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Father George William Rutler Homilies

Syndicate content Father George William Rutler Homilies
The homilies of Fr. George William Rutler, pastor of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in New York City.
Updated: 52 min 41 sec ago

2018-07-15 - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

07/15/2018 - 2:23pm

15 July 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 6:7-13 + Homily

13 Minutes 45 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   It may be the seasonal heat that incubates revolutionary sentiments, since both Independence Day and Bastille Day occurred in the feverish days of July. One admires the temperance of our Founding Fathers meeting in Philadelphia in un-airconditioned rooms. The other revolution unleashed more violent passions against a devout monarch who, like Charles I and later Nicholas II, inherited the consequences of less benign forebears. There were excesses in the American colonies, but pulling down the statue of George III was unlike the French actually beheading their king and queen.

   Inasmuch as the “infamy” that excited the tarring and feathering by Americans was a matter of parliamentary representation and taxation, it was genteel compared to the “infâme” in Paris which meant destruction of the Christian social order. In Philadelphia, no Goddess of Reason was enthroned on the communion table of Christ Church, nor was George Washington drenched in blood when he prayed in Saint Paul’s Chapel before his inauguration. I say this not in a pejorative spirit, for I think many Frenchmen would agree with me, and I have been exhilarated by several Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, with their unsurpassed elegance, albeit absent the concomitant enormities of the Reign of Terror.

   What differentiates the two revolutions, is the invocation versus the rejection of God. In one sense, the American Revolution was not a revolution at all, for it asserted the historic claims of citizens as Englishmen mantled with the protestations of the Magna Carta, which had been neglected by more recent German occupiers of the throne. My prejudices are compromised by the fact that my French paternal antecedents were compatriots with Rochambeau and Lafayette, and my English maternal ancestors in their Cheshire regiment may even have taken aim at the Massachusetts militiaman who fired the shot heard round the world.

   In America, there were fanatics like Sam Adams, whose eponymous beer should be a caution to God-fearing men, and Tom Paine, who disdained religion. But many more thoughtful American patriots invoked John Locke and, with a few unmeasured exceptions, would have found zealots like the Jacobins ridiculous.

   French Revolutionaries tried to substitute the Catholic Church with a mockery of it, rather like what is going on in today’s China. The Constitutional Church would have no pope and its clergy would be compliant state agents, and so forth. The Devil knows how to choreograph religious anarchy. Because Washington did not contradict divine order, he did not end up on the chopping block like Robespierre.

   All of that pales in comparison with the only revolution that truly counts, for it changed the world permanently: when Christ rose from the dead, he set free vital germs of human rights, social progress, philanthropy, the philosophical matrix for science, universities, the consciousness of a Creator who made the world a channel of grace strengthened by moral order, and, finally—shown by a mercy divine—the prospect of life eternal.

2018-07-08 - Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

07/08/2018 - 2:25pm

8 July 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 6:1-6 + Homily

17 Minutes 8 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

  There is no limit to the excuses ideologues will make to promote theory over fact. Consider attempts to justify Aztec human sacrifice in the interest of “multiculturalism.” Archeological discoveries of massive numbers of victims are being explained away as not really significant. The estimable scholar, Victor Davis Hanson, has written: “For the useful idiot, multiculturalism is supposedly aimed at ecumenicalism and hopes to diminish difference by inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism. But mostly it is a narcissistic fit, in which the multiculturalist offers a cheap rationalization of non-Western pathologies . . .”
 

   Like hyperbole about the Spanish Inquisition, refuted by the latest scholarship, the “Black Legend” would have us believe that the Spaniards destroyed a benign and creative civilization in Mesoamerica. The Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, a missionary and pioneer anthropologist who translated the Gospel into the Aztec Nahuatl language, represents the best of a not unblemished Hispanic cultural imperative that led to the abolition of human sacrifice, though at a cost, for many Spaniards were cannibalized by the Acolhuas, Aztec allies. Similarly, it was the influence of Christian missionaries like William Carey that banned the Hindu practice of “sati,” the cremation of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres in the Indian principalities. Between 1815 and 1818, 839 widows were burnt alive in Bengal province alone. A general ban was enforced by Queen Victoria in 1861, the year her own husband died, but sati was still practiced in Nepal until 1920.
 

   One estimate has 80,400 Aztec captives sacrificed in 1487 at the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlán. Although the actual figure may have been lower, the cutting out of hearts from victims still alive is an intolerable barbarity, graphically depicted in the film Apocalypto, which shows such rites among the earlier Mayan people. A mixed-race descendant of Cortez, Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl, calculated that 20% of the infants and children in the general “Mexica” area were sacrificed annually to appease rain deities, along with men and women sacrificed in honor of the serpentine god Quetzalcóatl, the jaguar god Tezcatlipoca and the aquiline warrior god Huitzilopochtli.
 

