Fr. George W. Rutler: Fifty Years On

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By Fr. George W. Rutler, Crisis Magazine, December 20, 2019

Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael’s church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016); The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017); and Calm in Chaos (Ignatius, 2018).

Fr. George W. Rutler

The year of 1969 was a time of the finest and the worst, when most institutions, equipped with the polished trophies of new science, seemed to be having a mental breakdown. A man walked on the moon. But there were riots, protests, and a moral fragmentation whose detritus now controls the seminal arbiters of culture. The tone of thought at the heart of it was a composite of bewilderment, fascination, and obtuseness. I have rarely written about the days when I was formed into a particular way of ordering my thinking, with a reluctance born of an intuition that looking back might make me brittle as a pillar of salt or soft as sentiment, for nostalgia can be a lethal alchemy. The sound and scene from fifty years past do not need to come alive again, for they never faded in my recollection. It seems like yesterday that I sat in a chapel of the ambulatory of the cavernous Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. I signed an oath of conformity to the Thirty-Nine Articles with a quill pen from a silver inkstand and then processed behind a verger with a heavy mace to the sanctuary of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, as it proudly called itself. For on the twentieth day of December in 1969, I was ordained an Anglican priest in a ceremony grand in itself but still small in the perspective of the important events of that year, unaware that seventeen years later I would become a Catholic priest in another cathedral in the same city a short distance away.

The processional hymn was “I bind unto myself today.” While the original is attributed to the “Lorica”of Saint Patrick, the translation sung was by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, wife of the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh. We had been imbued with an assurance that Patrick himself would have been an Anglican if given the opportunity, and this confidence was expressed by the bishop whose sarcophagus our procession passed: once when asked if there was salvation outside the Episcopal Church, the Right Reverend William Manning answered: “Perhaps so, but no gentleman would care to avail himself of it.”  ….

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