Faith and Hope
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts in these days of Lent! I hope and pray that all your Lenten discipline and penances are bearing the fruit of deeper love, stronger faith, and richer hope. As St. Paul says, nothing can separate us from His love – nothing, that is, except our own sins and our refusal to confess them. So trust in His mercy! We have only to ask sincerely, like King David and St. Peter and every saint, and it is poured out upon us so abundantly.
These days of the “interregnum,” the period between the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict and the election of the next successor of St. Peter, are a good opportunity to exercise our hope in Christ. I am sure that many of you agree that, for the most part, the secular media is not always helpful in discussing the important events of the Pope’s resignation and what will follow. We are surrounded daily by rumors and speculations about the election, and by still more evidence of our human weakness and sinfulness, even among the Cardinals of the Church. The world, and especially the media, mostly do not understand the realities of the Church beyond the most superficial level. The temptation, then, is being presented to us constantly, to fail to trust in the governance of Christ over His own Church, to speak and act as if we believe the Church to be merely a human institution.
What kind of witness does it give to our neighbors when we do this? Do we not recognize these lies about the Church as hateful and untrue – that the Holy Spirit was not guiding Pope Benedict’s discernment before his resignation, nor is guiding the hearts and minds of the Cardinals in choosing a successor; that Christ the Head of the Church is absent from these events; that the Church does not have a divine and unchanging reality and purpose; that His teachings, entrusted to the Apostles and handed on faithfully for two millennia, are less important than someone’s opinion about the “needs of the day?” When we fall in with such worldly patterns of thinking about the Church, we confirm these lies as “the way things really are” in the minds of others, and even perhaps in our own minds.
But if we are no different from the world, we cannot offer to the world something it longs to hear, the Good News. This becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were, that the Church really has nothing to offer. Of course we know this is not true. We know, in the conversion of our own lives, in the forgiveness we have already received and will receive again, and in the faith which brings us back to the Church again and again throughout our lives, we know intimately that the Church has something unique and powerful to offer. We cannot escape or deny this knowledge.
And therefore we cannot refuse to offer the witness of firm hope, not only in the final outcome of our life in the world, but even in these events. When we show clearly by our words and actions our trust in the Providence of God for all our lives, we invite others to hear that Good News. When we show clearly that we are not burdened by doubt or fear for the outcome of the election, we invite others to encounter Christ’s hope and mercy also. When, in the coming weeks, we are able to express with joyful devotion our loyal obedience to a new Holy Father, without having to subject the choice to our own personal opinions, we will invite others to find the freedom of Christ in the Church with us. This is the witness the world needs, and which we can offer with all charity in these days.
Therefore be patient and cheerful, and firm in your faith and hope. Please continue to pray daily for the College of Cardinals, that they will be fully open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they carry out their duty of electing the next successor of St. Peter. Please pray for me, that I may lead you well as your bishop, and for all our priests. Please pray for those preparing to enter the Church this Easter, pray for holy families, and for those preparing for marriage. I pray constantly for all of you. May the blessings of the season of Lent bring you deeper conversion and all good things!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
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