   In the sixteenth century, Montaigne, anticipating Dryden’s “noble savage,” sought to cut the primitive cultures a little slack because he saw barbaric acts among his own European peoples. Those who were scandalized by his analogy then are like those today who commit atrocities under the veneer of progressivism. In 1992, a writer in the leftist Die Zeit of Hamburg rhetorically bent over backwards to deny that the Mesoamericans had committed human sacrifice. We know what happened in his own country among the National Socialist eugenicists.
 

   Sacrifices on the altars of ancient temples cannot match the millions of infants aborted today in sterile clinics. Pope Francis has said, “Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves.” Perhaps five centuries from now, revisionists will deny that abortion was ever legal.

2018-07-01 - Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

07/01/2018 - 2:32pm

1 July 2018

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 5:21-43 + Homily

17 Minutes 46 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   Now that the Summer Solstice has passed, and amateur Druids have left their plastic litter at Stonehenge for another year, the human mind has the past six months to reflect upon and the rest of the year to anticipate.

   It is only because humans are in the image of God, which means we are able to think of him and reflect his love that made us, that we have the imaginative gift to picture past and future. Some scientists claim that certain animals have a reduced capacity for doing that, but only humans can say “I can’t imagine . . .” and "Can you imagine...?

   A professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yuval Harari, has speculated that even if there is some minimal ability for other creatures to remember and anticipate, “Only Homo Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. One-on-one or ten-on-ten, chimpanzees may be better than us. But pit 1,000 Sapiens against 1,000 chimps, and the Sapiens will win easily, for the simple reason that 1,000 chimps can never cooperate effectively. Put 100,000 chimps in Wall Street or Yankee Stadium, and you’ll get chaos. Put 100,000 humans there, and you’ll get trade networks and sports contests.” You also get the Holy Church.

   The Prince of Lies would twist the imagination so that we are haunted rather than hallowed by the past, and hesitant rather than hopeful about the future. The American Psychological Association surveyed 2,000 people and found that only one percent of them wanted to know about what is to come.
 
   Our Lord did not tell the apostles about the future, except to say, “Follow me.” So the doctors of the soul bid us say upon rising in the morning: “Serviam—I will serve.” Whether you are a Latinist or indulge the vernacular when half awake, that consecrates the day.

   Approximately 3,866 years after the completion of Stonehenge, New Yorkers can watch a similarly spectacular sight when Manhattan becomes a sundial here on our worst and best of streets, 34th Street, viewed from the East River right across to our parish along the Hudson. If you missed the Solstice, you can see this phenomenon on July 12 and 13. The sun becomes blinding as the east-west grid aligns with the sunset and creates a spectacle that has come to be called, in competition with the Druids, “Manhattanhenge.” The sun will sink below the skyscrapers at 8:20 pm on Thursday and on Friday at 8:21 pm.

   I have the selfish privilege of going into our church to pray after the doors are locked at sunset, with the noise of 34th Street shut outside. The mellow light filters through the nineteenth-century German glass windows. “And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

2018-06-24 - Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

06/24/2018 - 2:34pm

24 June 2018

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-66, 80 + Homily

19 Minutes 20 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

  The recent dedication of our parish’s shrine of Our Lady of Aradin for persecuted Christians evoked a powerful response. We heard the Our Father prayed in our Lord’s native Aramaic, which is still spoken in northern Iraq along the Nineveh Plain. When the ISIS militants finally were driven out from that area, 1,233 houses of Christians had been totally destroyed, another 11,717 were partially wrecked or burnt, 34 churches were totally destroyed and 329 partially ruined.

   Some years ago, I did a television program in Canada with the author Pierre Berton, who had published a book in 1965 called The Comfortable Pew. He was an atheist, albeit one of natural virtue sufficient to disdain the self-satisfaction of those who called themselves Christians but who had become relaxed about the Gospel imperative. A generation before, the ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr had described that sedated kind of Christianity as: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." An English theologian whom I knew, summed up most of the preaching he had heard in the United States: “Might I suggest that you try to be good?”

   Laodicean lukewarmness (Revelation 3:16) tends to be discomforted by reports of men and women actually sacrificing all they have for the Faith. In one survey of issues that concern Catholics in the United States, economic matters and changes in the climate are prominent, while the persecution of Christians ranks last.

   Saint Francis of Assisi went to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade to convert the Muslim caliph who had him beaten and imprisoned, but then released him with some token gifts. The next year, five friars were beheaded in Morocco. The sight of their bodies, ransomed by the King of Portugal and returned to Coimbra, determined Saint Anthony to become a friar. He made the trip to Morocco, but returned after a grave illness.

