Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Pastoral Magisterium: Bp. Nickless' pastoral letter (part 2)

This is part two of a ten-part series on the recent pastoral letter of Bishop R. Walker Nickless for the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.  I will be providing the full text of this letter (slightly edited for formatting) with emphasis and commentary.

In this post, we will look at Section I, Introduction:
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever! It has now been almost four joyful years of being your bishop. It has been a time of learning and growth for me as a priest, called beyond my desires and talents, not without God's grace making up for all that is lacking in me, to be the shepherd for the flock in northwest Iowa.
One might wonder why it has taken Bishop Nickless four years to produce his first pastoral letter, but His Excellence will provide the explanation himself in a moment.  Suffice to say, he realizes that the episcopacy, while being the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, is not itself a plateau of spiritual growth.  Rather, he has continued to learn and grow during his years as their bishop.  He also makes it clear that he is their bishop by God's grace, not by his own merits or talents.
As shepherd, I am called to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), the truth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, inseparable from His Church, "at the same time holy and always in need of renewal and reformation." (Lumen Gentium 8)
Bishop Nickless derived the title of his letter from an English translation of Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.  The Latin text reads "Ecclesia [...] sancta simul et semper purificanda."  He refers to St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, whence he drew his episcopal motto ("Speak the Truth in Love") found on his coat of arms, and in doing so also calls to mind Pope Benedict's recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate in which the Pontiff links "charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate." (CV 2)

In order to do this, I have traveled to meet the priests and people of the diocese, always listening, asking questions, studying and, of course, praying about the current state of the Church. Now I offer my understanding of the state and direction of the Church, both universal and particular, at this juncture in her history. I propose this pastoral plan — a vision, so to speak — for the future of our diocese, and some practical guidance for achieving our goals.
Over the preceding years, Bishop Nickless was learning about his diocese so that he would be able to address his flock with knowledge, rather than in mere generalities.  The result of his study and discernment is this pastoral letter, with which he shares his understanding as their pastor, designed to plot a course for the future of the diocese and keep them on track.
My understanding begins with these personal reflections. I studied and was ordained a deacon and priest during the exciting, almost intoxicating, time of the Second Vatican Council. I am thoroughly a product of that momentous time, the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in centuries. It has formed the context and culture of my entire ministerial life.
No one can accuse Bishop Nickless of being some "traditionalist" who wants to "turn back time" to before Vatican II.  He makes it clear here that this most recent Council is a particularly cherished part of his spiritual heritage, having formed him into the pastor he is today.
Like Pope John Paul the Great, I have no other desire for my ministry than seeing the hopes and reforms of the Second Vatican Council fully implemented and brought to fruition. (e.g. Christifideles Laici 2) Like Pope Benedict XVI, I know that, while we have worked hard, there is still much work to do. (Homily of 8 December 2005)
He clearly aligns himself with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, especially as manifested in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
My understanding of this work has grown and deepened over the past forty years. So it must be for all of us. The Church is always in need of renewal because it is made up of us, imperfect human beings. This is the deepest reason: as individuals and as a Church, we are always called to grow, change, deepen, repent, convert, improve, and learn from our successes and failures in the pursuit of holiness and fidelity to Jesus Christ and the mission He has given us. Moreover, we need to do this in the midst of an ever changing world, culture and society.
He brings up holiness again (from the preface), linking it with faith, with fidelity to Christ and His mission, the same mission now entrusted to the Church as a whole and to each of her members.
I have experienced this as a priest and now, through the biggest change of all for me, as a bishop. Despite my own unworthiness, I have been blessed abundantly by the Lord Jesus Christ in his call to me, in the graces of my episcopal ordination, and in your support and cooperation. I am happy and blessed to be your bishop. Having been called by God and the Church, I want to do my part to fulfill His mission among you. Thus, we need serious reflection and evaluation of the current state and direction, challenges and opportunities, for faith and ministry in our Lord Jesus Christ in our Diocese.
Closing the introduction, he explains the need for this pastoral letter:  "serious reflection and evaluation."  This letter is part of his contribution to the mission of Christ carried out in the diocese.  In order for the diocese to carry out Christ's mission, they must know who they are, what the mission is, and how they are (or are not) succeeding in fulfilling it already.

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