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Called to die to self, live only in Christ

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I hope this beautiful season of the year finds each of you thankful for God’s many blessings, especially life, faith and freedom. These, and so many more blessings from the Lord are given to us. We all need to remember that much will be expected from those who have been given much. That includes all of us.

HIGH SCHOOL YOUTH RALLY

Last Sunday morning I left Sioux City and traveled to the Clay County Regional Center in Spencer for the third High School Youth rally I have attended since becoming a bishop. All of us who traveled to the site (over 600) literally felt the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing us there! The 55-60 mph winds certainly were something to contend with. The movement of the Holy Spirit was even greater among the young people who gathered for the event. A hugh thank you to Jessica LaFleur Malm and the staff of our Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office who organized this event.

I celebrated Mass for the group assisted by Deacon Eldon Sullivan, Fathers Brent Lingle and Tom Hart. Five of our seminarians served the Mass for us. I asked each seminarian to say a few words to, hopefully, encourage more vocations for our Diocese.

In my homily, I reminded our young people how important they are right now for the Church. Each of them, living their Catholic faith boldly and courageously can make a difference in our society. Please do all you can to encourage our youth, they are special blessings to all of us.

I was sorry I could not stay for more of the event. All reports I heard about the presenters, Kyle Heimann and Dan Harms from a group called Popple, were positive. Again, thanks for all who made this possible and for all who attended, blown in by the power of the Holy Spirit!

FEASTS OF ALL SAINTS AND ALL SOULS

Saturday, November 1st, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. When the Church officially declares someone a saint, she is not deciding whether that person has entered into Heaven. God alone decides the ultimate judgment about sainthood the Church declares evidence given. She recognizes both the manifest evidence of Christ-like holiness in that person’s life, and the intercessory power granted to that person after death. This is why two miracles are required to “prove” sainthood. The miracles show clearly that the power of Christ Risen is shared fully with someone after their death, and therefore that this person lives in Christ, in Heaven.

Now, it should be obvious, if we stop to think for a moment, that many, even the majority, of those who are in fact saints are not declared to be so by the Church. For every martyred saint like Bishop Cyprian or Saint Teresa Benedicta, how many nameless faithful persevere in glory? For every founder of religious orders, like Saint Francis or Saint Dominic, how many nameless monks and nuns persevere in charity? For every heart-changing preacher like Saint Bernardine of Siena or Saint Anthony of Padua, how many simple priests or catechists persevere in truth? For every pious parent like Saint Louis or Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, how many devoted parents persevere in love and hope?

We are all called in the waters of Holy Baptism to be saints, to die to self and to sin and to live only in Christ. We are all called to live with Christ-like perfection of virtue, to work hard day after day at the difficult task of curbing our tendencies to sin, overcoming our base instincts, and “putting on the mind of Christ." We have to learn how to love; and having learned it, we have to practice it constantly to get any good at it. Holiness of life is always our goal.

The Feast of All Saints is the celebration by the whole Church of all the saints in Heaven, including those we don’t know by name or who do not have their own feast day. It is the celebration of our hope in God’s infinite mercy that He not only can but desires to cleanse us, who so often refuse to be cleansed. It is not a celebration of ourselves; we do not become saints because we will ourselves to be holy. We become saints because we accept the Cross; accept whatever dying Christ wants for us. It is, then, a celebration of Christ and of the members of Christ’s one holy Body.

There is a clear connection between this Feast and the Feast of All Souls which follows it on Sunday, November 2nd. We know that, although God’s mercy is greater than our sinfulness, still we have the choice to reject His gifts. Most of us live and die struggling to accept fully the gracious gift of faith and mercy. We are not ready for Heaven, for seeing God "as He really is," because we have not seen or loved Him clearly enough in this life. We need more scouring.

Part of how we receive this scouring or "purging" after death is by the prayers of the faithful still sojourning. We have a duty in this life, born of our unity in Christ, to pray for the dead, for the purifying fire of God’s merciful love to purge them of the heaviness of sin. This duty is one of the spiritual works of mercy. So important is this duty, that the Church uses an entire day to remind us of it each year. Remember, then, that none of us can make become saints without the hard work, not only of ourselves, but of many others also. One of the hardest forms of this sanctifying work is to learn to love and pray for all, especially for our enemies, even after their death. "For if you love those who love you, what reward shall you have? Even the tax-collectors do this. And if you greet your own family only, what more have you done? Even the heathens do this. Therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5:46-8). All of us would do well to continue to pray for the souls in purgatory. We hope that many will pray for us as well when we die.

