Father George William Rutler Homilies
2018-01-28 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2018-01-28 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

28 January 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:21-28 + Homily

16 Minutes 16 Seconds

 

(From the parish bulletin)

The German word “kitsch” is hard to define, other than “tacky” or “tasteless,” but as Justice Potter Stewart said of prurience, “I know it when I see it.” It is indulged sometimes even by pious Catholics. Examples of kitsch abound in the sculpture garden of the United Nations. My favorite is a huge Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with a twisted barrel by the Swedish sculptor Carl Reuterswärd. It runs afoul of the dictum vaguely attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Those who hammer their guns into plows, will plow for those who do not.” There is one superior work, albeit by the Soviet Realist Yevgeny Vuchetich, showing a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.

    That allusion, of course, is to verses in Isaiah, Joel and Micah. Communists could pick and choose bits of the Bible when convenient. The Prince of Peace warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), but he also told his disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36) and warned: “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The apparent contradiction is resolved by understanding that Christ speaks of swords both as defensive weapons and, more intensely, as representative of moral suffering.

   At the Presentation of Christ, Simeon told Our Lady that a sword would someday pierce her heart. This was fulfilled at the Crucifixion, for if there is a pain that can be as hard as physical suffering, it is the empathy one feels when watching the suffering of a loved one.

   There is much suffering in the Church, and Our Lady of Sorrows endures that, for she is Mother of the Church. In the order of places where Christians are being tormented now, North Korea ranks first, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran, in a list that is not exhaustive.

   As Our Lady was virtually abandoned at the foot of the Cross, so have those who are suffering atrocities and genocide been scandalously ignored by many in the West until recently. Our government has announced that it will stop the State Department’s policy of directing all relief funds through ineffective agencies of the United Nations, and will work with private organizations to aid vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.

   St. John Paul II said that Simeon’s prediction confirms Mary’s “faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, [while] on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

   As the pen is mightier than the sword, in Bulwer-Lytton’s adage, so is Christ the Living Word more acute and powerful than any sword that pierces those who love him.

 

2018-01-21 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

2018-01-21 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018

21 January 2018

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1-:14-20 + Homily

15 Minutes 11 Seconds

 

(From the parish bulletin)

In the late 1990s I watched the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, replicating the nineteenth-century cathedral that had been dynamited by Stalin in 1931. It can hold an estimated ten thousand worshipers (they stand throughout the long services, for pews are abhorrent to venerable tradition) and is the tallest Orthodox church in the world with a dome reaching 338 feet. Stalin’s plan to build on its site a Palace of the Soviets with a huge statue of Lenin atop its dome was never realized because of World War II. That recalls the statue of Zeus, “the Abomination of Desolation,” which the Greek ruler of Syria, Antiochus IV, erected in the Jerusalem temple after he despoiled its sacred vessels. Antiochus basked in the title Epiphanes, which means “radiance of God,” but the Jews punned that as Epimanes, or “the mad man.”

   Two hundred churches are planned for Moscow, along with an estimated thousand across the nation, replacing and adding to those destroyed in the Communist period, during which priests were crucified on the church doors. These are in the classical Byzantine style, not the modern biscuit boxes and flying saucers that were the bane of the West over the last few decades. In some towns, the local people are taught iconography and mosaic art, so the churches really are the work of their own hands. 

   These days in China, where Christianity is oppressed, not especially for theological reasons, but because it is a threat to the political hegemony of the state, churches are being destroyed. Within the past few months, for example, in Henan Province an evangelical church was dynamited in Shangqiu, with a blithe ferocity paralleling that of Stalin. 

   In the West, churches are getting demolished for reasons other than political: redundancy, the lack of need for “ethnic” parishes, and the sheer cost of maintenance. Often, people who are much wealthier than their ancestors who built the churches sacrificially out of their penury, do not contribute enough for maintenance. Between 1995 and the present, the Catholic population in the United States has increased from 57 million to over 70 million.  New churches are being built in the South and West where populations are growing faster than the decline in other parts of the country.

   There is another factor, however, in the loss of churches in much of our nation, and it is simply indifference. The vice of sloth is a spiritual malignancy, and many of our great metropolises have become hospices for lapsed believers. When I was sent to our parish here in “Hell’s Kitchen,” which is experiencing a phenomenal population growth, I was asked, “How many Catholics live there?” The proper question is, “How many Catholics will live there?” 

