2017-09-24 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 20:1-16

Fr. Rutler’s homily podcast.

The current mania for tearing down statues and stifling free speech by cultural
ingénues ignorant of history and logic, has reached a stellar absurdity in demands to
censure “The Star Spangled Banner” on lame claims that it is racist. If ignorance is
bliss, then those who indulge their revisionism, must be in Nirvana.

Francis Scott Key penned the words in 1814, later set to an English song “To
Anacreon in Heaven,” a tune that is a challenge to singers, as even
Renéee Fleming confessed after performing it at the 2014 Super Bowl. It is often
mutilated by rock stars calling attention to themselves by “interpreting” it. Key
wrote the words after watching 19 British ships fire more than 1,500 cannon
balls, mortar shells and rockets on Baltimore. Key was a slave-owner, which
was, sadly, not in contradiction to common practice. But he ordered the
manumission of his slaves, and in 1820 he embarked on a seven-year effort
pleading before the Supreme Court for the liberation of 300 African slaves captured
off the ship “Antelope” along the Florida coast. He also worked with John Quincy
Adams in the “Amistad” case to free 53 slaves.

Key’s poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry” which, re-named “The
Star-Spangled Banner,” became the national anthem in 1931, was based on verses he
composed in 1805 to celebrate the victory over the Muslim slave -trading pirates on
the Barbary coast, (“the shores of Tripoli,”). “And pale beam’d the Crescent, its
splendor obscured / By the Light of the star-spangled flag of our nation….And the
turban’d heads bow’d to the terrible glare…” -John Langdon, was a Founding Father
who, as first President pro tempore of the Senate, administered the vice-presidential
oath of office to John Adams. In 1805 as governor of New
Hampshire, he set aside a day in thanksgiving “for the termination of our
contest with one of the African powers; the liberation of our fellow-citizens from
bondage…”

Islam, which means “submission,” has never had abolitionists like the Christians
Bartolomé de las Casas and William Wilberforce. Muhammed was a slave
trader, and the Qur’an devotes five times as much space to regulating labor
slavery and sex slavery as it does to prayer. Nearly 200 million slaves, white and
black, were sold by Muslim traders over fourteen centuries, and
almost all the Africans sold to European traders for export to America were
enslaved by Muslims. Muslim slavers even raided Ireland in 1631. So many
Eastern Europeans were enslaved that the word “slave” itself comes from “Slav.”
While lip service is given to abolition in Islamic lands, slavery today is blatant in
Sudan, Niger and Mauritania and was not abolished in Saudi Arabia and Yemen until
1962 (under Western pressure). Where is the indignation of protestors here?
If revisionists would burlesque the past and mute the voice of reason, they should
first recognize that the value of life is secured best by the standard of the Cross and
not the Crescent.

2017-09-17 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 18:21-35

Fr. Rutler’s homily podcast.

In 1912 the father of an old friend contemplated a political career. In his idealism he traveled to Chicago for the Bull Moose Convention of the National Progressive Party. Its delegates announced that they were “battling for the Lord” and that the campaign would be a new Battle of Armageddon. The spectacle of many hundreds of portly men smoking cigars as they marched into the hot convention hall singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” was so unsettling to his acute instincts that he chose instead to become a clergyman.

Politics as religion and religion as politics are sure ingredients for demagoguery. The exploitation of one by the other demeans both. In 1950, the young evangelist Billy Graham met with President Truman and then held a press conference, histrionically kneeling on the White House lawn as he recounted what had been a private conversation. Truman used his vernacular vocabulary to express his indignation.

While demagoguery is rampant among those who distort the “wall of separation between Church and State” to promote a secularity never intended by our nation’s founders, one has to be cautious about sacralizing politics and politicizing religion. That feeds cynicism and fosters rebellion. When church leaders spend more time addressing public issues of a subjective nature than teaching objective essentials of faith and morals, they can be as self-satirical as Bull Moose Progressives. As the bishops were preparing a pastoral letter on war and peace in 1983, Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans, spoke out. He was the only bishop there who had served in World War II, as a chaplain in the 82nd Airborne Division in the Ardennes Offensive. Invoking Trumanesque diction, he told his episcopal brethren that they did not know what they were talking about.

Those who inflate themselves with assumed moral superiority while skipping lightly over hard facts, tend to be uniform in their notions of enlightened thought. One recalls an Irish bishop who refused to shake the hand of President Reagan, whom he called inhumane. And there was an American archbishop who declared Reagan’s economic policies unprincipled. The bishop was later exiled for having fathered a child, and the archbishop was found guilty of embezzlement and other transgressions. Self-congratulatory moral posturing called “virtue signaling” can be a semaphore for hypocrisy. It is condescension from below.

The Church’s prophetic voice is also hoarsened when it agrees to remove religious symbols in its schools in exchange for government funding, or when its social agencies rely on significant federal subsidies for staffing their charitable programs.

A cleric will have his personal views on prudential matters, but he becomes a clericalist when he stereotypes those who disagree with him as “un-Christian” or “un-American” or, mirabile dictu, both. Clericalism politicizes a sacerdotal charism in order to intimidate. To sanctimonious politician and priest alike, Samuel Johnson speaks from the grave: “My friend, clear your mind of cant.”

2017-09-10 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 18:15-20

Fr. Rutler’s homily.

In the tumultuous eleventh century, seven monks including Saint Bruno formed the Carthusian order, dedicated to prayer for the serenity of souls, taking as their motto: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” — the Cross stands as the world spins.

September’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross would seem a curiosity, were it not that Christ used that most cruel machine of death to conquer death. Saint Peter was uncomprehending when his beloved Master said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Peter “took Jesus aside” and told him that this must never be, only to be admonished that he was thinking not like God but as a limited human being. When Jesus rose from the dead, he “took Peter aside” and told him that he would go where he did not expect. Not long afterwards, Peter hung on a cross in Rome. To the astonishment of men intent on stretching out their dreary lifespans as long as they could, Peter died gladly.

Mrs. Fanny Crosby wrote more than 8,000 hymns, including in 1894 “Keep Thou My Way.” One of its lines was “gladly the Cross I’ll bear.” Inevitably that led to choirboys calling it “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.” Her story, though, was not a joke. She was blind all of her ninety-five years and was a student and teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind right here in our parish on Ninth Avenue and 34th Street. She told one of her fellow teachers, the future President Grover Cleveland: “If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.” Her small tombstone is engraved: “Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could.”

Saint John Vianney said, “The worst cross is not to have a cross.” A current “televangelist” has made many millions of dollars preaching a “Prosperity Gospel” in an arena where the cross is absent. His wife summed up their Gospel: “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.” These two newly rich people have now begun a cosmetics business, but Prosperity Theology itself is nothing more than cosmetic. At Holy Mass, the celebrant says: “Lift up your hearts,” not “Lift up your faces.”