New saints and the energy that builds noble societies

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

The canonization of Marianne Cope, along with Kateri Tekakwitha, on October 21, occasioned the publication of a stunning photograph showing Marianne standing beside the funeral bier of St. Damien in Kalaupapa, Molokai.

click to enlarge

That was in 1889, and the picture is so sharp that it could have been taken today.  It must be the first photograph of two saints together.  The holy friendships of Teresa of Avila with John of the Cross, and Francis de Sales with Jane de Chantal illuminated civilization before photography.

St. Damien's body is scarred with leprosy but vested in the fine chasuble in which he used to offer Mass.  St. Marianne, in her timeless religious habit, shows no sorrow for she obviously knows she is looking at a saint, not knowing that she is one herself.

Studying that photograph, one thinks of how hard they worked, not only among the outcast lepers, but all their lives.  Damien, born Jozef de Veuster in Belgium, was a farm boy, and Marianne left school in Utica, New York, after the eighth grade to support her family by working in factories.

Not in the picture was their helper, Joseph Dutton, a Civil War veteran who was so traumatized by the ravages of war and his broken marriage that he became an alcoholic.  He reformed his life, went to Molokai and worked with the lepers for 45 years — cleaning latrines, scrubbing floors, and binding sores — until his death in 1931.  Their great happiness would have been clouded to see how much unhappiness there is in our land today.

As a typical eighteenth-century rationalist, Edward Gibbon was cynical about Christianity, but as an historian he analyzed the decline of once-great civilizations in terms of natural virtue: "In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.  They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all — security, comfort, and freedom.  When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

I expect that Gibbon would have understood modern saints no better than he did the early martyrs and confessors, but he would have seen in them a selfless energy that builds noble societies, and the neglect of such energy pulls them down.  Our own nation is facing these realities as it decides what it wants to be.  The present crisis in culture cannot be resolved if it is addressed only in terms of economics and international relations.  The real leaders are not those who hypnotize na´ve people into thinking that they are the source of hope.  Those who can rescue nations from servility to selfishness are not on slick campaign posters, but in stark black and white photographs like that taken on Molokai in 1889.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler.  "New saints and the energy that builds noble societies."  From the Pastor (October 28, 2012). 

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 © 2012 Father George W. Rutler




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