Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This past weekend has been a difficult one for many in our diocese. It marked the changes made, due to our pastoral plan, Ministry 2025.
I want all of you who are affected to know that I understand your pain and loss. This whole process has not been easy for many of us, but we must face the reality of fewer people and priests.
I thank you for your input and understanding. I hope and pray that those of you who transition to a new parish community are welcomed and appreciated.
Please remember that the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Sioux City must be centered on Christ and our love and devotion to him. Yes, it is difficult to let go of our place of worship, but our fidelity to Christ and the church is more important than anything.
My prayer is that we all remember that. Change is never easy. Let us take Saint Peter and Saint Paul as our examples.
June 29 marks the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, apostles and martyrs, and patrons of the universal Catholic Church. These two leaders of the earliest phase of the church’s history both worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel, preaching, baptizing, and ordaining throughout the Mediterranean world for three decades. They gave everything, including their lives, to follow the path of our Lord Jesus Christ. What great examples for us.
We know a great deal about St. Paul’s missionary travels, and his successes and trials, from his letters and from the Book of Acts. We can piece together a pretty clear time-line of his journeys, from his conversion on the road to Damascus until his death in Rome.
We can also discern much of his personality from his letters. His zeal, his dedication to knowing the Scriptures, his sense of humor, his overriding urgency in preaching the Gospel – all these are still quite apparent to us. And if, in our times of self-indulgence and political correctness, St. Paul is less appreciated as a witness to Christ, the fault is far more ours than his.
St. Peter we know less well, although his personality, too, is readily apparent in the Gospels. About his death, the story is told that he tried to leave Rome when Nero’s persecution was breaking out. He met a man on the road, and they paused to chat. When Peter asked where he was going, the stranger replied, “To Rome, to die for you a second time.”
Peter then recognized Christ and returned to the city to accept his martyrdom. It’s also said that, judging himself unworthy to imitate Christ perfectly, St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down. Perhaps these two anecdotes are merely pious fiction, but they are certainly consistent with the character of Peter in the Bible.
In different ways, both of these great evangelizers model for us how we can give better witness to our faith, every day. Our vocations are not theirs, nor our culture and experiences the same. Yet we can still imitate them and expect to see much good fruit from it. Here are just a few ways we can do so.
First, we need to grow in zeal for Christ and for souls. I don’t mean by this that we should become preachy or demanding or talk of nothing but church business all the time; that’s obsession, not zeal.
What I mean is that we should be filled with the simple desire to share the Good News of our faith. Mostly, this means simply living faithfully and forthrightly as a Catholic, without hiding our faith behind a veneer of shame or secularity.
The world does pressure us to hide our faith. It takes courage not to do so. We find that courage in the great love we have for others, that we want them, too, to come to know the saving power of Christ in the church.
Likewise, we need to have both humility and joy. Humility means seeing ourselves the same way God sees us – namely, as sinners, but also as beloved children.
God loves us so much that, even though we are sinners and can do nothing to deserve any gift from him, still, he keeps giving us blessings and graces beyond count. He constantly calls us back to himself, longing to forgive us and restore us to a true, saving relationship with him, through his church. Humility means that we don’t ascribe to ourselves the good things that God does in and for us, but give him the credit for each blessing.
In the same way, joy is the deep feeling of God’s presence with us, regardless of the trials we may be facing in this life. We can be quite unhappy about something and still feel joy. The martyrs frequently express joy even in the midst of their dying, because they know in the most intimate way that Christ bears their suffering with them. Being able to learn from our mistakes, and even to laugh about them afterwards, like St. Peter, are good signs of growing in humility and joy.
Zeal and courage, humility and joy, all propel us out of our safe and comfortable routines, to “be bold” for Christ. This boldness looks different for each of us.
For some it might mean volunteering as a catechist at their parish. For others, it might mean engaging strangers in conversation, in the hope that a few words of hope and faith could be shared. For others, it could mean offering to pray for someone, without being asked. For all of us, it means calling out evil and injustice and working to build a world on the foundation of Christ’s law of love and conversion.
As we all strive to imitate Saints Peter and Paul more devoutly and more fully, remember also that God is always pleased with even a little effort. In his goodness, he magnifies every little attempt to be or to remain in union with him in our soul, to share our faith with others, to grow in holiness, to invite others to the great banquet.
He has the power to bring our efforts to fruition. All of us have room to grow, but no matter who we are or how near or distant from Christ, whatever we give God will be used for the salvation of souls.
May God’s perfect and infinite grace fill your hearts and homes with every blessing in good fortune and with every consolation in suffering. Please pray for me, that I may be a better shepherd to all of you. Please pray for our priests and deacons, and all our parishes, as we continue to implement our Ministry 2025 plans.
Pray for humility and joy in this difficult transition, as Christ calls us to a new foundation for ministry in the future. I pray constantly for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City