Father George William Rutler Homilies
2020-02-23 - 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-23 - 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 23, 2020

23 February 2020

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:38-48 + Homily

17 Minutes 54 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022320.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

I used to dread Ash Wednesday because of the endless lines of people coming for ashes. By the end of the day, priests look like coal miners.

Sociologists may condescendingly consider the phenomenon of crowds coming for ashes, when they do not enter a church at other times of the year, a habit of tribal identity. If the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or Christ dying and rising from the dead, confounds limited human intelligence, there is still a spark of the sense that biological life has an end as real as its beginning. For skeptics, the Easter proclamation “Christ is Risen” may seem like an indulgence of romance or wishful thinking, but no one drawing breath can deny that “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.”

God gives life and does not intend to take it away. He resents mortality, and when he came into the world that he had made good, he wept to see how it had gone wrong. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), and those tears were not because he was poor or hungry or insulted, or because of bad harvests or unpredictable climate or corrupt governments. He wept because someone had died. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Even if some think that is too good to be true, every day radio and television advertisements promise that you will feel better if you take their multiple vitamins or subscribe to their weight-loss programs. This is what philosophers call the “élan vital,” or the will to live. The forty days of Lent, which go faster than health regimens, offer a promise of life beyond death more audacious than any promise of improved nutrition or medical cures.

In 1970 the film “Love Story” was a real tear-jerker, breaking records for its profits at the box office. Its closing line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It was an altruistic sentiment, but God is love and not sentiment. Divine love is so powerful that, as Dante wrote, it “moves the sun and the other stars.” That power is offered to the human soul, which is in the image of God. “Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Corinthians 6:2).

Powerful love, sanctifying grace, is available through the absolution of sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We shortchange ourselves of splendor if we do not tell God we are sorry, as “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Lent is not an unwelcome burden, for it is the gateway to glory greater than the sun and the other stars.

 

2020-02-16 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-16 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

16 February 2020

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:17-37 + Homily

17 Minutes 59 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021620.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

The names of the Franciscan friars Berard of Carbio, Otho, Peter, Accursius and Adjutus, are not as familiar as that of Francis of Assisi, who said that they had become the prototypes of what he called the Friars Minor. After his own failed mission to convert the Muslims of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in 1219, he sent them on a similar mission to Morocco where they were tortured and killed in 1220. That was exactly eight hundred years ago. Clearly, Saint Francis did not spend his days talking to birds. Nor did he and his friars risk their lives to engage in meandering “inter-religious dialogue.”

This column is being published on the fifth anniversary of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. All martyrs believe, as did Saint Peter when filled with the Holy Spirit: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This perplexes flaccid minds and scandalizes the morally compromised, but it is the engine of heroic virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote in 1967: “Enamored of our present epoch, blind to all its characteristic dangers, intoxicated with everything modern, there are many Catholics who no longer ask whether something is true, or whether it is good and beautiful, or whether it has intrinsic value: they ask only whether it is up-to-date, suitable to ‘modern man’ and the technological age, whether it is challenging, dynamic, audacious, progressive.”

About a century earlier, in his Grammar of Assent, Saint John Henry Newman had already explained: “Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” Saint Paul disdained rhetoric and mere speculation “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

By one estimation, and it is by necessity approximate, over the centuries there have been about seventy million Christian martyrs and, astonishingly, half of them have been in roughly the last century. It is also a fact that in our present culture, one in six 18- to 64-year-olds, and one in five aged 65 and over, depend on antidepressants. The example of the martyrs is better than any chemical cure for sadness, for they testify that Christ has made life so worth living, that living and dying for him makes sense. When the ransomed bodies of those five Franciscan martyrs were brought from Morocco to Portugal, a young priest in Coimbra was so moved by their mute witness that he consecrated his life to proclaiming the Gospel as far and wide as he could. We know him as Saint Anthony of Padua.

