delivered by the Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair
Bishop of Toledo
St. Francis De Sales Church, Toledo,
on the occasion of a Mass celebrated in Prayer for Religious Liberty
June 8, 2012
A very sad thing happened at our Cathedral last weekend. On Sunday afternoon, June 3, it was discovered that the beautiful outdoor statue of Our Lady of Grace that stood at the center of the garden behind the Cathedral was desecrated and vandalized by unknown persons. This must have happened sometime Saturday night or Sunday. What is especially distressing is that before being broken off its base and toppled, the marble statue shows signs of having been struck by some heavy object to disfigure Mary’s face and hands.
An act of mindless vandalism? Or of a deranged person? Or an act of contempt for religion or hatred of the Catholic Church and her teachings? Perhaps we will never know. The statue was large and very heavy. Nothing else on the grounds was touched. I had a feeling that this was not the work of kids.
I do know this much—that looking at the image of the Mother of God prostrate in the dirt amid broken pieces brings sorrow to the soul. On Sunday evening I went out to the back porch of my house to say a rosary in reparation for what had happened. From where I sat I would normally have seen the statue of Our Lady, where now only a green void amid the plants of the garden.
As chance—or Providence—would have it, a young man wandered into the yard just at that moment. He was at the Old West End Festival that was taking place in the neighborhood over the weekend and wanted to take a closer look at the Cathedral. We struck up a conversation and I learned that he was from China, and that he was a Catholic from a village in northern China that had been Catholic for a long time. He told me that his uncle, a priest, had fled to the United States as a young seminarian when China fell to the communists in 1949, and that his home village once had a beautiful little church that the Communist government eventually destroyed.
After a pleasant half-hour he left, and with our conversation still in mind, I reflected on his story. I thought of how the United States has always been a haven for faith, for religion, as it was for his uncle and so many others. Then I looked at the image of Mary on the ground, now willfully broken by unknown human hands. Could this be a symbol of a sea-change in what has always been our land of faith and freedom? Does it tell us something of what people of faith can expect, of what Catholics can expect, in days to come?
Let us hope not, and let us pray not, but let us all remember the great lesson of our nation’s founding fathers, that the price of liberty is vigilance.
We are here today, as a prayerful and vigilant community of faith, as Roman Catholics, because we love both our faith and our country. We are here because in an absolutely
unprecedented way the federal government is demanding that, individually and corporately, we act against our consciences, against the teachings of our faith. Others may go their own way. Others may claim the right to redefine morality and God-given truths about the human person, but we remain firm in Christian moral teaching that is as old as Christianity itself, teaching that prohibits us from facilitating or providing sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. We cannot, and so we will not.
If this were the only thing challenging our constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom, the situation would be bad enough. But it not the only thing.
The Catholic Church is also being driven out of federally funded humanitarian services for the victims of human trafficking because we will not provide or refer women for contraceptive and abortion services. The Church is being driven out of adoption services, thus far in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the State of Illinois. Why? Because we will not place children with same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabitate, because we believe that a real marriage with a father and a mother is the proper home for a child.
The redefinition of marriage is an ominous threat to religious freedom. In Canada the government recently mandated gay-straight alliances for all Catholic schools. And in today’s news the Danish government passed a law ordering the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark to perform so-called gay marriages. Do not be fooled into thinking that such things cannot happen in the United States.
In Alabama state law now makes it illegal for a priest to baptize undocumented immigrants, to hear their Confessions or confer on them the Sacrament of the Sick. In Connecticut the Judiciary Committee of the state legislature tried to force a civil restructuring of Catholic parishes to conform to a congregational model that is contrary to the Catholic Faith. In California a religious student group is excluded from recognition by a state university only because, as a religious group, it limits its leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.
These are just examples of a growing phenomenon. And time does not permit us to consider the discrimination, hardship, and even death and destruction that is being visited on people throughout the world, especially Christians, as a result of religious persecution.
I urge all of us to take the time the time to educate ourselves about what is really going on in our country and the world, and then to commit ourselves to prayer, fasting and action in upholding religious freedom. I include fasting, because Sacred Scripture shows us time and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, that prayer accompanied by acts of penance and self-denial is especially pleasing in the sight of God.
In the gospel for this Mass we heard Our Lord speak of the “necessity to pray always without becoming weary,” without losing heart, because God “will secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.” He will not be “slow to answer them.” “He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” But Jesus also asks: “When the Son of Man
comes, will he find faith on earth?” How important it is to remain strong in faith and the prayer of faith.”
I began by speaking of a vandalized statue of Mary Our Mother. Let it be our earnest prayer that as American citizens and Catholics our religious beliefs will not be trampled and violated like that statue, that the great principle of religious freedom on which our country is founded will be vindicated and upheld, and that people everywhere will be allowed to enjoy the same freedom.
Only then will the vision of Isaiah in our first reading be fulfilled: “…the desert will become an orchard and the orchard be regarded as a forest. Right will dwell in the desert and justice abide in the orchard. Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security. My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places.”
Let us conclude with the prayer for religious liberty published by the U.S. Bishops:
Almighty God, Father of all nations,
for freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless You for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties.
By Your grace may we have the courage to defend them,
for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our Patroness,
and in the name of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with Whom you live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.