Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the blessings of this Lenten season fill your hearts with grace and deeper love for our Lord Jesus Christ. In my last letter, I reminded you of the basic purpose and program of Lent, that of preparing for the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, so that we can become (and remain) more closely united to him in his saving paschal mystery. Especially by the renewed discipline of prayer, fasting, and works of mercy, we seek to unite ourselves to him.
“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tim 2:11). Dying the “death” of Lenten penance in our little and practical self-denials, we hope to be saved from the much greater death of not being known by him at our judgment (see Mt 7:23).
It should be clear, then, that these penitential actions of Lent cannot remain merely exterior observances. Certainly we enact them with our bodies, but even more importantly, we must desire in our hearts and in our souls what they signify, namely, turning away from all that does not please God, and “taking up our cross to follow him” (Mt 16:24). The works of Lent are empty rituals (see Mt 23:27), if they do not help us to turn more fully and truly toward Christ.
Can the things of this world save us? God made them “good” and “very good,” and when we use them according to his will, they are indeed blessings and joys for us. Yet they cannot unite us to God, nor bring us to heaven. Nor can they speak the truth for themselves or protest when we abuse them, using them contrary to God’s will for sinning, as we so frequently do. Only Christ can save us, and that only if we love him more than we love the things of the created world.
One of the most important opportunities of Lent, then, is to go to confession. In the sacrament of confession, in the most spiritually intimate way, Christ comes to us with the power of forgiveness of sins and restoration of perfect harmony with him and with the church. All he asks of us is the humility and trust of young children for those who love them (see Mt 18:3).
Recently, I saw a video on the internet, of a baby born deaf, hearing for the first time with the aid of an implant. When she heard her mother’s voice, she broke into a smile of such wonder and love! It was very touching to see. Should we not respond to Christ’s healing grace in the same way? In our sins, we are cut off from God in much the same sense as this baby was cut off from experiencing her mother’s loving voice.
In receiving forgiveness in confession, we perceive the reality of God’s infinite love for us anew and are rejoined to him within the embrace of the church. So then, go to confession! We all need it!
Next week, on Tuesday, March 14, in every parish or parish grouping of our diocese, there will be an opportunity to go to confession. This is our annual “The Light is On” campaign. You can find a full list of locations and times at your local parish, or on our diocesan website at www.scdiocese.org/the-light-is-on-for-you/.
Of course this will not be the only opportunity, as many of our parishes offer multiple penance services, especially during Lent — but why wait?
I urge you to continue to make good use of this season of Lent, growing in faith and love with our Lord Jesus Christ! Let us continue to pray for each other.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City