Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the light and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your minds and hearts! I pray this season of Lent continues to be for all of you an occasion of grace and mercy. We all have such need of the mercy that comes only from Christ, to forgive our sins and heal our moral and spiritual wounds. His grace is so powerful! We cannot accept his mercy without turning away from our sins. Our Lenten fasting, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving are meant as spurs to help us turn back to the Lord. May we all know the joy of conversion, turning back to God, who freely gives every good thing.
This week, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord. St. Joseph is such a powerful example to all of us, his life so full of faith and devotion to his vocation. The gospels tell us that he was a righteous man. The humility and closeness to God in prayer and works which he showed are always signs of such righteousness. We should also mark his exemplary chastity and his quickness to obey the angel’s messages. We should strive to imitate so great an example.
St. Joseph is also a very powerful intercessor for us. Whenever we struggle to know what is right and good, or to find the strength to do the right thing or to overcome temptation, St. Joseph can help us with his prayers. The light of Christ which reflects from him can illumine our lives. Just as he taught the child Jesus to read and to pray, to use the tools of his trade, and that special courage of the righteous for rejecting evil, so he can also teach us spiritually. “Go to Joseph,” the church has always said, and I urge you again to do the same!
Many of you, I’m sure, read the recent Catholic editorial against capital punishment. I agree with the goal of eliminating the use of capital punishment. I agree with our former Holy Father, St. John Paul, in his encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” where he wrote that “the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare…” (#56). I am very pleased that Iowa is one of the states which eschews the death penalty
We must be careful, however, not to make category mistakes in our opposition to capital punishment. The editorial, in its brevity, could be construed as saying that capital punishment is morally wrong. The church’s teaching does not support that idea. Note that in the quotation above, our rejection of capital punishment is not based on its moral status, but on the practicality of not having to use it to defend society, since less extreme means are available to us today. Capital punishment is not a moral evil in itself, when carried out within the limits the church has always insisted be observed. It cannot be compared with the intrinsic evils of abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research, for example. We can oppose it, rather, on prudential grounds, and we can extol the mercy of refraining from its use.
Six years ago, as most of you will remember, the diocese set about creating a “five-year plan” for strategic planning for parishes. So many of you responded prayerfully to the surveys we used to seek your input. We’ve now reached the end of that plan, and we need to create a further plan to guide us in the future. You may also remember my pastoral letter of 2009, in which I asked all of you to help the diocese grow in five specific areas: devotion to the Eucharist; catechesis; family life; adult formation; and building a culture of vocations and mission. I have certainly seen signs of growth in all of these areas, but there is much more to be done.
We need to draft another strategic plan. The five areas of my pastoral plan are still the priorities we need to address. We also need to face the on-going reality of fewer priests, fewer parishioners, and the decline of parish life. I am envisioning something more than we’ve had before, more than a “managing” strategic plan. We need to build, not just manage! All of you deserve to have a full and vibrant parish life to be part of, to contribute your own unique talents, and to have joyful opportunities to share in the mission of the church.
In order to achieve this, the diocese will need your help. Most importantly, we count on your prayers. We will also need your participation in a new planning process that is beginning to take shape. I ask you to begin making little sacrifices of prayer and fasting for the intention of the coming process. When it is ripe, you will have full opportunity to give me your suggestions and insights. I can’t promise I will do whatever you ask, but I do promise I will not decide anything without listening, and carefully considering everything you want to say. I hope you will join me in placing all this under the protection of our diocesan patrons, St. Joseph and our Lady of Guadalupe. There will be much more information about this in The Globe later this year.
May the journey of Lent bring us closer to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City