WILMINGTON, Delaware, FEB. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Although Abraham Lincoln didn’t officially profess a specific faith, he lived many of the Christian virtues, and in a particular way the Eight Beatitudes, says the bishop of Wilmington.
On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Bishop Francis Malooly issued a pastoral letter on the U.S. president, who he called “one of America’s greatest statesmen.” Lincoln served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until he was assassinated in 1865.
The letter titled “Mystic Chords of Memory in the 21st Century: Remembering President Lincoln on the Bicentennial of His Birth” was published Thursday in The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper.
The bishop noted that while Lincoln was not Catholic, nor did he belong to a particular denomination, “his speeches and writings contain some of the most profound thinking relating to religion that have been produced in this nation.”
“In his life we can see many of the classic Christian virtues,” said the prelate, noting especially the many ways Lincoln lived the Eight Beatitudes.
Bishop Malooly, a self-proclaimed “Lincoln buff,” said the president’s early years centered largely around the beatitudes “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
“When asked by his campaign biographer in the 1860 election to describe his early life,” the prelate recalled, “Lincoln replied that it could be found in a single sentence from Thomas Gray’s poetry: ‘The short and simple annals of the poor.'”
“Lincoln’s experience of poverty as well as the loss of his mother and sister while he was young forged wellsprings of strength and compassion that would be vital to his presidency,” added Bishop Malooly. “His simplicity, generous intentions and focus on the common good often helped him to discern effectively what was needed in a given crisis or historical crossroads.”
The bishop said Lincoln lived the beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” when he endured the many losses of his life, namely the death of his mother and sister, and then later as president he lost his son Willie.
“The huge burden of conducting the Civil War while mourning the loss of a son must have been overwhelming,” the Wilmington ordinary said. “Both he and his wife found solace in the midst of their grief by visiting wounded soldiers and comforting the families of soldiers who had died.”
As for the beatitudes “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God,” Bishop Malooly said Lincoln expressed those with his “gentleness, kindness and innate understanding.”
“Just by his presence and his understanding of personalities, he could heal hurt feelings and resolve conflicts with his empathy and good will,” said the bishop. “We, like Lincoln, are called to be instruments of the mercy of Christ’s heart and in moments of conflict in our lives to inspire people to follow paths of forgiveness and peace.”
According to the prelate, Lincoln lived the beatitudes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in his fight for the emancipation of slaves.
He highlighted the friendship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, “and their ongoing conversation that led ultimately to the Emancipation Proclamation.”
The bishop noted that with the election of Barack Obama, the first black president, “America has not completed its journey of providing justice to African Americans, but it was Abraham Lincoln who ensured that the journey would at least begin.”
Lincoln returned “good for evil,” said the bishop, noting in this way how he lived the beatitude”Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kind of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
“Lincoln was pilloried from thousands of vantage points during his presidency. He was ridiculed and caricatured in the press of his day in so ruthless a manner that it shocks even modern Americans,” said the prelate. “Yet Lincoln resisted the temptation to respond in kind. He knew the practical wisdom of returning good for evil.
“Nowhere was his generosity of spirit more in evidence than in the way he treated his adversaries. It was Lincoln who, when accused of not being aggressive enough in the destruction of his enemies, said sagely, ‘Am I not destroying my enemy when I make him my friend?'”
“Lincoln’s eloquence in both the written and spoken word, his moral force, political courage and direct action were critical to the dismantling of the institution of slavery,” Bishop Malooly added. “And he paid the price. This was the leader who, in the eyes of his contemporaries, died as a martyr for the nation.”
Bishop Malooly also touched on Lincoln’s “innate and subtle theological sense that deepened and become more profound as he led the nation through the Civil War.”
Pointing specifically to his second inaugural address, delivered just one month before he was assassinated, the bishop noted how Lincoln “reflects on God’s will and the mystery of Divine justice and mercy.”
“In language that resonates with Catholic teaching,” the bishop said, “Lincoln […] spoke of a just God, of a ‘God who planted the seed of liberty in us.'”
Bishop Malooly said the address also included one of “American history’s most inspirational expressions of Christian charity”: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
“President Lincoln was known for his magnanimity — that dimension of the moral virtue of fortitude that courageously embraces the challenges of pursuing the common good,” continued the prelate. “He was also magnanimous in repeatedly extending forgiveness to colleagues, rivals and antagonists. He had fortitude to stay the course and temperance to stay balanced. He acted justly.”
Bishop Malooly concluded the letter with a call for modern statesmen “who see widely and clearly.”
“Although the needs of our nation are many, more than anything else we need statesmen who recognize and respect all human beings without exception,” he added.
The bishop said he would pray that our current political leaders will “have the breadth of vision to come to see that all human beings from conception until natural death are precious in the eyes of God and deserve the protection of our laws.”
He concluded, “I will pray that we all act ‘with malice toward none; with charity for all.'”
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On the Net:
Full text: www.cdow.org/lincoln.html