Graduations: new beginnings

By Bishop James Conley

One of the gifts I enjoy the most each spring as the Bishop of Lincoln is the privilege and honor of traveling around the diocese and participating in the graduation ceremonies of our six Catholic high schools.

These graduation ceremonies, of course, give me the opportunity to address the new graduates who are preparing to begin this next stage in their lives. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to thank the parents and family members of the graduates, who have supported, sustained and strengthened these graduates during their time in Catholic schools.

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Una Señal de Gran Esperanza

Por el Obispo James Conley 

Sabemos que el mundo se enfrenta a muchos desafíos y problemas. Los más graves reflejan la falta de respeto a la dignidad de la vida humana. Fuimos horrorizados por los fríos y calculados bombardeos de iglesias y otros edificios el domingo de Pascua en Sri Lanka. Los terroristas de todo el mundo siguen atacando y matando a personas inocentes en iglesias, sinagogas y otros lugares públicos, propagando su odio e inculcando el miedo.

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A sign of great hope

By Bishop James Conley 

We know that the world is facing many challenges and problems. The most severe reflect the lack of respect for the dignity of human life. We were horrified by the cold, calculated bombings of churches and other buildings on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Terrorists throughout the world continue to target and kill innocent people in churches, synagogues and other public places, spreading their hatred and inculcating fear. 

In our own country, the unborn, the most innocent, defenseless, and vulnerable among us, are not given the protections that they deserve. While there are signs of hope for more protections of the unborn as state legislatures throughout the country are passing laws that restrict abortion, there is still much more work to be done in the full protection of unborn children.

There are many challenges and difficulties that hit closer to home, especially those within the Church. The scandal of clerical sexual abuse and priestly misconduct has caused great pain that has been felt throughout the entire Catholic Church. I know that this scandal continues to cause great pain among the priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln, and it will take time to heal from this pain.

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Mayo, el Mes de María

Por el Obispo James Conley  

El viernes pasado, 3 de mayo, tuve la bendición de celebrar la Misa en la Catedral del Cristo Resucitado, en la que celebramos la Coronación de Mayo, la coronación anual de la Santísima Virgen María como Reina del Cielo y de la Tierra.

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May, the month of Mary

By Bishop James Conley  

This past Friday, May 3, I was blessed to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, in which we celebrated May Crowning—the annual crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

These beautiful acts of devotion are taking place throughout the Diocese of Lincoln and throughout the universal Church honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking for her intercession, and trying to imitate her holy life. 

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Cruzada Eucarística del Rosario Familiar

Por El Obispo James Conley

En su encíclica Ecclesia de Eucharistia del 2003, San Juan Pablo II escribió: “La Iglesia constantemente recibe su vida del sacrificio redentor; se acerca a el no sólo al recordar con fe, sino también a través de contacto verdadero, ya que este sacrificio se hace presente siempre de nuevo, perpetuándose sacramentalmente en cada comunidad que lo ofrece a manos del ministro consagrado. La Eucaristía aplica así a los hombres y mujeres de hoy la reconciliación ganada de una vez por todas por Cristo para los hombres de todos los tiempos.”

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Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade

By Bishop James Conley

In his 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister. The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age.”

The Eucharist gives us real contact with the love of Jesus Christ. As we celebrated Holy Week last week, we entered into the mystery of Christ’s redeeming love, which was a humbling of himself, a humbling that, at times, took place through humiliation.

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Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!

By Bishop James Conley 

Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!

This is the good news that is heard around the world on Easter and settles in the heart of every Christian. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, not just to let Jesus out, but to let his followers in. The miracle has already happened, Jesus is risen, but the disciples had to dare to enter the tomb to find the truth of divine light.

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Esposas de Cristo: Testigos del Reino del Cielo

Por el Obispo James Conley

El 7 de abril, tuve el privilegio y el honor de ofrecer la Santa Misa y asistir a la cena para nuestras hermanas religiosas en toda la Diócesis de Lincoln que están celebrando aniversarios significativos (jubileos). Fue un hermoso evento organizado por la Parroquia de Santa María en Denton para honrar el servicio de las hermanas a Cristo y a su Iglesia.

