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Year of Faith:
Make time for prayer in the new year

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ! We still have a few more days in the Christmas season. We continue to reflect on the great gift of our Lord’s Incarnation, and His miraculous birth preserving the virginity of His blessed Mother. By coming into the world as man, Jesus changed forever our fundamental relationship with God the Father. As the Fathers of the Church often repeated, “God became man so that man could become God.”

At Epiphany, last Sunday, we recalled how the adoration of the infant Christ by the wise men from the East revealed His true divine nature to all the nations of the world. Not only Jews, members of the Covenant with Abraham and Moses, awaited His salvation. The wise men were only the first from outside Israel to recognize Emmanuel, God-with-us, and to accept the gift of faith.

This Sunday’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord reveals again, in a similar way, who Jesus Christ truly is. The great crowds of Jews and Gentiles who came to hear the preaching of John the Baptist that day witnessed the unmistakable signs at His baptism: the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father from Heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son.” They heard the testimony of John, “Behold the Lamb of God” – the same testimony we hear each time we attend Holy Mass. And many, not just the Apostle Andrew whom He would call, began to believe that something new and powerful was happening.

Our celebration of Christmas over these past few weeks should remind us clearly that we, too, believe that Jesus is the Christ, “the Son of the living God.” With St. Peter we profess this holy Faith. Whenever we are tempted by the world to serious doubt about our salvation in Christ alone, we can also repeat with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

On Monday we will return to “ordinary time.” But although the season of Christmas is indeed very special in our Church calendar, no time is truly “ordinary” to us who bear the name of Christ. We are always called to retain the joy and love of Christmas, and to share the source of that great love with everyone around us. We are always called to imitate the humility of Christ, who, “though He was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself.” We should be willing to sacrifice for God, who sacrificed even His own Son for us.

So then, looking forward to the rest of the year, what in particular might we offer as a faithful sacrifice to God? One of the most important things is also one of the easiest: time spent in prayer. Faith is certainly a gift, but also more than a gift. It includes our response to the initial gift, which we received in our own Baptism along with the name of Christ, and the continuing exchange of gifts, most especially the sacraments, throughout our life.

Therefore faith is also a relationship, a friendship with God. Like every relationship of love, it grows stronger and healthier when we spend time with our beloved. So time for prayer every day is truly indispensible to a life of faith.

Jesus taught us to pray the Our Father. This prayer is perfect and beautiful, and we would grow tremendously in our faith if we prayed it sincerely each day. But the Our Father is also the pattern of every prayer, and in our daily life of prayer, we should imitate the four basic movements of the heart which it expresses. First, we praise and adore God as God (“hallowed be Thy Name, Thy will be done”). Second, we thank Him for giving us “our daily bread,” and for all His gifts and blessings. Third, we humbly acknowledge our sinfulness, our need for repentance and forgiveness (“forgive us our trespasses”). And fourth, we petition for our needs, and the needs of those around us (“deliver us from evil”).

By these four movements or stages of prayer, we constantly lift up to God the whole of our minds and hearts, life and love, faith and mission, and receive the same back from Him again, blessed and strengthened. In this way, prayer unites us with God. It teaches us to listen to Him, to His desire for our life and actions, from the most important decisions to the seemingly inconsequential. It teaches us to recognize the impetus to holiness in our lives, which the saints have followed all the way to Heaven. It teaches us to trust God, even when we do not see how His will is working for us.

I also encourage you to pray the Rosary often, especially in this Year of Faith. The words of the Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary are, of course, most meaningful, but the heart of the Rosary’s effectiveness as prayer is the meditation on the life and mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’s whole life was prayer. Everything He did was praise of the Father, thanksgiving, forgiveness, and attention to the needs of others. When we immerse ourselves in the Rosary, we learn to pray with Him, not just with our words, but with every part of our heart and life.

I also urge you to seek out opportunities for Adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Even when we cannot spend a whole hour with Him, even when He is in the tabernacle and not exposed on the altar, our silence in His true divine Presence is some of the most effective prayer time we can have. We cannot sit with Him and not be changed by Him. We cannot give Him the simple honor of recognizing His true Presence in the Eucharist without powerful prayer following.

Believe in the power of prayer! Our prayers do make a profound difference in the world. Especially as we mark the 40th anniversary of the terrible Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, we must trust in prayer to confront and ultimately defeat the grave evil of abortion. The struggle against abortion is not primarily a political one (although it certainly has significant political expressions); it’s primarily a spiritual struggle. Only prayer allows us to engage in it with charity. Only prayer offers hope for the reconciliation to God of our whole country. I’m so very grateful for the constant prayer and public witness of so many, both Catholics and non-Catholics, who stand and march with us in defense of the lives of the unborn.

May every grace and blessing in the New Year fill you and keep you close to the tender heart of our mother, Mary, and to the most Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus. Please pray for me, that I may lead you well and faithfully to Heaven, and for all our priests, just as I pray for all of you.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
Bishop of Sioux City

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