Christ opens the gates of heaven for us
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
These first days of November are such important days in the life of the church. Especially in periods of trial, difficulty or confusion within the church, as we are now experiencing, these great celebrations of All Saints and All Souls remind us of the unshakeable bedrock of our faith, and of our vocation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come among us and shared utterly with us our human condition and weakness, even to the point of death on a cross, to save us from our sins. During his years of public ministry and preaching, he taught us about God’s unfailing love for us. He called the apostles and established the church through them as a foundation, instituting sacraments of grace and giving them a share in his own spiritual powers.
In his passion, death and resurrection, he opened the gates of heaven once again, to all who would follow him. He gave the church the permanent mission and authority to evangelize the whole world, by invitation and the attracting power of the truth itself. The truth is Jesus. And he marked the church with four indelible marks of his own divine nature, making her forever “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.”
All the baptized, regardless of denomination, have some relationship with Christ and the church he founded. But the fullness of truth and grace “subsists in” the Catholic Church, and especially in the sacraments of confession and holy Eucharist, and in our reception of the unchanging apostolic faith, which is best expressed in our sacramental communion with the pope.
In this fullness, we are all called to holiness. This holiness is not “ours,” in the sense that it belongs to us or that we can earn it by good works or the power of our own will. Holiness, properly speaking, belongs only to God. Even before the fall of Adam and Eve, when they lived in perfect communion with God and in innocence, their holiness or freedom from sin was God’s gift to them.
Since the fall, that gift has been withdrawn from us, and other damage to our nature also afflicts us. Because of original sin, we cannot be holy. We suffer from spiritual and moral ignorance, from weakness in the face of temptation, from concupiscence, and from perpetual alienation from God.
Because of Christ, however, we are set free. The grace of baptism heals us from original sin, and restores to us the gift of holiness, of union with God. Christ makes us holy. And he calls us, every day, to remain in the state of grace. And he gives us still more grace, especially in the sacraments, to strengthen us in the infirmities of our nature, so that we can indeed be the saints he died for us to become.
The solemn feast of All Saints celebrates all those saints, especially those we do not know by name, who, despite their weakness and the reality of sin, nevertheless persevered in loving union with Christ by his grace. Those we know by name, about whose lives we are more or less well-informed, give us permanent examples of how to live this way. And in addition to them, a great number of people have done just this, about whom human history records little or nothing.
Likewise, the feast of All Souls celebrates and prays for all those souls who, persevering in loving union with Christ by his grace, still loved imperfectly through their own weakness. Their attachments to all that is not God must be purged before they can enter heaven. They are saved, but still on their journey to perfect union with God. We pray for them, that their purgation may be swiftly and more easily completed, and that they may soon join all the perfect saints and angels in heaven for eternity.
We who are now alive in this life face the same constant choice. We have been baptized. Christ has made us holy and calls us to remain with him at all times.
Yet we are still beset with temptations and distractions of all kinds, and the life of union with Christ is difficult. This is why Christ urges us to “enter by the narrow gate,” and shun the “broad and even road” leading away from him (see Mt 7:13-14).
We cannot drift into heaven. We can only get there, as the saints have and blessed souls in purgatory will, by clinging with all our strength and determination to Christ, to the way of the cross, to the unchanging faith and the sacraments which he established.
The saints and blessed souls prove that it is possible. The voice of the world calling us to return to the broad and easy path is very loud, especially in our materialist and hedonist culture. Drifting down that path takes no effort, but it leads to spiritual death. Holding fast to Christ and the faith takes much effort, but the gift of grace sustains us when we try.
We are all called to be holy, not to be worldly. Let Christ into your heart, again and again, no matter how often we may stray, especially by turning to the healing of sacramental grace. In this way, “we become by grace what he is by nature” – the holy people of God. All saints of God, pray for us.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. Don’t give upon the Denver Broncos!