Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Now that our Labor Day weekend has come and gone, summer is “officially,” as it were, ended. I do hope that all of you were able to rest or relax somewhat during these past months of fine weather. Our duties, of course, hardly disappear during the summer, and especially those of our Catholic faith, but many of us do manage to look to the time between academic calendars for a less hectic pace of living. My prayers have been with all of you, including with those who managed to travel for a vacation.
Now we have turned our thoughts to this school year. As parents and grandparents, we have made plans and arrangements to serve our children who are students. We have certain hopes and expectations for this year, for success and growth and health. All these are no doubt good.
I urge you also to consider the needs of your children and grandchildren to grow and be always better formed in our Catholic faith. Pray with them, take them to Mass and confession consistently, teach them to live rightly. Be models of what a great difference the love of our Lord Jesus Christ makes in your life. Children look first and most to you, their parents and grandparents, and will imitate what you model – either strong faith or indifference to it.
Likewise, as teachers, as priests and deacons, as catechists, so many of us are preparing to help you, parents and grandparents, to pass on a healthy, vibrant, meaningful faith to your children. Our parishes and schools exist to serve you. They cannot be what you are not.
When parents demonstrate by their actions that faith is unimportant, no amount of religious education, whether in the parish or in a Catholic school, will alter that lesson. When parents choose not to attend Mass on Sundays, no amount of religious education can provide the sacramental grace and the profound example that has been missed.
We send our children to school because we desire what is good for them. It does not matter what kind of school we choose, the motive is the same. We desire what is good for our children, and we know that education, and the worldly opportunities education will make available later in life, is a key part of that good.
Despite all that education can provide, our lives are empty and sterile without a personal relationship and friendship with Jesus Christ. Knowledge of the Lord is important, but real friendship with him makes all the difference in the world (and beyond!).
Therefore, I urge you always to keep a firm commitment to growing always in friendship with the Lord as one of the most important aspects of this year’s, and every year’s, “back to school” planning.
In the same spirit, the church throughout the United States will celebrate “Catechetical Sunday” on Sept. 17. The purpose of this designation each year is to highlight the importance of catechesis within our faith community and evangelization, both within and without. We also want to recognize the hard work of our clergy, religious, parish and school staffs, and so many willing volunteers involved in our various religious education efforts.
To all of you, I say thank you. Your ministry of catechesis is so valuable in the life of our church. Please know that your time and effort are appreciated.
As I’ve just pointed out, you parents are the first, and the most influential, educators and catechists for your own children. Your model, your committed witness, is the foundation that everything else is built on in your children’s life and journey of faith. Only you can set that foundation, the “why” of believing, if you will.
But what gets built upon that foundation is the work of many hands. It is here that the ministry of catechists in our schools and parishes best complements your own teaching as parents and grandparents. The content of faith, the “what” of believing, can be built up more fully and securely, and indeed more attractively, by the work of many catechists together, year after year. And the “what” is more likely to be understood, retained, and made their own by our children, when parents’ own witness has given a profound answer to the “why,” the difference Christ makes in our lives.
This process of example, attraction and more gradual catechesis is the same in the case of adults coming to the Catholic faith. The holy and joyful example of clergy and catechists, including friends and coworkers, who have made Christ known and attractive by how they live every day, sets the foundation in this case. The teaching of the content of faith to adults in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or similar programs still needs some profound answer to the question of why believe at all. Let us never be afraid to witness to the truth that is Jesus.
May the blessings and graces of almighty God fill your hearts, your homes, and every aspect of your ministry in the coming year. Please pray for all our students, whether children or adults, and especially those who will be receiving any of the sacraments this year. And please pray, too, for all their catechists. All you who serve as catechists in any capacity or level, including parents, and also especially our volunteers, know of my prayers and my gratitude.
Thank you for all of your prayers for a speedy recovery after my knee replacement surgery. For those who have had this surgery, you know that continued physical therapy is painful, but necessary. I know this firsthand now. The good news is that as I continue to recover, I can follow the Denver Broncos as they begin another season of football. I know they will do well this year.
May God’s abundant blessings be upon you and all your loved ones.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City