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March 2010 – Easter letter

Easter: The center of God's plan for salvation

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to be our King. He rules, not in any earthly sense, but in a spiritual way. His Kingdom, He insists, “is not of this world.” He leads us by example – namely, by the example of His Passion and Resurrection. The Cross is the standard of His rule, and it must also be ours. We must die to the world, in order to live for Christ.

When Christ went to Jerusalem for that fateful Passover, His followers still did not understand this. We will remember this Sunday, Palm Sunday, how cheering crowds greeted Him as a worldly king. They expected Him to deliver Israel from the domination of pagan, Roman rule. They expected Him to recreate the wholeness of the Old Covenant. They were willing to follow Him to that end, to fight with Him, to revolt against the Romans and take back their land by force.

Only days later, these same adoring crowds were the ones calling for His crucifixion, as their hopes of worldly liberation were once again dashed.

Reading the Passion of our Lord this Sunday, we imagine ourselves as part of that crowd, thirsting first for Roman blood, then for Christ’s. And this image is true: we are indeed part of that crowd calling for His death, because we are all still sinners, and our sins nail Him to the Cross.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, reminds us, “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good” (Spe Salvi, 24). The Cross does not suddenly make politics a means of salvation. Even if we think that this “better world” can be fostered by the Church’s leadership, we are deluding ourselves about the reality of sin and suffering, and about the shape of Christ’s truth and love. Politics can only be one of the several means, never the end, of our Catholic witness for Christ.

Easter, the center point of God’s plan of salvation, is not a political event. The true effect on politics and political structures of Christ’s Resurrection is to show precisely that they are not the end. Our end is salvation in Christ: to come to know Him intimately, to accept His love from the Cross, and to respond willingly to its uncompromising demands that we “become perfect, as my Heavenly Father is perfect.” That perfect freedom from sin will never be reached in this world, but the interior struggle to change, to resist sin, so as to love Him and each other more freely, foreshadows the true Kingdom.

The Cross does indeed free us from sin. We walk this week with Christ to Calvary, burdened by our sins. We follow Him to the tomb, anointing His body with our contrition. On Easter morning, hearing the incredible news of Mary and Mary Magdalene, we return with Peter and John to find it empty, and the Lord truly Risen. In baptism we have truly died and risen with Him. The joy of Easter does change everything – if we love that Truth! To the extent that we truly believe this, and accept this precious gift of faith, we are already saved.

This is the joy of Easter, ever precious, ever new. Living the new life of Christ, we remain in the world, “but not of the world.” Cooperating with the grace of our salvation does not free us from the needs of the world, as if the salvation of others did not concern us. We must, despite so many repeated failures, struggle daily to bring the light of Christ’s love from the Cross to every shadowed corner of the world.

We have hope everywhere in our Church, as I have seen so often in the last four years. But in so many of us, it is very faint, dimmed by our weakness and sins. I urge all of us, therefore, in the extraordinary grace of Easter, to renew our commitment to the true promise of His glorious Resurrection. By our baptism, we share already in the promised glory. As once again we die and rise with our Lord Jesus Christ, may we live fully, freely, under His perfect and loving rule. Be filled with His infinite peace, joy, and hope. Live in His strength; fear no darkness or temptation! Serve Christ, with Pope Benedict and all Christ’s chosen apostles, to bring His light into darkened hearts. Submit to Christ our King, loving and gentle, so that others may also be brought to the same freedom to love.

May the joy of Easter and the abundance of grace shining from Christ’s Resurrection fill you and inspire you with love! Rejoice with me, my brothers and sisters, in the glory of Jesus’ new life! Easter is the season of joy, of rejoicing in hope and love, because Jesus is risen!

May the grace and joy of this coming Easter season remain in our hearts forever!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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