Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Fr. Rutler
As with last year, Rev. George Rutler — pastor of the Church of Our Savior in New York City and well-known author — gave the opening speech of the Portsmouth Institute’s annual conference, although this year, his wasn’t a lone Thursday speech, limiting his audience, but a fully attended Friday morning affirmation of anticipation.
Introducing Fr. Rutler, writer Edward Short made much of the shared Anglican beginnings of the speaker and the subject of this year’s conference, Cardinal John Henry Newman. The recently deceased founder of First Things journal, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, also began as an Anglican, as I recall. It needn’t be a slight against mainline Protestantism to note these high-profile conversions as evidence that the Roman Catholic Church excels in acknowledging and fostering the habits of intellectuals.
(The remainder of Fr. Rutler’s speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)
Joining that observation with my initial musings at the conference’s beginning — having to do with my religion’s understanding that everything in human society, notably religious structure and wealth, can point toward a spiritual undercurrent in life — one can’t help but marvel at the comprehensiveness — the catholicity — of the Church. Intellectual habits can also bore down to that flowing well of internal peace, although as with structure and wealth, it must be cultivated in right order.
The tragedy (although that may be too strong of a word) is that such blessings are difficult to convey to the young, and modern society certainly doesn’t encourage the accumulation of wealth, for example, on the grounds that it helps to create an environment conducive to contemplative strolls. If that were more a point of emphasis, perhaps more young adults would follow other paths toward the same ends, whether intellectual, charitable, or religious life.
There’s ever hope, though, I suppose. I think of Ryan Bilodeau, who had been an active and well connected young Republican activist in Rhode Island and is now well into the seminarian’s procession toward the priesthood. In conversation, last year, he made clear that the possibility of an intellectual life, with the space for prayer and deep consideration, in proximity to the incomparable context and content of God, was an attractive part of such a life. Indeed, it is.
On a tangential shoot of this notion of an accessible current, running through and beneath society, I note that the moderator of Fr. Rutler’s question and answer period, Vincent Millard, referenced the priest’s staying at Millard’s house in Little Compton, the town directly south from my home in Tiverton. Little Compton comes up, from time to time, with a surprising number of connections to national scenes — particularly with a conservative bent. Having gotten myself lost on the rural byways of the town a time or two, it’s not difficult to see why successful people of various professions would take up residency there. Once again, though, I find I’m hovering on a fringe, in a neighborhood more properly seen as a suburb of urban and deteriorating Fall River, Massachusetts. (Where, I recall, Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton once mentioned staying.)