Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco addressed on January 13, 2010 a free will defense of abortion by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House:
In a recent interview with Eleanor Clift in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 21, 2009), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about her disagreements with the United States Catholic bishops concerning Church teaching. Speaker Pelosi replied, in part: “I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have the opportunity to exercise their free will.”
Embodied in that statement are some fundamental misconceptions about Catholic teaching on human freedom. These misconceptions are widespread both within the Catholic community and beyond. For this reason I believe it is important for me as Archbishop of San Francisco to make clear what the Catholic Church teaches about free will, conscience, and moral choice.
Catholic teaching on free will recognizes that God has given men and women the capacity to choose good or evil in their lives. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared that the human person, endowed with freedom, is “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 17) As the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, makes so beautifully clear, God did not want humanity to be mere automatons, but to have the dignity of freedom, even recognizing that with that freedom comes the cost of many evil choices.
I was inspired to transfer my brain goo to the computer screen over the last couple of hours. Here are the results. Here’s to a more fruitful discussion.
I haven’t talked extensively about why I rejected atheistic communism and made my way back to Catholicism. There were a number of reasons; being shown the logical and moral bankruptcy of materialism, the corruption I personally witnessed in the movement, the fact that I could never bring myself to really embrace any of the tenants of the cultural agenda, and so on. The idea of fighting for anything in a universe that did not, and could not care about the outcome of human events could no longer captivate me. I suppose some people are able to convince themselves of the possibility, even the certainty, of “goodness” in a reality that owes nothing to consciousness and will; to me, such a belief, no matter how comforting, would be a lie. And I cannot live a lie.
This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.
As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening aspect of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that can or should be done about it?
I had a pleasant surprise yesterday morning as my family and I were readying ourselves to go out of town to see a movie. Flights of several hundred geese in their V formations flew over the town of Dwight, Illinois, heading south and honking their heads off. This was at 8:00 AM and no doubt some of the citizenry who had made merry on Christmas did not find all the honking welcome, but I thought it was delightful and awe-inspiring. Dwight is not on any major migratory flight paths for geese, so this was a rare event. As I do whenever I see something in nature that inspires awe in me, I quickly thought of the Creator of nature, and I mused that after celebrating the Nativity yesterday, God deigning to become part of Nature, this sight reminded me of the delight that God takes in His creation, and why He marks the sparrow’s fall, and the honking of a goose.
On this Thanksgiving I’d like to convey my heartfelt thanks to my brother Nathan (currently overseas – prayers requested) and all those in service. I am forever conscious of the sacrifices they make on behalf of our country, including much time spent away from their loved ones.
God bless, God speed — and may you all enjoy such a welcome home.
The song is called Magnificent by the musical group U2. It was a minor hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States in A.D. 2009 (and a major hit in Greece).
Some entrepreneurial YouTuber recreated the music video and turned it into a pretty decent contemporary ‘Christian’ music video. The music video now celebrates the Triune God, the Eucharist, of course the love of God all coupled within a strong Pro-Life message. There’s even a guest appearance of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI!
(Biretta Tip: Meg)
Chivalry to me is the call for men/boys to respect women/girls even if they apparently don’t respect themselves, or even aggressively market themselves as mere sex objects. The visual hardwiring for males is tough to short-circuit since it is there for some very excellent reasons- but a boy in-training to become a good man, must develop the capacity to say “No” the same as for the girls- and he must learn to divert his eyes rather than feasting on the nearly ubiquitous female forms in various stages of undress parading by our senses. It is no wonder that St.Paul said it was better to marry than to burn, and Jesus laid out some very high standards when He said that lusting for a woman in your mind was adultery- pretty clear advice from someone whose opinions form my own.
I know that girls who don’t have close and affectionate relationships with their own fathers will act out sexually at earlier ages to try to fill in a spiritual hole in their hearts. I hope that with my own girls I can reinforce their beauty and worth in the world by showering them with my attentions, my hugs and kisses, and all the verbal and non-verbal affirmations of their excellence and my love for them- with the added bonus of giving all praise and glory to God for them as gifts to me and their mother and the world. They should never have to feel that they “need” some sexually-charged teen to give them the idea that they are special and deserve physical and spiritual affection from a male in their life. I hope and pray that this gives them some invisible support to make the correct choice to wait until marriage for the very special gift of their physical selves to another.
The zeal for living that my 1 year old son exhibits inspires me. He wants to explore everywhere, he is so quick to find something hilarious, he loves craziness, and he cries with passion whenever he sees his sister crying. One word keeps coming to my mind when I just look at the faces of my kids- Miracle. They keep growing and changing, but this thought keeps coming at me- they weren’t even in existence just a few short years ago- but now I can’t imagine the universe without them. They started off life as something so tiny they couldn’t be seen without a microscope- now they are undeniably eternally significant forces of life and love.
There is one major area of Catholic social doctrine concern, that is consistently overlooked in all the liberal v.conservative American arguments. The proper nature and responsibility of the “Political Community”. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church lays out a comprehensive set of teachings and a blueprint for such interests. I am going to start the process of slowly offering the official Compendium quotations- not just proof-texting a sentence here or there. I believe that a real and profound commitment to these teachings will leave both liberals and conservatives something to seriously consider, and may help to form a unique Catholic worldview, which is something mainstream American politics so desperately needs right now.
I’ve noticed some of the com-boxers talking about morality and obligation recently, and I think it deserves a closer look.
There are many atheists, agnostics, deists, pantheists, etc. who reject the idea of a God that creates moral standards, and then judges us according to those standards because to them the idea is simply reprehensible, incompatible with the moral wisdom humanity has supposedly attained since the Enlightenment.
Christopher Hitchens and others have compared God to Stalin and Hitler, a mad and petty dictator who demands complete and unconditional obedience and worship on pain of eternal suffering. Such a monstrous tyranny is incompatible with any sensible notion of good. Even if God did exist, one gets the idea that these folks would consider it the highest moral duty to follow in Satan’s footsteps and declare, “I shall not serve”.
Hands down the most moving inaugural address in American history is the second inaugural address given by President Lincoln, little over a month before his death. It is short, to the point and powerful. It is also the most important theological document written by any American President. Here is the text: