Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As summer comes to a close and the fall football season begins (go Broncos!), we have much to be grateful for. God has blessed us in so many ways. His love is everlasting!
We also need to remember our need to be touched by forgiveness and mercy. As we prepare to celebrate the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we have so much to pray for, and to work for, in these days! May our merciful Lord Jesus Christ give us his abundant forgiveness for the sins of our country, for our own sins, and for the daily compromises we make with the world that weaken our faith. May we receive the grace to examine our hearts more deeply, to repent of our sins and laxity, and to grow ever more fervent in our hope for salvation and our love for Jesus and our neighbor.
I ask you to pray for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which begins next week, on Sept. 22. The purpose of this gathering is to help the church continue the effort to renew the vocation to marriage and family life, especially in the face of so many anti-family practices accepted without question by our culture.
The two most damaging of these are pornography and contraception. Marriage “demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another” (CCC #2391), just as Christ gave himself totally and definitively for our salvation on the cross (see Eph 5:32). This is why Christ calls not only sexual actions contrary to the bond of marriage “adultery,” but also even the desires we harbor in our hearts without acting on them physically (Mt 5:28).
If we are to give ourselves totally to another person in marriage, there is simply no room in that gift to reserve the use of pornography or contraception. Both practices withhold a deep part of the giver from the beloved and say clearly that one loves the beloved only in a partial and self-serving way. That our culture finds both practices normal and unproblematic means that we are being formed in a way unsuitable to marriage.
No wonder, then, that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and the proportion is even higher for marriages entered into after a previous divorce (there are, of course, serious reasons for a divorce, especially if abuse of any kind is involved). Yet to the extent that we, as disciples of Christ, accept such practices, we cut ourselves off from communion with him and with our spouses. We too need conversion!
Please pray, then, that all the participants in this World Meeting of Families (especially me and those from our own diocese) may travel safely and be open to the grace of God in our lives, and that this effort will help us to evangelize more effectively, to begin restoring a culture which fosters marital fidelity rather than glorifying the selfish satisfaction of sexual appetites.
I ask you to pray, also, for the upcoming visit of the Holy Father to our county, which also begins next week, on Sept. 23. Pope Francis will visit Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia, where he will celebrate the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families. He will meet with President Obama and with Congress, and with our country’s bishops.
He will also celebrate the canonization Mass for Blessed Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan priest who did so much to evangelize California, and who is such a great model for how we need to re-evangelize our culture here in Iowa. Please pray especially for the safety of our Holy Father and all those who will travel to meet him; but also that the Holy Spirit will use him to open minds and hearts to the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We know that our politics, like our culture, has come largely to exclude the light of the Gospel from its deliberations and priorities. May all those politicians and voters who claim to be disciples of Christ, but who compromise his commands and virtues in order to “get things done” politically, be moved again to take seriously all that Christ demands of his followers.
We know that we cannot work for the common good by contradicting the good revealed by Christ. May the preaching and example of Pope Francis remind us all of these most fundamental commitments.
A good example of how such political compromises contradict our faith is the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Each year, more than half a billion dollars of our tax money is given to this organization, the largest provider of abortions in the country. It is a grave injustice, and generally illegal (against the Hyde Amendment and other laws), that tax dollars should be used to fund abortions. The recent release of several devastating investigative videos has shown just how much Planned Parenthood relies on abortion in general for profits, rather than actually serving the health of women.
But especially, it is shown that they rely greatly on heinous (and often illegal) late-term abortions, partial-birth abortions, and even the murder of infants born alive during abortions, to support their “bottom line.” I ask you, then, to pray for the success of efforts to cease this federal funding of abortion through Planned Parenthood.
If they were really an organization that served the good of women, they could thrive without the need for such massive subsidization. Pray, then, for the conversion of heart of those politicians who claim to be disciples of Christ, but who nonetheless find it expedient to support continuing this funding. They are compromising their faith, and yours, by doing so. May God give them the grace to see this contradiction for what it truly is and the courage to be true to Christ in their political work.
In a similar way, I ask you to pray especially for the success of our 40 Days for Life campaign, which also begins next week, on Sept. 23. These prayers are so valuable and effective. Such devout prayer and witness saves hundreds of babies’ lives from abortion every year, and thus, also saves hundreds of women from the resultant physical, emotional, and moral trauma. I urge you, I beg you, even if only with your private prayers, to support the effort to end abortion in our country.
Finally, I ask you to pray also for me, that I may have the grace and courage to be a faithful shepherd to all of you. Pray for all bishops, priests and deacons, religious, and married couples, most especially for those who are being tried in their faith and in their vocation. May God give them grace and strength to cling to his call and to accept that in every vocation there is the bearing of the cross.
I pray daily for all of you. May our most merciful God bless you with every grace and spiritual and material good and bring you all safe to our final home in heaven!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City