free will. Now the Passion will be more powerful, because the Gates of the Temple are closed. The holy apostles thought themselves bereft of the One they hoped might be the Messiah. On the Mount of Olives, three of them slept a depressed sleep, haunted by anxious confusion. Varying circumstances in every generation have given the impression of being abandoned by the One who had promised to be with us always. Blaise Pascal wrote: "Jesus sera en agony jusqu'à la fin du monde: il ne faut pas dormir pendant ce temps-là." (Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world. We should not sleep during this entire time.) The solemnity of those words was the freight of the confidence that tethers agony to victory.

   In a book I wrote years ago, I remarked that modern communications have made popes more visible than ever, but a dangerous result is the impression that their significance issues from celebrity. Last Friday, Pope Francis stood alone in the dark and rain of a totally empty Saint Peter’s Square, and then blessed the whole world with the Blessed Sacrament. Because it was in what is now called “real time,” it was a stunning evocation of the final scene in Robert Hugh Benson’s dystopian novel, Lord of the World. The Anti-Christ would try to destroy the Church, attacking the lone figure of the Pope exiled in Nazareth, as he holds the Blessed Sacrament. The future Pope Benedict XVI spoke of that book in 1992, and Pope Francis mentioned it in 2013 and 2015.

   Bulwer-Lytton wrote many fine things and is mocked only because one line has become a cliché. “It was a dark and stormy night.” That dark and stormy night when the Pope stood alone before the Basilica of Saint Peter was the harbinger of victory and not the whimper of defeat.

   Now there is even concern that palm branches might be infected. No matter. This will be a great Holy Week, because “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).


2020-03-29 - Fifth Sunday of Lent

2020-03-29 - Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2020

29 March 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

NOTE: Due to the Covid19 / Coronavirus Emergency the Archdiocese of New York has cancelled all public Masses for an indefinite period. The homily attached hereto was given on 2 April 2017, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A, using the same Readings as for today, 29 March 2020.

John 9:1-45 + Homily

19 Minutes 49 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032920.cfm (New American Bible, Revised Edition)


From the parish bulletin of Sunday, 29 March 2020:

   I have a rule never to begin a paragraph with a first-person pronoun. I do this not because it would be inappropriate to use the monarchical “We,” as in “We have a rule,” or the princely “One,” as in “One has a rule,” but because self-reference confines the argument to personal experience. That is somewhat like the danger of using exclamation points—a clear sign of rhetorical failure, like shouting when your argument is unclear.

   I have broken my own rule today because it is my birthday. The demands of publishing require that this be written several days before it appears in print. I have achieved three-quarters of a century, which is child’s play compared with Methuselah, but I can say at least that I have lived a share of two very interesting centuries. I was entertained once by a lady who had lived in three centuries, having been born in the last year of the nineteenth century, and who died in the second year of the twenty-first century. That is almost as interesting as the fact that she was Queen of the United Kingdom and the Dominions and Empress of India.

   On the day of my birth, the Indian 20th Infantry launched the conquest of Burma, British troops crossed the Rhine, and American forces began the battle of Okinawa—the harshest conflict  in the Pacific theatre. I have no memory of that since I was in a diaper and not a uniform, but the truth is that I was born during a war. That makes me no different from any other life born into this world, since everyone is engaged in a war. Life itself, whether politically peaceful or belligerent, is an engagement “against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spirits of wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

   That moral combat takes different forms, and it was not hyperbolic for our Chief Executive to call himself a “wartime president.” A struggle against disease, whose present virulence still remains uncertain, can be as violent as any combat zone. All struggles are rooted in the war that broke out in heaven when “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon” (Revelation 12:7). The happy fact is that the dragon, which is Satan, “who leads the whole world astray,” was defeated. The sobering fact is that we have a free will to choose in whose service to enlist. 

   That account in the Book of Revelation is a mere myth only if soldiers dying on battlefields, or the sick suffering on hospital beds are figments of human imagination. But when Satan fell, he took highly intelligent powers with him, and in every generation they “wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.” Their strategy is intimidation, and they cannot resist the Faith that casts out fear.


2020-03-22 - Fourth Sunday of Lent

2020-03-22 - Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 22, 2020

22 March 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

NOTE: Due to the Covid19 / Coronavirus Emergency the Archdiocese of New York has cancelled all public Masses for an indefinite period. The homily attached hereto was given on 26 March 2017, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A, using the same Readings as for today, 22 March 2020.

