This is the third time this season that I am writing my Sunday sermon with a serious hurricane bearing down on South Florida. The devastation we have seen in the storms earlier this season, and which we have already seen in during the progress of Hurricane Jeanne should give deeper meaning to the passages we read on Sunday morning concerning the love of God in and of itself, and so that we may more deeply love our neighbors as ourselves. There have already been a terrible number of fatalities in the Caribbean islands, and a much greater number of people injured and left without the necessities of life. When the wind dies down, we must be ready to help one another to put things back together-in our neighborhoods, of course, but also in the places unable to rebuild on their own.
Please understand that this is an essential aspect of our Catholic Faith. Some things are voluntary in our religion-we may elect to enter the religious life or to remain lay people; we may elect to marry or to remain single; we may elect to live in some voluntary degree of self denial, or we may not. These are what we call “supperogatory works”-works over and above what is strictly required of us. But the second of the two Great Commandments is just that-a Commandment, and not a counsel or a suggestion. It is not one of those voluntary things, but something that we must do-almost as we must love God Himself.
But this morning I am going to ask you to do something else-to do something asked of us by Pope Leo XIII well over a hundred years ago. It is very simple: I am going to ask you to join me in saying the Rosary and in reciting the Litany of Loreto each day during the upcoming month of October-the month dedicated to our Lady’s Holy Rosary. We will do this each morning-the Rosary immediately before Mass, and the Litany immediately after-just as Pope Leo requested. I would ask you to attempt to do this with me in person, just as often as you find it possible to do so. And I ask that you join me even on those days when you are unable to attend holy Mass. There are some leaflets on the table in the back of the church which contain the Mysteries of the Rosary as well as the Litany-so when you are unable to be here you will be able to say the prayers wherever you may be.
We can see the reason for this prayer is pretty clearly spelled out in Pope Leo’s encyclical, Supremi Apostolatus Officio, which is printed almost in its entirety in the October Bulletin, and which was reiterated in the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, which we excerpted during August. Both of these holy Popes recognized the damage that was being done to souls and to God’s Church by the progressive secularization of Christian society-“the trials to which the Church is daily exposed; Christian piety, public morality, nay, even faith itself, the supreme good and beginning of all the other virtues, all are daily menaced with the greatest perils,” to quote Pope Leo.
Pope Pius XI wrote at the end of the First World War, with the hope of avoiding the Second. He hit the proverbial “nail on the head with the hammer” when he decried the “general desire that both our laws and our governments should exist without recognizing God or Jesus Christ.” He spoke of how Marriage was being deprived of its sacramental character, and being reduced to the level of a civil contract. He spoke of the danger of secularized education, taking children from their parents and returning them to the world with an education absolutely devoid Christian virtue. He spoke against the absurdity of societies forming their laws without any regard for the Divine Law.
Both of these Popes peered into the future with frightening accuracy. We now live in that secular society. Children are taught not to think (not just by the schools, but by our entire culture)-the television will tell them anything that secular society wants them to believe. Leaving God out of society left a greater” hole” in its fabric than anyone might have expected, for so much of our ability to think critically comes as a result of mankind’s attempt to know God and the things of God. And of course the knowledge of God brings morality along with it-something considered too inconvenient by the secularists.
The decline of marriage and the family may have been even greater than anyone could have predicted seventy-five or a hundred years ago. A well known candidate for the US Senate-a Catholic, I believe, with a classical Catholic education-was trying to explain why people of the same gender cannot marry one another. His reasoning was flawless, but it fell largely on deaf ears because so many of our fellow citizens have forgotten the Christian details of why men and women marry one another-even among Christians marriage is often a selfish and temporary contract based on nothing more significant than self-gratification.
One has to assume that men like Popes Leo and Pius were conscious of the effect that this plague of secularization would have on the Church Itself. Pope Saint Pius X, who ruled between the two of them, was explicit in his condemnation of modernism, which is essentially secularization within the Church-unfortunately he was not taken seriously enough-or perhaps, the proponents of secularism were stronger in the Church and the State than any of these men dared to imagine. Many of the people who have promoted secularism and modernism live very well indeed by the standards of the world.
In any event, I invite you to join me in fulfilling Pope Leo’s request for prayers to our Blessed Lady, asking her intercession to combat the terrible state of affairs which we find in both the Church and the State in our age. Together with Leo and many of the Holy Popes, we can be assured of the efficacy of her prayers-just as generation after generation of Christians placed their trust in her. She is the Help of Christians, the Refuge of Sinners, Our Lady of the Rosary, and any number of other encouraging titles which we can all hope to learn during this coming month of October prayer. She will not fail us as long as we don’t fail her.