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Friendships with the saints

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the peace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with joy!

This past Monday, Aug. 4, the feast of St. John Vianney, I celebrated the 41st anniversary of my ordination to the holy priesthood. I was once again so deeply touched that so many of you would go out of your way to share with me your good wishes and your prayers for me. I rely on your prayers! And especially from my brother priests, whose encouragement to me as a priest means so much. Know that I pray always for all of you as well.

St. John Vianney has been such a generous patron for my priesthood over the years. His intercession and his example have helped me to understand better the heart of mercy of our Lord Jesus, and have led me more deeply into a life of prayer, sacrifice, and joy. I am not anything like the preacher he was, but he has stiffened my courage to preach boldly, proclaiming the truth faithfully and, I hope, always with love. He has led me close to the altar, which is the center of my life as a priest. I am so grateful for this gift of his intercession!

Such friendships with the saints in heaven, like our best friendships in this world, can do so much to help us in our life of faith. The saints understand us, and especially our struggles, difficulties, and imperfections, for they too struggled in this life. In living their faith, in learning to love Christ above all, they wrestled with all the same failings, doubts, and obstacles that arise in our lives.

Yet they persevered, clinging to Christ and the way of his cross, returning again and again to the sacraments for forgiveness and strength. They are exemplary for this, each in their own way, and there is a saint who has experienced whatever we are experiencing, and who can therefore help us remain firm in our faith no matter how sore the trial.

Now, in heaven, with their charity perfected in Christ, they desire nothing more than that we, their friends, might join them there. Their intercession is such a powerful means of assistance for us. All of us should have some saints we are especially close to, that we can call upon in our needs, and rely on for prayerful companionship.

And none of them, of course, desires to help us more than Mary, the holy mother of Jesus and of the church, and therefore of the life of faith within each one of us. As our mother, she is always ready to respond to our needs with her devoted tenderness, carrying us to the feet of her son, and teaching us to conform our hearts to his most Sacred Heart.

As our summer activities wind to a close and the school year begins again in the coming weeks, along with so much of the life of our homes and parishes which revolve around the academic schedule, I encourage you to develop more deeply this sort of friendship with the saints. We all have relationships with several saints, and we should not let these friendships wither.

For example, if you are confirmed, do you pray to the saint whose name you bear in that sacrament? Do you know what saint is the patron of your work or profession? Do you ever try to find out more about “the saint of the day,” those who appear in our liturgical calendar or read some of the wonderful spiritual works many of them have given the church? Do you know and pray to the saints whose feast day is your birthday or the day you were baptized? Do you ever pray the Litany of the Saints, in any form? Do you have any pictures, icons, or statues of saints in your home? The more we know about the saints, and the closer we are to them in our life of faith, the more readily we can be guided or inspired by them, and the more easily we can share their example and wisdom with others.

Such devotion to the saints also serves to unite the church more concretely across time and cultures. Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or how long we have been in the church, we can share the same affections for the same people, do the same devotional things, and celebrate the same liturgical days.

We honor the same memories and strive to imitate the same examples. We participate more clearly in the church as a family, and therefore make our faith more lively and vibrant every day of the week. When flowers are placed or candles lit before the shrine of the Martyrs of Vietnam or of our Lady of Guadalupe in our Cathedral, for example, everyone in the parish celebrates, not just those who bring these little gifts. How could we not end up as friends together, who share the same friends in heaven?

Friendship with the saints in heaven is a beautiful part of our Catholic faith. The saints are for all of us! And so I pray that all of us may come to know more closely some of the saints who can encourage, inspire, strengthen, and lift us every day by their example and intercede for us ceaselessly before the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please pray for your priests, and for me, that I may be a good bishop to you. Please pray for married couples, especially those who are newly-married or who may be having difficulties in their marriage, that they may have saintly patience and forgiveness for each other. Please pray for Christians everywhere who are persecuted for the name of Jesus Christ. I pray for you and for all your needs and intentions. May God, our generous Father, bless you with peace, happiness, and holiness throughout the year ahead.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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