Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Happy Easter! May the joy and grace of our Lord’s resurrection continue to fill your hearts. This is the core of our Catholic faith: that our Lord Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, died on the cross as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, offering himself to the Father to take away the sins of the whole world. He also rose from the dead on Easter morning, breaking the power of sin and death over us. Through the church, to which we belong because of our baptism, Christ continues to offer to all people this saving faith, and that communion with him in this life, which leads to full, perfect and eternal life with the triune God in heaven.
The resurrection pours out on abundance of mercy to all who are open to receiving it. This same mercy brings to life all the ministry of the church – liturgy and the sacraments, prayer and devotion, catechesis and evangelization, family life and every area of service. Every member of the church has a role to play in living this mission, each according to their vocation and state in life. All of us together, therefore, help Christ pour out his mercy “on the whole world.”
This is why the Second Vatican Council renewed and clarified the “universal call to holiness.” Every one of us, all the baptized, no matter what our position in the church or in the world, is being constantly called by God, out of his pure and infinite love, to be fully united to Christ. God wants us to be holy, so that he can save us and use us to save others.
It’s crucial to remember that “holiness” is not perfection – that awaits us in heaven, after we have, like Christ, been transfigured by our own bodily death and resurrection. As Pope Francis has reminded us in his recent exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and be Glad”), holiness in this life happens within, not outside of, our daily living, with all its struggles and challenges. To be holy means simply to be close to Christ, and to remain firm and committed to living his life in us.
In order to respond to this loving, divine invitation, therefore, each of us must do three things. First, we must cultivate within our own heart the virtue of humility. Humility means the ability to see ourselves as God sees us, namely, as beloved but sometimes like wayward children. The measure of God’s love for us is his Son’s passion. We should never forget how much he loves us and never despair about sometimes falling into sin.
We cultivate humility in many ways – growing in prayer; devotions to Christ (for example, his Sacred Heart, or as just recently we did, his Divine Mercy); imitation of the saints, especially Mary and Joseph, so perfect in their humility, and most especially in charity and service and hospitality. And the easiest way to do such acts of service is to put down the smart phone or tablet that constantly occupies so much of our attention and pay attention instead to the people that God has put in our lives, especially our immediate family members and closest friends. Serve and welcome and love them every day and imitate thereby Christ’s perfect humility.
Second, we must embrace our vocation with great fidelity. Each of us has first the vocation of baptism. Fidelity here means striving every day to pray and live out our sacramental identity, and, therefore, it also means learning about our faith, going to Mass regularly, seeking out the sacraments appropriately, and striving to live a Christ-like, moral life.
On top of this, we also have an individual vocation, of which the three most significant are marriage and family life, Holy Orders, and the consecrated life. Fidelity here means trying our best always to live up to the Biblical models and standards of each of these vocations. Christ gives us grace in each of these vocations, to live them faithfully.
And third, we must repent our sins, and seek Christ’s mercy. No matter how hard we try to be like Christ, we are all weak and sometimes fail. The world, the flesh and the devil are all set against our holiness and strive mightily to make us fall into sin. Sometimes we do.
Remember that Christ shared totally in our human nature, and so understands fully our weakness. Christ loves us and calls us over and over to repent. Holiness does not consist in simply not sinning but rather in fighting against sin and temptation and in repenting when we do fall into sin.
We know that mortal sins, although they kill the life of grace in us (that’s why we call them “mortal”), do not destroy our faith. By this faith, we can still hear God’s call to repent, to turn away from sin and back to his life and mercy. We are not trapped in our sins, because Christ by his resurrection has broken that power of domination. We do sin, yes, but we have a path of being reconciled to God and restored to the life of grace and holiness, and that path is Christ.
Praise God, therefore, for this inestimable gift of faith, grace and mercy. He loves us and calls us to belong totally to him, and to be with him completely, now and forever in the life to come. May his perfect and holy will always be done in us. We need to continue to celebrate the great gift of Easter joy, even if spring seems that it will never come.
Let’s be as joyful as we can even amidst the snow around us. One day (soon) it will end.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City