 

2020-02-09 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-02-09 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

9 February 2020

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:13-16 + Homily

14 Minutes 11 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020920.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

   Luke the Evangelist is the patron saint of artists because he paints pictures with words. In describing the scene of old Simeon in the Temple encountering Jesus, Luke wrote that he “took him up in his arms” (Luke 2:28).

   That word picture of an old man holding a forty-day-old baby, reminds one of the 1490 painting by the master Domenico Ghirlandaio, of a grandfather and his grandson embracing. The old man is anything but beautiful, save for his smile as he gazes at the angelic boy. The grandfather’s problematic nose is “warts and all,” as the bleak Oliver Cromwell instructed his own portraitist, Samuel Cooper. For noses, it competes with that of the vaudevillian Jimmy Durante who, incidentally, was married in 1921 in our sister parish of Holy Innocents.

   That juxtaposition of old age and youth bonded by love is the “leitmotif” of the encounter in the Temple. But by what power of perception did Simeon recognize the infant Messiah? You might ask the same of the seventeen-year-old Saint Joan of Arc when she entered the Chateau of Chinon in 1429 and recognized the disguised future King Charles VII.

   Good teachers discern potential in the classroom, like Saint Albert the Great seeing in his student Thomas Aquinas, mocked as a “Dumb Ox,” a future Doctor of the Church. But to discern the Messiah in diapers requires heavenly help, since prodigy is not greater than divinity.

   God comes to us often in obscurity, through unexpected events and persons, rather than through celebrities. Famous people come and go, often through the passing of fashion. In the second century, Plutarch compared the celebrities of his Roman days with the heroes of classical Greece; but who today remembers Cleomenes, whom he matched with Camillus, or Philopoemen compared with Poplicola?

   There are natural intuitions, such as Saint Albert recognizing in the clumsy young Thomas Aquinas the future Doctor of the Church. But Simeon and his accompanying prophetess Anna, like Joan of Arc, had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit.

   Albert Schweitzer was a hero of my youth and one of the most revered figures of the day. Now he is as remote in present consciousness as Jimmy Durante. He left us an image of the Messiah that Simeon would have understood: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

2020-02-02 - Presentation of the Lord

2020-02-02 - Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

2 February 2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Luke 2:22-40 + Homily

16 Minutes 48 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020220.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

The Feast of the Presentation recalls the old man Simeon chanting thanks for having lived to see the Messiah. His “Nunc Dimittis”—“Let thy servant depart in peace”—is part of the Church’s evening prayers. In 542 in Constantinople, the Emperor Justinian placed it into the Eastern Liturgy.

This year the Feast falls on Super Bowl Sunday. Human nature instinctively finds entertainment more compelling than edification, but like all things ephemeral, games pass away while the songs of saints will endure until the end of time. Few today remember the Isthmian games of the Greeks, or the cheers in the Roman circus. But those games also warn thinking people of the dangers in giving sports a cultic status. When the amateur is overwhelmed by professionals who are paid mind-boggling salaries, inflating the cost of tickets, and whose lives and deaths distract from the great events of the day, a culture’s perspective becomes irrational.

Add to this the “ad verecundium fallacy” by which people accept the unqualified opinions of individuals simply because of their celebrity. This applies to sports figures and Hollywood starlets who turn entertainment into political theatre.

The aforementioned Justinian had to deal with this problem. He and his empress Theodora were not the only couple who have rooted for opposite teams; however, their situation was serious, since the teams represented political and religious factions. Theodora was a fan of the Greens, who were Monophysite heretics, and the emperor supported the Blues, who were orthodox Chalcedonians. No one who collects abstruse sports statistics should object that these theological issues are too obscure. Feelings were so intense in 532 that the “Nika Riots” (Nika being the term for “Victory,” now adapted for Nike sneakers, made mostly in third-world countries under disputed labor conditions) led to the deaths of 30,000 rioters and the destruction of much of the city.

Super Bowl half-time extravaganzas surpass in their vulgarity only the Field of the Cloth of Gold games in France in 1520 when Henry VIII, twenty-nine years old and an impressive 6’1” wrestled Francis I, twenty-three years old and over 6’5”. Thousands of tents were erected for the crowds, and for refreshments there were 3,000 sheep, 800 calves, 300 oxen, and fountains flowing with wine. Even the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I donated for entertainment dancing monkeys painted gold.

