Father George William Rutler Homilies
2018-02-25 Second Sunday of Lent

2018-02-25 Second Sunday of Lent

February 25, 2018

25 February 2018

Second Sunday of Lent

Mark 9:2-10 + Homily

17 Minutes 54 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

Few lands are more cheerful than beautiful Switzerland. There are the mountains, the blonde girls yodeling, the lads sounding Alpine horns across the canyons, St. Bernard dogs with brandy, and all that chocolate and material prosperity. The cynic would dismiss that as a caricature. Think of Orson Welles in the 1949 film The Third Man: “. . . in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

   The cuckoo clock was actually invented in the Black Forest of Germany. And while thoughts of Switzerland evoke peace, its last strife being a brief civil war in 1847, it is highly militarized and was famous for its mercenaries (which is how the Holy See got the Swiss Guards), and it has mandatory conscription for all able-bodied males. With the lowest crime rate in the world, it ranks only below the United States and Yemen in per capita gun ownership. Switzerland is the second largest exporter per capita of assault weapons, ammunition and tanks to such countries as Saudi Arabia. No country has an unblemished history, and in 2013 the government formally apologized for the forced labor of half a million children in the past two centuries. Officially neutral in World War II, it profited greatly as a banker for Nazi gold.

   While proud of its reputation for enlightened social policies, abortion is legal there and the first-trimester limit can be extended for “medical and psychological reasons.” In our time of mania for tearing down politically incorrect statues, there remains in the heart of Bern the 1546 Kindlifresser statue of an ogre devouring babies.

   If the monstrous man were eating lobsters, the statue might be torn down because the Swiss government has passed a law effective March 1 that bans the boiling alive of lobsters, since it is claimed that lobsters can feel pain. Lobsters may only be cooked after first having been electrocuted or sedated. This will not have much impact, since Switzerland is land-locked, with negligible crustacean consumption; but imported lobsters must be shipped in seawater and not packed in ice. This runs parallel to California’s legislation banning foie gras, which requires the forced feeding of geese. But partial-birth abortion remains legal, even though human life in utero can feel pain after at least the first eight weeks of gestation. 

      We can eat lobsters even in Lent, by a revelation given to St. Peter (Acts 10:13-15). But the same God knew (Jeremiah 1:4-5) that unborn babies are sensate. That notwithstanding, there are places where lobsters and geese are safer than human babies. Inconsistent? As Sir Walter Scott wrote: “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!”

2018-02-18 First Sunday of Lent

2018-02-18 First Sunday of Lent

February 18, 2018

18 February 2018

First Sunday of Lent

Mark 1:12-15 + Homily

18 Minutes 57 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

An engineer in Alexandria named Ctesibius is said to have invented the pipe organ around 265 B.C., originally an “hydraulis” using water to raise air pressure. Although there was a “water organ” in the narthex of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for heralding the Emperor, one theory holds that organs are not commonly used in the Byzantine rite because they are reminders of the horrors endured by the holy martyrs as pagan entertainment. There were many places in the various circuses and amphitheaters throughout the Empire where these spectacles took place. Possibly the first to be sentenced to the damnatio ad bestias, or being fed to wild beasts, in the Flavian amphitheater of the Colosseum of Rome, was Ignatius, bishop of Antioch.

   On February 24, that Colosseum will be floodlit red, along with churches in Syria and Iraq, to publicize the persecution of Christians in our own day. The sponsoring organization, Aid to the Church in Need, reports that in a dozen countries, conspicuously in Egypt and Turkey, anti-Christian persecution has reached a new peak. The situation has worsened in Nepal since new “blasphemy” laws were introduced. While crowds applaud the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to the sound of music, around 70,000 Christians are languishing in North Korean labor camps. There is a faint echo here of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but at least they had Jesse Owens.

   Floodlighting may be one vivid way to awaken the attention of people in more comfortable lands to what is happening. Much of our media, as they either willfully or uncomprehendingly ignore the persecution, are like the idols that “have mouths but cannot speak; eyes, but cannot see; ears, but cannot hear” (Psalm 115:5-6). Looking the other way can become a habit. For instance, much of the world ignored the deportations by the Nazis in 1942 from Lyons, France, when those marked for death were herded into the same Colosseum where the saints Blandina, Ponthinius, Epidodius and Alexander were brutalized in the second century.

   The modest abstinences and disciplines of Lent should awaken the senses to perceive things of God more clearly. They can also alert somnolent consciences to harsh realities in other parts of the Church. In Holy Week the Church will remember how Christ awakened the three apostles as they slept through his agony. Pascal said, “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” It was the triumphant risen Lord who asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?”—for heaven does not ignore earth: “… to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). The Resurrection acclamation, “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! – Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!” was inscribed on the obelisk that is now in St. Peter’s Square, but that once stood in the Circus of Nero and cast its shadow on the suffering martyrs.

