by Fr. George W. Rutler
Saint Anthony, whose feast we recently celebrated, was an Augustinian canon in Portugal who joined the new Franciscan order in 1220, having been moved by the martyrdom of five Franciscans who had been beheaded by Muslims in Morocco. The year before, during the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis of Assisi narrowly escaped execution when he preached the Gospel to Egyptian Muslims who had killed about five thousand Christians a few days before in Damietta. Anthony went to Morocco but became gravely ill, worked his way home via Sicily, and spent the rest of his 36 years preaching a combination of loving patience and mercy with bold insistence on Christ’s truth and stern reproof of lax clerics.
This is to be remembered when many voices today equate doctrinal orthodoxy with “rigidity” and portray the moral demands of Christ as distant ideals, if not impractical encumbrances. Saint Anthony preached against the fanatical Albigensian heretics in southern France whose misunderstanding of creation denigrated marriage and family life while promoting abortion, sodomy and assisted suicide. They considered themselves more “spiritual” than Catholic “doctors of the law” and took Pharisaic pride in boasting that they were not Pharisees. Bold St. Anthony was not an “Albigensian-phobe,” and reasonable people now are not phobic when they tell the truth about mental illness dressed as “transgenderism,” borders open to illegal immigrants excused as hospitality, and denial of religious freedom adjudicated as social pragmatism.
The first Christians knew well the degrading course of systemic moral corruption (c.f.: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11). They would not have been surprised at how the Canadian High Court has modified certain strictures against bestiality, the government of Massachusetts no longer identifies femaleness and maleness as biological categories, people weep when a gorilla is shot to save the life of a human child, and a student in a major university is given a light slap on the wrist for violating a young woman while being complimented for his athletic ability. But they would have been astonished at the politically correct reluctance to identify the religious motivation of terrorists who massacre people. In 1951, General Douglas MacArthur said, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”
A cartoon some years back showed a Lilliputian looking at Gulliver and saying, “Either he’s very big or we are very small.” In the instance of Christ, it is not either/or: he is very big, and we are very small. But we need not remain small if by a spiritual awakening we “attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).