Dear Friends in Christ,
We the People have spoken, and the 44th President of the United States will be Barack Hussein Obama. This election ends a political process that started two years ago and which has revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a “Culture War,” by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards as a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state. Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president. We must also take note of the fact that this election was effectively decided by the votes of self-described (but not practicing) Catholics, the majority of whom cast their ballots for President-elect Obama.
In response to this, I am obliged by my duty as your shepherd to make two observations:
1. Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.
2. Barack Obama, although we must always and everywhere disagree with him over abortion, has been duly elected the next President of the United States, and after he takes the Oath of Office next January 20th, he will hold legitimate authority in this nation. For this reason, we are obliged by Scriptural precept to pray for him and to cooperate with him whenever conscience does not bind us otherwise. Let us hope and pray that the responsibilities of the presidency and the grace of God will awaken in the conscience of this extraordinarily gifted man an awareness that the unholy slaughter of children in this nation is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good. In the time of President Obama’s service to our country, let us pray for him in the words of a prayer found in the Roman Missal:
God our Father, all earthly powers must serve you. Help our President-elect, Barack Obama, to fulfill his responsibilities worthily and well. By honoring and striving to please you at all times, may he secure peace and freedom for the people entrusted to him. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.
As a person of faith, I've always had a fondness for elements of the Catholic religion. Being born and raised in the Catholic enclave of New Orleans I'm not sure that it would be possible for me to feel otherwise. That's why Father Newman's letter bothers me. It simply isn't anything like the Catholic Church that I grew up around. The Catholic Church that saw was not only tolerant, but also inclusive. One could be Catholic or non-Catholic and they'd still be treated with respect.
When I think about it, I shouldn't be surprised that VanGoghGirl has expressed so much interest in becoming a Catholic. As a child, she spent many, many hours at the Catholic church on campus. The Newman Center, as it's named, was the host of almost all social events for the International Student's Organization. Every month or so, it hosted a get-to-know-you-better social event where students of a particular faith tradition would serve food and anyone could come and meet students and faculty who were adherents of that faith. The Muslims had a turn. The Hindus had a turn. The Baptists had a turn. Plenty of non-religious student organizations used the center to host their events, too. The Newman Center was also the place where my mentor Professor Mackie Blanton (the organizer for UNO's yearly Muslim-Christian Dialogue) started up a local Start The Adventure In Reading site that bussed in second and third grade students from economically-disadvantaged areas so that college students could serve as free tutors for these kids who were showing signs of falling behind in their studies.
It was a wonderful place. You could steal in a mid-day nap, watch television, cook up a feast in the kitchen, grab a cup of coffee, meet new people. It was a great place for me to study after I picked VanGoghGirl up from the pre-school next door. Studying at the library was an impossibility because you can't reasonably expect a toddler to sit in a chair and be silent for hours at a time. However, at the Newman Center, she could run around the first floor and talk incessantly to the priest while I was able to get some homework and studying done.
The church, under the direction of Father Burney, never tried to dictate to us what we should believe about God and what we needed to do in order to have a relationship with our Creator. Father Burney never asked me about my religious affiliation or political views even though he freely and regularly talked to us students about what he believed. I remember having conversations about Mary Magdalene, St. Therese, St. John the Baptist and so many other saints and religious figures from different religions.
Once, a student started talking about how they came to believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and carried on a sexual relationship with each other. The student was telling us all about the books he had read that led him to that conclusion. I felt like the student was trying to show disrespect for the priest and the priest's church. I wasn't a Catholic, but to push the issue while we were guests at the church just seemed rude, at the very least. I thought that Father Burney would be angry about what the student was saying. It was certainly offensive to me.
I tried to get Father Burney to explain how it simply wasn't possible for the son of God to do such a thing. I was dumbfounded when Father Burney said that, even if it was true, it wouldn't change how he viewed Jesus. I think that answer made me just as confused and frustrated as the comments expressed by the student. Now that I'm older, I can see that Father Burney defused what could have turned into a very contentious conversation that really wouldn't have been reflective of the sort of place he wanted the center to be. It was a place where we could grow at our own pace and, over the years, that's exactly what we did. It was Father Burney's patience and wisdom that made the church a place where I wanted to spend hours upon hours.
As I looked at the letter from Daisy's church, I reminded myself that her priest doesn't own the church. This is also Father Burney's church and when I compare the two, I know which priest best reflects the attributes of the Creator that the Catholic Church helped me learn how to love.For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.