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Construyendo una Cultura de Vigilancia

Por el Obispo James Conley

Queridos hermanos y hermanas en Cristo:

Mientras continuamos nuestra peregrinación a través de este tiempo penitencial de Cuaresma, nos esforzamos por incorporar en nuestras vidas los tres actos tradicionales de la temporada: oración, ayuno y limosna. Tratamos de tomarnos un tiempo extra para contemplar la Pasión de Cristo y meditar más intencionalmente sobre el dolor y el sufrimiento que nuestro Señor soportó para ganar nuestra salvación. Al acercarnos a la Semana Santa y a la celebración del Triduo Sagrado, oramos por una conversión y purificación más profunda para nosotros mismos y para toda la Iglesia.

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Brides of Christ: Witnesses of the Kingdom of Heaven

By Bishop James Conley  

On April 7, I had the privilege and honor of offering Holy Mass and attending the dinner for our religious sisters throughout the Diocese of Lincoln who are celebrating significant anniversaries (jubilees). It was a beautiful event hosted by St. Mary Parish in Denton to honor their service to Christ and his Church.

Religious sisters have been an integral part of Catholic life in the Diocese of Lincoln and in the United States since the early years of the foundation of our country.

Unfortunately, the number of active religious sisters in the U.S. has declined significantly since the 1960s. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, the number of religious sisters serving in the United States fell from roughly 180,000 in 1965 to about 50,000 in 2014—a 72% drop over those 50 years. As of 2017, there were approximately 45,500 religious sisters in the United States. 

This disturbing decline means that many Catholics in our country will likely live their whole lives without being influenced by the Christ-like, loving heart of a consecrated religious sister.

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Building a culture of vigilance

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

As we continue our pilgrimage through this penitential season of Lent, we strive to incorporate into our lives the three traditional acts of the season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We try to take extra time to contemplate the Passion of Christ and to meditate more intentionally on the pain and suffering that our Lord endured to win our salvation. As we approach Holy Week and the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, we pray for deeper conversion and purification for ourselves and for the entire Church. 

Over the past eight months, I have dedicated many of my weekly columns here about the clergy sexual abuse crisis. These columns were precipitated in part by the horrific stories of abuse and cover up in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, but also by the tragic stories that began to surface publicly here in Lincoln and my growing understanding that we must do better for the families and children in our diocese.

It has become clear in my heart that we must do more for the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by our brother priests, and honor these victims by ensuring that the next generation does not have to experience the scourge of abuse and the suffering that comes with years of silence and pain. We must stand in solidarity with each other and with God to confront this evil that continues to infiltrate our Church and breeds cynicism about our faith, our priests, and our good works.

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El Corazón Sacerdotal de San Juan Vianney

Por el Obispo James Conley

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The priestly heart of St. John Vianney

By Bishop James Conley  

In 1818, St. John Marie Vianney received his appointment from his bishop to become the new pastor of the town of Ars, France. His bishop told him little about the town, other than the discouraging revelation that the people of Ars cared little about the practice of the Catholic faith.

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Teniendo Corazones que se Entregan y Confían

Por el Obispo James Conley

La semana pasada me uní a mis colegas de las oficinas diocesanas de Lincoln para un retiro de un día en la Casa de Retiros de Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo. Celebrado al comienzo de cada temporada de Cuaresma, el propósito de este retiro es ofrecer un tiempo para la renovación personal y la reflexión para nuestro personal diocesano.

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The resilience of the people of Nebraska

By Bishop James Conley  

The State of Nebraska along with several states in the Midwest have experienced devastating flooding during the past week. A recent “bomb cyclone” unleashed massive amounts of rain, which, combined with the snow that was already on the ground, wreaked havoc on farms, homes, and businesses throughout the state.  

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Having hearts that surrender and trust

By Bishop James Conley  

Last week I joined my colleagues from the Lincoln diocesan offices for a daylong retreat at Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House. Held at the beginning of each Lenten season, the purpose of this retreat is to offer a time for personal renewal and reflection for our diocesan staff.

This year I invited Father James Golka, rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Grand Island, to present the day of reflection. I am grateful for his gracious acceptance and willingness to share an impactful message with those present.