During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) the Greeks built a gymnasium at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Even some Jewish priests of the Herodian temple succumbed to the sports mania. Should any pulpit orator try to beguile his congregation on the Feast of the Presentation with banter about the Super Bowl, let him be reminded: “Disdaining the temple and neglecting the sacrifices, [the priests] hastened, at the signal for the discus-throwing, to take part in the unlawful exercises on the athletic field” (2 Maccabees 4:14).

2020-01-26 - 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-01-26 - 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

26 January 2020

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 4:12-23 + Homily

19 Minutes 56 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012620.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  Precisely one year ago in the Italian town of Cremona, there was an imposed silence by order of the local government for eight hours a day, six days of the week for five straight weeks. The purpose was to allow the pristine recording by highly technical equipment of sounds played on the 1700 Antonio Stradivari “Stauffer” cello, the 1727 Antonio Stradivari “Vesuvius” violin, a 1615 “Stauffer” viola by Girolamo Amati, and the 1734 “Prince Doria” violin by Guarneri del Gesù. Cremona’s most famous luthier, of course, was Stradivari, and no one knows how many centuries from now such instruments as the Stradivarius violins can survive.

   It is harder to make silence than noise. Because of modern cacophony, especially in what passes for music in the form of amplified “rock” sounds, young people are growing increasingly deaf. In urban areas, silence is so uncommon that one becomes suspicious of silence, rather like the dog that did not bark in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze” detective story. Sherlock Holmes said that it was Dr. Watson’s “great gift for silence” that made him so useful.

   Satan and his evil spirits are noisy. Jesus told an evil spirit to be silent (Mark 1:25). The Greek Φιμώθητι (Phimōthēti) simply means “Shut up!” Our Lord always was precise. So should we be, in order to hear God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

   The surrealist poet Dame Edith Sitwell said, “My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.” She might have benefitted arts and letters had she been silent more often. But, after all, she eventually made her Profession of Faith at the Farm Street Church in London with Evelyn Waugh as her sponsor. Neither was famous for reticence, but they did profit from moments of quietude. Those who do not think deeply will not understand how painful it is to those who have powers of concentration, to be interrupted by frivolous chatter.

   Saint Anthony helped to change the world by isolating himself in a desert. This is why retreats in one form or another are crucial, for a retreat is actually a frontal attack on the noisy Anti-Christ. The pope himself recently said that folks should put down their iPhones and listen to silence, which has a sound of its own. When Barnabas and Paul spoke at the Council in Jerusalem, “All the people kept silent . . .” (Acts 15:12). We can be thankful that they did not have cell phones.

   God will not have to shout at us if we do not “harden our hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). Instead, as with Elijah, “. . . the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

2020-01-19 - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2020-01-19 - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

19 January 2020

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 1:29-34 + Homily

14 Minutes 13 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011920.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  I knew an elderly Scotswoman who read the Bible each night by the light of a candle. It had become a kind of ritual, for everyone needs a rite, including those reared in the stark Calvinist kind of worship of her homeland Kirk. While she did all of her other reading by electric light, the lamp was turned off and the candle lit for the Bible. It was by that burning taper that she could read, as all of us can, the wonderful and mysterious words: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

   That contrast of light and dark is powerfully depicted in the Isenheim Altarpiece now in Colmar, France. It was produced between 1512 and 1516 by the sculptor Nikolaus of Haguenau and painter Matthias Grünewald for a hospital that treated people suffering from skin diseases, and such affliction is depicted on the flesh of the Crucified Christ in what has been called “The most beautiful painting of ugliness in the history of art.” The darkness of the Passion is darker for being next to the incandescent light of the Risen Christ. At the foot of the Cross, in deliberate contempt for chronology, is John the Baptist, still alive and attended by a lamb, for John had called his cousin “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). The Lamb, a symbol of Christ sacrificed on the cross, is also the Light that pre-existed all created light as we know it. “And the city has no need for sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23).

