Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last week, I – and a small group of our priests and faithful – traveled to Mexico, to celebrate the ordination to the holy priesthood of our newest diocesan priest, Mauro Sanchez. Our trip was a joyful encounter with the people who first nurtured his faith and vocation.
Here in his home parish, with his family surrounding him, Mauro accepted the call, not only to serve as a priest, but to do so for the Diocese of Sioux City, far from his home and family. This is an act of generosity and hope.
Please, then, welcome him with the same generosity, and give him every prayerful support as he grows into his new status as a priest. By your welcome and support for him, let him find his new home no less warm and charitable. May the Lord bless him with a humble and peaceful heart, and bless you through his new ministry.
In preparing for this trip, I also pondered again about our own diocese, our strengths and our needs, and the opportunities afforded by our pastoral planning to grow in our faith and ministry. I’m sure I shall repeat this in the fall when our parishes are preparing for all the various programs and ministries that, for convenience, we organize according to the academic calendar: I want our pastoral planning to be an invitation to all our faithful parishioners to engage more deeply in their own call to ministry. The need for effective ministers is great, and the variety of ministers needed is much broader than just the clergy, or just the same parish volunteers every year. We all must serve, if we are to be the healthy and vibrant diocese we are aiming to renew.
I’m sure we all know that all the ministry of the church goes back to the words and actions of Christ, and his gifts to the church, as recorded in the Gospels.
In the first place, all our ministry is a single whole, a complete gift, doing what Jesus did and commanded us to do in his name. “The ministry” is everything that we do in order to save souls to Heaven.
Secondly, for the sake of understanding, we can categorize different aspects of this one ministry. A very ancient tradition divides ministry into three types: the “duty of teaching,” which includes all of catechesis and evangelization; the “duty of sanctifying,” with includes all our prayers and devotions, the Mass, and the sacraments; and the “duty of governing,” which includes all our efforts towards charity, justice, and peace. The bishop, together with the priests and deacons who are his primary helpers, is fully responsible for all of this ministry, throughout the diocese.
But thirdly, all those who are baptized have some share in doing Christ’s ministry. In a general way, how can anyone live as an authentic disciple of Christ without giving witness? And doesn’t witness to Christ necessarily proclaim him, building on prayer, the Mass, and the sacraments, and living with charity and justice as the core of the example shown?
And further, in a specific way, everyone has a personal vocation in Christ, which could include specific roles in one or another of the three areas of ministry. Parents, in particular, must be conscious that their role as parents is explicitly ministerial! Parents are the first and the primary teachers of their children, they give their children the foundation for holiness in bringing them to the church, and they build up their children’s commitment to right living especially by their constant example. This is one part of what we mean when we call the family home the “domestic church.”
Therefore, one of the basic challenges for a genuine renewal in our diocese is including as many people as possible in doing the ministry, not just in Mass but everywhere, especially by discipleship and according to specific vocations. We must be consistent in inviting others to help, in finding room for their gifts and interests in our activities.
We must be gracious about sharing ministerial roles, so that everyone feels at home and valued. And in the church’s liturgy, especially at Mass where most of us encounter the church most of the time, we must be careful to convey the reality that the church and the ministry are Christ’s, in which we share by his grace, not our own to do with as we will.
A second basic challenge, which always exists, is not to reduce ministry only to programs. Programs are good and necessary, and when they work well, they give many solid spiritual fruits and offer many a ministerial role to many people. But, all of ministry cannot be captured by programs.
When someone already baptized in another denomination comes to the church wanting to learn more and is told, “RCIA will start again next year, you have to wait,” we are reducing ministry to a program and stifling an opportunity.
When a willing volunteer is told, “We don’t really have anything for you to do right now,” we are reducing ministry to a program and showing inhospitality.
Alongside good, vibrant programs, we also need the clear sense that ministry is always happening. At the very least, we need to be encouraging people constantly to live boldly as faithful disciples, so that their example can perhaps invite others to consider the difference Christ makes. More than that, if we can regularly provide people with good tools to understand and talk about the faith, we can enable them to do so in the spontaneous moments of encounter with others.
May God bless our church! Please pray for the success of Ministry 2025 as we continue to plan and revise this year and begin to implement next year. Our families, our parishes and our diocese need this renewal. We will flourish if the Holy Spirit guides us, and prayer will open us to his holy will. May God bless all of you most abundantly with peace and zeal!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City