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Lenten season:Time to be shaken out of regular routines

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I’m sure you were all as surprised and saddened as I was last week, when our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, announced his plans to lay down the office of Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. I urge you to continue to pray for him daily, for the College of Cardinals who will soon be God’s instruments to choose the next Pope, and for that successor. Remember that God has a plan for the Church, who is His spotless Bride, and no human weakness or sin will obstruct His designs. Trust in the Lord with steadfast faith.

Especially in these days of Lent, I am consoled not only by Providence, but also by the timing of Pope Benedict’s announcement. Lent is an appropriate season, in a sense, for the unfolding of this decision. Lent is our period of renewal, in which we bring back to blazing life the embers of whatever part of our faith might be flagging. Lent calls us back to the unchanging basics of the faith – to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; to reflection, examination of conscience, and Confession. Like the prophet Isaiah, Lent offers us a divine coal to purify our hearts and set them afire with divine love. For the Holy Father, it is physical health and stamina that is flagging, and God is now giving him a holy desire to spend the last years of his life in solitude and prayer. This is a precious gift for him personally.

But also, such a gift reminds all of us that this life is not all there is. If we come to see the whole of our life as Lent, preparing us for our resurrection with Christ, we’re much more likely to recognize God’s gift hidden in a crisis. For most of us, of course, now is not the time to change our vocation. We remain committed to fulfilling the tasks that God has called us to, and we would be not only irresponsible, but also deeply unhappy, to give them up. But at some point in each person’s life, this kind of moment comes, in either joy or sadness, with preparation or suddenness. In those moments, many people end up choosing something foolish or selfish, rather than allowing their vocation to grow in a new direction or become a new holy mission. Pope Benedict is offering us an example of a totally faithful response to such a change in vocation. His humility and his trust in God’s love are profoundly displayed for us, and we too can learn to imitate such virtue.

Lent is also the perfect time for us to be shaken out of our routines, as Pope Benedict’s decision has done. Even in the simple sense of following the unique events of the next few weeks, we can be excited to learn about aspects of our Catholic faith and Catholic Church that we have never before considered. Perhaps it seems esoteric to wonder what one will call a retired pope, six hundred years after it last came up in the Church, but it can open up for us the whole panorama of how the ministry of the pope and the College of Cardinals are grounded in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave a mission, an office, and a set of spiritual powers to Peter as the first pope. If we follow that chain of inquiry deep enough into the Gospels, we’ll realize or remember that our vocations, too, as a baptized Catholic, and as a priest or a consecrated or married person, are equally given to us personally by our Lord, Our God, through the ministry of the Church and the sacraments He established, calls us each by name to accept a unique role in the salvation of all the world. In the routine and deadening details of our daily life, it’s so easy to lose sight of the importance of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ every single day. But now we are shocked out of any complacency by this unexpected turn of events, and helped to embrace our life in Christ the more intimately.

THE RITE OF ELECTION

This past Sunday I had the occasion, as I do every year on the First Sunday of Lent, to celebrate the Rite of Election for several members of our community. Both at Sacred Heart Church in Ida Grove and at our Cathedral a total of 29 persons were declared “Elect” and are now officially elected to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil on March 30th. Another group of people, already baptized in another Christian tradition were “Called to Continuing Conversion” and will also become full members of the Catholic Church at Easter. Eight-seven people participated in the ceremonies this past weekend. Others were not able to attend the rites this past Sunday, but will also be counted as new Catholics this year. This is great news for all of us. The Church continues to grow in our midst. I encourage all of you to live your Catholic faith in such a way that others are attracted to join us. Next year, after we complete the Year of Faith, I would hope that these numbers double! I thank all of the priests, catechists, godparents, sponsors and others who encouraged these people to look into joining the Catholic faith. Let us never be afraid to ask a non-Catholic, “Have you ever thought about joining the Catholic Church?” We have such a treasure to share and we too can help evangelize those who God might be calling to join us.

I hope and pray that you will use this season of Lent, and these challenging days in the Church’s life, to renew the holy fire of divine love in your heart. May the disciplines of Lent deepen you faith, hope, and love, and draw you more closely into the great mysteries of Christ’s sanctifying love for us. Please pray for Pope Benedict, the Cardinals, and the next Successor of Peter, whomever God may call, as well as for me and for all our priests. Pray also for holy families dedicated to imitating the perfect love of Christ for all His children. Know that I pray for all of you, especially during Lent.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
Bishop of Sioux City

P.S. – We’re almost exactly one-third of the way through the Year of Faith, and I’m told by my staff that our Rosary Crusade now includes an estimated 6000 people throughout the Diocese, and has offered just over a million Rosaries! Please continue to pray and invite others to pray this beautiful and powerful prayer!

 

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