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Be willing to live and die as true followers of Christ

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you all peace! In these first days of the Year of Faith, which began one week ago on October 11, I hope you are already praying more, and desiring a deeper understanding of our holy Faith, and a more fervent love for our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Father has called for this Year of Faith to strengthen the Church, not in terms of worldly power, but in terms of service and evangelization (see Mk 10:42-5). God wants to save all souls through His holy Church, and we are His instruments in making that happen.

We see an example of this in the Gospel passage is the reading for this Sunday. The Apostles James and John didn’t yet understand fully what mission the Lord has given them. As Christ lead them up to Jerusalem for His Passion, they still anticipated a more worldly victory, and so they asked for the very worldly, even political, favor of seats “one at your right hand and the other at your left.” It is as if they were asking to be appointed Vice-President and Secretary of State. But this sort of “favor” is not our Lord’s way; this sort of “power” not what His kingdom looks like. It was not until after the Passion, and the Resurrection, and even until the full gifts of the Holy Spirit had been confirmed for them at Pentecost, that they truly understood and accepted what place had been prepared for them, as Apostles, by the perfect providence of God the Father.

St. James preached the Gospel fearlessly in and around Jerusalem, despite persecution (see e.g. Acts 5), until his death at the order of King Herod, about 10 years after the Resurrection (Acts 12:2). St. John wrote the fourth Gospel, and preached north from Jerusalem, founding the Church in Ephesus (on the coast of modern Turkey). One of his more famous disciples was St. Polycarp, later the bishop of Smyrna, who also died a martyr in his eighties about 155. So James and John lived fully the apostolic mission Christ gave them, and passed on their gifts to another generation of bishops, martyrs, and evangelists, to keep the Church growing.

We, too, often need to retrace the same path of conversion as James and John. Even though we have seen the fullness of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection each Easter, and have had all the gifts of the Holy Spirit fully confirmed in us in our Confirmation, we can still, sometimes, take our faith for granted. We need the same renewal for fearless, zealous ministry which they received in that first Easter and first Pentecost. We need the same renewal of our commitment to live the Faith every day, no matter the cost in worldly terms. This is, indeed, our most basic vocation, the call we received in our holy Baptism, to be His disciples. This renewal of evangelizing joy and love is exactly what the Year of Faith is for.

For the last hundred years and more, our culture has been steering more and more contrary to its Gospel roots. Social acceptance of cohabitation, divorce and contraception, and more recently of every kind of fornication and adultery, have greatly harmed the vocation to married life. Novel interpretations of Scripture challenge Tradition, and promote ambiguous moral relativism and the privatization of faith. The unprecedented violence of two world wars and innumerable revolutions and civil wars have desensitized us to the suffering of others, and made us overly suspicious of all claims to authority, even legitimate ones. The most heinous modern evil of all, abortion, diabolically divides father against mother, and mother against child; and has viciously corrupted the institutions of law and the family, meant especially to protect the weakest and most vulnerable. Our hearts become increasingly hardened against all these forms of spiritual and material poverty, and so many more.

In the face of all these growing evils, the message of the Gospel can seem hollow and weak, difficult to make sense of, and difficult to apply to our daily lives. Perhaps, individually, we cling strongly to our Faith as a comfort, but we have to a great extent lost any sense of how our Faith can help others.

If our Faith were indeed only for us, and not ultimately for everyone, we could make accommodations with almost any conceivable evil. We could tolerate the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and so on, as long as we didn’t have to commit these evils ourselves. We could approve of the completely specious “personally opposed, but…” arguments that are so commonly deployed by politicians to avoid taking a clear stand against evil. None of these things would matter to us, as long as we could be privately exempt to live our private Faith in our private lives.
But the Faith is not a private thing. It is meant for everyone, not just for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross, descend into Hell, and rise again on the third day, so that only some of His beloved children could be saved. No, clearly and necessarily, if we believe in Him, we believe also that He died so that all could be saved. That means we must love other people enough to challenge them with the truth of the Gospel. We can’t be indifferent to their evil, and still call ourselves Christians; we condemn ourselves along with them, if we make no effort to show them that Christ’s way is better, that it makes a real difference in our lives, especially in the lives of the poorest and the most vulnerable. We must be willing to live and die as true followers of Christ, offering our service and the example of our committed Faith to our friends, family, and neighbors.

In celebrating this Year of Faith, the Church desires that all followers of Christ will be strengthened in the Faith, by prayer, conversion, renewal, and return to the Sacraments. To share the Gospel which we love with the whole world, we need to grow in humility and holiness, in the commitment to rule as Christ Himself taught: “Whoever will be greater, will be your servant. Whoever will be first must be the servant of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:44-5). Thank you for all the efforts you are making for the Year of Faith. Once again, I encourage all of us to pray and meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. This devotion can aid us in a deeper appreciation of the life of Jesus and Mary. May our minds and hearts always be open to His most holy and perfect will in our lives!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City


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