Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ embrace your soul and every soul!
November gives us two very important days to celebrate our faith, All Saints’ Day followed by All Souls’ Day. These two days remind us that God calls all of us to be great saints. Though we are all sinners, God’s infinite mercy can always forgive all our sins, if only we ask with a desire for conversion of heart. Our true homeland is heaven, where God wants us to be with him forever, as perfect saints in his eternal kingdom.
What, indeed, could be more beautiful to think about, or more desirable to us, than God’s pure mercy? When we consider mercy, we are, in fact, gazing upon the face of God. God is mercy, we can say; that is to say, more precisely, God is love and divine love received by us – divine love, moving sinners to conversion, is mercy. Our Lord Jesus Christ poured out his life on the cross for our salvation. The blood and water that flowed from his pierced side are his love and mercy, pouring out upon the whole world.
When we were baptized, all our prior sins were washed away. We were fully healed, made perfect in grace, at that moment. We became saints, bound for heaven, joining with all the saints and angels who praise God eternally before him. This is why we say the Mass is a foretaste of the true heavenly liturgy.
But, poor weak creatures that we are, we remain susceptible to temptation, to the lure of sin, even after our baptism. God’s pure love is the sweetest and most desirable, but sometimes, because we are creatures of flesh and imperfection, that sweetness seems more theoretical than actual – more distant and intangible than other desires. Sin, in fact, does taste sweet, both because it is “forbidden fruit,” and because it appears to satisfy some immediate desire or appetite of our fleshly, concrete nature.
But we know from experience the apparent sweetness of sin, which draws us in, does not last. It quickly turns sour and rancid. It soon repels us, at least in our conscience. Therefore, the sinner must always choose one of only two paths. To recapture the sweetness, either one turns back to God, repenting of the sin and wanting not to fall again, or one plunges deeper into sin, seeking the lure of its false sweetness again.
This is exactly what our Lord was describing when he said, “Enter by the narrow gate” (Mt 7:13). The path of repentance means discerning the true sweetness from the false. It is narrow because it demands that we reign in some of our fleshly appetites, controlling them so that we do not fall into sin. The “wide and easy way” of self-indulgence, in contrast, is not the way of the saints.
All the saints we know to be in heaven entered by that narrow gate. They struggled no less than we do in the face of temptation and sin, and they too were sinners in this life. But they asked for and received God’s mercy. No matter how deeply they had fallen into sin, no matter how late in life, the saints changed their hearts and came to desire God’s love more than the passing lure of their previous sins. At the end of their life, they each died to this world embraced fully by God’s love, and so they lived for heaven.
I repeat: they were no less sinners in this life than are we! They are saints not because they didn’t sin, but because they totally repented of sin and strove for holiness. God wants this for each of us, too. We can fall, but by his grace we can repent, be forgiven and healed, and return to the life of love we first received in holy baptism.
To be a saint is to persevere in the struggle against sin. And in that struggle, as all the saints attest, there are no greater weapons than the holy sacraments, especially penance and holy Eucharist.
On All Souls’ Day, and really each day of November, we also remember and pray for all those who, while they did struggle against sin and attempted to live a holy life, perhaps died still with some small attachments to sin. And a great many of us will no doubt live and die in this way, struggling in our weakness, wanting to be faithful to God, yet also not wholly free from our sinfulness.
These, too, are saints – saints still in the making rather than saints already perfected in heaven. These are the holy souls in purgatory, not being punished but being cleansed of these false attachments. This, too, is God’s perfect mercy, for no soul that enters purgatory will fail to enter heaven, once perfected.
We pray to the saints in heaven, that by their example and intercession, they may help us seek and receive God’s mercy, especially through the church and the sacraments Christ gave us. We also pray for the souls of all the dead, that God’s mercy will have saved them from being lost totally to sin, and that they may be purified by his love to be in heaven one day.
This month, let us pray also for all the souls in this life, including our own, to have that true conversion of heart which God’s love stirs in us sinners, to embrace the narrow gate of mercy, so as to come one day to heaven, our final home.
Please pray for me, just as I pray daily for all of you. May our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts every day with love and mercy, faith and hope!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. Your support of the Broncos is doing its magic!