Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to fill your hearts in this Easter season! This Sunday, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. In fact, St. Luke is very clear that this event took place “forty days” (Acts 1:3) after the Resurrection, thus, on a Thursday; but for our convenience, we are allowed to transfer the solemnity to Sunday. We should remember, however, St. Luke’s precision, and why “Ascension Thursday” still has innate meaning for us.
In celebrating the Ascension, we should also recall how our Lord is always blazing the trail to heaven for us. He goes before us, in his full humanity as well as his full divinity, in order that we should follow him in our turn. As we are united to him in this life, through our prayers and good works, and especially through the holy Sacraments, so we hope to be united to him in the next life.
We hope this not only for our soul, but also ultimately for our body, so that the fullness of our humanity, body and soul, will be saved in union with the fullness of his (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #990-1004). The Ascension teaches us clearly and truly about God’s salvation for the body together with the soul.
The body, Christ therefore reveals, is not fundamentally the enemy of the soul. It is not something separate from “me,” as if my true self were somehow only the spiritual part of me. The body is an integral part of God graciously creating each of us. Certainly, we experience our finitude more in our body than our soul; for example, in the body’s aging and sickness, and in the various disabilities and inabilities which we all share. We also experience the reality of sin in our body differently than in our soul, and our body offers particular avenues of temptation for us to sin by gratifying our appetites in ways disordered to their proper, God-given ends.
But we also experience so much joy in our body. “Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ?” (1 Cor 6:15) And in perhaps the most profound sense of divine gift, in the vocation to marriage and family life, the body becomes the means of our cooperation with God in bringing new people into existence, according to his plan from the beginning. The body, therefore, is essentially good in itself, a positive part of God’s plan for our existence and salvation. It is, therefore, only right that it be destined to be in heaven with him in the end, as our faith holds.
Our relationship to the rest of God’s creation should therefore be parallel to this relationship between body and soul. God made the natural world not only to reveal himself to us, but also to sustain and serve us in our bodily existence. The same kinds of principles can be seen: for example, the goodness of all that God creates; the harmony of the parts of nature, and our place in it and over it (see e.g. Psalm 8); the distinction of right uses from wrong, of temptations from God-given ends; and the obligations of good stewardship, for the sake of the inherent goodness and the destined end. These principles inform a “Catholic environmentalism,” a Biblical and Christ-like way of acting towards God’s creation in nature that values it in itself as God’s creature, and in its utility for our human thriving; but that does not idolize it or subordinate human flourishing to it, as so much of secular environmentalism seems to do.
Here in our rural diocese, we know well how dependent we are upon God’s creation. Even though our farming is largely industrialized, and very much for profit rather than for family subsistence, still, it is quite obvious to us that only God’s bounty of soil and water, good weather and good stock, brings us a plentiful and useful harvest. Our labor is necessary but not sufficient: “I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor 3:6).
In the same way, we understand how necessary it is to do everything we can to be good stewards of the bounty of the land: to conserve water and topsoil, to fertilize so the soil remains healthy and fruitful, to cooperate with the weather by planting and harvesting at the proper times, and so on. We work hard to achieve two goals, not ultimately in conflict with each other: a good harvest this year, and another good harvest in the future as well. We know that when we do these things, and are blessed with good weather in the proper seasons, we are not only dignified by work and enriched by it, but also feed the poor throughout the world. In these and similar ways, we are already practicing much of what our faith instructs about a good and sustainable relationship with the natural world.
Please pray for our farmers in these days of planting crops, and likewise for weather suitable for a plentiful harvest. May God always give us the grace to praise him through our labor and our generosity to those in need.
Please pray also for me, and for all the ministry and the cross-bearing of all the clergy and faithful of our diocese. God bless you all most abundantly!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City