Father Golka reminded us that Lent is an opportune time to ask ourselves what in our lives God is calling us to surrender. Instead of thinking of surrender as choosing to “give up,” Father Golka challenged us to see the act of surrender as choosing to “give over.”

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La Iglesia Necesita Purificación, Sanación

Por el Obispo James Conley

Esta semana comenzamos la temporada santa y penitencial de la Cuaresma. Como mencioné en mi columna de la semana pasada, es un momento de desprendernos de las cosas del mundo para poder unirnos al amor que Jesús quiere darnos.

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The Church needs purification, healing

By Bishop James Conley

This week we begin the holy and penitential season of Lent. As I mentioned in my column last week, it is a time of detaching ourselves from the things of the world so that we can be attached to the love that Jesus wants to give us.

The three traditional acts of the Lenten season, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving assist us in becoming attached to God’s love. In carrying out these acts, we are not earning God’s love, but disposing our hearts to be purified by the work of the Holy Spirit.

During this season of Lent in particular, we pray that this purification happens in the hearts of individual members of the Church, so that the entire Church can be healed.

The Church needs a great deal of purification, a great deal of healing. This is particularly true in this diocese and the Church around the world as we all work to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

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Apego al Amor que Jesucristo Quiere Dar

Por el Obispo James Conley

Este próximo miércoles, 6 de marzo, es el Miércoles de Ceniza, el comienzo del tiempo sagrado de la Cuaresma.

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Attachment to the love Jesus Christ wants to give

By Bishop James Conley  

This upcoming Wednesday, March 6, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy season of Lent.

The season of Lent is a time that we, perhaps, enter into begrudgingly. We may think of all of the things that we have to do during this season, including our personal sacrifices, where we “give up something for Lent,” which may be the reason that we enter into it with hesitation.

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Newman’s unique journey, unique gifts

By Bishop James Conley 

In response to a woman who referred to him as a saint, Blessed John Henry Newman said, “Saints are not literary men. They do not love the classics, they do not write ‘Tales.’”

Newman has ironically proven himself wrong. On Feb. 13, Pope Francis approved of the canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman after a second miracle was attributed to his intercession.

Newman is a great hero of mine and I frequently pray to him, asking for his intercession. As a fellow convert, I feel closely connected to him, especially in his life-long, passionate search for the truth.

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Los Caballeros de Colón: Sirviendo a la Iglesia por Medio de la Caridad, Unidad, y Fraternidad

Por el Obispo James Conley

El 8 de febrero, tuve la bendición de asistir a la cena de agradecimiento al clero de los Caballeros de Colón. Este es un evento anual en el que los Caballeros invitan a los sacerdotes y seminaristas de la Diócesis de Lincoln a unirse, compartir una comida y animarse mutuamente.

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The Knights of Columbus: serving the Church through charity, unity and fraternity

By Bishop James Conley  

On Feb. 8, I had the blessing of attending the Knights of Columbus clergy appreciation dinner. This is an annual event where the Knights graciously invite the priests and seminarians from the Diocese of Lincoln to come together, share a meal, and mutually encourage one another.

This year’s dinner was particularly edifying to me, as several Knights got up and spoke, promising their continued support for the priesthood, the Church, and the common good of society.

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El Enfriamiento Espiritual y La Cultura de la Muerte

Por el Obispo James Conley  

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The spiritual chill and the culture of death

By Bishop James Conley 

This past week we experienced, along with millions throughout the country, the bitter cold as the polar vortex event swept across the United States. Wind chill temperatures as low as -64°F were recorded.

Over the past few weeks there has also been a spiritual chill sweeping across our country, which is much more enduring, evidence of an ever more encroaching culture of death.

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Semana de las Escuelas Católicas 2019

Por el Obispo James Conley

Parte de nuestra fe católica es la creencia de que Dios nos ha revelado el “Evangelio” o las “buenas nuevas.” Nuestro Señor se nos reveló a nosotros mismos: la verdad en sí misma, la bondad en sí misma, la belleza en sí misma.

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Catholic Schools Week 2019

By Bishop James Conley

Inherent in our Catholic faith is the belief that God has revealed to us the “Gospel” or “good news.” Our Lord has revealed himself to us: truth itself, goodness itself, beauty itself.