   The great little man of Assisi wrote in his First Rule for the Friars Minor an instruction just as applicable today for dealing prudently with persecutors of the Faith:
 

  "The brothers who are to live among the Saracens and other non-believers will enter into spiritual contact with them in one of two ways: The first way is by avoiding every conflict or discussion, and being subject to every human creature for God’s sake, while confessing at every moment that they are Christians. The second way is, at that moment when it is seen to be the will of God, to proclaim the word of God . . . because, as the Lord says in the Gospel: 'Everyone who recognizes me before men, I will recognize before my Father in Heaven And everyone who is ashamed of me and my doctrine, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes clothed in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'”

2018-06-17 - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

06/17/2018 - 2:26pm

17 June 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 4:26-34 + Homily

20 Minutes 8 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   Our Lord was probably a teenager when the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus impaled himself on his own sword in despair for having lost three legions in combat with Germanic tribesmen. Thirty years earlier Mark Antony had killed himself the same way in Egypt. The Celtic queen Boudica poisoned herself in Britain some sixty years later, and then, if the historian Josephus is to be believed, there was the mass suicide of Jews on Masada in the year 73.

   In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Albigensian cult thought that all created beings were the work of an evil power and considered suicide the ultimate good, as it freed the soul from the “prison” of the body. Contrary to those pessimists, life is sacred: “You have been purchased at a price, so glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Consequently, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2280).

   Thus Chesterton, who fought serious depression, said: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in life . . . The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Though suicides were once denied Requiem blessings, the Church now teaches that a suicide victim's responsibility can be diminished by "grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture” (CCC 2282).

   Much publicity attended the recent suicides of a woman who designed fashionable handbags, and a celebrity chef. I never availed myself of their apparent talents, yet one wonders whether such lives might have been spared had the victims of their own hands studied more intently the wounds in the hands of the One who died so that “none be lost and all be saved.”

   Suicide rates in our country in all age groups have climbed nearly 30% in the last generation. Among women between ages 45 and 64, who were promised sexual and social liberation, suicides have increased 60% in the last twenty years. While not wanting to lapse into the logical fallacy of “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” (a coincidence must be a consequence), these figures almost exactly match the increased number of Americans who say they have no faith or belong to no religion.

   The only suicide whose fate is certain was Judas, who fell into remorse rather than repentance, and the difference is that he was ashamed of himself out of pride, and so he “repented to himself” and became the “son of destruction” (Matthew 27:3; John 17:12). Christians should not lose hope for those they loved and lost. Saint John Vianney, that master of mystical intuition, told a woman whose husband had jumped off a bridge: “Do not despair. Between the bridge and the water, he made an act of contrition.”

2018-06-10 - Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

06/10/2018 - 2:26pm

10 June 2018

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 3:20-35 + Homily

18 Minutes 7 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   The Internal Revenue Service would not be impressed by someone who paid taxes not in the formal way, but in a spiritual sense. Yet the equivalent of that has be come an esoteric mantra among many who identify as Catholics but reject Catholicism as their religion. The Pew Research Center found that 13 percent of those surveyed, who regard themselves as “indelibly Catholic by culture, ancestry, ethnicity or family tradition,” do not practice the precepts of the Faith.

   That “cultural Catholicism” does not work when challenged by Catholicism’s despisers. There is much to be said for inheriting the faith of ancestors, but ancestors are betrayed when that faith is a patrimony that is squandered by a spendthrift heir. In the Middle East there are Christians who can trace their religious identity back to the apostles, but theirs is not a mere cultural religion. A year after Christian towns of northern Iraq were liberated from the Islamic State, many families still live in refugee camps. Various organizations are providing assistance, but the challenge is to encourage resettlement, not by temporary financial relief, but by restoring and developing local economies to revive ghost towns. The pope’s creation of the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako of Baghdad, as a Cardinal affirms hope of revitalization.

   In those areas, the faithful have had to resist attempts to make them renounce the Gospel by force. In decadent Western cultures, such surrender has been voluntary. Much of Europe has long since abandoned Christ through indifference. More recently, the illusion of Ireland as a Catholic country was shattered by the overwhelming vote for abortion, following the vote in 2015 for redefining marriage.

   Cultural Catholicism abandons the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of the Age, a seductive chimera that haunts once-holy halls. Saint Patrick could say once again: “I dwell amongst barbarians, a proselyte and an exile, for the love of God.” He preached Christianity as a vocation and not as an avocation: “That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken.”

