Panegyric delivered at the Memorial Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley Jr.FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER
The key to all that William was and did is that wherever he was and whatever he did, reading a book or writing one, opening a bottle of wine or sailing some sea, he was near Jerusalem.
"Now Bethany was near Jerusalem…” John 11:18
Here is a paradox of holy religion: such utter domesticity is so close to the unutterable mystery of Temple. Bethany was near Jerusalem. About fifteen furlongs. Furlongs. William F. Buckley Jr. could have translated that. It is just a little more than the distance between the corner of Park and 73rd Street and this cathedral. In the life of the one we remember today, his home was never far from Jerusalem. Park Avenue and 73rd Street was near Jerusalem and so were Sharon and Camden and Stamford. The key to all that William was and did is that wherever he was and whatever he did, reading a book or writing one, opening a bottle of wine or sailing some sea, he was near Jerusalem. He left this world from his desk in the garage of the house of the one he most loved who had died less than a year before. Their Bethany was near Jerusalem.
After our friend had published a book about sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, an interviewer on television showed a certain condescension about yachting as a socially useless activity. He found tedious the long descriptions of navigation and asked the author if there is any real difference between sailing from east to west and from west to east. There came from Buckley a response as from an oracle: "Yes. They are opposite directions." Bethany lies east of Jerusalem and to reach the holy city you must travel west. William F. Buckley Jr. has now traveled west. But he started in Bethany where our earthly home is.
He did his work using such domestic tools as words, and though some thought them only amusing and clever, those words were strong enough to help crack the walls of an evil empire. A fatal flaw in the materialist dialectic of Marxism was its underestimation of the power of evil, embracing it like a useful energy. When cynics mocked the very idea of evil, he mocked the mockers, and angered them most by their inability to stay angry in his congenial presence. It was as if an ancient voice could be heard speaking through him: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
When he wrote his first book about God and man at the age of twenty-five, and launched his magazine at twenty-nine, the inspiration could have seemed the naïveté of callowness, but now we know it was the courage of innocence. At long last, when he sold his boat and silenced his harpsichord, he suddenly seemed much older. It is inadequate to say that he lasted eighty-two years. It is more resonant with his sonorous life to say that he began four score and two years ago. By one of those quirks which are either inexplicable fate or explicable providence, as a young boy he passed by an airfield in Britain at the very moment the prime minister was waving a piece of paper and proclaiming peace in our time. The rest of his life testified that there can be no concord with evil, for evil always seeks to devour the good, and peace at any price is very expensive.
At more than a month's remove from his death, a homily yields to that kind of eulogy which he would call precisely a panegyric. The Greeks like Lysias and Isocrates developed this form of speech for Olympiads and other public sporting occasions to see how far an orator could go in praising the dead without actually lying. This does not suit here today for two reasons. Our friend, skier and sailor, was not drawn to public sports arenas. When a friend invited him to a Yankee game, he declined, saying that he had already seen one. More importantly, in the record of his life is little tension between praise and honesty to tease the art of lauding him. By a moral adaptation of a law of optics, he loomed larger the closer you examined him. From his own side of the lens, he saw not according to worldly size or influence. He could write at length on immanentizing the eschaton and also pray the rosary for a schoolboy who was having difficulties with his homework.
The Lord raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and Bethany is not far from Jerusalem. William, who frequently had the last word, wrote this:
"Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief — how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration — near infinite — of natural impulses? Yet, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder? What is the greater miracle: the raising of the dead man in Lazarus, or the mere existence of the man who died and of the witnesses who swore to his revival?"
Father George William Rutler. "Panegyric delivered at the Memorial Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley Jr." Cathedral of Saint Patrick, New York City, April 4, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.
Among his books are: Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins,
Copyright © 2008 Father George W. Rutler
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