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The Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies: a new opportunity for Catholics in Nebraska

By Bishop James Conley  

The 5th century Scripture scholar, St. Jerome, who is perhaps most famous for his translation of Sacred Scripture from their original languages into Latin, famously stated that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” In Sacred Scripture, Jesus wants us to know about him, but also to encounter him.

The Second Vatican Council declared that “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful, to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (Dei Verbum). These convictions reflect the Church’s teaching throughout her history on the supremacy and centrality of Sacred Scripture in life, liturgy, and theology.

Sacred Scripture is God speaking to us, and therefore it is an infinite, priceless treasure to us. However, to many Catholics, the Bible is understandably daunting. It is written thousands of years ago, in foreign languages, using various literary forms that need to be understood in their proper context. We often, therefore, feel a certain level of inadequacy in our ability to study the Scriptures and understand how to interpret them properly. Thus, many Catholics have grown apathetic, ambivalent, and even averse to the Bible.

Moreover, many priests in ministry today express disappointment that Scripture study was the weakest part of their seminary formation. Sadly, I would concur. I found my classes in Sacred Scripture in the seminary to be woefully deficient. This is no condemnation of my well-intentioned, talented Scripture professors. However, I found there to be an over-emphasis on the historical-critical method, which, having its place in Scripture study, should not be singled out as the only means of interpreting the Word of God.

There are, however, indications that the situation is changing. Pope Benedict XVI noted that “in recent decades... there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church” (Verbum Domini).

This acknowledgment is reflected in a growing number of programs, publications, and institutions devoted to learning and living Sacred Scripture. Many Catholics are discovering anew that in these sacred books “the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” (DV), and they are learning how to “listen” more attentively to everything the Father says in every part of Scripture.

Three years ago, I began a conversation with Dr. Vern Steiner, who, with his wife Carol, had been received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2015. In his long career as an evangelical Protestant, Vern had served as a pastor, seminary professor, and founder and president of an institute in Biblical Studies.

Our conversation focused on my desire to see a school devoted to the study of Scripture here in the Diocese of Lincoln. I was familiar with one model from my years in Denver, where more than 1,000 Catholics were enrolled in a program of study that journeys through the whole Bible at a serious level; and it seemed possible that we might establish our own version of something similar, uniquely fitted to the needs of our diocese. Three years later, after much prayer, those initial conversations are coming to fruition.

The Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies (which takes its name from the famous story in Luke 24) is set to launch in the fall of 2019, under the direction of Dr. Steiner and the oversight of a diocesan-approved board of directors. The Institute will feature a core curriculum: “Creation to New Creation: Journey Through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation,” complemented by a variety of Scripture-centered courses, seminars, and other resources offered at a variety of levels and in various locations throughout the diocese, and beyond.

We anticipate a wide target audience: clergy, religious, laity, seminarians, parents, teachers and catechists, Bible study leaders, campus missionaries—any and all servants of the Lord devoted to loving God with all their heart, mind, and soul. Although passionately Catholic and wholly consistent with our faith and the teachings of the Church, the Institute will be welcoming to non-Catholics as well.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, the Institute will be self-funded, but will carry out its mission as an apostolate of the Diocese of Lincoln in cooperation with and in support of my pastoral plan. I believe the time is right for the stated vision of Emmaus to become reality: “a biblically literate and passionately Catholic community, filled with the knowledge and love of Christ, through a deepening understanding of Sacred Scripture and its centrality in the life and liturgy of the Church.”

More information on the Emmaus Institute will be made available in the upcoming months. I invite all the faithful to pray for God’s blessing on this Spirit-led and grace-filled endeavor, and to take advantage of the opportunities and resources the Institute will provide. I pray for its success, as in coming to know the Scriptures we will be led to a closer encounter with Jesus Christ.

The witness of the Magi

By Bishop James Conley  

In the celebration of the Epiphany, we recall the travel of the Magi, who, led by a star, wished to do homage to the newborn King of the Jews.

Much of what we know about the Magi is known through extra-Biblical sources, or books outside of the Bible. The Magi are believed to be a part of a priestly caste from Persia, following the Zoroastrian religion. The word “magi” can mean “magician” or “astrologer,” which may indicate expertise in the interpretation of stars.

