Banality against deep joy


Our Lord is astonishingly patient with our culture, given that He has made the world so wonderful and yet those who live in it can be so banal in what satisfies them.

Pope Saint Leo the Great

The season of Advent explores life's wonders, but it is widely ignored by people rushing to celebrate a Christmas they do not comprehend. If culture is satisfied with banality, those who would know deep joy must be counter-cultural.

In many places there will be no meditating on the four Advent mysteries: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. But these are the very things that save us from the insufferable boredom of life lived only on the surface of reality.

A good patron saint for counter-culturalism would be Pope St. Leo I. Although he lived in the fifth century, he is just what we need today, and Pope Benedict XVI often strikes me as his double. Pope Leo lived in a culture of political and moral decay. He confronted powerful barbarians threatening what remained of classical civilization. Attila the Hun and Gaiseric the Vandal were not the sorts you'd want to meet in a dark alley, and yet this pope faced them down in 452 and 455 and saved Rome. He was no less strong against various Christian heretics whose pessimism about life had created a "culture of death," denied that Mary was the mother of her own true God, thought that Christ could not be truly human and divine, and assumed that they were morally fine without God's help. Today we do not call them Manicheans, Nestorians, Monophysites and Pelagians, but they are alive in the schools and on television.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the new translation of the Creed renews the ancient formula for Christ as "consubstantial with the Father." When this was defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the assembled bishops declared: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo." The Successor of Peter as center of the Church's unity knew that this inspiration was more important for civilization than defeating Vandals and Huns.

On this Sunday we also say in the General Confession an accurate translation of the Latin: "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault," striking the breast in an outward sign that our souls and bodies have fallen short of the God-given dignity that a superficial world tries daily to take away. In a sermon on how to prepare for Christmas, counter-cultural Leo preached:

"And hence we warn you, beloved, in fatherly affection, to make this winter fast fruitful to yourselves by bounteous alms, rejoicing that by you the Lord feeds and clothes His poor, to whom assuredly He could have given the possessions which He has bestowed on you, had He not in His unspeakable mercy wished to justify them for their patient labor, and you for your works of love."




Father George William Rutler. "Banality against deep joy." From the Pastor (November 28, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


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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