John 9:1-41 + Homily

20 Minutes 38 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

 From the parish bulletin of Sunday, 22 March 2020:

  Geniuses often are thought to be absent-minded. Archimedes was so preoccupied with a mathematical diagram he was constructing during the invasion of Syracuse in Sicily in 212 BC, that he told a Roman soldier about to slay him: “Let me finish my numbers.” He was not professorially absent-minded, but present-minded. His obligation to truth took precedence over life itself.

    In our exceptional times, the President has declared a national emergency. This is not unprecedented, and I have an oral tradition of my own family witnessing to the influenza epidemic of 1918, when my grandparents’ venerable parish rector survived the infection while ministering to the ill, but whose two daughters died. The causalities were much higher than now, with a much smaller global population.

    We pray for our leaders, and the scientists enlisted to mitigate the spread of infection. We also deplore those who would exploit this crisis for political gain. Our Lord had the greatest contempt for demagogues. It is thankworthy that months ago, our government prudently imposed barriers on immigration from China, in spite of criticism from politicians who faulted that policy for what they called “xenophobia.”

    In any generation, crises provoke a reaction to the fact of human mortality. In their anxiety, those unwilling to acknowledge that tend to decry catastrophes as if they were intrusions into the obvious circumstance that life is a fragile gift. So they become paranoid about disease, demographics, climate change and other metaphors for the simple reality of impermanence.

    Death is nothing new. Until now, everyone has done it. Our Lord would speak of it with a strange mixture of gravity and nonchalance. It is prelude to a permanent realm of which every anatomical breath is an intimation by virtue of its impermanence. Anxiety ignores the promise that accompanies the warning: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    Saint Charles Borromeo led a procession in prayer to mitigate the plague in Milan in 1576, caring for upwards of seventy thousand dying and starving people. Death meant nothing to him, save an opening to Paradise. For all his mystical intuitions, he also enjoyed playing billiards, and when asked what he would do if he had only fifteen minutes more to live, he responded, “Keep playing billiards.”

    One of the Church’s youngest saints, Dominic Savio, told Saint John Bosco that if the Holy Angel blew his trumpet for the end of all things while he was on the playground, he would just keep on playing. That is how we should want to play each day of our lives, in a friendship with God that will not find Heaven unfamiliar. In 1857, fourteen-year-old Dominic’s last earthly words were: “Oh, what wonderful things I see!”

    A saint is one who can stand at the eternal gates and say, “Hello. I am home.”


2020-03-15 - Third Sunday in Lent

2020-03-15 - Third Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2020

15 March 2020

Third Sunday in Lent

NOTE: Due to the Covid19 / Coronavirus Emergency the Archdiocese of New York has cancelled all public Masses for an indefinite period. The homily attached hereto was given on 19 March 2017, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A, using the same Readings as for today, 15 March 2020.

John 4:5-42 + Homily

23 Minutes 22 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin of 15 March 2020:

On September 10, 1919, General Pershing led his returning troops up Fifth Avenue before crowds numbering two million. In front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, he dismounted from his rambunctious white horse “Captain” to greet Cardinal Mercier, who had arrived in New York by ship the night before. The General made a point of expressing his esteem for the Belgian prelate. Perhaps the name Mercier means little to many today, but over the course of several weeks, he received an unprecedented series of welcomes in the United States, excelling even the welcome tour of Lafayette in 1824-1825.

Cardinal Mercier had become a hero to the world for his defense of Belgium during its sufferings after the German invasion. It is edifying to read on the Internet the account of the celebrations in America recorded by Father Thomas C. Brennan. In it, he describes the prelate addressing Protestant leaders in English, rabbis in Hebrew, and academics in a Latin more fluent than their own, as they bestowed honorary laurels upon him.

This archbishop led a revival in studies of Thomas Aquinas, but more than that, he was an image of moral integrity, a cardinal honored more for himself than for his title. The response to the Donatist heresy established with certainty, through the articulation of such as Saint Augustine, that the personal attributes of a cleric do not affect the legitimacy of his priestly acts: the sacraments of a weak bishop can confer the same grace as those of a saint. But the moral integrity of a cleric empowers his encouragement of souls. Weak leaders and their bromide-churning bureaucracies have scant moral influence.

