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Hold firmly to precious gift of faith


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we celebrate Catechetical Sunday on September 19, I offer my most generous thanks and prayers for all those who serve the Church as catechists. Most especially I thank all parents, the first teachers of their children, whose irreplaceable example is the foundation of all later knowledge and virtue. I thank all our priests and deacons, and all our religious sisters, whose dedication to the Church’s service and to the imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ calls us all to greater unity with Him. I thank all our dedicated teachers, both in parish religious education and sacramental preparation programs, and in our Catholic schools, for their loving example of faith and devotion. I pray that you may have the faith of the prophets, saints, and martyrs, and resist with joy the temptations of the world away from belonging only to our Lord Jesus Christ.

This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday centers on “Marriage as the Sacrament of Enduring Love.”
This is a very timely topic and has been chosen to coincide with a variety of the new Priority Initiatives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Late last year we as Bishop’s published our pastoral letter, “Marriage, Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” We also have been promoting the website, “For Your Marriage.”

The Church is committed to provide life giving instruction and pastoral care for the vast majority of the Christian faithful called to the vocation of marriage. As you know, one of the pastoral initiatives in my own pastoral letter, The Church is Always in Need of Renewal,” focused on fostering faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and society. We are called to foster holy families and defend the true, God given meaning of marriage. This involves all of us. Let me explain why the teaching and passing on our faith is so important.

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves His spotless Bride, the Church, with an eternal and infinite love. For her, He willingly endured the agony of the Cross. For her, he died and was buried, and descended into hell. When He rose again from the dead, He rose for her, taking her into His eternal embrace. She is united with Him in the unbreakable bond of the New Covenant. Washed in the blood and water that poured from His side on the Cross, the Church remains His alone. This is the mystery of our holy Catholic faith, which has been handed on, whole and unchanged, through all the generations since the first Easter.

By our washing in the waters of Holy Baptism, we become the children of this covenant of divine love. We receive the priceless gift of this faith, this trusting and transforming belief in the power of Christ’s victory over death and sin. It is simply the truth, that we are healed by His wounds and live in His death. And just as we have received the faith from our perfect and pure Mother, the Church, so also in our turn we pass it on to others, whole and intact. This passing on of the faith is called “Tradition” (in Latin) and “catechesis” (in Greek).

Actions, it is said, speak louder than words. We teach others where our heart is, mostly by what we do. We influence others for good or ill, most profoundly by the example of what we do. This is true of the faith as well. How we pass on the faith starts with our actions – the daily choices we make about what is important to us, what is negotiable, and what doesn’t matter at all. As Pope Paul VI once said, the world listens to the witness of saints and martyrs more than to the instruction of teachers; and if it listens to teachers, it is because they first offer a holy example.

Each of us, then, is called by our sacred Baptism to hold firmly the precious gift of faith we have received from our Holy Mother Church, so that we can give it to others. We do this by the example of how we live the faith. We must show consistently what truly matters to us, at the most basic level – namely, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and the sacred teaching He gave us. This means that we cannot compromise our faith in Him, in order to get along. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot make our Lord Jesus Christ just one among our several priorities. And we can never deliberately commit evil, even if our intentions are good.

Like the three faithful young men in the Book of Daniel, thrust into a fiery furnace as punishment for their fidelity to God, we are pressured every day in the world to surrender our faith. From fundamental, earth-shaking issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, to seemingly trivial details like our Sunday morning schedules, we are pressured to put first in our lives things other than God, other than our faith. The world does not want us to be effective prophets and teachers of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ for us. The world does not want us to belong only to Him and His Bride.

When we capitulate to this pressure, we are demonstrating by our actions the weakness of our faith, rather than guarding, living, and offering it to others. This is what makes us feel “desolate” and “forsaken,” because such compromise empties the Church and the faith of relevance. And thereby we teach others that, since Christ does not really matter to us, He needn’t matter to them.

When, however, we refuse to capitulate, but hold the faith firmly, what a message we send to the world instead! In every generation since Christ lived among us, this living faith of prophets and teachers, saints and martyrs has blazed, an irrepressible light in the darkness. This is the true faith we are called to live and to love. This is the faith the Apostles proclaimed, and their successors still fearlessly proclaim today. This is the faith for which the martyrs died, and still willingly die today. This is the faith that should matter to us above all. This is the faith to which our Holy Mother, Christ’s Bride, wants to conform us, a faith as solid as bedrock in the constantly changing world. “This is the faith of the Church; we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

None of us can live and teach this faith convincingly, or even at all, apart from the Church, because “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me” (Jn 7:16). To live how Christ lived, and to teach what Christ taught, we must belong to Him alone. But only the Church belongs to Him alone, as His spotless Bride, and so we can only do so in the Church. This means that those who would hand on the faith must first receive it with humble submission, at the foot of Christ the Teacher, at the foot of the Cross. Let us never be afraid to speak the truth in love. This is how all of us are to teach and catechize.

Please pray for me that I may grow always in faith and love, and lead you to Him alone. Once again, I thank all our catechists who help me in this noble task.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City


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