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.
The stepbrother of William the Conqueror, Bishop Odo, was meticulous in observing canon law. Since a cleric was not allowed to “wield the sword,” he used a battle club. In the Bayeux Tapestry under the scene of him forcing his men into a hail of arrows, are the abbreviated Latin words: “Hic Odo Eps [Episcopus] Baculu[m] Tenens Confortat Pueros” which means: “Here, Bishop Odo, holding his club, comforts his boys.” Our altar servers might not find such comfort comforting, but the word—from which we get “fortress”—means to strengthen.
Thus, the Holy Spirit, sent by God to strengthen us with the seven spiritual gifts intensified in the sacrament of Confirmation, is called the Comforter. The equivalent, Paraclete or Advocate, means “one who stands by the side of another” to plead on his behalf in a court of justice (cf. John 14:16, 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, and 1 John 2:1). Note that this teaching comes from the Beloved Disciple, the object and bestower of singular tenderness. But he was not sentimental, for sentiment is love without sacrifice. John was strong enough to stand with Our Lady when the older apostles had fled the crucifixion.
Saint John says in his second letter, and reiterates in his third, that those who are not faithful to the truth should be separated from those who are. By so saying, he does not slip into sentimentality, and he foreshadows the dictum of Saint John Paul II in a general audience of Nov. 8, 1978, that “there is no love without justice.” Bishop Fulton Sheen earlier paraphrased it when he wrote: “Justice without love could become tyranny, and love without justice could become toleration of evil.”
Few words in all literature match Saint Paul’s hymn to love (1 Corinthians 13). But to cherry-pick Paul’s mailbag to the exclusion of what he says earlier is to caricature his exaltation of sacrificial love: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Had Paul demurred from telling truth to Caesar in hopes of bringing him to a happier frame of mind and parading with him on days festal, he might not have been beheaded.
These things came to mind as the Governor of Virginia was attacked from all sides for allegations of racism, an offense against human dignity, while his publicly avowed permission to kill babies born as well as unborn, has been nervously ignored. That governor, who is a pediatric neurologist, spoke with clinical detachment of “comforting” babies who have survived abortion until they are killed. He did not mean to comfort in the sense of Odo comforting his troops. Christians who are reluctant to invoke canonical disciplines against this, would not have happy conversations with the apostles Paul and John.