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Preaching the Gospel with whole lives

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May your faith in the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ bring you every blessing! We have seven weeks remaining in this Year of Faith. Hopefully, all of you have done something meaningful during this past year to deepen your faith and to bring you closer to Jesus. There is still time for this Year of Faith to make a real difference for us, and not only for us, but also for our families, friends, and neighbors, who might also be inspired or attracted in some way by the light of faith. In these last seven weeks, I urge all of you to spend more time in prayer, especially in reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures. Even just two or three minutes each day, to read one Bible verse and let it sink into our minds and hearts, and guide us through the trials of that day, would be a huge blessing for us and for others.
I also urge you in these weeks to pray daily for the safety of farmers as they begin to harvest God’s bounty, and for the poor who are in need of food. May we who bear the name of Jesus Christ and strive always to know and to do His holy will be the means of alleviating the burden of hunger.

Interview with Pope Francis

I have received many questions and comments about the interview with Pope Francis that was published two weeks ago. It was predictable that most of the media coverage of the interview would be misleading. Pope Francis is not changing the teachings of the Church! Some teachings, of course, come directly from God or from God’s Word in Scripture, and no one can change them. These are the great, solid theological and moral dogmas that the Church has always taught and will always teach – things like the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, original sin and grace, the meaning and nature of the seven sacraments, the sanctity of human life, and so on. Truths like these are revealed to us, not invented by us. We can receive them with faith and strive to live our lives the way God wants, or we can rebel and follow a different path than God’s, but we cannot pretend that we do not know that God teaches these unchanging truths through the Church. Still, in a culture that glorifies novelty and innovation, the unchanging teachings of the Church are difficult to appreciate. It shouldn’t surprise us that worldly people keep expecting the Church to be more worldly and looking for signs of such change in a new pope’s words and actions.

Pope Francis, no differently than any of his recent predecessors, is defending the deposit of faith. He is trying to show us two things about what faith means to us. First, if we have faith, we will preach the Gospel with our whole lives. Everything we do or don’t do, everything we say or don’t say, reflects the presence of God in our hearts. If we are close to Him, striving for holiness, struggling to be faithful to Him in His holy Church every day, the people around us will see that. If we are far from Him, if we only pray and think about God one hour a week or even less, if we never go to Confession or desire to change our sinful habits, the people around us will see that. Which way is more attractive? Which way challenges the complacency of the world which treats beloved children of God as disposable commodities? Which way offers hope to the lost, or a light in the darkness of those who despair that God could possibly love them?

Second, if we have faith, then how we preach the Gospel with our whole lives will also be of the Gospel, namely, with love, humility, and simplicity. Preaching the Gospel with love means always desiring and acting for the good of those around us. We want people to get to Heaven, and that means wanting and inviting them to be in the Church. We want people to flourish in this life, and that means the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” and, especially today, an unwavering commitment to defend the sanctity of each life and the dignity of marriage. We want people to be happy, and that means “admonishing the sinner” and “instructing the ignorant,” always with respect and gentleness.

Preaching the Gospel with humility means listening to the experiences of other people with compassion, and meeting them where they are in our inviting them to know and love Jesus Christ. It means not being shrill or scolding in how we talk about God’s love, truth, mercy, and judgment. It means being patient with the faults of other people, not condoning sin, but forgiving it while encouraging the hard work of conversion, just as we receive God’s patience and forgiveness for our sins.

Preaching the Gospel with simplicity means keeping the message of Christ’s Good News front and center. It is the Good News, not the “Obedient News!” The Church has rules, certainly, as do all people and institutions, but the Church is not about rules. She is about mercy, the mercy the world desperately longs for without knowing where to find. That’s what Pope Francis meant when he called the Church “like a field hospital after a battle.” We can’t separate the mercy from the rules, as if following the rules or not was of no consequence – that’s moral relativism, and it makes the Church indistinguishable from the world – but neither can we confuse mercy with the rules, in pharisaical blindness, and make the Church unreachable from the world.

The expression is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, to “preach the Gospel always, and when necessary, use words.” Pope Francis said nothing other than this in the interview. Nor did Pope Benedict, when calling us to the Year of Faith and asking us to “open wide the doors to Christ,” so that we could bring His mercy and His Gospel fully into our heart, and offer it to others by how we live the Faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, do not be dismayed by how the world talks about the Church. Trust in Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church! Trust in the Holy Spirit, who calls each of us to our vocation! Live the faith as best you can, in every part of your life, and see what wonders the Lord will work for you! Pray for me, so that I may lead you to Him, 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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