Form consciences according to teachings of Christ
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to pour His abundant grace into your hearts! I pray that the summer’s heat wave has indeed ended, not merely paused, and that the drought too will soon end. Though much of our harvest this year has already been badly damaged, we should not let our hearts be likewise. The grace of Christ does not lack in our world (see Rom 5:20 and following), and is always available to water our hearts, so that His love may flourish in us.
I have been blessed these last few weeks by several celebrations that “showered my heart” with the refreshing grace of God.
As you will see in this edition of the Catholic Globe, I had the honor of celebrating the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin for Laura Anderson from Holy Trinity Parish in Fort Dodge. This is a unique and beautiful ceremony in the Church. Laura, dressed in a wedding gown and accompanied by two “bridesmaids” was literally “given in marriage” to Christ. This was the first time that I had celebrated this rite of consecration. I heard so many good comments about the ceremony and how carefully the Church honors this Consecration of a Virgin. All of us in attendance had the opportunity to renew our commitment to our own vocations: ordained ministry, religious consecration, married and single life. I once again congratulate Laura and promise her our continued prayers.
I also had an opportunity to celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Grace Chapel on the Briar Cliff University Campus for members of the Bishop’s Circle. We followed with a dinner at my home. I thanked this group of supporters for their financial and prayerful support of all our Diocesan Ministries. I am so grateful to so many of you who support the work of the Lord here in northwest Iowa. Through the Diocesan Annual Appeal, Monsignor Lafferty Tuition Fund, and contributions to your local parish. Each of us has a part to play and I am blessed to have you with me as we continue to do good things for the Lord and His holy people here in our Diocese.
There is one group that deserves special thanks and that is our faithful and dedicated priests. Each year I invite all of the priests to my home for an outdoor barbeque. This is one small way for me to thank them. We have a chance to be together, to share companionship and support and to give thanks to God for the vocation we share as priests. Several of our seminarians joined us as well this week before they head back to their respective seminaries. Our gathering this week was blessed by good weather and served by some of the dedicated staff at the Chancery.
These events have truly filled my heart with joy.
As summer slowly ends, the fall and winter activities are starting up again. I would like to share with you some thoughts on our involvement in the political process that is upon us.
THE COMMON GOOD
As Catholics, we should never be afraid to engage the world in dialogue about the things that matter to us. Politics is one avenue of that engagement. Next week, when the Republican National Convention meets in Tampa, Florida, and the following week, when the Democratic National Convention meets in Charlotte, North Carolina, the election season will begin in earnest. What is a faithful Catholic to think about the issues and parties we’ll be voting on in November? How can we, as Catholics, exercise our political power of voting for the common good?
As your bishop and shepherd, it is part of my responsibility to teach the truth as clearly as possible. The life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has immediate implications for politics and the common good. These fundamental principles are part of our faith, and your responsibility as a member of the Church is to follow these principles as fully as possible, in every aspect of your lives, including in making political choices. How else will the gifts of Christ’s grace to each of you animate our nation and culture, than through your fidelity?
DIGNITY OF EACH HUMAN PERSON
The most profound and immediate political implication of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection is the recognition of the God-given dignity of each individual human person. Christ willingly chose to endure His terrible Passion, and died and rose again, to make it possible for every single person, everywhere and always, to have that relationship with Him that leads to Heaven. In respect of our creation in the order of nature, God knows, loves, and treasures each person for their unique individual being. In respect of our creation in the order of grace through baptism, God knows, loves, and treasures each person for their unique vocation for salvation. This double esteem of God for each of His creatures is our value, our dignity. It cannot be measured in human worth; it cannot be compromised for human ends. To fail to treat each person as one loved by God is to fail to love God.
All justice, all righteousness, all social good are predicated upon the recognition and defense of this precious human dignity. Anything that violates human dignity is a moral evil, a “wrong act” in itself. And justice cannot be fostered by tolerating, much less normalizing, “wrong acts”. Thus, apart from this principle of dignity, there is no common good. We can only follow Christ in our politics if we use our political authority – that is, our power to vote, and to hold accountable those for whom we have voted – to promote and defend human dignity.
