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Bishop addresses vocations, marriage, life issues and health care

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Two wonderful events are on my mind this week as I share these thoughts with you. The first is another “Project Andrew” dinner held at our Cathedral here in Sioux City. This event includes evening prayer, a dinner and a presentation on the priestly vocation. Several young men from our community attended. This particular Project Andrew event was centered on inviting Spanish speaking young men to think and pray about a vocation as a priest. I am grateful to Fathers Vit, Lingle and Pelzel who planned and sponsored this evening and to all the priests who attended and invited young men to join us.

The second event is called “Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion”. At St. Mary’s church in Storm Lake and at our Cathedral, men and women wishing to enter the Catholic Church at Easter came together to celebrate their final stage of preparation. As Bishop, it was a special time for me to congratulate them and assure them of the prayers of the whole diocese. To see so many excited people wanting to become Catholic was a true blessing. Our Catholic Church is alive and well and people want to be a part of it.

THREE INTENTIONS
These two events led me to share a special invitation with all of you. I want to invite all of you to help me make Lent even more spiritually fruitful, by your daily prayers for these special intentions. Prayer is the engine of faith, and I count on the prayers you have always so generously offered me. This Lent, I urge you to pray a daily Rosary with me, or at least an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for these needs.

OUR PRIESTS
First, this is the Year for Priests. Our priests are good and brave men, who work hard for you. We need all of their ministry, but most especially their dedication to the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, and to the Sacrament of Penance. These two works are at the very core of priestly ministry, and, by Christ’s own plan, no one else can do these two essential things to keep us aimed at the final Easter. Therefore, we need to support our priests. Please, thank your pastor and your priest friends for their devotion to serving as Christ. Most importantly, during this Lent especially, pray for our priests. Invoke the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother, who is also the Mother of Priests. Invoke the intercession of priestly saints, such as St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio, among so many others. Their prayers are a great spiritual help to our priests, and will sustain their own conversion to be more devout, more holy, more like Christ our Savior.

Pray also for our seminarians, and for the Holy Spirit to call more good men to the priesthood. Because we must all participate in Penance and the Holy Eucharist for our salvation, no vocation is more critical than the priesthood. Parents, you have an irreplaceable role in supporting vocations to the priesthood. I ask you to encourage your sons to discern the vocation of priest. Talk about it openly and often, then, if they are called, they will be more willing to follow Christ in this path, because they know they have your support.

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
My second concern is the health of married life. No vocation is more fundamental to the Church’s mission in the world than the vocation to married life. The world is most effectively converted for Christ by each family living the Sacrament of Marriage in a holy way. The grace of this sacrament works constantly on the hearts of such large number of us. Under this grace, the family is the school of prayer, and of virtue.

Yet in our society, the family is under so much pressure not to be holy. The erosion of a sense of sin in general, and of the virtue of chastity in particular, has reduced the holy vocation of marriage to a mere “lifestyle choice.” Promiscuity, pornography, ease of divorce, contraception and abortion, the financial need for two incomes, overloaded schedules, and so many other constant challenges and obstacles to families make this vocation more and more difficult to live well. Against this, the only truly effective antidote is love. And the only way to make love concrete is to spend time together, as a family.

So this Lent, I urge families to do two things together. First, if you don’t already eat at least one meal together in the week, without rush or distractions like having the television on, then do so, as a Lenten devotion. Make this meal the foundation of your concrete love for each other. If you do this already, perhaps you can do so on more days during the week, or linger just a few minutes longer together at the table, before rushing back into your busy, separate lives. Second, pray together. Take just five or ten – or even only two! – minutes together as a family, to pray with and for each other. It matters much more that you pray together, than what you pray. You could even pray in silence, if you have no words on your lips. This too is effective and transforming prayer.

We have all heard many times; “The family that prays together, stays together.” And families that bravely face up to the challenges of living faithfully in spite of all, give an unparalleled witness against the selfishness of the world.

CULTURE OF LIFE
My third concern is that we continue to foster a powerful culture of life here in Iowa. One of the best ways to promote this is with your participation in our 40 Days for Life prayer vigils. As you no doubt know, this spring we are emphasizing daily prayer for the conversion of hearts against the scourge of abortion. You can each carry a small part of this effort, by taking some time to pray daily for this intention. Pray especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament if you can, maybe even at a holy hour in your parish specifically for “Life”.

Our pro-life concerns are not limited to a single issue. We must not forget issues such as every form of contraception, Iowa’s $10 million wasted annually on embryonic stem cell research, proper physical and spiritual care for the elderly and the dying, and protection for freedom of conscience in the medical field. The power of prayer must be the foundation of our efforts for all these challenges, too.

NATIONAL HEALTH CARE
I continue to be gravely concerned about national health care reform, for all these issues. The process of reconciliation now being pursued through the Senate seems unlikely to result in anything resembling a commitment to protect the dignity of human beings. We need to hold our elected officials morally accountable. If we do not protect the most vulnerable among us, we will all suffer the consequences. If we do not promote a shared commitment to at least the natural virtues, such as loyalty, hospitality, generosity, temperance, and self-sacrifice, how will we grow in the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love? Please pray, then, for conversion of heart among our government leaders, so that they will accept their God-given duty to defend the poor and the weak, especially the unborn and the dying.

Finally, as we move deeper into the season of Lent, let’s not let our Lenten discipline and special devotions become merely routine. As we pray for others this year with a generous outpouring of charity from our treasuries of spiritual wealth, let’s try to keep an extra measure of freshness, urgency, or radical newness in our hearts. What we’re about in preparing for Easter is far more important than any of the thousand daily things we strive to accomplish. Let’s not waste these specials days of Lent. The Church gives these to us as opportunities for growth in holiness and for lasting change in our lives and in our world.

You are all in my own prayers, which I renew with great fervor during this special time of preparation. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to be very kind and gentle with us, and grant us daily His infinite mercy and forgiveness. Please continue to pray for me.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City


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