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Celebrating saints, praying for dead and giving thanks

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


This week, the Church has celebrated the wonderful solemnity of All Saints Day (November 1) and the Feast of All Souls (November 2). Many of our favorite saints have their own feast days throughout the year, and I’ll mention a few this month in a moment. But on All Saints, we celebrate all the saints of the Church – all those, that is, who have “persevered in the great struggle” and “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” There are many thousands of holy men and women whom the Church has recognized as great followers of Christ, models of the faith and holiness worthy of our imitation, and friends who long to help us become holy too. There are uncounted more who have persevered in the very same way, who, because of the simplicity or obscurity of their lives, we cannot know personally, but who are known to God. These holy men and women too, we believe, are also rewarded for their great love with the full gift of salvation, and they too intercede for us. All these saints together are praised on this holy day. In praising them, we praise God who makes them holy. We also ask for their prayers for us, remembering that the Church is one – one Body, with Christ as our divine Head – and that those who are already in Heaven are united with us still on earth.


This unity of the Church as one Body is why the Feast of All Souls naturally follows the Solemnity of All Saints. Not everyone who dies dies in a state of grace or perfection. Most of us, in fact, are not yet holy enough when we die. Even though we have faith and struggle to avoid sins, we remain too attached to created things, and so we are not ready to see God face to face. His true and full presence would still be too much for our souls to bear. Some further purification is needed before we can come fully into God’s presence, to sing with unending joy with the choirs of saints and angels.

This is why we offer prayers and Masses for the dead (see CCC 1032). Just as the saints in Heaven pray for us, we too pray for all those who have died. Prayers for the dead are appropriate throughout the year, of course, but on this day and during the month of November especially, we remember all those who have died – both our own beloved dead, and those who have no one to pray for them. In the mystery of salvation, and in our unity in the Church, our prayers somehow contribute to that purification by which God perfects the souls of those who have died, even after death, to love Him without measure. In some way known fully only to God, our prayers for the dead may permit even those who have died outside the Church, to have such desire for God, and such contrition at the time of their death, that they too might belong to Christ and be saved. I urge you not to neglect this good work, one of the spiritual works of mercy, but to pray often and to seek indulgences for the dead, and to ask for Masses to be offered for them.


November is also a very happy month for me as your bishop. It was on November 10, 2005, that I was appointed to this office. I am still sometimes surprised to find myself a bishop, and serving you here in Iowa. But as I pointed out last year in my pastoral letter, there is a great depth of faith here, and a reservoir of strength for rebuilding the whole Church, if only we can tap into it in the right ways. Every year at this time, I am therefore reminded of how much I have learned since coming here, and filled with hope at how much we together can accomplish for Christ. I thank especially all our priests, deacons, consecrated persons and faithful laity who pray for me every day. I feel the effect of your prayers and am so grateful.

November 10 also happens to be the day on which the 1998 rededication of our Cathedral of the Epiphany is marked in most of our parishes. In fact the rededication took place on November 9, which is the Feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Pope’s cathedral church as Bishop of Rome, in the year 324. Since the Pope is the head of the whole Church, his cathedral is also, in a sense, the “home parish” for all Catholics, and so this momentous dedication is observed universally in the Church.


November also has a full slate of saints to celebrate. Here are some whose prayers have supported me as a priest and bishop. Pope Saint Leo the Great, a doctor of the Church, defended the Church against both barbarians invading Italy, and heretical ideas that divided and corrupted her ministry. St. Martin of Tours, the patron of France and of soldiers, was a Roman soldier who became a monk, and later a bishop, converting many pagans to faith in Christ. His feast day on November 11 coincides with the day chosen for the Armistice of 1918. St. Frances Cabrini was the first American citizen to be canonized, for her heroic work building schools and hospitals and orphanages for the poor (November 13). St. Albert the Great (November 15) was a thirteenth-century Dominican teacher and bishop, and a doctor of the Church, whose most famous student was St. Thomas Aquinas (his feast is January 28). St. Cecilia (November 22), the patron of sacred music, was a consecrated Roman virgin and a martyr. Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro (November 23), a priest in Mexico, was another martyr who died with the praise of Christ on his lips. May our faith be strengthened by the example and intercession of such holy men and women.


The last of my Fall Confirmations are almost completed. It is such a joy for me to be with our well-informed young people, anxious to receive the power, grace, and gifts of Holy Spirit. Once again, I thank their pastors, catechists, parents, sponsors and others who contribute their time and talent to teach and mentor them.

It was a joy for me to be at Holy Spirit Retirement Center to celebrate Mass and bless the new tabernacle and stained glass windows. Thank you to Father Dennis Meinen, Pat Tomscha and Mary Hildman for their gracious hospitality.

I also have spent time with both of the Serra Clubs in our Diocese and thank all the members who work so hard to affirm and encourage vocations. Also, Project Andrew, (recently held at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in West Bend) a program where pastors bring potential seminarians to a time of prayer, a sharing of a meal and witness talks by some of our priests, is a great source of planting seeds for future vocations. Please do all you can to encourage our young to find their true vocations whether it be marriage, the single life, the consecrated life or holy orders.

The annual Mass for our homeschooled children, the Board meeting for Briar Cliff University and the conferral of the Ministry of Reader on our deacon candidates rounded out my week.

All is a gift to me, to God give the glory. May these November days be ones of thanks and gratitude for all that God gives us. Thank you for reading this letter. May God continue to bless you and your family. I have almost given up on the Broncos for this year, but not quite. Miracles do happen!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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