TEN COMMANDMENTS AND NATURAL LAW
The great principles of human action that flow from recognition and defense of each person’s God-given dignity are collected for us in the Holy Scriptures in the Ten Commandments: worship of and obedience to God as our Creator; respect for our parents and the traditional family, and also by implication for our nation and the rule of law; and commitment not to treat other people as objects, as happens in theft, murder, lying, adultery and fornication, envy, gossip and calumny, pornography, and so forth. These fundamental truths are universal. As Christians, we know them from God’s revelation in Scripture, but the same truths are also known by studying human behavior and human history. In that context we call them “natural law,” the law or universal values that describe the flourishing of our human nature, always and everywhere. Even if we think religion has no place in shaping the public good, we still must acknowledge that natural law does not derive from revelation, and that there is no common good apart from these fundamental principles of universal morality. We can only follow Christ in our politics if we use our authority to foster a strong cultural adhesion to these universal moral laws.
RIGHT TO LIFE
From this point, we can begin to enumerate the positive rights and duties that foster a just society in practice, not just in theory. Of these, the most important and basic is the right to life. Every attack on the right to life – most especially abortion, but also including infanticide, human cloning, manipulation and destruction of human embryos for scientific research, and euthanasia – every attack on the right to life is also an implied attack on all rights.
Abortion corrodes every moral norm, and justifies every kind of violence, just as we’ve seen in our culture over the past four decades. This is so, because abortion is a grievous form of social and physical violence. It kills an innocent person. It causes grave emotional, moral, social, and spiritual harm to a mother and a father, to other members of that family, and to the medical people conducting the abortion. Abortion also destroys the idea that the strong should protect the weak, and does so right at the heart of where we best experience and learn it: the bond between mother and child. Indeed, if parenthood, that most intimate of human bonds, does not create a primary moral obligation to another person, then no social relationship can do so. If abortion is acceptable, therefore, every social relationship is no more or less than an expression of power and domination. We can only follow Christ in our politics if we use our authority to support and defend the right to life, and thus also all the other rights and duties of our broad Western tradition.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
Of those rights and duties dependent on the right to life and on human dignity, our freedom of religion is in particular need of shoring up this year. It is a measure of how far our country has drifted from its founding Christian principles that this “first freedom” is in danger.
Freedom of religion is in danger of becoming only a freedom of worship; that is, that religion will be restricted to the four walls of church buildings. One would thus have the civil right to attend, or not to attend, whatever religious community one chose; but attempting to follow one’s conscience in public (e.g., to use the legitimate profits of one’s business to support pro-marriage causes) would not be acceptable. In fact, a certain section of our culture is increasingly intolerant of religious morality, especially where that morality questions or rejects contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
The true form of our religious freedom is that enshrined in our Constitution, in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” This Amendment recognizes that government simply isn’t competent to judge the content of religion. The only way to avoid a de facto religious (or anti-religious) tyranny, then, is that each person have a near-absolute civil right to live fully, not merely the liturgical dictates, but especially the moral and social dictates, of their religion. This civil right is still subject to the universal moral law, as our jurisprudence has long recognized, since even the appeal to conscience cannot justify evil.
As Catholics, our participation in political life is strongly encouraged. But we must form and follow our conscience according to the teachings of Christ and the Church. We must be committed above all to promote the common good by defending human dignity, the universal moral law expressed so clearly in the Ten Commandments, and the right to life and liberty, on which principles our nation was founded. If we are to follow Christ even in our political actions and choices, these are the necessary aspects of His life-giving way. I hope these thoughts are helpful to you as we enter an intense battle of opinions expressed in the “political talk” that we will hear in the coming weeks.
May our Lord be most gracious to all of you! Please continue to pray for me, for our priests, and for families, just as I pray for all of you and your needs.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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