My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A recent Google™ search on the Internet for the name “Matthew Shepard” produced 11,900,000 results. Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old college student who was savagely beaten to death in 1998 in Wyoming. His murder has been called a hate crime because Shepard was gay.
A similar search on the Internet for the name “Mary Stachowicz” yielded 26,800 results. In 2002, Mary Stachowicz was also brutally murdered, but the circumstances were quite different. Mary, the gentle, devout 51-year-old Catholic mother of four urged her co-worker, Nicholas Gutierrez, 19, to change his gay lifestyle. Infuriated by this, as he later told police, he allegedly beat, stabbed and strangled her to death and then stuffed her mangled body in a crawl space in his apartment, located above a Chicago funeral home, where they both worked. I know about Mary Stachowicz, not from the Internet, but personally, because Mary was my secretary at the parish where I was pastor before becoming a bishop. She worked part-time at the funeral home and part-time at the parish. One afternoon, she didn’t show up at her usual starting time. This was unusual because she was always on time. A call to the funeral home disclosed that her car was still in their parking lot and her purse with her car keys was still at her desk, but there was no sign of Mary. As Mary’s family and friends prayed and worried about her disappearance, Gutierrez prayed with them. Three days later, her mutilated body was discovered in a crawl space in his apartment.
Both murders were senseless and brutal, and I condemn them both unequivocally. However, the fact that there are over 11½ million more Internet stories about Matthew Shepard than Mary Stachowicz indicates where popular sentiment lies today on the question of same-sex relationships. Shepard’s story has received such widespread attention because his homosexuality was the chief motive for his murder. Mary’s murder has been widely ignored by the media, despite the fact that she died as a martyr for her faith.
My point is that, in the light of popular opinion today, I recognize that we have an uphill struggle to persuade people of the reasons why homosexual activity is sinful, why same-sex relationships should not be legally recognized as marriages, and why chastity is virtuous.
The advocates of same-sex marriage are pushing hard for legal recognition of marriages between gays and lesbians. This past Aug. 4 a federal judge overturned California’s voter-approved initiative banning same-sex marriage. The ban was passed in November 2008 with the support of 52 percent of those who voted — over 7 million people. Yet a single judge in San Francisco has decided that he knows better.
Last month, a federal judge in Massachusetts overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that it is unconstitutional to define marriage only as a union between a man and a woman. This question will probably end up at some point in the U.S. Supreme Court, but that is not too reassuring because the U.S. Supreme Court is the same body that ruled in the 19th century that African-Americans are not fully human and also determined in 1973 that unborn babies are not human life deserving of the protection of the law.
Our human jurists just don’t always get it right. That is why God asks of human judges in Psalm 82, “How long will you judge unjustly and favor the cause of the wicked?” That is why we too must have the courage to speak up for God’s truth even in the face of a hostile culture. That is why our Catholic schools are so important in transmitting our Catholic faith and our moral values to our children.
We seek God’s help to put his truth into practice in our daily lives and in our society. But we cannot do so relying only on our own human abilities. We need God’s grace. The Catholic Church is an instrument of God’s grace to help us do what we cannot do alone.
A resource of the church to provide such help is called the Courage Apostolate.
Earlier this month I celebrated Mass at the Courage/EnCourage Conference that was held at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. The Courage Apostolate ministers to those with same-sex attraction and helps to provide the spiritual support needed to develop an interior life of chastity. Encourage is a prayer and support group for parents and family members of those struggling with same-sex attraction. With the assistance of Father Peter Harman, pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, I plan to start a Springfield Chapter of the Courage Apostolate here in our diocese.
Traditionally in the church, we have sought the graces of God and his divine assistance through the intercession of the saints, whose mediation we seek as patrons beseeching God on our behalf. That is why I started this column telling you about Mary Stachowicz. I said that Mary died as a martyr for the faith. As such, I believe that she would be a worthy candidate for official canonization as a saint by the Catholic Church. Her death as a martyr for the faith means that a miracle is not necessary for her official beatification or canonization. However, even a martyr of the faith does not enter the church’s official martyrology of saints without the promotion of her cause, and the promotion of her cause requires a group of people who recognize her Christian sanctity and pray not only for the official recognition of her sainthood, but also pray through her intercession for assistance in obtaining divine favors.
I invite you to offer this prayer seeking the intercession and canonization of Mary Stachowicz as a saint: “O merciful and loving God, you made your servant Mary Stachowicz pure of heart and devoted to chastity; listen, we ask you, to our prayers and, if it is in your divine plan that she be glorified by the church, show us your will, granting us the graces we ask of you, through her intercession, by the merits of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.