Confronting cynicism with prudence

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

Knowledge of what happened before us is not a hobby.

A majority of New Yorkers surveyed by a classical radio station think Beethoven was a dog. It is the price paid for isolation from a larger culture.

Knowledge of what happened before us is not a hobby. To call someone a history buff is like calling someone a DNA buff. We are walking inheritances, and if we do not know about people who lived before us, we cannot know ourselves. Lacking experience of what Matthew Arnold called "the best which has been thought and said," we cannot prudently reject the worst that has been thought and said.

Prudence is the guide for its fellow natural virtues: it discerns justice, which in turn justifies temperance, which then tempers courage. Aristotle called prudence "right reason in action." Prudence analyzes experience, correctly judges what is right and wrong, and acts accordingly. It is imprudent to underestimate the machinations of evil. Christ requires prudence in a world hostile to Christ: "Behold, I am sending you as lambs among wolves; be therefore crafty as snakes and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

The prudent remember, for example, that the Nazis began the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, a Friday, and that the British cabinet members were taken by surprise because "gentlemen do not start wars on weekends." Better knowledge of history would have taught them that the Devil is not a gentleman.

Craftiness without innocence is cynical, and innocence without craftiness is naive. The cynic mocks those who are naive. It would be naive to be surprised by the increasing mockery of religion in our cynical society. It would be imprudent not to detect cynicism in the current Administration's opposition to the addition of a prayer to the World War II Memorial in our capital. The director of the Bureau of Land Management said that it would "dilute the memorial's message."

That prayer, read over the radio by President Roosevelt on June 6, 1944, at the start of the Normandy invasion, ended: "O Lord, give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment – let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen."

Prudence knows that this prayer does not "dilute the message." It is the message.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler. "Confronting cynicism with prudence." From the Pastor (November 14, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

THE AUTHOR

Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, 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, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler




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