Cardinal Mercier had a zeal that issued from a love of doctrinal truth. In the wartime chaos of 1917, he told his priests not to tell their people to love if they could not explain the theology that justifies love. He gave a practical formula for happiness:

“Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will. 

If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you strength to carry it, and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise laden with merit.”

2020-03-08 - Second Sunday of Lent

2020-03-08 - Second Sunday of Lent

March 8, 2020

8 March 2020

Second Sunday of Lent

Matthew 17:1-9 + Homily

19 Minutes 12 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

   Materialism, fantasy and false worship were the temptations Satan thrust at Christ, and he is tempting our nation the same way. These seductions are a formula for Socialism, which Winston Churchill in 1948 defined as “The philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”

   A poorly educated generation succumbs to adolescent idealism, bereft of history, unaware that a cult of the state has been a consistent failure, costing countless millions of lives in modern times.

   State worship was resisted by the earliest Christians, who refused to offer incense to Caesar. Socialism is simply Communism not yet in power, and its smiling face in the guise of “Democratic Socialism” quickly scowls once it has control. As the economist Ludwig von Mises showed in various ways, the essence of Socialism is coercion and manipulation. Pope John XXIII, quoting Pope Pius XI, taught in 1961: “No Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.”

   Socialism in the guise of benevolence exploits the naïve. As a corollary, Yeats said: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Lack of conviction moved appeasers to sign the Munich Agreement, and in present times it has ceded the Church’s integrity to the Chinese government. Naïve people were scandalized by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but Stalin and Hitler were simply Socialists in different uniforms. Just as the National Socialist manifesto of 1920 tried to replace the Church with a pastiche of “Positive Christianity,” which was Christianity without Christ, so has the Chinese government ordered that images of Christ be replaced with images of Party leader Xi Jinping.

   In 1931, Pope Pius XI denounced the exaltation of the state as “Idolatry.” He insisted that “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” From a conviction born of suffering under National Socialism and Soviet Socialism, Pope John Paul II maintained that “the fundamental error of Socialism is anthropological . . . [because it] considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism… .”

   As the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, Catholics should note what a present candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, who calls himself a Democratic Socialist, said years ago: “I don’t believe in charities . . .government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.” But Pope Benedict VI has said: “We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces . . .”

   The prophet Samuel warned the Israelites who wanted a king in charge of everything: “He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel 8:17). That voice is louder now. 

2020-03-01 - First Sunday in Lent

2020-03-01 - First Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2020

1 March 2020

First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 4:1-11 + Homily

18 Minutes 4 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

   Earnest preachers use their personalities to lead people to Jesus without obstructing him with themselves. They may honestly boast that they have been given the best information to convey, and we have it in the form of what we call the Bible—that is, the Biblia, or Books. 

   At the start of Lent, our Lord makes us privy to the forty days he spent confronting the Anti-Christ. The only reason he made this public is that he, “who knew all men” (John 2:24), conquered with a blithe insouciance the same three temptations that we mere mortals, whom he loves, confront every day.

   The temptation to turn stone to bread is the seductive power of disordered passions: trying to gratify the wants of the flesh with gossamer seductions that never satisfy for very long. Besides uncontrolled sexuality, this includes gossip, anger and abuse, such as that of drugs and drink, and creates an illusion of pleasure that God alone can give without end. The temptation to defy gravity afflicts human souls by wallowing in fantasy every day, ogling at what others have. The temptation to rule kingdoms is the seduction of the ego to measure ourselves by the prestige others accord us.

   That temptation to rule kingdoms is the most vicious temptation because it elicits and animates the original sin of pride. Not everyone has political power, but each human being is tempted to make a kingdom of his own imagining. Every generation is witness to the futility of that vanity, such as befell the King of Babylon who said in his delusion, like Lucifer: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13).

   Catholicism is practical, which is why its supernatural power may appear among what is deceptively ordinary. Even superstitions, kitsch art, and scandalous behavior by some who identify as Catholics, witness to the fact that the supernatural character of the Church does not depend on human virtue. In some respects, heretical partisans are more virtuous and sober than Catholics, but that is because they depend on themselves, with the result that their populations become monochrome and have no tolerance for exceptions.

   G.K. Chesterton said that if he were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book, if he wanted impress people he would ask for something by Plato or Aristotle, and if he expected to remain stranded a long while, he would want Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers. But if he wanted to get off quickly, he would want Thomas’ “Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.” The Church is the Barque of Peter and, as such, has the most practical information for those who are stranded in a fallen world and want to get off quickly into the vibrant and colorful civilization of the saints. To begin Lent, the Church provides the guide.

