October is usually a good month for weather in Chicago. It is always a good month in the Church, because it begins with commemorating a popular saint who is a doctor of the church and patron of the missions: St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Right after her feast on Oct. 1, we turn to our guardian angels; these days, we especially are in need of the protection of the angels and the providence of God. On Oct. 7, the church celebrates the feast that makes October the month of the rosary. It brings us back to God’s protection of his church through the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary at the sea battle of Lepanto in the 16th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, Our Lady of Fatima asked that the rosary be said daily by those who would ask God for his protection and for peace in the world.
The rosary takes as much time as one chooses to give it, depending on whether one emphasizes the words of the prayers themselves, the mysteries we are invited to contemplate or the personal intentions one brings to the time in prayer. The goal of prayer is always to conform our desires and our will to what God wills for us. People often ask for rosaries, particularly if they have been blessed by the pope. I am always glad when I am asked for a rosary, especially if it will be used for family prayer.
This past Oct. 3, I was in Washington, D.C., with our Superintendent of Schools, Sister M. Paul McCaughey, O.P. We and many others from the Archdiocese were there because the National Catholic Educational Association had chosen to give me an award named in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the patron of Catholic schools. I am pleased that the Catholic schools of the archdiocese have again been nationally recognized. Many of them are given awards for excellence and achievement, but the Seton award given to me is really an acknowledgement that our Catholic school system as such is one of the best.
It’s not hard to be supportive of our schools. The children in grade schools regularly score well above their peers in national tests. If, when leaving elementary school, they go to a Catholic secondary school, 97 percent will graduate and 86 percent of the graduates from high school will go on to college. More important than academic achievement, however, is the personal formation made possible in a community shaped by faith. Our schools are safe places. Metal detectors are not necessary, and there is no graffiti. The children are loved and cared for as children of God, about whom they are free to learn. Our schools are oases of intellectual and religious freedom in a society that more and more determines what one is free to think and speak and how one can exercise what we believed to be our constitutional right to practice our religion publicly.
In recent months, governments at both the federal and state levels have moved to restrict religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The most obvious example has been to treat the Catholic Church as a discriminatory organization because we cannot in principle agree that relationships based on same sex attraction and activity are the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage. We have watched this unfold in relation to child foster care and adoption in Illinois, and we are watching it unfold in the courts as the administration has begun to attack the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional because it must be based on bigotry (see the letter by Archbishop Timothy Dolan to President Obama on Page 8). At the time of the passage of the Health Care Reform Act, the bishops protested that it would mainstream abortion funding and did not protect individual and institutional conscience. The regulations now proposed by the Health and Human Services Department do, in fact, run roughshod over conscience. Unless changed, they will force Catholic health care facilities, Catholic Charities and other Catholic institutions to secularize themselves or close. The National Labor Relations Board has taken it upon itself to tell the church which institutions are Catholic and which are not, according to criteria of their choosing, ignoring these institutions’ self-identification and history as religious. All of this is, I believe, part of a deliberate attempt to divide the church and limit her public presence and action. In the long run, as history teaches us, a secularized culture, one in which religion has no right to express its faith and mission publicly, becomes a society in which the state, not God, is supreme. If there is a threat to separation of church and state in our time, it comes not from the church but from the government entering into spheres where it does not belong.
Government a generation ago crossed the boundary between what it can legitimately decide and what it has no right to determine when the Supreme Court effectively decided that human life was of no public or legal value until a child is born. For a generation, respect for human life from conception to natural death has been preached and supported by the Catholic Church. Since 1972, October has been Respect Life Month, when the church calls on Catholics to promote and teach the truth about human persons. The heart of pro-life activity is reflection in faith on the various attitudes and technologies that make killing seem a solution to both personal and social problems. Organizations that bring such reflection into public conversation are found in each diocese. Our own Respect Life Office offers many resources, and they enrich the mission of the church in the archdiocese. For decades in our state, Speak Out Illinois (speakoutillinois.org) has been an effective coalition of pro-life groups, working on many levels to protect life and undo the harmful effects of abortion.
Often it is women who have experienced what happens in an abortion who are the most helpful to other women tempted to see the killing of an unborn child as a necessary solution to their problems. The theme for Respect Life programs this October is, “I came so all might have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Unfortunately, the intolerance so often exhibited by pro-abortion groups has now poisoned public conversation on many moral issues in our society.
Pope Benedict, speaking two weeks ago to the German parliament in Berlin, reminded the legislators in his own country of what St. Augustine said long ago about the Roman Empire: “Without justice, the state is a great band of robbers.” October is a good time for reflecting on the truth of these words. God bless you.