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Grasping meaning of suffering creates source of hope

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ continue to grow in your hearts! As this winter continues to give us ice, snow, and wind, loss of power and difficult driving, we are warmed by the fire of God’s love and the zeal of our faith. May these winter days give us many opportunities to reflect on the great gift of our faith, take time to read the Bible or a good spiritual book or thank God for His gift of all four seasons of the year! The Christmas season may have concluded, but we still hold in our minds and hearts the wonder of Christ’s birth. Living every day within the mystery of the Incarnation gives us hope, despite the suffering of this world. We know from experience that suffering is real and universal – from the great tragedy of Haiti’s devastation, to the sorrowful deaths of loved ones, to the daily burden of pain and worry we each must bear.

As Christians, we are not promised a life free of suffering. Indeed, because the devil hates those who love God, we are certain to suffer even more. Yet, the mystery of the Incarnation reveals and teaches that, when God lifted up the human to Himself in Jesus Christ, He did not exempt His own Son from great suffering. Jesus died for us. He also rose from the dead for us. His death and Resurrection show the true meaning of suffering. Grasping this meaning is the source of our hope.

Many find the winter season one of hardness and sometimes even depression. Without Christ and the hope He makes possible, the world thinks all suffering must lead to despair. As faithful believers we look with confidence to many examples of hope given to us by our God. After their liberation from bondage in Egypt, ancient Israel could attest that God was still with them. Their transformation showed that suffering could be redressed, because “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Job 34:28; Ps 69:34). Whatever was lost in suffering could be regained, if, like Job, one clung to right living in the ways of God. In their new bondage to Babylon, Greece, and Rome in the six centuries before Christ’s birth, ancient Israel also learned that suffering could test the faithful, “as gold is tested in fire” (Job 23:10). It purified faith from worldly motives, leaving only the love of God as the reason to cling to hope of restitution.

For us as Christians, in the Way of the Cross, even suffering ceases to be an evil. It becomes the means of transformation, for all those who share, through their own passion, in the redemptive Passion of Christ. The outpouring of support for Haiti, which also takes place among us every day, on the individual scale, is one small part of that transformation. In the communion of Christ, our hope becomes, not merely hope in this world, but hope for an eternal, complete, and perfect freedom from all possible suffering.

This hope and freedom is what God wills for us, His beloved children, and what Christ came into the world as a child to purchase for us with His own blood. Christ is the face of hope. At Christmas, we see His face most clearly, for we are more open to the innocence of the child, than to the frightening power of Christ’s full majesty. As a child, the infant Christ gives us a gift of hope we can more easily accept. Yet now, already looking forward to Lent, we must take firm hold of that hope, to sustain us all the more for months to come.

If we accept this gift now, we can also cling to it the whole year through. We accept it during Lent, to let it call us to deep conversion. We accept it during Easter, and it makes us new creations, such that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). We accept it at Pentecost, to become the apostles He calls us to be. We must daily let it infuse its power into the tiniest nooks and crannies of our lives.

Accepting His hope means we are not motivated by fear, or anger, or greed, or any other evil impulse, in making the thousands of decisions we make each day, which affect other people. Instead, tested and proven in faith and hope, we are motivated only by our love for Christ, who proved His love by loving us first and best (Rom 5:8). In this way, we are light in the darkness of this world – Christ’s light, the star of Bethlehem, the light of the world, shining still in our hearts for all to see. Here and now, to our neighbors, friends, and family, even to the survivors in Haiti, this light in the darkness is the real, concrete and urgent difference the Incarnation makes.

Next week is also Catholic Schools Week. Please remember in prayer all those who work and learn in our Catholic schools, as well as all our Catholic families with school-age children. May they grow in faith and love for God and neighbor, and especially in hope. I am very proud of all the efforts that are made by so many-priests, parents, administrators, teachers and students, to insure that all our Catholic schools provide a vision of hope, true Christian hope, for the future. In a special way, I want to thank Dan Ryan, our Superintendent of Catholic Schools for being such a positive and evident sign of hope for all of us.

Pray also for me, dear friends, and for each other, as we strive together to be worthy of the beautiful gift of hope. Pray especially, in this Year for Priests, for all priests, in this Diocese and throughout the world. May the graces of this season bring you daily closer to our Lord Jesus Christ. And, just for the record, if it can’t be the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl, I throw my support to the New Orleans Saints, of course!

Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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