2020-02-23 - 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-23 - 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 23, 2020

23 February 2020

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:38-48 + Homily

17 Minutes 54 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

I used to dread Ash Wednesday because of the endless lines of people coming for ashes. By the end of the day, priests look like coal miners.

Sociologists may condescendingly consider the phenomenon of crowds coming for ashes, when they do not enter a church at other times of the year, a habit of tribal identity. If the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or Christ dying and rising from the dead, confounds limited human intelligence, there is still a spark of the sense that biological life has an end as real as its beginning. For skeptics, the Easter proclamation “Christ is Risen” may seem like an indulgence of romance or wishful thinking, but no one drawing breath can deny that “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.”

God gives life and does not intend to take it away. He resents mortality, and when he came into the world that he had made good, he wept to see how it had gone wrong. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), and those tears were not because he was poor or hungry or insulted, or because of bad harvests or unpredictable climate or corrupt governments. He wept because someone had died. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Even if some think that is too good to be true, every day radio and television advertisements promise that you will feel better if you take their multiple vitamins or subscribe to their weight-loss programs. This is what philosophers call the “élan vital,” or the will to live. The forty days of Lent, which go faster than health regimens, offer a promise of life beyond death more audacious than any promise of improved nutrition or medical cures.

In 1970 the film “Love Story” was a real tear-jerker, breaking records for its profits at the box office. Its closing line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It was an altruistic sentiment, but God is love and not sentiment. Divine love is so powerful that, as Dante wrote, it “moves the sun and the other stars.” That power is offered to the human soul, which is in the image of God. “Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Corinthians 6:2).

Powerful love, sanctifying grace, is available through the absolution of sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We shortchange ourselves of splendor if we do not tell God we are sorry, as “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Lent is not an unwelcome burden, for it is the gateway to glory greater than the sun and the other stars.


2020-02-16 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-16 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

16 February 2020

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:17-37 + Homily

17 Minutes 59 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

The names of the Franciscan friars Berard of Carbio, Otho, Peter, Accursius and Adjutus, are not as familiar as that of Francis of Assisi, who said that they had become the prototypes of what he called the Friars Minor. After his own failed mission to convert the Muslims of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in 1219, he sent them on a similar mission to Morocco where they were tortured and killed in 1220. That was exactly eight hundred years ago. Clearly, Saint Francis did not spend his days talking to birds. Nor did he and his friars risk their lives to engage in meandering “inter-religious dialogue.”

This column is being published on the fifth anniversary of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. All martyrs believe, as did Saint Peter when filled with the Holy Spirit: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This perplexes flaccid minds and scandalizes the morally compromised, but it is the engine of heroic virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in 1967: “Enamored of our present epoch, blind to all its characteristic dangers, intoxicated with everything modern, there are many Catholics who no longer ask whether something is true, or whether it is good and beautiful, or whether it has intrinsic value: they ask only whether it is up-to-date, suitable to ‘modern man’ and the technological age, whether it is challenging, dynamic, audacious, progressive.”

About a century earlier, in his Grammar of Assent, Saint John Henry Newman had already explained: “Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” Saint Paul disdained rhetoric and mere speculation “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

By one estimation, and it is by necessity approximate, over the centuries there have been about seventy million Christian martyrs and, astonishingly, half of them have been in roughly the last century. It is also a fact that in our present culture, one in six 18- to 64-year-olds, and one in five aged 65 and over, depend on antidepressants. The example of the martyrs is better than any chemical cure for sadness, for they testify that Christ has made life so worth living, that living and dying for him makes sense. When the ransomed bodies of those five Franciscan martyrs were brought from Morocco to Portugal, a young priest in Coimbra was so moved by their mute witness that he consecrated his life to proclaiming the Gospel as far and wide as he could. We know him as Saint Anthony of Padua.


2020-02-09 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-09 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

9 February 2020

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:13-16 + Homily

14 Minutes 11 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

   Luke the Evangelist is the patron saint of artists because he paints pictures with words. In describing the scene of old Simeon in the Temple encountering Jesus, Luke wrote that he “took him up in his arms” (Luke 2:28).

