Father Rutler is Pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City. He is the author of twenty-five books and many essays, and has lectured widely at home and abroad.
Like the optimist who sees a glass of water half-full and the pessimist who sees it half-empty, people assess the times in which they live by their personality. Each age has had its crises, but the time in which we live seems especially fit to the description with which Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”
While other generations have known philosophical and physical conflicts, ours is conspicuous for an evaporation of moral certitudes by which good and bad are judged. Our Lord warned against pessimism (Luke 17:23), but he also cautioned against the deceits of false optimists who would caricature Christ to promote evil (Matthew 24).
The Catechism is clear: “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth” (CCC 675).
No cogent veteran of the last century, with its mega-villains, could deny the existence of Satan. But the Lord of Death and Prince of Lies employs his agents to kill babies, shatter families, corrupt priests, and mock the Church. Each modern economic, sexual, and artistic “liberation” has masqueraded as an “angel of Light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
In the fourteenth century Saint Bridget of Sweden predicted: “During the first part of (the Antichrist’s) reign, he plays more the part of sanctity; but when he gains complete control, he persecutes the Church of God and reveals all his wickedness.”
During the bicentennial of our own nation, the future St. John Paul II said in Philadelphia to a crowd not altogether paying attention: “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, between Christ and the antichrist.”
In dealing with “principalities and powers not of this world” (Ephesians 6:12), human politics and social reforms to fight them are as useless as a pea shooter. Spiritual combat begins and ends with worship of the one true God in His one true Church. The prime Antichrist hates that the most. Around the year 300, Abba Apollo said, “The Devil has no knees, . . . he cannot worship, he cannot adore.”