2017-07-30 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:44-52

Fr. George William Rutler’s homily podcast.

Jan Struther (1901-1953) wrote popular hymns but is best known for the book that became the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. The Dunkirk evacuation figures in it and was emotive propaganda as the United States was just getting involved in the war. A new film about Dunkirk is educating many young people who never knew the story, and who may not realize that if it had not been for the “miracle” of events from May 26 to June 3 in 1940, the world would be unrecognizable today.

With 338,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army in danger of being annihilated, optimists expected that no more than 30,000 could be saved. The British civilians manned every boat they could muster: barges, tugboats, pleasure crafts, lifeboats and fishing trawlers and, led by the Royal Navy, rescued 335,000 soldiers.

One of the great characters I knew, the novelist Barbara Cartland, told me stories of the period, but spoke little of her beloved brother Ronald, who was killed behind the lines at Dunkirk, an anti-appeaser and the first and youngest Member of Parliament to die in the war. She wrote his biography, and her good friend Winston Churchill wrote a preface to it.

In the House of Commons on June 4, Churchill delivered perhaps the greatest speech of the twentieth century. The text I have has 3,767 words, but every line is riveting, especially its conclusion: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. . . ” But what he said is disserved if his warning halfway through is forgotten: “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

In the spiritual life, too, there must be strategic withdrawals from time to time. “. . . lee from any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). So the spiritual fathers enjoin us to flee from the Devil. In our own trying times, we have all the saints to help in the evacuation, like those who lent their boats for Dunkirk. But spiritual wars are not won by evacuations. The Church regroups and then charges the enemy.

2017-07-23 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:24-43

Fr. George William Rutler’s homily podcast.

There are saints whose lives were inconspicuous and whose canonizations surprised some who thought they were unexceptional. There are others whose mystical gifts were so prodigious that they made every effort, sometimes amusingly as in the instance of Philip Neri, to distract attention from themselves. In recent centuries these would certainly include John Vianney, Padre Pio and Charbel Makhlouf, canonized in 1977, whose feast we celebrate on July 24.

He was born in 1828 in the northern Lebanese village of Biqa-Kafra. He became a monk at the age of twenty-three and was ordained a priest in 1859. After sixteen years in the Monastery of St. Maroun, Charbel was allowed by rare exception to live on his own as a hermit. For the next twenty-three years he lived a harshly mortified life. Given the rigors he endured, and neglect of any comfort, is it remarkable that he lived to the age of seventy. He wanted to be forgotten, and it was assumed that he would be, despite his quiet reputation for giving inspired spiritual advice to many who went to him. But for forty-five nights after his burial, an intensely bright light shone from his grave, attracting the devout as well as curiosity-seekers and even Muslims. Since then, an astonishingly long list of seemingly miraculous cures have been attributed to his intercession.

The Maronite Church to which Saint Charbel belonged uses the ancient West Syrian liturgy, with the consecration prayers in the Eucharist retained in the Aramaic that our Lord spoke. The Maronites, whose vernacular is Arabic, are in full communion with the Pope. Their origins as a distinct rite go back to Saint Maron in the late fourth century, and Saint John Maron, patriarch of Antioch from 685 to 707, who led a successful military resistance against the invading Byzantine armies of Justinian II, enabling the Maronites to be fully independent.

The Maronites preserved their identity during the Muslim caliphate (632-1258) and the Ottoman rule, and have maintained their presence since Lebanon became an independent state in 1943. The Maronite diaspora increased after the Muslim-instigated massacre of 1860. In 1902 a fourteen-year old Maronite named Khalil Salim Haddad Aglamaz emigrated to Mexico and started a dry goods business. One of his sons is Carlos Slim, who lives a relatively modest life for a man Forbes magazine declared the world’s richest in 2014.

At Sunday Mass we pray to our Patron, Saint Michael the Archangel, for our fellow Christians in the Middle East in these trying days. While Lebanon is safer for Christians than most regions in that part of the world, and by law its president must be a Maronite, its Christian population is shrinking. The Maronites have a tradition of hospitality, and bid visitors welcome: Ahlan wa sahlan. And now we also know why Saint Charbel is such a popular saint in Mexico, far from Biqa-Kafra.