   That word picture of an old man holding a forty-day-old baby, reminds one of the 1490 painting by the master Domenico Ghirlandaio, of a grandfather and his grandson embracing. The old man is anything but beautiful, save for his smile as he gazes at the angelic boy. The grandfather’s problematic nose is “warts and all,” as the bleak Oliver Cromwell instructed his own portraitist, Samuel Cooper. For noses, it competes with that of the vaudevillian Jimmy Durante who, incidentally, was married in 1921 in our sister parish of Holy Innocents.

   That juxtaposition of old age and youth bonded by love is the “leitmotif” of the encounter in the Temple. But by what power of perception did Simeon recognize the infant Messiah? You might ask the same of the seventeen-year-old Saint Joan of Arc when she entered the Chateau of Chinon in 1429 and recognized the disguised future King Charles VII.

   Good teachers discern potential in the classroom, like Saint Albert the Great seeing in his student Thomas Aquinas, mocked as a “Dumb Ox,” a future Doctor of the Church. But to discern the Messiah in diapers requires heavenly help, since prodigy is not greater than divinity.

   God comes to us often in obscurity, through unexpected events and persons, rather than through celebrities. Famous people come and go, often through the passing of fashion. In the second century, Plutarch compared the celebrities of his Roman days with the heroes of classical Greece; but who today remembers Cleomenes, whom he matched with Camillus, or Philopoemen compared with Poplicola?

   There are natural intuitions, such as Saint Albert recognizing in the clumsy young Thomas Aquinas the future Doctor of the Church. But Simeon and his accompanying prophetess Anna, like Joan of Arc, had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit.

   Albert Schweitzer was a hero of my youth and one of the most revered figures of the day. Now he is as remote in present consciousness as Jimmy Durante. He left us an image of the Messiah that Simeon would have understood: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

2020-02-02 - Presentation of the Lord

2020-02-02 - Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

2 February 2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Luke 2:22-40 + Homily

16 Minutes 48 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

The Feast of the Presentation recalls the old man Simeon chanting thanks for having lived to see the Messiah. His “Nunc Dimittis”—“Let thy servant depart in peace”—is part of the Church’s evening prayers. In 542 in Constantinople, the Emperor Justinian placed it into the Eastern Liturgy.

This year the Feast falls on Super Bowl Sunday. Human nature instinctively finds entertainment more compelling than edification, but like all things ephemeral, games pass away while the songs of saints will endure until the end of time. Few today remember the Isthmian games of the Greeks, or the cheers in the Roman circus. But those games also warn thinking people of the dangers in giving sports a cultic status. When the amateur is overwhelmed by professionals who are paid mind-boggling salaries, inflating the cost of tickets, and whose lives and deaths distract from the great events of the day, a culture’s perspective becomes irrational.

Add to this the “ad verecundium fallacy” by which people accept the unqualified opinions of individuals simply because of their celebrity. This applies to sports figures and Hollywood starlets who turn entertainment into political theatre.

The aforementioned Justinian had to deal with this problem. He and his empress Theodora were not the only couple who have rooted for opposite teams; however, their situation was serious, since the teams represented political and religious factions. Theodora was a fan of the Greens, who were Monophysite heretics, and the emperor supported the Blues, who were orthodox Chalcedonians. No one who collects abstruse sports statistics should object that these theological issues are too obscure. Feelings were so intense in 532 that the “Nika Riots” (Nika being the term for “Victory,” now adapted for Nike sneakers, made mostly in third-world countries under disputed labor conditions) led to the deaths of 30,000 rioters and the destruction of much of the city.

Super Bowl half-time extravaganzas surpass in their vulgarity only the Field of the Cloth of Gold games in France in 1520 when Henry VIII, twenty-nine years old and an impressive 6’1” wrestled Francis I, twenty-three years old and over 6’5”. Thousands of tents were erected for the crowds, and for refreshments there were 3,000 sheep, 800 calves, 300 oxen, and fountains flowing with wine. Even the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I donated for entertainment dancing monkeys painted gold.

During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) the Greeks built a gymnasium at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Even some Jewish priests of the Herodian temple succumbed to the sports mania. Should any pulpit orator try to beguile his congregation on the Feast of the Presentation with banter about the Super Bowl, let him be reminded: “Disdaining the temple and neglecting the sacrifices, [the priests] hastened, at the signal for the discus-throwing, to take part in the unlawful exercises on the athletic field” (2 Maccabees 4:14).