No Longer Mary’s Land (February 2012 Reflections)

Maryland provided the fertile soil from which the seed of Catholicism in America sprouted, flourished and spread across the nation.  It was founded as a haven for Catholics to practice their faith uninhibited; where one of the first acts of the first settlers was to celebrate Mass; where the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence – Charles Carroll of Carrollton – resided; where the bishops met in 1884 to create the Baltimore Catechism which became the primary text for educating youth for some 80 years; where the first native-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, established the first Catholic school in the nation.

The glorious history of its religious leadership in America reflects Maryland of the past.  Today, the soil is rancid.  For several decades, too many Catholics let their faith go unnourished, and let the materialism of the world take precedence over their spiritual heritage.  Presently, only 72 percent of Catholics nationwide are certain there is a God; only 56 percent consider religion very important in their lives; only 42 percent attend Mass at least on a weekly basis.

The result is that currently Maryland has one of the highest rates of abortion in America, 50 percent above the national average; allows the killing of children in the womb to the point of delivery; has tolerant regulations regarding abortion facilities and those who perform abortions; has attempted to enact restrictions on pregnancy care centers; supports through state appropriations embryonic stem-cell research; and where a legislative priority of the governor is to legalize same-sex marriage.

The soil must be rejuvenated through governmental, social and spiritual efforts so that the culture of the state can once again be hospitable to the dogmas, doctrines and practice of the Catholic faith.   This will take an all-out effort by everyone and every organization that is concerned about the sanctity of life.

All is not lost, however.  There have been a few recent favorable actions.  On January 13, 2012, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published draft regulations that would require abortion facilities to meet standards similar to ambulatory surgical centers, rather than as doctors’ offices.  While aimed at improving the quality of health care for women, many abortion facilities may be hard pressed to meet these requirements and close.

Another recent event was the arrest of late-term abortionist Steven Brigham, who is indicted with eleven counts of murder resulting from his abortion practice in Elkton.  This is the first time that an abortionist has been charged with a capital crime under the state’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act enacted in 2005, which may deter others from performing late-term abortions.

In addition to governmental action, the hearts and minds of people must be changed to support life at all stages.  One effort of the Knights of Columbus in Maryland is the erection of Cemeteries of the Innocents as potent visual reminders of the effects of abortion.  These displays usually consist of 721 crosses, which is about the number of children aborted nationally every hour in a 40-hour work week, since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973.  It also is the number of children aborted weekly in Maryland.  Since the cemeteries were begun in 2004, over 200 have been displayed in various parts of the state, often along heavily traveled roads.

Another important action is to provide prayerful, public witness before abortion facilities.   The Knights of Columbus supports, and many Knights participate in, national movements such as 40 Days for Life and Life Chain, as well as local gatherings.

Pregnancy Care Centers are often one of the first places that a women with an unwanted pregnancy turns to for assistance.  To strengthen these front-line facilities, the Knights in Maryland have created linkages between the centers and its local councils to help provide the assistance the staffs may require.  Among other means of assistance, the Knights are donating ultrasound machines to some of the centers, as they recognize the tremendous effect an ultrasound image can have on a woman’s decision to choose life.

Although the fight for life is being waged in a secular world, it is really a spiritual battle.  Prayer is critical.  Without a strong spiritual effort, the rest will not be successful.  Hence, the Knights conduct monthly pro-life Masses throughout the state, encourage prayer services in connection with three circulating icons of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and are instituting a major campaign to say the rosary for the unborn, among other activities.

Catholics who were youngsters in the 1950s or before, living in urban areas, such as Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago, were raised in a culture that supported the faith on virtually every front.  Catholic schools were plentiful and inexpensive; churches were well attended; parish organizations would boycott local stores that displayed salacious magazines; nuns in habits were common; priests would visit homes to bless them; restaurants and eateries would advertise non-meat meals on Fridays; and even the vocabulary of the young was sprinkled with Latin phrases as most boys became altar servers.

While we do not expect this social environment to return in our lifetime, a culture based on Christian principles can exist.  When churches are once again an integral part of community life, people regularly attend religious services, family is given primacy over individual well-being, and marriage is considered indissoluble and allowed only between one man and one woman, the nation will be developing a collective conscience in line with Christian principles.  This will guide the way people think, act, and conduct their lives, both privately and publicly.  Then, leaders in business, the media and government — and others who make economic and political decisions in conformity with the general ethos of the people — will operate within a Christian framework.  And Maryland may once again be Mary’s Land.

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