   That illuminating “glory of God” briefly broke through created light as we know it in the Transfiguration. If it is to be understood to some small degree, that will be by acknowledging the “pre-existence” of Christ: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:2-3).

   Even in speech, the mystery of Christ’s pre-existence declares itself: “. . . before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). For any human confined to chronology, saying that would be using bad grammar. One might say “I was” (Simple Past), “I was existing” (Past Continuous), “I had existed” (Past Perfect), or “I had been existing” (Past Perfect Continuous), but only Christ can defy grammar by saying that before Abraham was, “I am.”

   John—standing at the Jordan river, poorly dressed and even more poorly fed—employed the only grammar available to him, to declare of his younger cousin: “This is he, of whom I said: After me there comes a man who is preferred before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30).

 

2020-01-12 - Baptism of the Lord

2020-01-12 - Baptism of the Lord

January 12, 2020

12 January 2020

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Matthew 3:13-17 + Homily

16 Minutes 0 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011220.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  Prophets proclaim the truth, and they predict the future only in a derivative sense of cautioning about the consequences of denying the truth. Thus, the Church distinguishes between holy prophesying and sinful fortune-telling. There is a “psychic” near our rectory, who will tell your future for $10, but you have to ring the bell first, and I should think that if she had the powers she claims, she would not require a doorbell.

   The less the Wisdom of God is heeded, the more people rely on fallible human calculations. Inevitably, the list of mistaken predictions keeps growing. We may remember being told in the 1960s that within twenty years, overpopulation would cause universal starvation. Instead, we now have crises of empty cradles and obesity: birth dearth and increased girth. As the new year begins, we can reflect on a prediction of the president of Exxon U.S.A. in 1989 that by 2020 our national oil reserves would be practically nil, while the solid fact is that those reserves are far higher than even back then.

   In 1990, The Washington Post was confident that carbon dioxide emissions would have increased our planet’s average temperature about three degrees (and six degrees in the United States) by 2020. The increase has been only about one degree. If we trusted some experts, by now one billion people would be starving in the Third World due to climate toxicity, but instead the World Bank tells us that there has been a significant alleviation of dire poverty, with the assistance of developed countries and access to investment capital and prudent production. 

   There still are glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, despite a warning of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2003 that by now they would have melted. In 1997, the Reuters newswire announced that by 2020 some eight million people would have died because of global warming catastrophes, while such deaths actually have reached historic lows. Taking up that theme, a New York congresswoman and former bartender predicts that the world could end in twelve years.

   While to err is human and to forgive is divine, as the Catholic sensibility of Alexander Pope opined, forgiveness requires apologizing. Wrong predictions in recent decades are conspicuous for their authors’ lack of contrition. It is as if they had absorbed the bromide uttered at the end of the sentimental film “Love Story” in 1970: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If that were so, there would be no Act of Contrition in the Holy Mass, which is the world’s most sublime manifestation of love. But we are talking here about simple humility in anticipating the future. 

   Without accountability to God for the right use of reason, ideology mimics theology, disagreement is treated as heresy, neurosis fabricates its own apocalypse, and mistakes claim infallibility, with no need to say “I was wrong.” 

 
2020-01-05 - Epiphany

2020-01-05 - Epiphany

January 5, 2020

5 January 2020

The Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12 + Homily

17 Minutes 25 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010520.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the parish bulletin:

  Who the “Wise Men” were is a recurring question for inventive debate, but the point is that these sophisticated scholars were from “a foreign country.”

   Here in Manhattan, tourists can be annoying when they stop suddenly to look at a novel sight. But they also do us the favor of noticing what we take for granted. Those Magi from a foreign land pointed out that the locals had missed the greatest event in history. They also wisely distrusted King Herod (his heir Archelaus was even worse, as Saint Joseph knew), and so they ignored him. When Herod found out that a child had come into the world who threatened his complacency, he set out to destroy him, killing many innocents in the attempt.

