Given the many theatres that are or have been within walking distance of our church on 34th Street, it is not possible to count the number of times stage curtains have come down on a final act.
One block away from us is the theatre built by Oscar Hammerstein, to compete with the old Metropolitan Opera House up on Broadway at 39th. Here on 34th Street, in what is now called the Manhattan Center, the Vitaphone sound system was used in 1926 to record the first soundtrack for a moving picture, Don Juan. Before the old Met's gold damask curtain came down for the last time at 39th and Broadway in 1966, the greatest Madama Butterfly, Licia Albanese, who once sang in my former church, rendered her last "Un bel dì" and then kissed with her hand the floorboards of the stage as the curtain came down before a weeping audience.
In another venue, my grandmother had a vivid recollection of the consternation at the old Hippodrome up on 43rd Street in the late 1920's when the curtain collapsed on the child star Baby Rose Marie. That forerunner to Shirley Temple survived and lived to be 94. Albanese was still singing when she died in 2014 at the age of 105.
So curtains fall sooner or later, and we have Advent to remind us of that. The superficiality of a life may be measured by how seriously one takes Advent's four themes of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Advent proclaims that a curtain is falling, even if a premature Christmas celebration with bells and elves, beginning with the Macy's parade (two blocks east of our church), fabricates a distraction from that.
If thought is not deep, there will be no real joy when the mysteries of God are disclosed. The bane of our times, and possibly of all times, is superficiality. This was illustrated at a synod of bishops in Rome in 2015, when papers of a politically correct nature were read, one after another repeating clichés to address the world's problems. One consultant broke through the soporific jargon. Dr. Anca Maria Cernea, a prominent Romanian physician, whose father had been imprisoned by Communists for seventeen years, said:
"The Church's mission is to save souls. Evil, in this world, comes from sin. Not from income disparity or "climate change." The solution is: Evangelization. Conversion. Not an ever-increasing government control. Not a world government. These are nowadays the main agents imposing cultural Marxism on our nations, under the form of population control, reproductive health, gay rights, gender education, and so on. What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation."
In the darkening days of Advent, the curtain falls on the old man, in sure and certain hope that it will rise for those who believe that there is born in Bethlehem the Savior, who will die in order to rise.
Father George W. Rutler. "The curtain falls." From the Pastor (December 1, 2019).
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, 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 © 2019 Father George W. Rutler
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