Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we get ready in the coming few weeks to head back to school, I ask you to pray for all those the church is trying to serve, both in schools and in parish programs, children and adults, those strong in faith and those just beginning to grow. All of us are called by our Lord Jesus Christ to know and love him in this life, and to be with him forever in the next. The work of the church is to help all people, young or old, strong or weak, eager or reluctant, take one more step towards Christ and heaven.
Like so much else that is good and beautiful, this starts in the home. Faithful Catholic families have always been the backbone of the church. Parents are the first educators of their children. This is not true merely chronologically, in raising infants and toddlers and giving them the most basic foundations of their life to come. It is also true morally, in that parents have the responsibility and the duty to teach their children. Some are willing and able to do so themselves and homeschooling has an excellent record of success.
Parents who choose Catholic schools are counting on that label, “Catholic,” to be meaningful and accurate. They want our tradition of academic success, but especially they want our Catholic schools to help them form their children in faith and morals. They want our schools to be thoroughly Catholic. They want the lessons learned at home to be reinforced in school, so that their children grow up committed to Christ-like virtue and faith.
Parents who choose public schools rely even more on their own home life, supported by parish religious education programs, to form their children in faith and morals. And although our religious educations programs strive offer excellent resources and well-trained catechists, they labor under the burden of available time. One or two hours per week simply isn’t enough – unless these families are also being intentional about teaching the faith at home.
For adults as well, our parishes are preparing programs for the coming academic year, from ongoing Bible studies to new people entering RCIA and everything in between. In all of these efforts, too, our parishes strive to offer solid, useful resources, and well-trained catechists.
Here, too, we require some intentionality in putting into practice what we learn about the faith. If going deeper into the faith than we are now makes no difference in how we act at home or at work or what kind of recreation we seek out, then are we being formed by Christ?
The traditional five “precepts of the church” are a good gauge of our minimum discipleship: Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, yearly confession and Eucharist, following the days of fast and abstinence and supporting the works of the church.
Of course, we are all called to do more than this minimum. We should not merely attend Mass, but do so well-prepared and actively participating. We can attend daily Mass, if our schedule permits. We should strive for more frequent confession, to match our more frequent Communion and engage in daily prayer and devotions. I particularly recommend the rosary and the Chaplet of Mercy, and adoration, as powerful and transforming supports for our spiritual life.
We should seek out other opportunities to learn more about our faith, especially as adults. Men’s and women’s groups are growing throughout the diocese. Many new resources are available, often for free, including Catholic radio. There is a regular succession of talks and retreats on various subjects here in our diocese, and often, excellent talks from elsewhere are recorded and made available on the internet.
We can participate more deeply in Christ’s sacrifice for us, day by day, by imitating his total and self-giving love for those God has given us as family, friends, even co-workers. And we can support the church’s works and mission, not merely with our money, but with our time and talent as well.
The church thrives when we form committed disciples who worship God authentically, know and pray through the Bible and serve others lovingly. And these disciples are formed especially in the daily fidelity of their home life, assisted by our schools and parish programs, and strengthened by regular and intentional participation in the liturgy, prayer, and service. This is the commitment that attracts new disciples.
As we begin another school year, may each one of us receive the grace to grow in our faith this year. Whatever our vocation or state in life, may the challenges and joys of this coming year open our heart a little more to Christ’s saving love. Whatever our ministry at home and in the church, may we become a little more committed to following Christ and serving others, through the blessings of this year.
Please pray for me, for families, and for all those in our school and parish programs, just as I pray for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City