It seems that Labor Day was just yesterday and here we find ourselves at Thanksgiving and the beginning of the “holiday season.” In the first place, I am grateful for all of you at Thanksgiving — you who are my brothers and sisters in the diocesan family. We are indeed a family, and the members of a family do not always get along perfectly. But, we are still family in Christ, and no one of us, myself especially, should ever forget that. And so we live and move forward together in gratitude, precisely the way every family does and must.
With the economic crisis, this Thanksgiving brings a situation where we may not be able to be grateful primarily for material blessings. Thanksgiving seems to have a history of gratitude for the gift of freedom that we enjoy as Americans, but also of gratitude for our material blessings. Many in this past election season cast their vote on the basis of the economy and, therefore, concern for material blessings. Perhaps the economic crisis of our time is meant to teach us to look for other things to be grateful for at Thanksgiving. Perhaps gratitude for family life, for health, for safety, and, above all, for growth in faith, can take precedence this Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving is a time for a special examination of conscience on the part of each one of us, for all those gifts for which we are called to be grateful. This Thanksgiving is a time to realize that our sentiment of thanksgiving can survive material hardship by the grace of Jesus Christ. Let it be so!
Comments on the election
Secondly, I would like to reflect on the results of the most recent presidential election. Each of us are both Catholic and American. As Americans, we should pray every day for President-elect Obama, in the hope that he will be a strong and successful leader of our country. It would be very inappropriate for any American not to wish the president well or not to pray for his strong and successful leadership, for the betterment of our country.
But, even before the social reality of our being Americans, comes the supernatural reality of our being Catholics, born by the waters of Baptism into the family of Christ’s Church. Therefore, the truth of the natural law, of reason itself, and of our faith, requires us to enter into dialogue with our new president about those concerns which for us are certainly most basic. President-elect Obama has himself invited us to enter into dialogue about matters where we may disagree and indicated his hope for collaboration — which is our hope as well.
Many Catholics, including some priests and bishops, voted for President-elect Obama because of their concern over war and peace, over addressing poverty and the needs of those who suffer injustice, and over other similar issues. These issues are real, they are very important, and they are issues which Catholics must take very seriously.
On the other hand, President-elect Obama has stated, more than once, his very strong pro-abortion and pro-choice convictions, which he has promised to put into practice in his administration. No one that I know of is in favor of war, or poverty, or injustice. People of good will can, and do, disagree about whether a particular war is just, and about how to address the issues of poverty and injustice. On these issues there can be some disagreement among those people of good will who follow the dictates of reason. However, there can be no disagreement among those who call themselves Catholic about three particular issues.
Certain rights define person, society
The right to life itself is the foundation of all other rights. If the unborn are not allowed to see the light of day, then no other rights are available to them at all. Unborn babies, killed in the womb, will never even have the opportunity to come to understand the so-called right to choose. In terms of civil rights, they are the most innocent and the most vulnerable to be deprived.
Once one is alive, the second most important human right is the right of religious liberty. Religious liberty means that one is free to live so as to secure his or her eternal salvation. Nothing is more important in this life than our freedom to pursue eternal life. This life passes away rather quickly. And the life to come is eternal. For those who wish to follow their conscience and pursue eternal life, no right in this life is more foundational — except the right to life itself.
Thirdly, the freedom to marry and to build up the family in accord with God’s plan is foundational to human society. This plan, which from the beginning of human history has been clearly perceived, even by those of no faith, consists of one husband, one wife, one lifetime, with openness to children.
Taken together, these three freedoms, or rights, define the human person and a human society in a way that no other rights really do. The human person and human society have survived many wars, have survived many instances of poverty and injustice in the world — as unfortunate and undesirable as those are. The human person cannot survive the violation of the right to life, the right to religious liberty, and the right to marry (as opposed to any false claim to a right to redefine marriage).
Thus, these are issues that we as human beings and as Catholics must feel compelled to address to President-elect Obama. Will he stand with us in protecting life, from conception until natural death? Will he stand with us in protecting religious freedom and conscience protection for people of good will, who have a right to that protection? Will he stand with us in protecting the definition of marriage? We certainly hope and pray that he will!
Following up is our obligation
Those Catholics, including priests, bishops, and consecrated religious, who voted for President-elect Obama made a certain judgment in doing so. Their judgment brings with it an additional obligation. Catholics who voted for President-elect Obama must make it clearly known to him, one way or another, that they oppose his promises to enact the Freedom of Choice Act, which would remove any and all restrictions on abortion, restrictions that have been the hard work of people of good will ever since Roe vs. Wade. Those Catholics who voted for President-elect Obama must make it clear that they want him to uphold conscience protection according to the needs and the hopes and the aspirations of each individual, and that they expect him to defend the definition of marriage.
A vote for President-elect Obama for a Catholic has brought with it special obligation and a need to follow up. This follow-up could take the form of a phone call to the White House, or a letter to the president, or a letter to one’s senators or congressional representatives. The one who is silent gives consent. I have no doubt that it would be sinful for someone who voted for President-elect Obama to be silent in the face of these three concerns, which are rooted in the first place in human reason, and in the second place, in our faith.
And let no one say that we are trying to force our faith on President-elect Obama, or on our country — we are simply asking that the convictions arrived at by human reason, which bring about the flourishing of humanity, are precisely what his administration ought to promote.
Please take your responsibility, if you voted for President-elect Obama, to followup with a promise of your prayerful support for his leadership as well as a serious expression of your concerns. As all of us strive for holiness, this follow-up for you is a major step along the way, and it is my responsibility as bishop to let you know that. I would also encourage all Catholics, on Thanksgiving Day, to please make every effort to attend Mass and to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, in a particular way, that the Freedom of Choice Act (or similar legislation) will never become law!
Again, Happy Thanksgiving — may your Thanksgiving be a special moment of life and love with your family and loved ones. Thank you for reading this. Praised be Jesus Christ!