Father George William Rutler Homilies
2018-04-29 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

2018-04-29 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

29 April 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8 + Homily

15 Minutes 58 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

It occurred to me this past week, celebrating Saint George the Martyr (or “Mega-Martyr” as he is known among the effervescent Byzantines), that friendship with a patron saint, on one’s name day—or “onomastico”—is a practice that needs revival.

There are friends and acquaintances, but it is a special privilege to have a heavenly friend as a companion and encourager. It is helpful, but not necessary, to know much about what they did when they were alive here. In the case of George, little is known, and when the unknown bits are embellished with fanciful legends such as stabbing dragons, they can seem remote. But think of an athlete, who has a native talent for some sport, and how a coach can protect and develop it. In that sense, albeit in a strained analogy, the patron saint is available to help.

There are those called Fundamentalists who object to the whole economy of saintly intercessions. The suffix “-ist” can distort a good thing. An artist well serves art, as a pianist is why there are pianos, but race and sex and things spiritual are not the same as a racist or sexist or spiritualist. Fundamentals in religion are the cornerstone of Faith, but a Fundamentalist misses the fundamental point of asking saints to pray for us, as if that compromised Christ as the sole mediator between man and God. That uniqueness is the essence of all the Church’s prayers offered “through Christ our Lord.” The faithful certainly can pray directly to Jesus, but the Lord also wants us to do so not as a solo exercise but as part of his whole Church. He ordered us to pray for others (Matthew 5:44). Saint James said that “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effect,” which is why Saint Paul urged "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high position, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The saints in heaven are not remote from those who have been baptized, even if our chapels and churches and homes seem far different from the golden environment of the eternal realms, where they “fall down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

Meanwhile, if much is not known about the saints, they know us. In the case of Saint George, I expect he wants us to know that dragons are real, in the form of the cruelties and vices that afflict mankind, and that the saints can help us to slay the passion and pride of those dragons through the power of the King of Saints: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33).

2018-04-22 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

2018-04-22 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2018

22 April 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-18 + Homily 14 Minutes 25 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   The Funeral Oration of Pericles, the statesman who helped make Athens great, honored the soldiers who died in the first phase of the Peloponnesian War, during which Athens took on Sparta. (If you will pardon the prejudice, that was like New York taking on Chicago.) Given in the winter of 431 – 430 B.C., Pericles’ oration extolled Athenian civilization at its height on the precipice of destruction. (The Athenian fleet would later sink into the waters off Aegospotami.) It is a model of eloquence, as transcribed in a very difficult Greek by the historian Thucydides. Esoteric grammarians enjoy its display of such devices as anacoluthon, asyndeton, hyperbaton, and the rhythmic proparoxytone that is absent from the rhetoric of contemporary politicians and prelates, although it occurs unintentionally at times in text messages and various forms of social media.

   Imagine listening to this, declaimed without a microphone, over the bones of the dead: “For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act, and of acting, too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate upon reflection. And they are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense of both the pains and the pleasures of life, do not on that account shrink from danger.”

   Abraham Lincoln’s soul absorbed the Athenian ideal, and his address at Gettysburg has been compared to the Periclean oration, even though it had only 272 words while an English translation of Pericles has about 3,375. Pericles would die of the plague the year after he spoke, and Lincoln would be shot a year and a half after he left the cemetery in Pennsylvania.

   Those speeches were animated by natural virtue, moved by classical piety for lives heroically sacrificed for high ideals. But for the greatest speech of a mortal, I nominate the Pentecost sermon of Saint Peter (Acts 2:14-41) with its sequel, Acts 3:12-25, translated into about 532 English words. Peter’s fishing village of Capernaum boasted no school of rhetoric, and Jerusalemites mocked the Galilean accent of his Aramaic, which was not an elegant language to begin with. (Ignore the dangling participle; even Pericles used it from time to time.) When Peter had finished, more than 3,000 people begged to be baptized.

   There are too many speeches today, and public figures spout off daily, often bereft of the Athenian custom of “thinking before we act.” Lost is classical reserve, and, in the Church, there is a fatal weakness for inflated rhetoric, naïve instead of innocent and optimistic instead of hopeful: New Pentecost, New Springtime, New Evangelization. Perhaps because of such delusions, in just the last half-dozen years, the number of Millennials—who are the future of our culture—receiving ashes at the start of Lent has dropped from 50% to 41%. The non-dogmatic and non-threatening oratory of our current ecclesiastical culture would have better results if it simply translated Saint Peter’s lumpish Aramaic: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

2018-04-15 Third Sunday of Easter

2018-04-15 Third Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

15 April 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:35-48 + Homily 18 Minutes 56 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

While it is easy to identify bold personalities that enjoy a good fight, and others that shrink shyly from any kind of confrontation, psychologists do not find it easy to define the middle type that tries to control without seeming to do so. If it is hard to define “passive aggression,” you can recognize the indirect expression of hostility when you see it at work: sullen, procrastinating, self-pitying, cold and silent in a way that is far from golden.

   It is wonderful that the Risen Lord did not say to the trembling apostles in the Upper Room, “I told you so.” There is no tone of vengeful vindication or even the slightest condescension. He just serenely explains how these events had to be. The Lord has an assignment for the apostles, just as he offers each of us a plan for life. And he takes us seriously, only asking that we take him seriously in return. That is why he shows his wounds. They have not vanished in the glory of the Resurrection, for they are reminders that the new course of history will be fraught with challenges for which the Church must be prepared.