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The Peace of the Christ Child

By Bishop James Conley 

The book of Genesis, the very first book in the Bible, tells us the story of creation, which reminds us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This means that we, as human beings, are created with profound dignity—dignity that can never be taken away. However, because of the incarnation—God becoming man—the Christian disciple understands that dignity in an even deeper way. Not only has God created us in his image and likeness, but he has become like us, by taking on our human nature.

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The mission to teach

By Bishop James Conley  

As we get closer and closer to the great Solemnity of Christmas in this graced season of Advent, we reflect upon God the Father sending his only begotten son to our world to save us. God recognized our plight and he has come to our rescue. He saves us through the Paschal mystery—Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

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Our Lady of Advent

By Bishop James Conley  

Since the time of the early Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary was revered as “the New Eve.” Mary’s fiat—or obedient “yes” to the will the God—contrasts with Eve’s “no” to the Lord through her disobedience.

With the complicity of Adam, Eve’s disobedience produced bad fruit, namely the state of Original Sin, whereas Mary’s obedience produced good fruit, allowing God to enter the world and save us. As St. Jerome described it, “Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.”

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La necesidad de reforma

Por el Obispo James Conley  

San Agustín, el gran teólogo del siglo V y obispo de Hipona, dijo famosamente, Ecclesia semper reformanda est, “la Iglesia siempre se está reformando.”

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The need for reform

By Bishop James Conley  

St. Augustine, the great 5th century theologian and Bishop of Hippo, famously said, Ecclesia semper reformanda est, “the Church is always reforming herself.”

Jesus gives himself, the Eternal Word made flesh, to the Church, his Bride. Thus, as the Body of Christ, the Church receives the entire Deposit of Faith, the fullness of Divine Revelation.

Jesus does not change; eternal truth does not change; Divine Revelation does not change.

However, the Church is made up of sinners, of weak human beings—and we must change. The Church reforms herself, not to become something different, but rather, to become who she truly is.

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Giving thanks

By Bishop James Conley  

The celebration of our national holiday of Thanksgiving is a meaningful tradition in our country. It is a time of great blessing to families, who gather together to share a meal, but especially to spend quality time together.

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The necessity of remembrance

By Bishop James Conley  

This past Sunday, November 11, people throughout the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. 

Since 1954, in the United States, this day is commemorated as Veterans Day. It is on this day that we honor all the men and women who have bravely fought to keep our nation free.

For my family, Veterans Day has always had a special significance. My own father was a veteran of WWII, who served aboard ship in the South Pacific. He died November 7, 2006, and we buried him on Veterans Day, November 11, 2006.

As citizens of the United States, we are given a great inheritance. The Declaration of Independence, our charter document, speaks of our rights as “inalienable” and “endowed by our creator.” These are not rights that are earned or given to us by a government, but given to us by God.

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On the Ol’ Chrism Trail

By Bishop James Conley 

St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

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Task force an instrumental step towards healing

By Bishop James Conley  

This week we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1 and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day on Nov. 2. On All Saints Day we celebrate the saints, who let the victory of Christ touch the very depths of their souls. And on All Souls Day we pray for those who will see the Heavenly Father, but whose souls are in need of further purification. Through our prayers, Our Lord allows us to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ.

While this time in the Liturgical Year turns our attention to the reality of the communion of saints—the saints in heaven, the faithful on earth and the souls in purgatory—my attention is focused in particular on all of us on earth striving to be better Christian disciples. In my own personal reflection and prayers this week, I reflect on God’s divine providence and how the Lord has called me to serve the Diocese of Lincoln as its shepherd during this time where serious issues have arisen in the universal Church and in our own Diocese. I reflect on the simple truth that as the shepherd of the diocese, it is my duty is to build up greater unity, trust and charity in the diocese to the best of my ability. To create a place and a culture where we all can be better Christian disciples.

In my column on August 17, I announced that I was seeking an outside review of safe environment procedures, the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against priests of the diocese, and the handling of those allegations by my staff and me. It became clear to me at the beginning of this crisis that these serious matters had to be examined thoroughly by a competent and independent task force.

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He has given the Church a mission

By Bishop James Conley 

Just over a year ago, I was at a medical conference in Denver and ran into Father James Kelleher S.O.L.T., the founder and director of the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade.