Black is a traditional color of the Church’s vestments that may be worn on All Souls Day. It can also be worn at Masses for the dead. As a liturgical color, black symbolizes mourning and penitence, sorrow and solemnity. This is exactly the spirit we are trying to cultivate on the Feast of All Souls, when we pray for the salvation of the dead. It is appropriate, then, to use the external symbols suitable to help us cultivate the proper internal reality. Black vestments help us to remember to pray for all the dead, not just our own beloved dead. Black vestments help remind us of the inestimable worth of the divine gift of life, in this world and in the next. This year, for this feast, I will be wearing black vestments. Hopefully, this sign will remind us of our need to face death with all its pain and mourning, but also remind us of the resurrected life to follow.

REALITY OF SIN AND FEAR OF DEATH

 As I wrote in my letter for Respect Life Sunday on Oct. 4, the fear of death is at the root of the culture of death. Growing in trust for God’s mercy requires that we face both the reality of sin and the natural fear of death. Rather than letting the weight of our sins bear us down into greater fear, we need to learn and practice how to let Christ’s Passion and Resurrection bear the weight of our sins. A deeper immersion into the sacramental life of the Church and a growing devotion to the Eucharist, where we find Christ’s personal love for each of us in His Passion, can help us do that. Attention to the rubrics of our liturgical practices does foster that devotion in us, if we pursue those rubrics with the proper humility. Again, black vestments on the Feast of All Souls helps to dispose us more willingly, not for fear of death, but precisely because we respect and confront in ourselves the reality of sin and death, for a more faithful adherence to Christ who saves.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE ACT

I would like to share just a few thoughts about something very important as we prepare to vote this election year. One of the culture of death’s side effects is an inhuman clinging to life, as if this material life is all there is. When we fear death too much, we are willing to commit atrocious acts of violence against others, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, in order to cling to our material life. Christ, who is most powerful, died so that the weakest could live eternally; the culture of death kills the weakest, so that the strongest may live only a little more.

Moreover, because fear is at the root of the culture of death, its perversion tempts us to justify our violence against the weak under a veneer of truth. The so-called “Freedom of Choice Act,” a piece of legislation that has not yet been brought before Congress but has been lauded by pro-abortion advocates, is just such a veneer. Under the guise of freedom to choose (a freedom fundamental to all of us as humans created in the image of God, but not meant for evil use), this proposal would strip away every single hard-won gain in the struggle against abortion. Every step that imposes even the slightest delay or limitation on unrestricted access to abortion – waiting periods, parental notification, full disclosure of options, counseling, even the ban on partial birth abortion – would be swept away as contrary to “choice.” This act does not protect choice, in the plain sense of choosing among possible paths; it protects only that definition of choice which selfishly, diabolically counts the unlimited autonomy of one person to be of greater worth than the very life itself on another person. In a campaign speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in July of this year, the present democratic candidate for president promised that signing this piece of legislation would be his first priority, were he elected. (See Bishop Arthur Serratelli’s article printed in a previous issue of our paper.) I hope and pray that all those who believe in the protection of innocent life will continue to do all we can to end the horrible crime of abortion.
Let me clearly repeat, one more time, abortion is an intrinsic evil and today, its elimination is fundamental in achieving any level of social justice. Defense of the “so called’ right to abortion undermines pursing justice by supporting other social issues such as elimination of poverty and help for underprivileged.

We as faithful Catholics can never choose a candidate who directly supports abortion rights when another suitable candidate is an option.

IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

I encourage all Catholic voters in this Diocese to exercise their freedom and right to vote next Tuesday. The teachings of the Church have been made very clear this year, as I and my brother bishops help to form the conscience of this great nation. Life is sacred, and intrinsically valuable to our loving and merciful God. The life issues are of the greatest importance to our nation, and to our world. We have been given a great responsibility as free voters, to use those rights in a Christ-like way. We cannot, as faithful believers in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, support or condone any part of the culture of death. We must work from the truth of Easter’s glory into the darkness of the world’s power, sin, and fear, to bring the light of God’s mercy.

My prayers continue to be with each of you. Thank you for taking time to read this letter. It is my great hope and joy to serve you as Bishop. (I’ve not given up on my Bronco’s!)

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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