Hear the Word

It can be disconcerting to watch the ranks of people walking along the city streets with wires in their ears, oblivious to the lives being lived around them, and tuning in only to what they choose to hear.  It is surprising that more of them are not run over by taxis, but even if they met so mean a fate, the music would still go on in mechanical mockery. A father recently bemoaned the fact that the iPod had “deprived” him of his teenage son. That is the son’s fault, but it is also the father’s fault. As Christ is shepherd of our souls, using rod and staff to guide us — the rod to knock us on the head when we are in danger of straying and the staff to gently encourage us — so is a parent a shepherd of the young, and sometimes the rod must smash the iPod, but never without the staff gently urging the youth along the right path.

This is easier for me to say since I have never been the father of a teenager, and there are those who curiously and inexplicably list this among the sacrifices a priest must make. A pastor, of a parish, though, is entrusted with the care of a flock as a father, and the Pope himself has a very large flock and is to them not a Holy King or Holy President, but a Holy Father. In the singular economy of the Church, a man may be a father to those older than himself and as old as himself, as well as to those younger. In the confessional, no one has to calculate one’s age in relation to the confessor before saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” And when the rod must be used, those who need to be tapped into moral consciousness may object at first, but on the Last Day they will be thankful if it saved them from going off a cliff.

So we have the maxim, “Spare the rod,  spoil the child.”  Those who quote the Bible without reading it, often assume that the line is scriptural, though it was coined by the seventeenth century Cavalier satirist Samuel Butler in his narrative poem, “Hudbibras” which mocks the Roundheads, Presbyterians and Puritans.  The line is perfectly consistent with the Book of Proverbs which speaks of ‘rod discipline’ six times, and the New Testament is in concord: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him: for who the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges” (Hebrew 12:5-6).

In the politicized diction of gender neutral translations, we would say sons and daughters:  “If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons (and daughters) but bastards.” (Hebrews  12:8)

On occasion, our present pope has been required by the One whose Vicar he is, to wield the rod according the demands of his lofty office, and must take heroic virtue when it is not instinctive to his gentle nature. Had discipline been more evident in the practice of mercy in previous decades, the rod would be lighter now. Instead, a world of spoiled children, even among consecrated Religious,  rallies the perpetual adolescents in the media to support them in their crusade against reality.   The rod without the staff would certainly be a battle-axe, but the staff without the rod would be a weak crutch. St. Paul was not the father of a child, quite in radical departure from the rabbinical code in which he was reared, but he became a father of many churches, and as such seems to be speaking to himself when hewrites: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instructions of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

The Good Shepherd says that “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his sheep by name” (John 10:3). Like the father excommunicated from his son by the iPod, God Himself can be blocked out of our consciousness if we hear only our own voice, living in a “virtual reality” sustained by the imaginings of the ego. Jesus told Peter “Tend my lambs. . . Feed my sheep . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17).  The sheep are those who hear God but need encouragement. The lambs are those who seem to have blocked out God, Who continues to call to them. Once they have been brought to consciousness, sometimes by the shock of crises in life, which can strike like a rod, then God leads them with His shepherd’s staff into green pastures and“restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).

Spiritual mortification is our inner attempt at contacting God without the interference of disorderly passions. There will always be outward distractions when we pray, but there are also willful distractions rooted in self-absorption, that can only be overcome by discipline, and the spoiled soul has lost the art of such self-control.  Just to take a domestic example,  it is not unknown that someone will actually answer a cell phone during Mass. Unless God is on the other end, this is inverted prayer. The personality type that lets a machine interrupt worship  has excommunicated its self through the agency of self-uncontrol.

Now prayer is conversation with God, and it is often difficult for us because, by misuse of free will, we can “put Him on hold.” When we do not answer, God leaves us a recorded message through the words of the Scriptures, the pulse of the saints and the songs of Liturgy. The Latin word for deaf is surdus, and man does become an absurdity to his very self when he willfully listens only to himself.  Aquinas hymned “Sedauditu solo tuto creditur,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins translated: “How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed…” When the dying St. Stephen said he could see the Son seated at the right hand of the Father, the mob covered their ears in a simulation people listening to iPods.  But one of them listened.  Later on the Damascus road, he was dazzled by what Stephen had seen.  When St. Paul was converted, he said: “You also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians1:13).

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Steve

    Societies the world over don’t go down the tubes if the Church is doing Our Lord’s work.  So what is wrong?  The Popes since the Council have decided that the emphasis is now placed on the wants and needs of man instead of God.  The mainstream of the Church has moved so far to the left, that we see the current Holy Father as a hopelessly outnumbered force for orthodoxy.  In reality, Pope Benedict is a liberal Catholic who places ecumenism above all else.  Even at the expense of a healthy and thriving Catholic Faith.  In vain did Our Lady of the Rosary come to Fatima with God’s offer for peace and the salvation of countless souls!   

