Father George William Rutler Homilies
2019-09-29 - Feast of St. Michael

2019-09-29 - Feast of St. Michael

September 29, 2019

29 September 2019

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels

John 1:47-51 + Homily

18 Minutes 37 Seconds

From the parish bulletin:

  In thinking of angels, you need humility, for a couple of reasons. First of all, a cynical culture mocks anyone who believes that angels exist in any way that is real rather than sentimental. Secondly, since angels, who were created before humans, are intelligent beyond any material measurement, that means they are smarter than any human. And so, by comparison we must seem very stupid.

   But angels are humble too, although for a different reason. They can actually see God, so they are perpetually aware of their inferiority. In their perfect humility, they rejoice in that fact, and their subservience to their Creator makes them shine in glory. Chesterton rallied symbolic language to say that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

   At each Mass, angels gather at the altar. This Sunday in our church there will be a special kind of holy commotion because it is our parish’s patronal feast, with our patron never failing to be present. Saint Michael, as an archangel along with Gabriel and Raphael, has a symbolic name. (Michael means “Who is like God?”.) Surely it was by some inspiration, when the parish was established in 1857 with boundaries originally from 28th to 38th Streets and from 6th Avenue to the banks of the Hudson River, that Saint Michael, who casts “into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl through the world,” was made protector of what the police would come to call “Hell’s Kitchen.”

   While crime and dereliction are still around (after a recent Vigil Mass there was a brawl in front of the church, but a dozen policemen quickly came to help us), our streets are much different now. There are new hotels, fine restaurants and elegant shops. We are at the center of the biggest real estate development in the history of the United States. A few years ago, the future of our church building itself was at risk. While maintenance costs continue at a level that could seem daunting, the burden does not weigh heavily considering what can be accomplished. In that sense, we can reach new heights if, like the angels, we take ourselves lightly. 

   Now the challenge is to bring those who are out on the street into God’s House. There is a daily stream of tourists stopping in to visit. The silent witness of our own people at prayer throughout the day can be, and in many instances already has been, an effective work of evangelism, turning picture-taking into worship.

   To have such potential is a big responsibility. “From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). The hulking skyscrapers rising all around here may seem intimidating, but through the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel, they can also be like Jacob’s ladder, on which the angels move up and down, connecting our temporal lives with life eternal.

2019-09-22 - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2019-09-22 - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 22, 2019

22 September 2019

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 8:16-18 + Homily

19 Minutes 40 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  As with quotations that are variously attributed, journalists including Charles Anderson Dana of the “New York Tribune” and John B. Bogart of the “New York Sun” are said to have coined the aphorism: “‘Dog bites man’ does not make the news, but ‘Man bites dog’ does.” Human nature is fascinated by what is exceptional and scandalous. But “skandalon” really means more than that. It is a “stumbling block” that trips up the way mere mortals think things are supposed to be.  

   Theologically, there is the “Scandal of Particularity.” It has two aspects. First is the doctrine that the Creator of the universe has solicitude for every minute detail of it, even every sparrow and each hair on your head (cf. Matt. 10:29). This has ramifications even in mathematics where the “Chaos Theory” proposes a “Butterfly Effect,” meaning that something as slight as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in New Delhi might cause a hurricane in New York. So too it is with people.

   Every human action can have consequences beyond fathoming. There is the prime example of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that started a domino effect leading to the First World War. His chauffeur spoke only Czech and did not understand the orders of German security officers to follow a route safe from assassins. So he drove according to the original plan and came within feet of a radical Bosnian who had not expected such luck. It might be said that 17 million people eventually died because one man took a wrong turn.

   The second part of the Scandal of Particularity is the acknowledgement that Christ, whose divine nature has no beginning or end, came to our small planet with a human nature as the unique savior from sin and death. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a). His divine nature enables him to see “the big picture” while his human nature involves him in the minutest details of ordinary life. If this is scandalous, it is because presently we are limited to categories of time and space, and we find it hard to think of importance without being overwhelmed by size and power.

   In another quotation variously attributed, Stalin is said to have remarked: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic.” The same dictator mockingly asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” He knows now – though a bit too late. But the biggest scandal of all to the limited mind, and so bold that it is refreshing when it expands the mind, is the Lord’s declaration: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father apart from me” (John 14:6).


