In early February, I was privileged to be one of the speakers at the Norwalk Catholic Club’s 122nd Annual Lincoln Dinner memorializing the nation’s 16th President. I was asked to offer a reflection on the Church.
It was a distinct honor to share the podium with Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, who spoke passionately of three challenges for the local Church arising from last fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, in which he participated, and with the noted historian and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, winner of The 2015 Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize and other awards for his book Lincoln and the Power of the Press.
Hal Holzer is a prolific author and one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era, but his theme for the evening was “Lincoln and Faith.” Let me summarize some of his informative and uplifting remarks.
Lincoln never professed membership in any religious denomination, was not a regular churchgoer, and was largely silent on the matter of personal faith. In his early years especially, he was a religious skeptic, and his “creed” could be characterized as secular and philosophical in nature.
Toward the end of his life, however, a noticeable shift occurred. Lincoln increasingly spoke and wrote in religious terms and acknowledged the existence of a higher power. The deaths of two young sons (Edward in 1850, and Willie in 1862, while Lincoln was in office) devastated him and his wife Mary. He more frequently articulated a dependence on God. Willie’s death, in particular, caused Lincoln to look to religion for answers and for solace. He suffered bouts of “melancholy” (depression), which intensified the anguish he felt as commander-in-chief in having to send so many enlisted men to their deaths as the war dragged on.
Lincoln was versed in the Bible and included scriptural references in his speeches and writings. In his second inaugural address, revered for its call to national reconciliation and to caring for those who had borne the burden of war, he also referred to the length and the severity of the war as God’s judgment on the nation, North and South alike, for its original sin of slavery.
“I have been driven many times upon my knees,” he wrote, “by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
All of us, pastors, parents, teachers, caregivers to God’s people in varied ways, can identify with these sentiments. We, too, are driven to our knees in prayer, carrying those we love and serve to God and to our gentle Savior in the nearness and intimacy of the Eucharist, for healing, for grace, and for mercy.
Prayer is vitally important for all of us. A loving relationship with God is the foundation of all we do and are as servants of the Gospel.
In This Issue
As we bring the “pastoral year” to a close . . . in the fullness of Easter joy, in the celebration of great solemnities and feasts, in seasonal rites of first sacraments, graduations, and weddings, and in the transition to summer Ordinary Time, may the Eucharist be your nourishment and strength!
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