2017-07-16 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 13:1-23

Homily podcast.

In the nineteenth century, the poet Adam Mickiewicz dramatized the theme of his suffering Poland as the “Christ of Nations” and, in an image used by many others, Poland was crucified in the twentieth century between the two thieves of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. It was not the West’s proudest moment when President Roosevelt complained to Stalin at the Yalta Conference that “Poland has been a source of trouble for over five hundred years.” Pope John Paul II lamented Yalta in the encyclical Centesimus Annus. That will resonate in the annals of papal teaching more than recent magisterial concerns about the responsible use of air conditioning and the like.

On July 6 in Warsaw, the President spoke of a culture with which a generation of “millennials” have been unfamiliar: “Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

Comfortable journalists, for whom the “Christ of Nations” is an enigma, resented “a tiny speech, a perfunctory racist speech,” “xenophobic” and “a catalogue of effrontery,” and a comparison was made with Mussolini. Solzhenitsyn once was pilloried for similar themes, and Reagan was advised by his Chief of Staff and National Security advisor not to tell Mr. Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall. 

The Warsaw speech mentioned three priests: Copernicus, John Paul II and Michael Kozal. The latter was the bishop of Wloclawek who was martyred by the Nazis in Dachau along with 220 of his priests in 1943.

Among the irritations in the Warsaw speech were these words: “We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.” As that was being said, the parents of a gravely ill child, Charlie Gard, in London were tussling with government officials who did not want to release their infant to them.

A Polish philosopher, Zbigniew Stawrowski has written: “The fundamental cleavage is not the West v. Islam or the West v. the rest, but within the West itself: between those who recognize the values of Judaeo-Christian, Graeco-Roman culture and those who use terms like “democracy,” “values,” “rights” but pervert the latter. So it means democracy of the elites, values of secularism, rights to kill Charlie Gard, marriage that has nothing to do with sex, sex that … is a “private” matter to be funded by the confiscatory state and your duty to support this incoherence…”

The Polish king Jan III Sobieski rescued Christian civilization at the gates of Vienna in 1683. That was one of the “troubles” that Poland has caused in the past five hundred years. We survive because of such behavior.     

2017-07-09 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 11:25-30

Fr. George William Rutler’s homily podcast.

For Albert Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.” The day before he died in Princeton Hospital in 1955, he spent hours speculating about a “unified field theory,” a project he had begun in the 1920s. Roughly put, it is a “theory of everything” that melds general relativity and quantum field theory to explain all the physical aspects of the universe. A close associate of Einstein, who often conducted seminars in Einstein’s house at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, John Archibald Wheeler of Johns Hopkins, said shortly before his own death in 2008 that if such a theory were discovered, the most astonishing thing about it would be its simplicity.

All this is pretty obscure to me since, if we yield to the cognitive experts on how the brain works, my right lobe may be active and even over-active, but my left lobe is atrophied. I  know, however, that the Divine Intelligence who made all things, came into his own creation and told us all we need to know in order to live forever: “The Word (Logos) was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John1:14) and the darkness of ignorance has never cancelled out that light of truth.

As for a unified theory of everything, Christ the Logos showed that everything in creation is “contingent,” that is, connected to him, from the light at the farthest rim of the universe to the light that shone in Bethlehem at his earthly birth. All that exists is related to him and depends on him: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our sufficiency is in him” (2 Cor. 3:5).

A unified field theory is child’s play compared to the mystery that explains eternity as well as time. Jesus knew that this would be beyond our intelligence, even with right and left brain lobes combined, so he allowed: “I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). He was hinting at that theological contingency by which everything influences everything else. For the moment, all we need to know is that God who “-ists” enables us to “exist” and that we can become what he wants us to be by our association with him, in the sacramental life. Christ’s unified fact, not a theory, transcends the most cogent speculations of the earthly physicists. He prayed to his Divine Father: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John17:23).

If our world seems to be spinning out of control in its terrors and perversions, that is only because it has separated from Christ. “In him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).