   Here in New York, the virtual evaporation of candidates for the priesthood, while vocations have grown in many other parts of the country, is like the canary in a coal mine. Facts are shrewd mentors, teaching that cultural Catholicism is not enough. Yet consider some of the most significant and diverse figures in the history of the Church in New York: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Isaac Hecker, Orestes Brownson, Paul Wattson, Rose Hawthorne, Thomas Fortune Ryan, Joyce Kilmer, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Clare Boothe Luce, Avery Dulles, Bernard Nathanson. As converts, they were counter-cultural, and they did not degrade the Sacrifice of Christ by being Catholic in a cultural, but not a religious sense.

 

2018-06-03 - Corpus Christi

06/03/2018 - 2:21pm

3 June 2018

The Solemnity of the Most Holy

Body and Blood of Christ

Mark 14:12-16, 22-26 + Homily

15 Minutes 58 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

   At each Mass in our parish we recite the Prayer to Saint Michael, which was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 when the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See was under attack. While it used to be prayed universally after Low Masses, we continue it here since our patron is Saint Michael, and our neighborhood of “Hell’s Kitchen” historically has been in the crosshairs of Satan.

   A friend of ours, Father Benedict Kiely, founded an organization (Nasarean.org) to help Christians in the Middle East where, as Pope Francis has said, the Church is being persecuted in ways more violent than at any time since the early centuries. As I write this, Fr. Kiely is in Mosul, Iraq, which has been almost totally destroyed, and where only a few Christian families remain after thousands have fled. To the discredit of much of the Western media, this has been downplayed, not unlike the refusal to report genocides and persecutions by Soviets and Nazis in times past.

   The Aradin Charitable Trust, founded by Dr. Amal Marogy, in cooperation with the Nasarean organization, intends to have two shrines in the world dedicated to prayer for the persecuted Church. Our parish is fortunate to have the first such shrine, with an icon of Our Lady of Aradin that has been donated to us, in our important location in Manhattan. The icon depicts Mary in the traditional dress of an Iraqi bride. The border is written in Aramaic, the language of our Lord, which still is spoken in Qaraqosh, the home of the Iraqi Christian artist Mouthana Butres, who “wrote” the icon. Mr. Butres was driven from his home, along with all the Christians of Qaraqosh, by militant Muslims in August 2015, and he and his family now are refugees in Lebanon.

   On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we give thanks that Our Lord is with us always, as he promised. In recent decades, there has been a neglect of the sacrificial character of the Mass. The Blessed Sacrament is a triumph of the Resurrection, which would not have occurred without the Crucifixion. Pascal said, “Jésus sera en agonie jusqu’à la fin du monde” — “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” There are lands today that once were Christian, at least in ethos, but have abandoned the Cross Triumphant through sloth. There are other countries, as we have recently seen in Ireland, that have lost that triumph by violating and repudiating the Cross. While bourgeois populations dance in the streets for legalized abortion and the blessing of perverse imitations of marriage, there still are Christians taking up the cross in foreign lands, and in ways that decadents prefer to ignore. But their cries may yet redeem those who act as though they had never known the Lord.

   Our icon will be blessed on Tuesday, June 12, at 6:30 PM in a brief service of dedication. All are welcome.

 

2018-05-27 - Trinity Sunday

05/27/2018 - 2:29pm

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

05/20/2018 - 2:21pm

20 May 2018

Pentecost

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

05/13/2018 - 2:25pm

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

05/06/2018 - 2:34pm

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.”

2018-04-29 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

04/29/2018 - 2:30pm

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

04/22/2018 - 2:10pm

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

04/15/2018 - 2:26pm

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

04/08/2018 - 3:03pm

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

04/01/2018 - 3:24pm

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

04/01/2018 - 3:08pm

31 March 2018

The Easter Vigil

Mark 16:1-7 + Homily

11 Minutes 44 Seconds

2018-03-30 - Good Friday - The Passion According to John

03/30/2018 - 8:17pm

30 March 2018

Good Friday - The Passion According to John

John 18:1-19:42

23 Minutes 58 Seconds

(Note: There is no homily on Good Friday.)

2018-03-30 - Good Friday - Meditations on the Seven Last Words

03/30/2018 - 8:01pm

30 March 2018

Good Friday - Mediations on the Seven Last Words

2 Hours 10 Minutes

    Father, forgive them, for they know what they do. Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (at approximately 24:17) Woman behold thy son. Son behold thy Mother. (at approximately 46:07) My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me? (at approximately 1:03) I thirst. (at approximately 1:23) It is finished. (at approximately 1:44) Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. (at approximately 2:01)

 

2018-03-29 Holy Thursday

03/29/2018 - 8:29pm

29 March 2018

Holy Thursday - Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

John 13:1-15 + Homily

13 Minutes 5 Seconds