  • CD

    Evidently Steve feels that his judgement surpasses Our Lady’s.  Startling.

  • Tour

    DOCTRINE teaches the unchangeable truth. Never changes. Newly found truths can be added under Jesus’s guidance, and then never disappear, e.g. Mary is mother and virgin. DISCIPLINE can and may sometimes change, e.g.  eating no meat on Fridays. Discipline comes from Church leaders. Our religion started when Adam started life; he recognized God. So did Eve. Through disobedience they lost paradise, were driven in the world. Over many years, no longer being in Paradise, some peoples lost their believe in God. But troughout times, some Jewish people kept the true teachings. Some Jewish leaders added their own wrong laws. God the Son chose to be born as a Jew(Christ) to open heaven, and to correct the law where some ‘leaders’ made mistakes. This made some leaders furious, wanted Him death. Later came the name ‘Christians’. Later,to tell the difference, we got Protestants(still Christians) and the continuing Roman Catholics, who continued the belief in God, creator of Adam. These now have their headquarters in Rome. While DOCTRINE never shrinks, DISCIPLINE got a weak time of obedience(1963). A group of true R.Cs. is the “Fraternity Sacerdotale of Saint Peter” (FSSP).They got the Pope’s permission to do only the Tridentine(Latin)Mass as before 1963; also done by some other Orders. I, and others, drove every Sunday 40 km to their Latin Mass;  I can not drive anymore. In 2011, another Canadian parish(in Winnipeg) returned to the Latin Mass.They keep increasing. Demand the use of communion-rail. Please, return to receive on tongue, never in hand. 

  • Tout

    My mistake:  ‘Tout’,  not  ‘Tour’

  • Nel

    Says Steve: “Societies the world over don’t go down the tubes if the Church is doing Our Lord’s work.  So what is wrong?” 

    Um… ever heard of ‘free will’?  What about ‘concupiscence’? By your logic, if the Church somehow does things ‘right’ (apparently you have divine knowledge of what that is), then the whole world will be some kind of heaven on earth. 

    But many people do Our Lord’s work and the people around them don’t become saints, but remain obdurate sinners (Mother Theresa didn’t turn Calcutta into a bastion of Catholic faith and fervor, though she did the Lord’s work a lot better than most people).  Many parents raise their children in the faith, only to see those children decide to turn away from the faith: sin attracts, they choose sin.  It is free will. 

    The Lord Himself did His Father’s work, and the very people he was sent to redeem, for the most part, rejected him and went on their merry way, eventually killing him.  I guess you’d have to give Christ failing marks and write off the whole apostolic era of the Church, since Christ’s own society ‘went down the tubes’ in 70AD when the Romans destroyed the temple and dispersed the Jews.  If he hadn’t been so darned ecumenical, sending his disciples out to convert the whole world, I guess Israel would have been united instead of destroyed. 

    Our Lady of Fatima was not the first ‘prophet’ sent to a wayward world.  Prophets are notoriously poor at getting results – or haven’t you notice the pattern in the Bible and history and even in the modern media, when people call for good sense and reform, and no one listens?  Free will, concupiscence – not the failure of the Church. 

    Blaming the Pope for the free decisions of concupiscent human beings is as silly as blaming the the obstetrician when your three-year-old puts beans up his nose;  it’s as silly as blaming the president of a country for all economic problems in the country, as though one person could control the actions of all, if he just ‘did his job’.   Even if the Pope were standing behind me right now, urging me to repent and be saved, he could not coerce my will and force me to be saved. 

    Your logic does not hold.  It is simplistic and unrealistic.  It insults the pope, but at the same time, by saying ‘the Church’ is not doing its job, you insult every hard-working, faithful, life-sacrificing priest and religious, every lay Catholic individual and organization, every holy housewife, every God-fearing father, every prayerful old man or woman, every pro-life worker, every Catholic writer, educator, every missionary, every Catholic doctor or nurse or youth worker, every simple Catholic loving God, trying to be obedient, and do his job in a spirit of loving service… every faithful Catholic doing his or her best to build up the kingdom in his or her sphere, perhaps known only to God. 

    CD, Steve’s judgement doesn’t just surpass our Lady’s, it seems to reach unto God Himself.

    • Steve

      “In the Third Secret is foretold among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church, will begin at the top.”  -Cardinal Mario Luigi Ciappi, 1991

      Cardianl Ciappi was Papal Theologian serving Pius XII through John Paul II.