Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your minds and hearts with his light and peace in this new year of grace 2015! A new year means new opportunities to deepen our love and relationship with Jesus. We make many New Year’s resolutions to try to be better in our worldly habits. We should certainly do at least as much to try to be better in our faith and spiritual habits.
In this sense, it is so fitting that, two Sundays ago, we made the transition from the Christmas season to the beginning of “ordinary time” with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As we recall, Jesus did not accept baptism from John the Baptist because he needed to be freed from sin, but because we do. By being baptized, Jesus made the water of our baptism holy and powerful. By the descent of the Holy Spirit at that moment, he made it possible for us to receive the Holy Spirit and to be joined to him and to the father when we are baptized. Thus, we are first set free from sin and death, and the path is opened for all of us to receive all the graces of the sacraments, so that we may live a life entirely in union with him and his holy will.
It is clear, however, that so many do not understand or desire that union. In every person, the kingdom of sin is at war with the kingdom of God. We are beset with all kinds of temptations, and often fail in our human weakness. If we do not turn back to Jesus Christ, seeking his mercy and forgiveness, our sins become more and more entrenched in our life and our culture. If we are not continually reconciled with God in the sacraments which he gave to the church, we will slowly drift further and further away from him. But his mercy is always greater than our sins, and he waits only for us to ask sincerely for his pardon in order to heal us again.
Especially at this time of year, and on Jan. 22, we recall with great sadness the terrible decision of the Supreme Court that legalized abortion 42 years ago. In this time, abortion has cost our country the lives, creativity, and ingenuity of some 56 million children, and a commensurate cost in the lives and health of mothers and families damaged or destroyed. This horrifying sin is now deeply engrained in our culture and has come to justify many other evils as well, such as euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research.
The idea that some human beings can be denied their inherent human dignity continues to deform our culture and our laws. We must reject this idea root and branch. It is totally incompatible with our faith in Jesus Christ, because we cannot truthfully hold, as we do in the act of abortion, that some people are not really people or savable, and at the same time that God wills all human creatures to be saved (see Ez 18:23, Jn 3:17, 1 Tim 2:4, etc.). There is an inescapable contradiction here. One idea must be false, if the other is true.
This is one of the basic reasons why our culture is becoming more and more hostile to every kind of Biblical faith, at least in the form of public and social commitments of faith. Those who are most committed to defending the abortion license are the same as those who most stridently decry public commitments of Biblical faith and morality. We see this, for instance, in the on-going fights over the Health and Human Services mandate and so-called same-sex marriage.
Abortion is, therefore, not only a grave evil in itself, and one that continues to take a terrifying toll on our country, our culture, and the rule of law, but it is also one of the largest obstacles to the success of the new evangelization. To the extent that a person is supportive of abortion, or in doubt about its true moral status, or willing to downplay its evil in order to focus on other social or political priorities, or even just passive about abortion, to that same extent, that person is closed to Christ. We will not experience the full fruits of the re-evangelization of our culture until we once again agree that abortion is an unacceptable act, both in people’s heart, and in the law.
Abortion is not just one evil among many. Its effects are far too extensive, far too costly, and far too caustic for us in the church to be of different minds about its priority. The reality is simple. If we defeat abortion, we will have a chance to win back our culture for Christ. If we fail to defeat abortion, our culture will die, and our country will become something new, and far darker and more violent.
Do not give up the fight. Be pro-life! Have compassion as well for those fathers and mothers who have chosen abortion for their sons and daughters. Pray for them, lead them to the mercy of God.
Especially, then, on Jan. 22, let us recommit ourselves to the light and the mission of Christ, who died so that we, and our precious children and grandchildren, might live “more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Let us reject firmly and wholeheartedly the great lie of our time, that one person’s life can be made better by choosing another person’s murder.
Let us embrace the great mercy of our Savior for our own sins, so that we may offer it to others longing for its healing. Let us pray without ceasing, and work in Christ’s peace and faith for an end to the ugly and heinous crime of abortion.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City