Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Continued Easter blessings and Easter joy to all of you and your families!
In today’s edition of The Catholic Globe, you will see some new assignments of priests. These changes were unexpected, and I appreciate your patience and prayers. I am also grateful for the priests who understand and are so willing to serve where they are needed. Please continue to pray for all our priests and deacons who play such an important part in our pastoral planning.
It is with great joy and anticipation that I look forward to the ordination on June 3 of Deacon Andrew Galles and Deacon Matthew Solyntjes. Please ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and bless them with grace as they prepare for their ordinations to the sacred priesthood.
We have been celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, the great Paschal Mystery of our faith, for nearly 40 days. Do we experience this unheard-of joy in our life? Do we know what difference it makes for us and live wholly according to this profound call to grow in holiness?
The next moment in the story of our salvation is our Lord’s Ascension into heaven, 40 days (Acts 1:3) after his resurrection from the dead. St. Luke’s specificity in this regard is why we still refer to “Ascension Thursday,” even though for convenience we transfer the celebration of this solemn feast to Sunday. I encourage you to spend a little time on Thursday, May 25, praying and reading about the Ascension, to mark the proper day devotionally, and to prepare for Sunday.
In my own pondering on this feast, I have come to see three ways in which it makes a difference to us. First, by ascending into heaven, our Lord proved what he had said to Pontius Pilate, that “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). He did not remain in this world to build some sort of Catholic empire, as if our perfection and final home could be found here, in this life. He went to be completely with the Father. This is our destiny and call, too.
Certainly we should work for what is good in this world, but all worldly goods, by definition, are finite. The final and highest good which God wishes for us is total communion with himself, perfect and infinite love. This highest good, in its incorruptible fullness (see 1 Cor 15:53), cannot be had in this world. We too must follow Christ to heaven in order to receive in fullness what we now receive in part and in promise.
Second, since our Lord ascended bodily into heaven, and not merely spiritually, he proved our faith in “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Therefore, our flesh, our body, also is received as a “very good” gift of God.
In his perfect love, he intends that we should live bodily in this life, in such a way that we rejoice bodily, and not merely spiritually, in the next. And moreover, Christ’s risen body is perfected and glorified – no longer subject to its natural weaknesses of mortality and corruptibility.
So too, he promises, will ours be (see Jn 14:2-3). We can therefore face the inevitable sufferings of this life with greater courage, because we know that, if we persevere by God’s grace, all such sufferings will pass away.
Third, Christ promised that when he ascended, “I will not leave you as orphans” (Jn 14:18). He himself remains with us spiritually and also very tangibly in the word of God and in the sacraments – especially in the most holy Eucharist.
By ascending, he is personally closer to each of us than if he were still in the world, far off somewhere in the Middle East. And he sends us the Holy Spirit, the comforter, who is also personally present to each one of us, dwelling within our heart from our baptism and our confirmation.
God, with the greatest possible love, mercy and patience, arranges all things for our good and for our salvation, in the world and in the church. He calls us to follow the path marked out by Christ, his beloved Son, whose sacrifice on Calvary and in every holy Mass makes possible our redemption.
He sends the Holy Spirit to live within each of us, to strengthen us with his seven-fold gifts. And he gives us the gift of the church to provide us with all the spiritual nourishment we need on this pilgrimage back to him.
Our response to this love and call must be to say yes! And this “yes” means that we love him and our neighbor as he loves us, and we obey his commandments as Christ obeyed the Father.
Do not be afraid to say yes to God! Our priests do that every day and all of us are called to do the same. It is part of the paradox of faith that this journey seems hard when we look at it from the outside, but so easy and joyful when we actually walk the path.
Please pray for me, and for each other, just as I pray for all of you, that the grace of God may bring all hearts to deeper conversion and a more generous acceptance of his holy and perfect will.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City