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Ordinary time is anything but ordinary

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the grace and blessings of our infant King, Jesus Christ, and the intercession of St. Mary and St. Joseph fill your heart and your life in this new year of grace 2014! In these last days of the Christmas Season, which ends this Sunday, January 12, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I hope and pray that you continue to know the joy of our Lord’s birth with renewed faith and commitment. As He bends down to us in our weakness, we gain strength from His compassion and confidence from His presence. Therefore, we are able to face the challenges of the new year with peace and faith, knowing that, whatever the crosses we may be called to bear, God is with us at every moment.

The Baptism of the Lord marked the first great, public revelation of Jesus as promised Messiah and Son of God. All through His life, there had been unmistakable signs – John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb, the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna at the Temple, the child Jesus astonishing the scholars of the law at age 12 – but these were not known to everyone. Mary treasured these signs, and contemplated them in her heart with great prayer, but to all the people, the Messiah remained hidden.

But at His baptism by John in the Jordan, there was the wonderful vision of the Heavens opening, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father, which were seen and heard by all those present that day. St. Andrew was probably not the only one who hurried home to tell his family that God’s promised Savior had been revealed: “He found first his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah…’ And he brought him to Jesus.” (Jn 1:41-2)!

This should be our response, too! Jesus allowed Himself to be baptized by John in order to sanctify the water and establish the holy sacrament of Baptism. In our baptism, we received that same gift, the washing away of all sin and the holiness of the Son of God made man, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit, who descended on each of us, not in the form of a dove, but in the form of the sacred Chrism, the holy oil of anointing. In our baptism, we too have found and seen the Messiah. Does this not fill us with great joy and zeal, so that we too want to bring others to meet Him?

This is precisely our mission as baptized Catholics, as those who bear the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. After this Sunday’s feast, the Church’s calendar turns to “Ordinary Time,” the counting out of the weeks of the year as we recall all the events of the ministry and life of our Lord, and strive to follow Him.

For the next eight weeks, until Lent begins on March 5, we have again the opportunity to live every day our most basic vocation, from our baptism: to proclaim by our whole life the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like St. Andrew, and like his brother St. Peter, and all the Apostles and saints since, Jesus Christ has called us by name and sent us into the world with all His gifts of mercy and grace. He wants us to live His life in us: not our broken and sinful, merely human life, but His whole and holy divine life. And by living His life, He wants us to shine His light for others, so that they too may hear and answer His call.

Being a follower of Christ should make a difference. It should not be the same as living according to the ways of the world. We might be hidden, in the sense that we don’t shout our faith from the rooftops and pick arguments with everyone we meet, but simply do the right thing, live with simple virtue and integrity, where God has planted us. In this sense we will always be visible and attractive to those most in need, the “leaven,” as Christ called it, of mercy and hope in the world. We should never fail to live our faith, our divine life, just because the world scorns and shouts at us.

In particular, we are called to live the life of Christ in defense of the poor and against the slaughter of innocents. Each Jan. 22, we mark the sad anniversary of the horrible Roe v. Wade decision, which imposed the holocaust of abortion on our country. We pray with special fervor for an end to this atrocity, but we must also work actively to bring this about, not only by the witness of our lives lived for others, showing concretely that every single person is valuable and worthy of love, but also by the economic and political choices that we make. The annual March for Life is a compelling moment of witness, but our actions and attitudes must make the same clear statement on behalf of the innocent child in the womb, every day of the year.

Amid the dark and cold of these dreary winter days, the light of our faith brings consolation and hope. In the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, shared with all the baptized, we have a light that never fades. Be, then, the light of the world, as our Lord calls us. Please pray for me and for all our priests, deacons, and religious, and pray especially for those most affected by cold winter weather, because of illness, poverty, or any other reason. I pray constantly for all of you. Happy New Year!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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