   Christians must always be tourists in this earthly realm, pointing out the wonders that others take for granted. That can be threatening to many. True Christians disturb the settled ways of a culture. People who succumb to the insanity of sin will accuse Christians of madness. That is how we get martyrs, as happened a couple of weeks ago in Nigeria when Muslims killed eleven Christians. Such hostility was an expression of the killers’ conviction that Jesus Christ brought madness into the world.

   In  a 1959 ”Twilight Zone” television episode called “Eye of the Beholder,” some exceedingly ugly people unsuccessfully perform plastic surgery on a beautiful woman, thinking that she is the one who is ugly. In our decaying culture, there are those who think that history’s Perfect Man was ugly and that those who are like him should be crucified one way or another, usually by ridicule and censorship. The media and demagogic politicians do this as a habit.

   In recent days, a woman in Britain gave birth, although she was bearded after hormonal treatments that made her appear as the man she had “transitioned” to be twelve years before. Her partner is “non-binary”—which means neither male nor female, and the “sperm donor” was a man who thinks he is a woman, while the obstetrician, according to vague reports, was either a man who claims to be a woman or a woman who claims to be a man.

   Thus, our rattled culture poses a dilemma: either these people are mentally ill, or Christians are. And this is not confined to the esoteric. An Ivy League institution has just mailed forms to alumni, asking them to choose the descriptive pronoun they prefer. This gives new meaning to “institution.” And this is why sane voices increasingly are banned from speaking in such places, because the function of prophets is to point out that inmates are running the asylum.

   Observant souls never take for granted the sanity Christ brought into the world. Salvation means sanity. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

 

2020-01-01 - Mary, Mother of God

2020-01-01 - Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2020

1 January 2020

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

Luke 2:16-21 + Homily

9 Minutes 54 Seconds

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010120.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

2019-12-29 - Holy Family

2019-12-29 - Holy Family

December 29, 2019

29 December 2019

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 + Homily

16 Minutes 45 Seconds 

Link to the Readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122919.cfm

(New American Bible, Revised Edition)

 

From the parish bulletin:

  An architect knows where all the doors in a house will lead because he designed it. That is why man-made religions can seem plausible, being the product of human imagination. That is also why the fact that Christ is a divine reality, or “Person,” while having two natures, challenges human understanding, because it is not a human invention. In these days of Christmas, a good way to avoid reducing the Incarnation’s mysterious meaning to simple expressions of goodwill and Dickensian jollity, is to read the Athanasian Creed, focusing on the lines: “Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ. And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed unto God. He is one, not by a mingling of substances, but by unity of person.” 

   A sure way to get the Incarnation wrong is to try to use mere human imagery to explain it. One recent attempt, with the best of intentions, was to make an analogy between the two natures of Christ and the mixed races of “mestizos” who are part European and part American Indian. This echoes the mistake of the monk Eutyches (d. 454), who imagined the divinity and humanity of Christ as fused into a sort of homogenized third reality, half God and half Man. Not to make light of such a serious mistake, but it reminds one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe,” named for a woodland fairy who bears a son, Strephon, fathered by a mortal man. Strephon’s problem is that he is half sprite and halfhuman, so when he tries to fly through a keyhole, his human legs get stuck. 

   There were even bishops who did not want to think more deeply than Eutyches, although he had been condemned as a heretic in 448, and they rehabilitated him at a bogus “Robber” council of Ephesus in Turkey. Pope Leo (known to history as “the Great”) appealed from Rome to the venerable lady Pulcheria, empress in the Byzantine half of the Roman Empire, who at the time was regent during the minority of her brother Theodosius II, asking her to summon another council. During the third session of that assembly in Chalcedon, a letter from the Pope was read, defining the true mystery of the Son of God, and the bishops cried out in chorus: “This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. We all believe, the orthodox believe thus. Those who do not believe thus are excommunicated. Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo.” 

   At Christmas we remember the words Peter heard from the Master, who was once cradled in Bethlehem: “. . . flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”(Matthew 16:17).