Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to embrace your hearts and lives, with all his blessings and mercy. Thank you, especially, for all the prayers offered for my recent knee surgery. My recovery has been proceeding well, and I am beginning to resume a more active schedule. I am very grateful for all your support, and I pray also for all of you and your needs.
It’s so important that we continue to pray for all of our needs – not only our spiritual needs, for deeper conversion, stronger faith, and more open hearts to receive God’s boundless love for us, but even for our worldly and material needs. These, too, are God’s gifts, and he certainly wishes us to make full and holy use of all his creation.
And if it remains true that we may only do so with “toil” and with “the sweat of the brow” (Gen 3:17, 19), it is no less true that God greatly desires to “establish the work of our hands” (Ps 90:17). Even in the most basic, material realities, it is not we ourselves who succeed and achieve, but God who, with his blessings and abundance, brings forth the fruits of our work.
Especially in our overworking and achievement-oriented culture, this can be a very difficult lesson to learn. We want to believe that we are in control, that our good choices and committed efforts, by themselves, can bring forth the fruits at which they aim. We imagine that God leaves us to our own devices when things are going well. We do not seem to need him, so we do not practice turning back to him.
So then, when things go badly (as they inevitably do), we do not know how to turn to God and we imagine him still to be distant from us in our suffering. Hence, the all too common responses of anger and despair at even the slightest adversity in life.
A good habit of prayer is essential for overcoming these misguided ways of seeing the world. Prayer humbles our pride and makes us more united with the will of God – which is always for our good, and ultimately for our salvation to heaven, but the path is often not one we would choose for ourselves.
Prayer teaches us to see the good in following God’s will for our lives, even when it’s hard. Prayer increases our capacity to love, so that we can be more responsive to the needs and sufferings of others. Prayer fills up our reserves of patience, forgiveness and forbearance, so that we are less quick to become frustrated and angry when we don’t get our way. Prayer teaches us to listen to the voice of God, and therefore also to other people, so that we don’t just talk past each other. Prayer teaches us to “do good and avoid evil,” so that in our daily efforts, God has, as it were, more to work with in bringing forth good fruits for us and for others. In short, prayer is the unique bridge between what we do, who we are and the good God wants for us.
For example, our ongoing efforts in pastoral planning, Ministry 2025, will not be successful apart from the foundation of prayer. Our aims – namely, more dynamic parishes, better liturgy, more vocations of all kinds, deeper faith and Catholic identity, more intentional evangelization and discipleship, and ultimately the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls – are not achievable by working harder, but only by our willingness to follow God’s will.
We ourselves are the biggest obstacle to renewal, in our pride, stubbornness and lack of charity for each other. But going deeper into prayer can open us to receive grace to cure these problems and allow God to bring forth the fruit desired by our labor, the renewal of our Catholic faith and Church in Northwest Iowa.
Most of our parishes and clusters are now in the process of writing their initial three-year pastoral plan to begin working toward the goals of Ministry 2025. As you know, or can imagine, each of these plans requires a great deal of prayer in their formulation. They will require even more prayer in carrying them out, in establishing the priorities of which needs to tackle first and which later, in recruiting and forming people for new ministries, in evaluating what’s working and what isn’t, and finally, in renewing them again in three years. All of this prayer belongs to each one of you as parishioners.
And so, as ever, I urge all of you to take up again the committed journey of Christ’s disciples, into prayer. Please pray diligently for all these needs, divisions and hopes in our diocese, for the holiness of our clergy, for all the many needs and injustices in the world, above all for each other.
Know that I pray every day for all of you and your needs and hopes. May God hear all our prayers and bless us with all the fruits he wills to give us.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City