God comes to us often in obscurity, through unexpected events and persons.

Fr. Rutler’s Weekly Column

January 9, 2020

Luke the Evangelist is the patron saint of artists because he paints pictures with words. In describing the scene of old Simeon in the Temple encountering Jesus, Luke wrote that he “took him up in his arms” (Luke 2:28).   That word picture of an old man holding a forty-day-old baby, reminds one of the 1490 painting by the master Domenico Ghirlandaio, of a grandfather and his grandson embracing. The old man is anything but beautiful, save for his smile as he gazes at the angelic boy.

The grandfather’s problematic nose is “warts and all,” as the bleak Oliver Cromwell instructed his own portraitist, Samuel Cooper. For noses, it competes with that of the vaudevillian Jimmy Durante who, incidentally, was married in 1921 in our sister parish of Holy Innocents.

That juxtaposition of old age and youth bonded by love is the “leitmotif” of the encounter in the Temple. But by what power of perception did Simeon recognize the infant Messiah? You might ask the same of the seventeen-year-old Saint Joan of Arc when she entered the Chateau of Chinon in 1429 and recognized the disguised future King Charles VII.

Good teachers discern potential in the classroom, like Saint Albert the Great seeing in his student Thomas Aquinas, mocked as a “Dumb Ox,” a future Doctor of the Church. But to discern the Messiah in diapers requires heavenly help, since prodigy is not greater than divinity.

God comes to us often in obscurity, through unexpected events and persons, rather than through celebrities. Famous people come and go, often through the passing of fashion. In the second century, Plutarch compared the celebrities of his Roman days with the heroes of classical Greece; but who today remembers Cleomenes, whom he matched with Camillus, or Philopoemen compared with Poplicola?

There are natural intuitions, such as Saint Albert recognizing in the clumsy young Thomas Aquinas the future Doctor of the Church. But Simeon and his accompanying prophetess Anna, like Joan of Arc, had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit.

Albert Schweitzer was a hero of my youth and one of the most revered figures of the day. Now he is as remote in present consciousness as Jimmy Durante. He left us an image of the Messiah that Simeon would have understood:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Father George W. Rutler

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5 Responses to God comes to us often in obscurity, through unexpected events and persons.

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    So true. The obscurity in each of Fr Rutler’s example is a great point! That I could have those visions in all I meet would help me immensely!


  2. carlos10101 says:

    Saint Peter’s eyes were likewise opened to recognize our Lord as the Christ. One can’t help but also call to mind the travelers on the road to Emmaus during the breaking of the bread.


  3. Dear Father Rutler,
    God bless you and may He continue to bless you to do His will on earth as in heaven! I was just talking with a sister of mine early this morning about this very subject of how we are given many such opportunities and I indeed have had this happening in my personal life profusely and knew without a doubt that God was giving me actual messages and help to see my way on the very path which I walk here on earth. He doesn’t only beckon to us but guides us always if we will only take heed and watch as well as listen to all the opportunities He provides to us, so we not stumble but move forward in our life mission to serve Him and be ever so faithful to His will. Those monumental humblest human Icons like “Thomas Aquinas” or “Joan of Arc,” were chosen but they too paid close attention as Joan even when so young to God’s subtle messages being provided and we know what great good it did in her case!
    I just wrote a Blog relating to this idea along with some others recently that are attuned to this overall subject of enlightenment and I’m including the most recent about “Hope” and also “My Imitation of Christ,” here for anyone that is interested to please take a look and perhaps our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ is reaching out through your Blog and our shared words to others who just need that message or those tidbits of information to shed light upon their paths! I hope and pray this does some good for someone. Amen.
    Thank you dear father,
    Brother in Christ Jesus,


  4. PS I spoke with my sister first thing in the morning then this article of yours appeared in my email notices which is a testimonial to what we are discussing here without doubt! Thank you Jesus. Amen.


  5. This blog link is to my most recent blog that came about by several converging factors which I see clearly were directed by God. Hopefully this will be clearly seen as another example of what this blog is about.


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