Father George William Rutler Homilies
2018-05-27 - Trinity Sunday

2018-05-27 - Trinity Sunday

May 27, 2018

27 May 2018

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Matthew 28:16-20 + Homily

15 Minutes 33 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   An MRI scan gives more details about someone than a portrait, but it is the portrait that conveys personality. Dating agencies ask for photographs, not X-rays. So it is with using diagrams and natural analogies to explain the Blessed Trinity. They are inadequate for conveying the oneness of threeness.

   For instance, to compare the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to water, which can be liquid, ice and steam, would mean that the Father morphs into the Son and the Son into the Holy Spirit. As a formal heresy, this is called Modalism, condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381. A similar mistake is to portray the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, as if they were divided in their actions. The beguiling image of the Trinity as sun, light and heat is the heresy of Arianism, depicting the Son and Holy Spirit as creatures of the Father. 

   The legend of Saint Patrick using a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Druids on Tara makes the mistake of Partialism, depicting the Three Persons of the Godhead as different parts of one God, as though each were one-third of the whole. God is one Being who is three Persons, and not one Being who is three parts. The shamrock story was first mentioned more than a thousand years after Patrick died. That great saint was imbued with Trinitarian theology and referred to the Three in One in his Confessio with a mystical rapture capturing the mystical essence of God as a lover singing a song, and not as a technician performing a biopsy.

   The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity follows Pentecost, because only God can explain himself: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Limited human intelligence complicates the simplicity of the Three in One. In Islam, the Trinity is considered a blasphemous denial of the One God (Koran 4:171; 5:73; 5:116) and no wonder, since Mohammed thought Christians worshipped the Virgin Mary as the Third Person. Modern heresies are even cruder: Mormonism multiplies the Trinity into polytheism, by which any man can become a god. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, like the Arians, Christ is a creature and therefore not divine.

   Saint Paul travelled more than ten thousand miles, mostly on foot, and painfully so, since tradition says his legs were misshapen. He declared the Trinity, not with formulas, but often in triple cadences like a hymn. This was the great secret that the Son of God finally made public at his Ascension (Matthew 28:19). Had humans invented the Three in One as a concept, it would be perfectly lucid. Instead, it is not a puzzle, but it is a mystery, which is why the saints can say in awe: “I am not making this up.”

2018-05-20 - Pentecost

2018-05-20 - Pentecost

May 20, 2018

20 May 2018


John 20:19-23 + Homily

16 Minutes 40 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

  The poet W.H. Auden once lectured me about the wrongness of modern translations rendering Holy Ghost as Holy Spirit. His frail case was that there are certain drinks, too, that can be called spirits. This made no sense. “Spirit” is a Latinism far older than “Ghost,” which goes back no further than the Old English “gast” and the German “Geist.” As a matter of taste, preference for “Ghost” is as anachronistic as thinking that the Baroque style of chasubles sometimes called the “fiddleback” is much more traditional than the Gothic style.

   The Hebrew word for spirit, “ruach,” sounds like breathing, and pneumatic tires are called that after the Greek word for wind. There is indeed a “variety of spirits,” but to confuse the Holy Spirit with any vague parody is foggy superstition. The apostles mistook Jesus for a ghost when he walked on water, and they only knew that his risen body was not a ghost when he ate fish and honey. A modern form of superstition is the vague emotionalism of those who say that they are spiritual but not religious. The Master will have none of that, for he is Truth: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). 

   Christ told the disciples after the Resurrection that he must leave this world of time and space in order to send the Holy Spirit. There are on record fifteen appearances of the Risen Christ, including three after Pentecost: once seen by Stephen as he was dying, another speaking to Paul on the way to Damascus, and then to John on Patmos. But each appearance was followed by a disappearance enabling the Holy Spirit, as the bond of love between the Father and the Son, to invigorate the Church.

   By what seems a paradox, because the actions intersect time and eternity, Christ goes away so that through his Holy Spirit he can be with us always. This becomes most graphic each day at Mass when the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the bread and wine so that they become Christ’s body and blood. That moment on the Eucharistic altar fulfills the prehistoric instant when God breathed his spirit into Adam and, countless ages before that, when the Spirit of God “moved upon the face of the waters” and began everything.

   None of this is conjecture, because it is a response to actual events: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). The Fountain of Youth that explorers in futility tried to find, like pharmacists and cosmetic surgeons today, is a ghostly illusion and a superstitious cipher for life eternal: “You send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:30).