2018-02-11 Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

2018-02-11 Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

11 February 2018

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 1:40-45 + Homily 15 Minutes 45 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

There are different theories as to why Schubert did not finish the Unfinished Symphony. Although his Symphony in B minor lacks two movements, it has two. And explaining why it began is as challenging as explaining why it did not end. Mozart did not finish his Requiem for the simple reason that he died. That also is why Thucydides did not finish his History of the Peloponnesian War, Raphael’s Transfiguration was incomplete, Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus was left for Titian to complete, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov had unrealized chapters.

   A Roman soldier’s sword prevented Archimedes from resolving a mathematical problem. Chaucer did not finish his Canterbury Tales because he had to go back to work as a clerk in the Port of London, and Spenser did not finish the last six books of The Faerie Queene for political reasons. Coleridge could not complete his Kubla Khan because someone awoke him from a laudanum stupor. Perhaps the arrival of Alessandro de’ Medici caused Michelangelo to quit Florence without finishing the statue that still puzzles experts, who are not sure if it is Apollo or David. We do know that Donatello deliberately used his non finito technique to give a kind of emerging vitality to his figures.

   Artists rarely think that they have completed a work. Tolkien, for example, kept re-writing The Silmarillion. At least they have an intuition, a mental sense, of what should be realized with paint or pen. But if life has no goal, there is nothing to complete. Chesterton said that man has always been lost, but modern man has lost his address and cannot return home. Far different was Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). His faith was trust that life has a goal, and it is realized in the eternal existence offered by the Creator who made us in his image. “In him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10).

   The days of Lent are like signposts toward the goal. Meanwhile, we are “works in progress.” The question is, “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3). When Ash Wednesday is coincident with St. Valentine’s Day, there is a stark contrast between love and sentiment. The martyr Valentine loved so much that he sacrificed his life for the love of God. To reduce him to some sort of cupid, is never to finish the picture.

   The world’s greatest Lover shouted from the cross: “It is finished!” That tetelestai is an accounting term meaning “paid in full.” The Son cried out to the Father that he had paid the debt incurred by human pride. It is what every composer, painter, writer or scientist wants to be able to say, but can only be said satisfactorily when Christ is seen “face to face, and not as a stranger” (1 John 3:2).

2018-02-04 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2018-02-04 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2018

4 February 2018

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:29-39 + Homily 16 Minutes 58 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

As a demographic cohort, “Millennials” are the last generation to have been born in the twentieth century. By conventional assessment, they are agile with technology, shaped by social media, self-absorbed, fixed in the moment and ignorant of history, morally immature and unaware that they have been shortchanged by inadequate and polemical educators. They are as vulnerable as Shakespeare’s “wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation.” Their lack of reason and their subservience to political correctness, can be astonishing. But these are generalizations, and one can be just as astonished by the integrity and spiritual vigor of many who are lumped together with their superficial contemporaries.

   There has been a big drop in religious commitment among the Millennials, but youths predictably assert their independence and return to serious thoughts about God later on. What seems to be an abandonment of faith, may largely be due to the delay in maturation and marrying and the assumption of other responsibilities. Of those who lack a religious outlook, nearly ninety percent were never reared in a stable environment. The large number of Millennials who embrace Christianity are outnumbering the “Baby Boomers” who were warped by the trauma of the psychedelic 1960’s. They react against the moral chaos they have lived through in their own broken homes and decaying culture.

   Many so-called mainline denominations are collapsing, but these almost invariably are those that have tried to “keep up with the Spirit of the Age” rather than with the Holy Spirit. Quoting one sociologist: “When the so-called ‘progressive’ churches question the historicity of Jesus, deny the reality of sin, support abortion, ordain clergy in same-sex relationships and perform their marriages, people desiring real Christianity head elsewhere.”

   A joint study by researchers at Indiana and Harvard universities contradicts the impression that religion is in decline. The number of Americans who are the most vigorous in prayer and worship is actually increasing, from 39 percent in 1989 to 47 percent today. And another study estimates that the percentage of Americans who attend church regularly is four times greater today than it was in 1776.

   Young people who engage in healthy friendships and religious worship, and who work responsibly, are far happier than those who spend a lot of time on the Internet. For Socratic philosophers before Christ, the goal of life was eudaimonia, or “happiness of soul.” Virtue alone could not attain that. “Fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) is to be found in Christ (John 17:13; 1 Peter 1:8-9).

   Saint Augustine said that “happiness is itself a joy in the truth, and this is a truth in you, God, who are the truth . . .” For the Christian, happiness is not an option; it is an obligation. In some ways the young Augustine—like many Millennials—had been absorbed in himself,  but divine grace pulled him out of that, and none too soon: “Late have I loved thee, beauty ever ancient ever new.”