Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last Sunday, we heard again how the prophet Jonah, after repenting of his disobedience to God, went to the great city of Nineveh. Jonah preached God’s impending judgment for their evil ways. “Forty more days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Despite their evils, the Ninevites repented, and changed their behavior. God in His mercy did not destroy them, because of their repentance.
The culture of death is no different in its evils than wicked Nineveh. Nor are we Catholics less sinful than others, merely because we bear the name and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In justice, we all deserve God’s wrath, because of our sins and disobedience. “Forty more days and Sioux City shall be destroyed.”
But the truth, the Good News that the Church preaches as the prophet of Christ today, is that God wants to give us mercy, not destruction. As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, He does not abandon us in our sins, but comes to save us. He calls us to follow Him, not the ways of the world. He calls us to be His disciples, to learn from His mercy, not from the culture of death. And in the Church, He has given us for all time the means to do so: Baptism and Confession, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which make us and keep us part of His own Body; and the prayers, devotions and good works that we do every day for love of Him.
It’s not enough, then, just to call ourselves Catholics. It’s not enough just to have His name, or to make the sign of the Cross when we pray, or even to go to Mass regularly. Repentance and conversion require more than this; they require that we actually change, like the Ninevites. Christ wants to make a very real difference in our lives; we must allow Him. If we want to be saved from the damnation justly due to our sins, we need to have the very life of Christ within us. Jesus tells us, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Jonah was the seed of Nineveh’s salvation. Because of his preaching, they changed, and learned to love God and to keep His commandments. Now, the Church is the seed of our country’s salvation. Because she faithfully preaches and authentically lives the Good News, not only we as her reborn children, but all our neighbors also, can change and learn to love God and to keep His commandments.
But the culture of death seems strong. The devil hates Christ and the Church, and works constantly for the ruin of souls. With the dreadful inevitability of Satan’s fall, we see our prideful culture rebelling against God. What the Church preaches, our enemy tries to corrupt and turn against us. He has seduced too many of us away from Scripture with relativism, from loyalty with egoism, from marriage with contraception, from love of neighbor with abortion. The mark of his handiwork – ruinous love of self – is everywhere about us.
Thirty-nine years ago, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court overturned centuries of jurisprudence, science, and common sense with its horrible Roe vs. Wade ruling. By finding it legal to kill unborn children in their mother’s womb, these seven men and women opened a Pandora’s box of moral evil and social ills. We see clearly the consequences: 50 million dead children, their mothers often traumatized into mental illness, suicide, and inability to form relationships, and their fathers coarsened into despair and anger. Abortion denies the humanity of the most vulnerable, and therefore justifies so many other ways of treating other people as objects, such as pornography, embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia. And because it happened by government imposition, it made the government far more powerful in usurping God’s place as the giver of fundamental moral law, for example in the claim that government can redefine God’s meaning for marriage.
And just last Friday, the Obama administration, through Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, opened a novel and unconscionable attack on the Church’s liberty, and your right to follow your conscience in obedience to God, not man. Starting this August, virtually every health insurance policy in America will be required to include the euphemistically named “preventive services” – contraception (including abortifacients), sterilization, and chemical abortions (“Ella” and “Plan B”) – at no cost to the policy holder. This means that everyone who pays for a health insurance policy, both employees and employers, including the Church and other religious institutions, will be forced to pay for these grave moral evils. There is no conscience protection in this new policy. The religious exemption formulated by this administration is so narrow that, as Cardinal DiNardo commented, even Jesus Himself would not qualify for it.
We object to this mandate, not only because it is violence against the Church’s religious liberty, not only because it clearly violates the Constitution and undermines the rule of law, but also because contraception, sterilization, and abortion are very grave moral evils that are bad for women, and bad for families. If we condoned this, we would be guilty of treating women as mere sexual objects. Our devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, both shows us why we cannot do this, and strengthens us to resist.
The devil wants to silence the Church’s voice, just as he tried to silence Jonah. We must cling firmly to hope. Our hope is in the Good News of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. God uses the weak to humble the proud. Very well then, we must be weak, just as Jesus was weak. We must embrace obedience to the Father, and not glorify our own fallen desires. We must carry the Cross and follow Christ as true disciples. We must be brave and zealous and very public in our witness to Him, and to our Faith. We must refuse to make the false compromises with the devil that dim the light of Christ in us, that dampen the ardor of the Holy Spirit in us. This week’s March for Life, and our annual 40 Days for Life, are excellent examples of how we can do this. Our Catholic schools are another kind of example of the same zeal and sacrifice in bearing the Cross. As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week next week, let us remember that we evangelize our children so that they too can become priests and prophets for the salvation of the world.
“God became man, so that man could become God.” We become God by being truly part of Christ’s glorified and risen Body, in the Church. We die with Him, so that we can also rise with Him (Rom 6:4-5). But we cannot belong both to God, and to the world. “No one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). The devil, whose marks are pride and death, is not our master. We do not belong to the culture of death, but to God. Let every part of our lives and ministry for Him, then, be marked by His hope, faith, joy, and charity. Trust in prayer; do not be afraid.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
Thank you Excellency!