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Bishop makes two requests
Pray and commit fully to vocation

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In just two weeks, on Oct. 5, the Extraordinary Synod on the Family will begin in Rome. Pope Francis called this synod last year, to consider “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the context of Evangelization.” More than 100 bishops, priests, religious and married couples will gather for this unique meeting. I urge you all to pray for the members of this two-week-long gathering, to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit and to each other, and to do the will of God in the church.

The preparations for this synod have gotten rather a lot of media attention, unfortunately focused especially on one narrow question, that of the possibility of readmitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Holy Communion (without an annulment or decree of nullity). Those who want the church to be less like Christ and more like the world have been pushing hard to create an expectation of change in the church’s teachings on this and other issues – as if the will of God were only someone’s opinion. We must not give too much attention to such ideas. The teachings of the church about these holy sacraments cannot and will not change.

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught, with absolute clarity, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery” (Lk 16:18; see also Mt 5:32, 19:9, Mk 10:11, I Cor 7:10-11). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns adultery in no uncertain terms, teaching, “Whoever looks on a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

Adultery is so serious a violation of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, that even to indulge or fantasize in adulterous thoughts is a grave sin. Of course, our merciful Lord Jesus offers to all his perfect forgiveness and healing, as he did for the woman taken in adultery in John 8; but “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11) is also entirely clear about the need for repentance and conversion. There is no license in the Gospel to continue in the state of adultery. It is also important for us to acknowledge that those couples (and families) that suffer through a divorce need our prayers, understanding, support and compassion.

The question that the synod is gathering to ponder is not how to “get around” the clearly revealed will of God, but how to teach the members of the church to know it, love it, and follow it, in a way that helps us sinners to sin less, promotes worthy participation in the holy sacraments, strengthens families against the temptations and challenges of the world, and leads to effective living out of the gospel in the vocation to married life.

To do this well, the church must address clearly, even bluntly, the decline of marriage in our culture. The issues are not difficult to state: poor formation about what marriage is and how it should be lived; a culture steeped in pornography, promiscuity and contraception; materialism that holds the satisfaction of one’s own appetites and desires to be the highest good, and that dehumanizes other people into objects for satisfying those appetites; bad laws about marriage and divorce; a widespread callousness that encourages disrespect for others; a sense of entitlement that rejects any personal responsibility for problems, yet demands approval from others for one’s behavior; and so on.

But the heart of the problem is even more clear. For the most part, even in the church, the last three generations have not received the gospel teaching about marriage and sexuality. Speaking broadly, many of those who are now grandparents, parents and children have been formed by the culture, not by the Gospel; and therefore they increasingly accept the world’s claims that sex is not for marriage, that marriage is not for life, and that one’s life should not be affected by having sex in whatever way one chooses. The consequences of this failure have been disastrous as we can all see. But we must not lose hope. Instead, we must live as good Catholics and help others understand what we believe and why.

This is why the synod wants to consider all these questions “in the context of evangelization.” Christ does not want us to abandon what he taught us, but to do a better job of teaching it to future generations. Our failure to hand on the gospel in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life is brutally costly. The family is the “domestic church” (CCC #2685), and if family life is unhealthy, both the church and the world will also show the same symptoms of sickness (CCC #1603).

Over the coming month, then, we must all do two things with great devotion. First, as I urged already, we must pray, both for the Extraordinary Synod, and for the state of the married vocation. When we know of those who are having difficulties in their marriage, we must be committed to praying for them, by name if possible. If we are in a position of trust and asked to help, we can offer our personal witness, and also refer anyone to our Catholic Charities, who offer counseling services faithful to the gospel on all these issues. We must pray for our own family, as well, so that everyone can be more open and receptive to the healing graces which Christ constantly makes available to us in the church.

Second, as I have said before, we must recommit ourselves to live our vocation faithfully and joyfully, especially in the vocation to married life. The challenges and temptations in married life are many. The path of married couples is not easy. In this vocation, one certainly carries one’s share of the cross, and divorce often seems a simple and attractive solution. But the rewards of fidelity, both in spiritual and in worldly terms, are enormous.

In this vocation, as in every vocation, the more we are faithful, the more holy we will be. And holiness attracts. Evangelization proceeds on the faithful witness of holy men and women in every generation. The role of the church is always to help more people accept their vocation faithfully, live it out in true holiness and thus bring Christ and his mercy to others.

My prayers are with all of you and your families. May God continue to give us signs of his love and care, especially for any who are struggling.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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