2019-09-15 - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2019-09-15 - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

15 September 2019

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 15:1-32 + Homily

18 Minutes 44 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  From time to time someone will remark that our national flag hanging from the choir loft appears to be faded. It is actually in good condition, but the white stripes are printed with the names of those who were killed in the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001. Hardly anyone in our parish was not affected by that, one way or another. When offering Mass this past week for the dead, I remembered how, as people panicked in a stalled subway from Brooklyn when the electricity failed and smoke filled the passageways, a blind man guided them to the exit. During his life he had learned to manage without the light of day.

   Christ is the original Light of the world, uncreated, and from whom all earthly light proceeds. Without Christ, the intellect darkens, and this moral myopia is the affliction of our present time. Celebrities illuminated by stage lights can utter some of the darkest blasphemies against human dignity. Professors who think of themselves as “bright” can obscure the logic of their students. When the lights of truth go out, and the corridors of civilization fill with the smoke of Satan, the only sure guides are the prophets and saints. 

   In saying that the blind will lead the blind into a ditch (Luke 6:39), Christ was referring to the morally blind, and not the physically blind, as depicted poignantly in that painting by Pieter Bruegel. The contemporary term “Fake News” does indeed expose the tendency of prejudiced opinion to conceal the Light of Truth. 

   This week the Church celebrates the life of Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a man of superior intellect, though his mental brightness was not flawless. Most conspicuously, he made the mistake of rejecting the heliocentric theory of the priest Copernicus and his friend Galileo. The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, and Pierre Duhem before him, cut him some slack by arguing that the saint objected to presenting a hypothesis as an irrefutable conclusion.

   But Bellarmine’s real business was to lead people out of temporal darkness into eternal light. This he did by his theological learning and commentary on culture, including his exposure of the fallacy of the divine right of kings (or what we might call government absolutism), but above all by his dictum: “Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.”

   In garishly bright city streets filled with people in danger of moral meanderings, each church is meant to be a beacon that saves people from falling into the ditch. The Vigil Lamp before the parish altar may seem frail, and its flame small, but it is a flickering reminder that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

2019-09-08 - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2019-09-08 - 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

8 September 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 14:25-33 + Homily

14 Minutes 53 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

   It is gratifying each week to hear from many friends of the parish across our country and abroad, bringing to mind the words of John Wesley: “The whole world is my parish.” That can be said ever more fervently by any pastor, for each parish is a microcosm of the ecclesiastical presence of the Body of Christ on every continent, as it bears witness to the Universal Faith that makes the Church “katholikos.”

   So distant readers will indulge some reflections on our local parish scene, as the summer draws to a close. These past months were something of a surprise in that there seemed to be no significant slowdown in parish life. While many of our own people did travel outside the city, which is no little adventure for Manhattanites, we had many national and international visitors. Because the social media have made our world a “global village,” it seemed that most visitors were not strangers, and many were already familiar with life here. We have an increasing number of tourists stopping in at the church—almost constantly—and this may in part be due to the renovations and installations of art completed during the summer. We must make an effort to welcome our visitors and help them to learn more about the parish.

   Our church already has one foot in the Heavenly City, where there are no seasons, at least in the sense that we have no air conditioning. (Our heating system is not always reliable either, and I have occasionally warmed my hands over the thurible on winter days when there was no heat at all.) This summer we had some brutal hot spells, and one Sunday the city issued a health advisory cautioning the frail and elderly against going outdoors. That was the first time in memory that we eliminated the homily at the Masses, and I had the impression that no one objected. But I was impressed as well at the numbers of people who came stoically on humid days and indeed in good spirits—just as in past winters there was patience when heavy clothing was needed. Here in “Hell’s Kitchen” we are a durable people.

   This Sunday, September 8, is the 38th anniversary of my priestly ordination. It was a simple ceremony in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel. The three prelates who were at the altar with me on that day, including Cardinal Cooke, are no longer in this world, but they are invoked at each Mass, along with all those who since the middle of the nineteenth century have been part of this parish, which now enters challenging and promising times. “Memento, Domine, famulorum, famularumque tuarum et omnium circumstantium, quorum tibi fides cognita est et nota devotio . . . Remember, O Lord, Thy servants and handmaids and all here present, whose faith and devotion are known to Thee.”

2019-09-01 - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2019-09-01 - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

1 September 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 14:1, 7-14 + Homily

16 Minutes 40 Seconds

Link to the Readings:


(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

The weekly column “From the Pastor” continues on hiatus and will return after Labor Day. Meanwhile, we thank the fellowship of friends of the parish for the interest and support shown for our parish in challenging times. 

This week’s suggested reading: Father Rutler’s most recently published essay may be of interest to readers. The article is available on the Crisis Magazine website: Nothing New under the Sun: St. Bernard’s Advice to a Pope

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