Being a disciple of Christ

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last weekend was indeed joyful, as I had the great pleasure to ordain three men: Mauro Sanchez to the transitional diaconate, so that, God willing, next year I will ordain him as a priest; and Deacons Brian Feller and Michael Cronin as priests. Once again, I thank them for saying yes to God’s call, and especially their parents and families for helping to form them in their vocation. Please continue to pray for them in their new roles, that God will be most gracious and bless their ministry with much fruit and humility.

Parents, your role in your children’s discernment and acceptance of their future vocation is the most important and influential. Whether their vocation is to priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life, or marriage and family life, your example will shape them deeply. The most important aspect is that you let them see that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is very important, something you strive to do every day.

If your children see that your faith is real and meaningful to you, in daily prayer, in reading the Bible, in your love for others, in the priority of the Holy Mass and the sacramental life, in your desire to be obedient to our mother the church, they will value it as you do. Then, as they grow into a more mature faith themselves, they will be more open to hearing and accepting the call of God. The opposite is also true. So I urge you, knowing what example you want to give to your children, strive to be faithful and holy in all things!

Corpus Christi

Last Sunday, we also celebrated the great feast of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. I am always grieved to see reported how few Catholics claim to believe in the Real Presence. Such lack of faith comes from being formed by the world rather than by the church. Our materialistic culture supposes that intangible realities are less real and important than the tangible, physical realities, and that the way things seem to be (including what appears to our emotions rather than to our reason) must be the way they really are. Thus, for example, our culture preaches constantly that sex (the physical act) is more real and important than marriage (the spiritual reality that makes sexual activity more than animal behavior), and therefore that the only true moral context for sexual acts is “consent.”

But such a world-view is absurd, the complete opposite of faith. It leaves no room at all for morality, for sin and redemption, for incarnation and resurrection, and the only worship it can approve is worship of the self.

In terms of the Holy Eucharist, if we are formed in this worldly way, we will see it only as a symbol of Christ, rather than as the actual “body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Christ in person. And since, in this wrong view, the symbol of mere bread and wine is what’s actually real, while the reality of Christ remains absent and obscure, then it doesn’t really matter how we treat the sacrament.

We can be sloppy and casual in the liturgy without consequences. We can dispense with rules and beauty and order and tradition, because none of that changes the symbol. And since mere bread and wine is not really a sacrifice, this wrong logic continues; it’s not really about Christ, but about us. “We” become what we worship in the Mass! Thus, we end up attending Mass expecting only to be made to feel good, to be approved and accepted and coddled by Christ, regardless of the state of our soul.

But of course, this is all very, very far from the truth of the Real Presence, of the holy Catholic faith. We must, therefore, strive constantly to deepen our faith by opening our mind and heart to the riches of Scripture and tradition. We must be intentional about seeking the formation Christ offers in the church, if we want to avoid being formed by the world by default. Our discipleship must come alive, in joy, in beauty, in obedience to the church!

In the celebration of this great feast, then, we beg God to give us a stronger faith, especially in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist; and we commit ourselves again to a more reverent and joyful celebration of every holy sacrifice of the Mass. “The Eucharist makes the church” is an old adage, and is no less true today!

Fortnight for Freedom

As we ponder these aspects of our vocation and discipleship, we again recognize that it is precisely this free and total commitment to follow Jesus Christ which the world tries always to prevent. Jesus himself warns us against the “broad, easy path” which leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14).

The blandishments of a faith without cost, without sacrifice, without the cross are part of this warning.  We must instead “take up the cross” (Mt 16:24), which includes defending what is good and just in the world.

During the two weeks leading up to July 4, we offer prayers and spiritual sacrifices in a special way for the preservation and increase of religious liberty in our country, so that all people will be free from government coercion to seek God, and all of us will be free to be fully and totally disciples of Jesus Christ, in every aspect of our lives. I especially encourage you to pray the rosary for the freedom of the church to serve and save the souls “most in need of Christ’s mercy.”

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless

Bishop of Sioux City

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