Fr. George W. Rutler
It is astonishing how the saints have dealt with challenges and difficulties similar to ours, regardless of differences in their cultures. Consider some whose feasts are this week. St. Juan Capistrano was born in Italy in 1386 and became a prominent lawyer and governor of Perugia when only 26. In his generation, three men claimed to be Pope at the same time; the bubonic plague wiped out one-third of the population, including nearly half of the clergy; the Italian city-states, as well as England and France, were at war with each other; and Islam was threatening Europe. Having become a Franciscan friar, and a very international one before the ease of jet travel, he preached in Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Russia. Always a man of action, he joined ranks with the Hungarian general John Hunyadi and engaged the Turkish army, against massive odds, at Belgrade in 1456. As the seventy-year old friar led the charge on horseback, his only weapons were a crucifix and the banner of St. George. His dramatic victory saved our civilization, though he died shortly after from infection.
St. Anthony Claret was a Spaniard of Catalonia in the nineteenth century. The scholar started a huge library at Barcelona to remedy widespread ignorance about the Faith. In the revolutionary period of 1849 he sailed to Cuba, reforming clerical life, establishing a seminary and regularizing 9,000 marriages. While building a hospital and numerous schools, he inaugurated credit unions for the poor, provided vocational instruction for disadvantaged children, and modernized agricultural methods, working as a farmer in addition to his episcopal duties. Having established the first religious order for women in Cuba, he denounced racism and improved the prison system. Called back to Spain in 1857, as confessor to Queen Isabella II, he established a museum of natural history, a scientific laboratory, and schools of language and music. In the revolution of 1868 he went with the Queen into exile where he continued missionary work in Paris, dying in France of exhaustion.
Last Sunday, the anniversary of the “miracle of the Sun” in Portugal in 1917, Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary before a vast throng in St. Peter’s Square. On the same day, 522 martyrs killed by left-wing anti-Church forces in the 1930’s were beatified in Spain. This exceeded even the 492 beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Many in our day remain sympathetic toward the martyrs’ persecutors and objected to the beatification. While others vaguely allowed that they were “martyrs of the twentieth century,” Pope Francis was specific: they were “martyrs killed for their faith during the Spanish Civil War.”
While “New occasions teach new duties,” in the words of James R. Lowell, saints ancient and modern serve their Lord against the same Foe:
“Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”
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