All in need of continuing conversion and closeness to Christ
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
May our Lord Jesus Christ give us an abundance of His perfect grace and mercy! We can hardly call this July heat “unseasonable,” but the lack of rain is a worry. I hope you are already praying that the Lord will open the treasures of His heavens and send us the blessing of much-needed rain. “You care for the earth, give it water, you fill it with riches. Your river in heaven brims over to provide its grain. And thus you provide for the earth; you drench its furrows, you level it, soften it with showers, you bless its growth” (Ps 65:9-10). God always hears and answers our prayers, but sometimes in ways we don’t expect.
This week, on July 25, we celebrate the Feast of St. James the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, called “the Great” because he was one of the very first Apostles called by Christ, and was one of those closest to Christ, along with his brother John, and of course St. Peter. He was the first of the Twelve to be martyred for faith in Christ. His example can be inspiring for us, if we try to imitate his following Christ, and growing in faith and understanding while Christ taught the disciples, and his fidelity to that teaching after the Resurrection. May the intercession of St. James assist us in our faith and all our struggles and temptations. I chose “James” as my Confirmation name when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation. As some of our young people know, I always look for a “James” as a confirmation name and usually invite the student to tell the whole congregation about what they know about St. James (just a fair warning!)
Last week, on July 16, we also celebrated the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mt. Carmel figures prominently in salvation history. It was on Mt. Carmel, for example, that Elijah confronted the false priests of Baal, and won Israel back to the true worship of God (see 1 Kings 18). And during the Crusades, many knights who reached Jerusalem gave up their swords and worldly honors, and retired to Mt. Carmel as hermits, founding the Carmelite Order there. We are so blessed to have a Carmelite house here in Sioux City, where the sisters pray every day for me, all of our priests, and all of our needs. From the beginning of the Carmelites, Mary has been their spiritual patron and example, just as, in another way, she is for the whole Church.
These great conversions which have taken place on Mt. Carmel are dramatic. But they point out for us two deep spiritual realities which we need to pay attention to every day. First, we are all in need of continuing conversion. None of us is perfect, none of us has finished our spiritual journey. We are sinners, always in need of turning back to the great mercy of Jesus Christ. But Christ’s mercy is ready and abundant for us, if only we can know Him and trust Him enough to ask for it, especially in the sacrament of Confession. Always believe that all we have to do is ask, and we will receive all the healing of His mercy.
Second, whether we know it or not, in everything we do, we are choosing between “Baal” and Christ, just like Elijah and the Israelites that day. Christ has a plan for each of us, just as He plans how the corn that grows in our fields will feed all of us, one way or another. The general shape of that plan is always the same: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the sacraments and the precepts of the Church. These are constant for all of us, part of the moral law written into our human nature and baptismal character. The personal shape of each plan is quite distinctive. We need to know Him well, in our daily prayers and the good habits of our life, to learn what that will be – what great vocation, what special charism, what unique gift, God has given to each one of us, to be used to build up the People of God every day? This knowledge is a choice, because we can either say “yes” to that plan, as Mary did at the Annunciation, or we can try to run away from that plan, as the prophet Jonah did (and ended up being thrown overboard from a boat!) We make this choice constantly, for or against God’s plan for us – not only in the most influential decisions of our lives, but even in the seemly inconsequential decisions.
This is why it is so important to try every day to be close to Jesus Christ. A few minutes of prayer each morning and evening can make all the difference. Staying close to the Church in living the sacramental life makes a profound difference over time; God wills to give us so many graces in the sacraments! A frequent examination of conscience is a very useful tool to help us in this life. And as our hearts grow close to Him, we become more like Him: more capable of loving even those who don’t love us; more capable of forgiving, and of asking for forgiveness as we often must; more capable of saying “yes,” in every circumstance.
Continue to enjoy these weeks of summer. Please continue to pray for me, that I may lead you as Jesus wants, and for all our priests and all those in need. The Lord is so good and merciful; trust in His mercy, and give Him the obedience of your hearts united with His. God bless you all,
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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