Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit on the 12 disciples 50 days after Easter. We also commonly claim this day as the birthday of the church – although, with respect to different aspects of the church, we might also point to other moments in salvation history, such as the Incarnation, the Last Supper, or the Resurrection. But Pentecost seems especially appropriate, because of the church’s mission.
It is from this day that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, every member of the church accepts and participates fully in the mission to save souls. And it is particularly humbling for me as a bishop to realize that, from that first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, to this day, there has never been even a single day in which the mission of the church has not been carried out!
As we move, then, from the particular joys of the Easter season back into what is called “Ordinary Time,” we should retain this recognition, and renew our commitment to participating actively in the church’s mission. In every vocation and state of life, every baptized person is called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to share Christ’s saving mission in prayer, the sacraments, witness and evangelization.
At the beginning of Lent three months ago, we resolved to improve our prayer life. The two most important things about having a good prayer life are to pray every day and to desire an intimate and personal love for God. We need to develop the habit of prayer, and the best way to do that is to commit to praying at the same time, and in the same place, every day.
This might be as simple as an Our Father when we first get out of bed or a decade of the rosary while going to work. We might set our watch or phone to beep every hour and stop and pray for a minute then. Instead of turning on the TV as soon as dinner is over, we might pray a rosary or read Scripture for 15 or 20 minutes, or pray while doing the dishes. At bedtime, we might do a daily examination of conscience, paying attention to how God has been with us and helped us throughout the day.
Prayer should not just be rote, however. Even when praying standard, memorized prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary, we are trying to be aware of the presence of God. In this sense, the words are not so important as the reality in the depths of our heart.
To deepen our awareness of God’s love for us, and therefore the strength of our love for him, we need to cultivate the habit of silence, of turning in our heart away from the demands and distractions of daily life and turning to God. If all our attention is caught up in our daily worries, we’re missing something powerful in our relationship with God.
Again, this does not need to be complicated or difficult. Simply take a moment to focus your attention inward, and say something like, “Jesus, I love you, be with me.” Just pause for a few seconds and imagine the Holy Face or the Sacred Heart of Jesus present to your own heart. There is much further we can go in prayer and silence, of course, but these simple habits will give us a strong and consistent foundation for living our lives with God.
Likewise with the sacraments, regularity and preparation are the keys to getting more out of our participation. Don’t wait until next Advent to go to confession again. Make Sunday Mass enough of a priority for you and for your family that you don’t miss because of schedule conflicts.
This is especially important as summer begins and while on vacation. We might be tempted just to skip Mass. Instead, I encourage you to find a church nearby and experience their Catholic community. Also, spend a little time reading the Mass readings beforehand, so that you can listen more deeply to the word and the homily and find that “pearl of great price” God wants you to hear each week.
Make an effort to attend daily Mass sometimes, if your schedule and circumstances allow. The more we enter into the sacramental realities, especially in Mass and confession, the more we are open to the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us in our vocation and state of life.
If we are close to God in prayer and sacraments, our witness and evangelization will flow naturally from our efforts to love God and do his will in our life. Jesus calls us to be leaven, salt and light. That is, the presence of Christ’s disciples who know and love God should make a powerful difference in a dark and sinful world.
The people around us, our family, neighbors, co-workers and friends, should see the presence of Christ in us and be attracted to the joy, simplicity, and mercy he gives us. They should be able to recognize something different about us, because we are striving to be good disciples. Simply by the faithful, prayerful, and Christ-centered way in which we live, we give testimony to the difference made by Christ’s mercy and salvation, and we invite others to join us. In this, too, the Holy Spirit gives us strength and perseverance against our distractions and temptations.
There is much more to say about how we carry out the mission given to us by the Holy Spirit, but these are the foundations for all of us. Live them well! Please pray for me and for our priests, that we may lead you to Christ our Lord, and for each other in all of our needs and sufferings. Know that I pray daily for all of you. May the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to you in baptism and confirmation empower your walk with our Lord Jesus Christ every day!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City