CALM IN CHAOS
Catholic Wisdom for Anxious Times
By George William Rutler
228 pages, $15
Fans of Father George Rutler will want to get this collection of 35 recent essays — mostly from Crisis — by that New York pastor who blends elegance of style, rapier wit and the “use of brains in a brainless time.”
These essays range over a variety of topics: Islamic-inspired terrorism; liturgical reform; cultural trends; President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw; environmental issues; education; self-deportment and what it requires; honesty and accepting reality as it is; and religious issues. I list “religious issues” separately because a Catholic worldview — thinking with the Church — infuses all of the essays.
Once upon a time that wouldn’t be surprising: A Catholic intellectual would have weighed the world against Catholic thought. But that’s an increasingly rare phenomenon, even in the Church. Father Rutler bucks that trend, offering “Catholic wisdom for anxious times.”
What’s especially delightful is Father Rutler’s facility at offering that wisdom with felicitous turns of phrase and memorable images. Consider this devastating commentary on a certain kind of liturgist:
“A pastor is too busy leading people in worship to attend workshops on how to lead people in worship, and his duties in the confessional prevent him from attending seminars on how to hear confessions. I do know that if I followed the guidelines of one liturgical commission, suggesting that I greet each penitent at the church doors with an open Gospel book and then lead a procession to a Reconciliation room that looks more like an occasion of sin than a shrine for its absolution, the number of confessions in the middle of the metropolis where I serve would be severely reduced.”
Or these thoughts on the modern collegian “snowflake”:
“The average age of a Continental soldier in the American Revolution was one year younger than that of a college freshman today. Joan of Arc saved France when she was as old as an American college sophomore. In 1571, Don Juan of Austria saved Western civilization as a commanding admiral when he was 24. None of these figures, in the various struggles against the world and the flesh and the Devil, retreated to safe spaces, weeping in the arms of grief therapists. What will these frightened half adults do when they leave their safe spaces and enter a society where there is no one to offer them hot chocolate during their tantrums?”
Or this analysis of the average, overpriced mainstream Catholic conference:
“Undaunted by the failure of countless conferences and ‘renewal programs’ over recent decades to accomplish their stated purpose, the organizers cannot be faulted for a lack of optimism in thinking that a new missionary zeal may be born from several days of ‘motivational speakers,’ ‘breakout groups,’ and an occasional performance of soporific ‘Christian’ elevator music.”
Or, finally, this demolition of the equivocations that surround Islamic-inspired terrorism, such as after the 2015 Chattanooga shootings of four Marines and a sailor:
“The liberal death wish became raucous when CNN national security analyst Tom Fuentes said of the shooter Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, ‘I know what the name sounds like, but we don’t know it’s a Muslim name.’ Now, the murderer was not Luther Abdulazeez, or Calvin Abdulazeez or Wesley Abdulazeez. There are few Lutheran or Presbyterian or Methodist chaps baptized Muhammad.”
I once wrote that Father Rutler is like a good glass of Cointreau, to be sipped and relished. If you want an evening of solid thinking, intelligent writing, reflection filled with hope, and just a good read, I recommend a comfortable chair, a glass of that beverage and this book. The book’s most important; the other two won’t hurt.
P.S.: For a really unexpected turn, read Chapter 19 to find out why Father Rutler thinks that churches need fewer pews.
John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., writes from Falls Church, Virginia.