The inestimable gift of the holy sacraments
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you tired of winter yet? Most of us would respond infactically: yes! We are blessed in Iowa with all four seasons of the year. I have found few people whose favorite season is winter! The cold and darkness of winter, when the days are so short and light seems so weak and distant allow us to remind ourselves the “the darkness does not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
Yesterday, February 2, we celebrated a feast of light, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This feast commemorates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, as the Old Law required for first-born sons. We also remember how, when our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph brought Him there, they met the prophets Simeon and Anna (see Lk 2:22-40). Simeon’s inspired speech to Mary both recognized Jesus as the long-expected Messiah, and prophesied what sword of sorrow would pierce her immaculate heart before the Cross. This is the canticle “Nunc dimittis,” which is said every day by priests, deacons and many others in the Church during Night Prayer (Compline): “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Our eyes have not only seen this salvation and light, Jesus Christ, but we have been given the inestimable gift of the holy sacraments. These sacraments allow us to be touched by Christ in a uniquely human way. In our baptism, we become one with Christ, sharing intimately in His life, death, and resurrection. We, too, then, are presented to God with Him, on the altar of Christ’s Passion, in the act which this feast commemorates. In the most Holy Eucharist, we receive Christ in His fullness, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in a far more profound and intimate way than the prophets Simeon and Anna on that day. And with our Blessed Mother, our hearts are pierced with sorrow for our sins, which daily nail our Lord to the Cross of our redemption. This sorrow inspires our repentance, contrition, and penance in the profound healing of Confession.
Simeon’s immediate recognition of Jesus as “Lumen Gentium,” the light of the nations, is also symbolized on this day by the blessing of candles. This gives the Feast of the Presentation another name, “Candlemas.” In older centuries, these blessed and lighted candles would then be used in a solemn procession of clergy and people, representing Jesus’s entry into the Temple, both as an infant and again as the sacrificial Lamb – and our participation with Him in both events.
Even though He was only an infant a few weeks old when Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple, already He was preparing the holy sacrifice of Easter. Lent is still a few weeks away this year, but we too should begin to prepare. Lent will call us again to conversion and wholeness of heart, and offer us many opportune graces to respond without hesitation. We can ready ourselves for that grace by examining our consciences now, and seeking the sacrament of Penance; and by spending time with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, contemplating as Mary did the unmerited gifts of our Redeemer.
As you know, the new translation of the Roman Missal will be used in all of our parishes beginning this coming Advent, only ten months from now. Father Lingle, Director of Worship, for our Diocese is preparing a series of workshops for the diocese to help prepare everyone as well as possible. I know that change can be hard, and that the familiarity of the words of the Holy Mass which we have been using for four decades is very comforting. The new words which we will be saying will very soon become familiar in the same way. But in the process of changing from one translation to another, I ask and encourage all of you to be open to the grace of the moment. Having to change will force us to pay a renewed attention to what we are doing in the Mass. Just like the ancient customs of Candlemas, this new translation offers us a chance to receive more deeply the Light of Christ, and to unite ourselves more intentionally to Him in His paschal sacrifice and glory. I very much hope that we all, each in our particular roles in the Holy Mass, will allow that gift to penetrate our hearts and renew our devotion and our commitment to belong utterly to “God alone.” As I have said before in my Pastoral Letter, The Church is Always in Need of Renewal, the celebration of the Mass and our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, must be the center of all that we do. The upcoming changes, I am convinced, will help both priests and laity to love the Mass even more.
I have mentioned previously the new crisis pregnancy center soon to open in Sioux City, called “Mary’s Choice.” Such centers have been instrumental throughout the country in challenging the culture of death, saving unborn babies from death and their mothers from the trauma of abortion, and healing the effects of past abortions. I am very hopeful that Mary’s Choice will achieve the same good things here, and even, God willing, through the power of prayer and loving witness cause Planned Parenthood to close in Sioux City.
I am therefore pleased to see in this week’s news the ruling of the U.S. District Court in Maryland, in the case “Archbishop of Baltimore et al. v. City of Baltimore et al.” Planned Parenthood, which of course benefits the most financially from the culture of death, has led the effort to pass laws effectively silencing the witness of these centers. These proposed laws have been ruled unconstitutional and discriminatory under the First Amendment. I ask you to continue to support Mary’s Choice and all the efforts to promote life in our diocese with your prayers.
Enjoy the Super Bowl this Sunday after Mass. The Broncos won’t be there, so I am rooting for my classmate’s favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. May the best team win. Stay warm and safe as we await the beauty and warmth of spring.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
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