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Live vocations joyfully, faithfully

Dear brother and sisters in Christ,

I pray that you are receiving the graces and blessings of our Lenten devotion and discipline. By our fasting and prayers, we open ourselves to a deeper love of God. By our prayers and almsgiving, we commit ourselves to a stronger love of neighbor. By confessing our sins, we turn away from them and back to God. By imitating our Lord Jesus Christ in His “becoming poor for us” (2 Cor 8:9), we renew our participation in His new life, our salvation. As we continue with the pilgrimage of Lent, let us beg for the true renewal of our hearts in Christ’s love and mercy.

As you know, the church throughout the world is preparing for the October, 2014, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and for the subsequent 2015 Ordinary Synod on the same topic. A few months ago, many of you responded to a preparatory survey. Recently, Pope Francis held a consistory of cardinals, which included more preparatory meetings for the two synods. The church is deeply concerned about the grave crisis of marriage and family life, and the growing rejection of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ about the nature and purpose of marriage. I share these grave concerns.

The church’s response to this continuing crisis, of course, is not going to be to change our teachings. Marriage comes from Christ, who “raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC #1601, citing Gaudium et Spes #48), and confirmed its essential nature as a life-long (permanent, an indissoluble covenant) union (two become “one flesh”) between one man and one woman (exclusive and complementary), for the twin purposes of cooperating with God in the creation of new life (fruitful), and the good of the spouses. The church cannot teach anything other than this about marriage; to do so would be to deny our Lord Jesus Christ and to cut ourselves off from the vine (Jn 15:5).

The nature of marriage is not rooted only in the clear teachings of our Savior, but also in the reality of our human nature. God made us “man and woman” (Gen 1:27), and made marriage for us (Gen 3:6, 8; Mt 19:4-5), carefully suited to us and our capacities. Denying these truths is abusive of our own being. Living as if other relationships can be what marriage is makes us at least profoundly unhappy, and at most does grave physical, emotional, and spiritual harm to ourselves and others. Blessed Pope John Paul II showed all of this so clearly in his “Theology of the Body.”

The mainstream media, of course, choose not to understand any of this. The media delight in portraying the church as outdated and out of touch, and in implying that our teachings are only opinions, subject to improvement according to the “wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 3:19). And, therefore, they constantly attempt to substitute currently popular mores for the unchanging truths of the faith. They twist the words of the Holy Father and others to promote the expectation of change. If we are not careful, their bias can creep into our thoughts as well, corrupting our faith, sowing doubt and division, driving worldly wedges between us and Christ.

What is needed from the Church, from all of us, is a new commitment to evangelize the world. If the world is rejecting the teachings of Christ, we must preach the Good News more, and more effectively. To evangelize in this way, the bedrock of our efforts is that we must all renew our commitment to live our vocation joyfully and faithfully.

Our first vocation, no matter who we are, is that of baptism. It is the vocation to holiness in Christ, in and through the church he gave us. We must all pursue that holiness, that union with Christ and the church, more devoutly. This is exactly what we are trying to do during Lent, of course, but this commitment is not just for six weeks of the year, but for our whole life. This also means that we must strive to know and understand the church and her teachings, and not attempt to pick and choose which teachings we accept, and which we don’t.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture are the best sources to start with in this growing in faith. I urge all of you to spend time reading Scripture and the Catechism regularly and prayerfully.

We also have personal vocations, most of us to married life, a few of us to ordained or consecrated life. We must live those vocations with the same commitment and fidelity. The witness of a life lived well for God and others is the best “argument” we have against the lies of the world. Especially in regard to the crisis of marriage, the witness of happy, holy families in union with Christ, living their faith effectively every day, alongside the parallel witness of happy, holy, celibate priests and nuns, is amazing and powerful. Single people, likewise, give the same witness, when they don’t pretend they are married while they aren’t, either before or after. Other people will want to know how we can be so happy and holy when we clearly don’t do what the world says we must to get there. Then, we can remind them of the true teachings of Jesus Christ, and invite them to conform their lives to his in the same way.

We should see our Lenten sacrifices, therefore, not just in terms of what we “have to do” as Catholics for the season, but in terms of saving souls – ours and our neighbors’ – by how we live, always and everywhere. And that means that we can have the explicit intention in our Lenten devotions, that our sacrifices be accepted by God as part of His Providence, and the means of the conversion of others to love and follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Please do not forget this important part of why we mortify ourselves during Lent, or practice penance all year long. May Christ grant you His spirit of love for others, by your practice of Lenten discipline.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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