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Christ remains present
to us through Catholic Church

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the generous blessings of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts with all good things! I know we are all tired of winter weather as we near the beginning of May. We long for warmth as the promise of summer’s bounty, the fruit of God’s providence for us, His children. We pray with thanksgiving for the new growth, for the chance to revive our dormant gardens, and also in supplication for the safety of all our farmers as they return soon to plowing and planting. Please make use of the upcoming “Rogation Days” (May 6-8), both at home and in your parish, to pray for good weather, a safe planting, and an eventual good harvest.

The Ascension of our Lord is one of the great moments in salvation history. As we approach this solemnity next Sunday (May 12), and as we contemplate it in its place among the mysteries of the holy Rosary, there are two things that I would offer for your reflection.

First, in the Ascension, Jesus’s human nature – that is, His human body and soul, the first taken from Mary’s body, the second created and instilled by God the Father as all human souls are, at the moment of conception – fully enters Heaven. This is the fulfillment of all God’s promises of salvation, and a magnificent promise to us in the Church. However we may imagine what Heaven is like, however we may interpret what Scripture teaches about that blessed state, it is certain that Jesus’s fully human (and glorified) body and soul exist there. Nor is He alone! The prophet Elijah and the Blessed Mother were both assumed bodily as well, and live in the same glorified manner with Him. Therefore, if we persevere in the faith, it is certain that we, too, will exist in the same way in Heaven. This is what we mean when we say in the Creed at every Sunday Mass that we believe “in the resurrection of the dead” and “the life of the world to come.”

We can learn many things from our belief in the Ascension. The body and the soul, united at conception and separated at death, will be reunited in the final resurrection and judgment. Therefore the body and the soul are not two separate kinds of being, with two different destinations. God intends salvation also for our bodies. Therefore it matters how we treat our bodies. We can’t abuse our flesh in ways that contradict or deny our bodies’ ultimate destination, as, for example, in drug abuse, in vitro fertilization, human cloning, pornography, or suicide. Moreover, this part of our faith requires us not to imagine that the harm we variously do to others is limited only to having a wrong or false intention. This idea is fostered by the false moral theory called “utilitarianism,” which is in practice the dominant moral thinking in our society. Utilitarianism suggests that a wrong action done with right intention can be a right action, because of the limited good of its intended “utility.” But if we truly believe in the Ascension and what it means for us, it will follow that certain actions are always wrong in themselves, regardless of intention; and conversely, certain actions are always right in themselves, regardless of popularity.

My second point is the way Christ remains present to us in His Church, after ascending to the Father. As Pope Francis said in his Wednesday audience on April 17, “Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not indicate the absence of Jesus, but tells us that He is alive among us in a new way; He is no longer in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension; He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” Just as Jesus Christ is able to truly be present in the Holy Eucharist on every altar, in every tabernacle, throughout the world, because He is fully present to the Father in Heaven, just so is He able to be fully present to each of us, through the sacraments we receive, in His holy Word, and in our prayers together.

In this way He lifts His whole Church up to the Father, so that, to the same extent that we participate in His life, Passion, death and Resurrection in our own lives, we already share a foretaste of the joy of the beatific vision. We participate in Christ’s life by living the sacraments and our vocations with greater fidelity, as Pope Francis also said, in the same address, “We too must be clear in our Christian life, that to enter into the glory of God requires daily fidelity to His will, even when it requires sacrifice, when at times it requires us to change our plans.”

The solemnity of our Lord’s Ascension, then, calls us to renew again our commitment to follow Him, our “Master and Teacher,” wherever He leads. Ultimately, of course, He is leading us to Heaven; therefore we know that, whatever part of the Cross we are called to bear in this life, it will be our salvation. He calls us each by name, and gives each of us the strength and all the holy gifts of the Holy Spirit to have courage and faithfulness. May we all praise Him for His mercy and love, and strive to be truly His! Please pray for me as your shepherd, that I may lead you well, in His truth and love; and for our priests, deacons, and consecrated persons, including more vocations to the same from among our children. Please remember to pray for our young people who are being confirmed in these Easter days. The Holy Spirit can do great things in their lives, if they open their hearts to the gifts the Spirit wants to give. Pray as well for all those who receive Holy Communion for the first time, and our engaged and newly married couples. Prayer for one another never goes unnoticed by our Loving God. We entrust all to him. May the Lord give you continued Easter peace and joy.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
Bishop of Sioux City

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