   On June 28 in 1245, Pope Innocent IV convened an Ecumenical Council in Lyon, France, where he would stay for several years for safety from the emperor Frederick II. He opened the Council with a sermon on the Five Wounds of the Church. They were: 1) public heresy growing out of personal immorality; 2) the persecution of Christians by Muslims; 3) schism in the Church; 4) the invasion of Christian countries by unbelievers; and 5) attempts of civil governments to control the Church. Does this sound familiar?

   In his day, lax and immoral Catholics were trying to justify their lifestyle by “paradigm shifts” in doctrine, Muslims were terrorizing Christians in the Middle East, the rift between Western and Eastern churches was growing and would not be checked even by the attempt of a second Council of Lyons some thirty years later, Mongol hordes were invading Hungary and Poland, and the Holy Roman Emperor was claiming political authority over the bishops.

   The French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, said: “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” Having risen from the grave, he can die no more, nor can he suffer as he once did. But the Church is his body and “inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these little ones, you have done it to me.” Christ’s supernatural agony is a triumph of divine love for those whose salvation he bought with his own blood. He is not passively aggressive, because his confrontation in every age is a direct one against “the Devil and all his pomps.” There is no need for revenge, for to get even is never to get ahead.

2018-04-08 - Second Sunday of Easter

2018-04-08 - Second Sunday of Easter

April 8, 2018

8 April 2018

Second Sunday of Easter or Sunday of Divine Mercy

John 20:19-31 + Homily

19 Minutes 19 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   In the thirteenth century, Pope Gregory IX wrote that “the evening of the world is now declining,” and he thought that time itself would soon end. But the setting of the sun is prelude to its rising, and in the darkness of Good Friday was a rumor of expectation. Even our national lore links dawn with promise: “… by the dawn’s early light . . . at the twilight’s last gleaming…” Ellerton’s hymn about sunset senses what was going on in other parts of empire: “The sun that bids us rest is waking / Our brethren ’neath the western sky…”

   Gospel accounts are ambiguous about when the women discovered the empty tomb. John says it was “very early, while it was yet dark.” Saint Augustine, with his typical common sense, decided that Matthew’s account of the “end of the Sabbath” might simply be another way of describing what the other Evangelists recounted. Those hours clocked a change in the whole world. Christ predicted the moral confusion of those who would deny the Resurrection when it happened in their own precinct: “When evening comes, you say, ‘The weather will be fair, for the sky is red; and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but not the signs of the times!” (Matthew 16:2-3).

   In dark days, Churchill found solace in his paint box. He averred that if there is a Heaven, he would spend the first ten thousand years there painting pictures in the brightest colors. Without any intention of irreverence, one may indulge an image of the Risen Lord opening a celestial paint box and saying, as Turner said to a woman who complained that she had never seen a sky that looked the way he painted it: “Perhaps so, but don’t you wish you had?”

2018-04-01 - Easter Day

2018-04-01 - Easter Day

April 1, 2018

1 April 2018

Easter Day

John 20:1-9 + Homily

16 Minutes 12 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

We know directly from Saint Paul that Greek philosophers thought the Resurrection was a curious absurdity. Politicians more pragmatically feared that it would upset the whole social order. One of the earliest Christian “apologists,” or explainers, was Saint Justin Martyr who tried to persuade the emperor Antoninus Pius that Christianity is the fulfillment of the best intuitions of classical philosophers like Socrates and Plato.

Justin was reared in an erudite pagan family in Samaria, in the land of Israel just about one lifetime from the Resurrection. Justin studied hard and accepted Christ as his Savior, probably in Ephesus, and then set up his own philosophical school in Rome to explain the sound logic of the Divine Logos. Refusing to worship the Roman gods, and threatened with torture by the Prefect Rusticus, he said: “You can kill us, but you cannot hurt us.” Then he was beheaded.

Fast forward almost exactly a thousand years, and another philosopher, Bernard of Chartres, also admired the best of the Greek philosophers and coined the phrase “We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” There had been long centuries without much effort to explain the mystery of the Resurrection with luminous intelligence. In the seventeenth century, Isaac Newton would describe himself the same way. Being intellectual dwarfs may sound pessimistic, but there was also optimism in the fact that, lifted on the shoulders of giants, they could see even farther than the giants themselves. In witness to that, less than fifty years after Bernard died, building began on the great cathedral of Chartres. The magnificent rose window in the south transept depicts the evangelists as small men on the shoulders of the tall prophets. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are closer to Christ in the center of the window, than Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel who lift them up, seeing in fact what the prophets had longed for in hope.

 The Risen Christ is neither a ghost nor a mere mortal. Ancient philosophies could be vague about things supernatural, and ancient cults could be distant from personal conduct. The Resurrection unites ethics and worship. The famous letter of an anonymous contemporary of Justin Martyr, meant to be read by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, said that the way Christians live “has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.”

The Resurrection was the greatest event in history, and unlike other events that affect life in subsequent generations in different degrees by sequential cause and effect, the Resurrection is a living force for all time, making Christ present both objectively in the Sacraments, and personally in those who accept him. Thus, indifference to the Resurrection is not an option. The future life of each one of us depends on a willingness to be saved from eternal death. 



2018-03-31 - Easter Vigil Homily

2018-03-31 - Easter Vigil Homily

April 1, 2018

31 March 2018

The Easter Vigil

Mark 16:1-7 + Homily

11 Minutes 44 Seconds

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