2018-05-13 - Seventh Sunday of Easter

2018-05-13 - Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 13, 2018

13 May 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:11B-19 + Homily

15 Minutes 29 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   I think the heroic nineteenth-century archbishop in Cuba, Anthony Mary Claret, was off the mark when he disapproved of laughter because Jesus is not known to have laughed. I might be a bit glum, too, if I had barely escaped fifteen assassination attempts. But Ignatius of Loyola said, “Laugh and grow strong,” and John Bosco protested, “I want no long-faced saints.” Philip Neri kept a book of jokes, and Teresa of Avila prayed: “Lord, save me from these saints with sullen faces.” 

   The Bible is a cornucopia of laughter in all its forms. There is cruel laughter, as when the Philistines mocked the blinded Sampson (Judges 16:25). Sarah laughed cynically when told that she and Abraham would have a child. Jesus himself was the target of ridicule when he said that the daughter of Jairus was not dead, and most viciously when the soldiers crowned him with thorns. “Their laughter is wanton guilt” (Sirach 27:13).

   Then there is gracious laughter, or “risibility,” which Aquinas said indicates human rationality. Reason can be misused, and so laughing at what is sad is insane, and artificial heartiness, accompanied by insincere guffaws and Falstaffian backslapping, is vulgar. Dostoyevsky named laughter as “the most reliable gauge of human nature.”

   Did Jesus laugh? The Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood wrote a book, The Humor of Christ, inspired by his seven-year-old son, who burst into laughter upon hearing the Lord speak of the hypocrite who ignores the log in his own eye. For the first time, Trueblood recognized the pointed playfulness of the Master’s hyperbole.

   The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:3; 1 Peter 2:24) wept when Lazarus died and when Jerusalem shuttered itself against him, and hardest of all in his Agony surrounded by twisted olive trees. But surely, he did not frown when he gathered children around him, or when he dined with disreputable people, for which he was criticized by the prune-faced Pharisees (Matthew 11:19). In the Beatitudes he promised that those who mourn would laugh, and he was most blessed of all.

   As perfect man, his risibility was perhaps like the sound of a violin that most thrills someone with perfect pitch. Emerson said that “Earth laughs in flowers.” You might say that Jesus laughed with the wildest flowers because they were more splendid than Solomon. Mirth is an interior disposition for happiness, far different from frivolity, which is why Chesterton said that Jesus hid it, not compromising the outward protocols of Semitic gravity.   Laughing and weeping support each other. “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22), and “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). That nearly perfect mortal, John Vianney, told an imperfect penitent: “I weep because you do not.” The Christ in him could also say: “I laugh because you do not.”

2018-05-06 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

2018-05-06 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

6 May 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17 + Homily

17 Minutes 20 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   The exotic concept of spontaneous generation was taken seriously by astute thinkers for a long time before the invention of microbiology. Of course, they knew about the proximate process of birth, but the biological source of life itself exercised such minds as Anaximander six hundred years B.C. and Saint Augustine, Shakespeare, and the philosopher of fishing Izaak Walton, and was at least a puzzle to Darwin.

   Spontaneous generation was the theory that living organisms could arise from inanimate matter, like fleas born from dust, or mice from salt and bees from animal blood and, in the speculation of Aristotle, scallops coming out of sand. I came across an unintentionally amusing comment from the 1920 proceedings of the American Philological Society published by the Johns Hopkins University Press: “Since insects are so small, it is not surprising that the sex history of some of them totally eluded the observation of the ancients.”

   The advent of micro-imagery photography of infants in the womb destroyed eugenic propaganda that this is not a human life. Those who deny that are on the level of those who continued to insist on spontaneous generation after the Catholic genius Louis Pasteur disproved it in 1859.

   Cold people who are not only credulous but cruel, admit that the unborn child is human, but say “So what?” At the recent White House Correspondents’ dinner, an astonishingly vulgar comedienne joked about abortion to the laughter of pseudo-sophisticates in evening dress. But even she slipped and used the word “baby.”

   Christ used the image of the vine to explain that all life is contingent, not spontaneously generated, but dependent on other lives. “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine.” Likewise, those drinking champagne at the fancy dress dinner are related to every fragile life in the womb by a common humanity. To mock that is to de-humanize the self.

   On the recent feast of Saint George, there was born in England, whose patron he is, Louis, a prince of the royal house. There were celebratory church bells from Westminster Abbey and a salute of cannons. Rightly so, for the birth of every baby is a cause for rejoicing. That same day another baby, one with a neurological infirmity, was deprived of oxygen support by judicial decree and against the will of his parents, who brought him into the world by pro-creation, as stewards of the Creator and not by spontaneous generation. This was in defiance of an effort by Pope Francis to rescue him by military helicopter. As sons by adoption, little Louis and little Alfie are princes of the Heavenly King, not by spontaneous generation, but by divine will. Pope Leo XIII declared in Rerum Novarum“The contention that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”

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