   The Ascending Lord did not send his disciples into Catholic neighborhoods, because there were none.

2018-01-14 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

2018-01-14 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2018

14 January 2018

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 1:35-42 + Homily

15 Minutes 37 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

The romantic soul of William Wordsworth thrilled over the French Revolution: “Oh! Pleasant exercise of hope and joy!  . . . Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven!” He crossed the Channel to see it in action, but when the Terror began he fled in horror. Then there is the story of Beethoven tearing up the first page of his Sinfonia Eroica, originally dedicated to Napoleon, upon news that his hero had succumbed to the vanity of a crown. The anarchist Emma Goldman hailed the Russian Revolution, but when fact obliterated her fantasy, she acidly described the Bolshevik State “crushing every constructive revolutionary effort, suppressing, debasing, and disintegrating everything.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shattered the illusions of many armchair Communists.


   Disillusionment can decay into cynicism, but it can also be a salvific dose of reality.  Eugenicists in the last century envisioned a demographic utopia, only to find that illusion cruelly mocked by the Nazi death camps and made macabre by abortion mills today. Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn of Grosse Point, Michigan are just the latest of people on trial for trafficking in the body parts of unborn babies. In 2013 the FBI discovered in their warehouse over one thousand heads, limbs and organs of infants. Their indictment seems to have been delayed because of what was previously a political reluctance to implicate Planned Parenthood. Increasing numbers of our population are recognizing unpleasant truths.


   Recent changes by our Executive Branch mark a shift in policy—reinstating the pro-life Mexico City Policy, moving to defund the United Nations Population Fund, expanding the religious exemption to the Health and Human Services Department’s contraception mandate, and favoring a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—as well as encouraging the annual March for Life this January 19, marking the 45th anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision. One does not want to be overly optimistic, but illusions are being shattered and, save for stone hearts, the consciences of many may be recognizing the consequences of naïvely underestimating the forces of evil cloaked as social progress.


   The Scottish king Robert the Bruce provided a lesson in persistence. Defeated in battle, he was tempted to give up, but for three months he took refuge in a cave where he watched a spider persevere in building a web, after failing numerous times. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” The line has edified schoolchildren, but it also helped the Bruce secure his kingdom after victory at Bannockburn. Various places claim the site of the cave—Dumfriesshire, Arran Island, Craigie, Taitlin Island—but that cave is wherever people learn from their mistakes and do not succumb to cynicism. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

 

2018-01-07 Epiphany

2018-01-07 Epiphany

January 7, 2018

7 January 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12 + Homily

19 Minutes 48 Seconds

 

From the parish bulletin

When The New Yorker magazine was peerless for its combination of erudition and wit, it ran a cartoon of Lilliputians contemplating Gulliver, whom they had fastened to the ground with ropes: “Either he’s very big or we are very small.”

   That is what we might say of the Creator when Epiphany directs our eyes to the stars. But while man must be humbled by the size beyond measure of the galaxies, the Creator does not humiliate us. In an interview in 1930, Einstein said: “We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how.” With the humility of a scientist who knows that there is much he does not know, that same professor wryly remarked to R. A. Thornton that he did not want to be like someone, including so many physicists, “who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.”

   Well-meaning scientists have tried to calculate a physical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. In 1604, Johannes Kepler proposed that at the time of Christ’s birth there was a supernova simultaneous with the conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. This often is a feature of Christmas programs in astronomical observatories. There may be something to that, but saints like Chrysostom were of the opinion that this was no ordinary phenomenon, given the way it moved and came close to earth, but was “of some power endowed with reason.” For Aquinas, it is “probable that it was a newly created star, not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement varied according to God’s will.”

   Little is known of the Magi, and for that reason they are a mine easily plundered by romantics who make them so exotic that they seem too good to be true.  We do not even know their homeland; perhaps it was Persia or, according to one recent theory, what is now Yemen. We do know that God, unlike Gulliver, is beyond measure, and his grace has made us more than Lilliputians. Saint Hippolytus, before dying a hard death for Christ, said of him:

He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. . . . When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine.