Church continues mission of Christ by rejecting culture of death
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This Sunday, October 19th, will be the 81st annual World Mission Sunday. This day is meant as “the feast of catholicity and universal solidarity” in sharing our faith with our neighbors and with the whole world. It is a special day of prayer and support for the evangelizing mission of the Church. Each year on this day, we are reminded to pray and work for conversion of hearts.
The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ: to save souls. “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” Christ came into the world to open the doors of Heaven to all those who would believe and accept the merciful love of God the Father. The Church continues the mission of Christ; all the baptized, by virtue of their belonging to the Church, the Body of Christ, are called to take up that mission. Each member, in the proper way according to vocation and state in life, must be an apostle, one “sent out” for Christ’s mission.
Christ taught his disciples to “go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). This teaching is the evangelizing mission of Christ. By proclaiming Christ who died and rose for us, we invite people to respond in faith and hope to God’s gracious gift of faith. Faith is absolutely necessary for salvation (CCC, 161). But “faith without works is dead… faith is completed by works” (James 2:17, 22). Stronger faith produces more abundantly the good fruits of conversion, solidarity, and justice.
Faith is both divine gift, and our free response to it. It is our cooperation with the grace of Christ, eternally flowing as blood and water from His side pierced on the Cross. Faith is our assent to the truth of Christ: the truth that God is love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” (Jn 3:16) to die for us. As we believe, so we must act. If we believe that God “so loved the world,” we must act with the same love. Was this not Jesus Christ’s greatest commandment, to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34)?
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that charity is the form of virtue (ST IIaIIae23.8); in other words, all good works are works of love. All the good fruit, by which the branch growing on the vine of Christ is known (Jn 15:5), grow there because God’s infinite love for each of us nourishes faith, spurs interior conversion, strengthens our acceptance and resolve, and forms our conscience. Without love, there is no faith. But since God loves us first and always, faith is always possible. Where faith is weak or absent, it is because “the light came into the world, but the people preferred the darkness” (Jn 3:19). When we cling to our evil works, done not in love but in corruption, we deny and refuse the gift of faith; we reject God’s love.
To the extent that we do reject God’s love and gift of faith, we support the “culture of death.” Then we commit or condone those same evil works which the Word of God, in the prophets and in Jesus Christ, have always commanded us against. All those acts which deny the dignity of each human person – which, that is, deny that what God has created is, or even can be, loved by God – erode our faith. In our country today, the most damaging of these acts are especially abortion, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, euthanasia, and redefining marriage and sexuality. These issues are intrinsically evil, that is, by their very nature they are wrong. They are never good and never morally permissible. These and other gravely immoral acts are called “mortal” sins, because they kill in us the capacity to love.
As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, said in a speech at Regensberg University last year, these works are not evil arbitrarily, merely because God has decreed it so; they are evil because they are fundamentally irreconcilable with that infinite, perfect love which is the very being of God. The culture of death is evil because it rejects God, not because God rejects it. Indeed, God does not reject it, but sends His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal it, to transform it into the culture of life, of His life. The holy sacrifice of the Cross, perpetuated in the world until the end of time by the Church in the Holy Mass, is the most profound work of faith and love.
Faith saves, because love frees; dehumanizing injustices stiffle the spirit of love, because sin enslaves. Christ’s “abundant life” (Jn 10:10), which is ours through faith and Baptism, means freedom to love fully, like Him. Slavery to sin masquerades as that false “freedom from” burdens, duties, obligations; indeed, from the self sacrificing suffering of loving others. All love is ultimately self sacrificing; all sin ultimately a denial of the Cross. Christ died and rose so that we, too, may die to sin and death, and rise to new life in Him, as members of His Body, the Church.
Our mission, then, as baptized believers, is the salvation of souls, freeing all souls from slavery to sin. By proclaiming the Gospel of Christ who died and rose again, by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the full sacramental life of the Church, and by choosing to love even the poorest of the poor, we participate as apostles in the work of Christ. As we approach voting in the upcoming election, I ask that you all pray diligently for the Church throughout the world. I exhort you to prudent stewardship of all God’s generous gifts to us here in the Diocese of Sioux City, especially the gift of political liberty. This gift, like all God’s gifts, is meant for the good of others, not to be abused in supporting the culture of death. May the Lord “bless the work of our hands… and make us a holy people, sacred to Himself, if we keep all His commandments and walk only in His ways” (Dt 28:8-9).
I was recently appointed a member of the Board of Regents for Conception Seminary College in Missouri. I attended my first meeting last week and was very impressed with the fine Board that, the Rector-President, Father Samuel Russell, OSB, has put together. A cross section of Bishops, other College Presidents, Laity of various backgrounds and priests allowed a great amount of input for the Seminary Administration. Bishop Robert Finn from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph celebrated Mass for us in the beautiful Basilica dedicated to Mary, the Immaculate Conception.
Our Diocese has three seminarians attending the Seminary: Mauro Sanchez, Chris Ciaffa and David Esquiliano. I had a chance to visit with them and assure them of our support and encouragement. I told them, if it be God’s will; my hope is that they would be ordained priests someday to serve us. Please pray for all our seminarians. They are our precious treasure and the future of the Church in our diocese. May God bless them all.
The Denver Broncos are still holding their own, despite a few crosses. I’m not giving up on them!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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