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Schools of holiness

By Bishop James Conley  

I celebrated the annual Diocesan Teacher’s Institute Mass Oct. 1, on the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. St. Thérèse embodies for us, in a very beautiful and compelling way, the “call to holiness” which was the general theme of the Teacher’s Institute this year.

Louis and Zélie Martin, the mother and father of St. Thérèse, were beatified in 2008 and canonized saints in 2015. They had nine children and lost four of them at a young age. A number of her sisters also entered religious life. St. Thérèse’s family was a “school of holiness.” 

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Gift and mystery

By Bishop James Conley 

A vocation to the priesthood is both a gift and a mystery. It is a gift in the sense that no one deserves or earns the call to the priesthood; it is freely given by God.

“You did not choose me,” the Lord says to his apostles in the Gospel of John, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”

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Guest column: The Love that Moves the Sun

This week Bishop Conley participated in an extended question-and-answer piece for the Register

The remarks of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. at the Faith and Reason Institute at Gonzaga University: "The Love that Moves the Sun" are reprinted in the Register as a guest column, with permission from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Read the archbishop's excellent speech here.

Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade – God’s providential hand

God continues to call us to deeper union with him in prayer, particularly during this time of crisis and suffering in the Church. We keep foremost in our prayers the victims of abuse by members of the Church.

Eucharistic adoration is an invitation to come before the Lord, who is Love Made Visible, to praise, adore and glorify him, and to listen to him speak to the depths of our own hearts.

We live in an age of noise and we need these moments of prayer, silence and adoration to remind us of God’s love, mercy and presence in our lives and in our world. Satan, the father of lies, is always seeking ways to divide and distract us from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and from knowing his presence in our lives.

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Triumph of the Cross

By Bishop James Conley  

September 14th is the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross, also known as the Triumph of the Cross. This is the day the Church commemorates the discovery and recovery of the true cross of Jesus by St. Helena in the year 326 AD.

St. Helena was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine and a convert to Christianity. History tells us that St. Helena went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus.  She also had a desire in her heart to discover and safeguard any relics of the Christian faith that still remained. One of her express goals was to find the place where the crucifixion of Jesus took place and, if possible, recover the very cross upon which he was hung. 

Nine years later, St. Helena oversaw the construction of a church built on the original site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Her son Constantine dedicated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on September 14th in 335 AD, thus the origin of the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross.

On Friday, September 14th at 7 p.m., the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, I would like to invite those who can to join me at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ for a Eucharistic Holy Hour of reparation, to pray for the victims of sexual abuse and for their healing.

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Seeking the truth

By Bishop James Conley  

The last few weeks have been painful to endure. The report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, the revelations about the crimes of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and, just days ago, new, highly charged allegations about the Church’s leadership all the way to the top levels in the Vatican have left us reeling. These reports have caused all of us pain, anger, shame and grief. It is hard to fathom how such things could happen.

My first feeling in every one of these revelations is deep sadness for the pain and suffering of all those who have been sexually assaulted. What I do in these moments is surrender myself to prayer, at the foot of the Cross with Mary, solely focused on these hurt people.

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‘A call for vigilance and action’

From Bishop James D. Conley  

As a priest and as bishop, both in Denver and here, I have been dedicated to the protection of minors, young adults and all people. 

The evil of sexual abuse of minors and of adults is in all parts of our lives, in all institutions, and the Church has not been spared from this evil.  My work to implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been one of the central parts of my service to the Lord and to the faithful in the Diocese of Lincoln. It is for this reason that the recent events in the diocese have made my heart heavy. Yet again I am being taught by the Lord that there is more to learn about warning signs of abuse and wrong behaviors that must be addressed immediately.

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Christ suffers with us, in this painful moment

By Bishop James Conley  

When Pope St. John Paul II visited the United States in 1995, he said something I have been reflecting upon in recent weeks.

“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us,” the pope said. “There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”

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The cost of contraception and the joy of the Gospel of Life

By Bishop James Conley  

Fewer babies were born in the United States last year than in any other year in the past 30. The birth and the fertility rates in the US continue to plunge, and the decline isn’t expected to slow down for more than a decade.

The US fertility rate is well below the replacement level needed to maintain a stable population. This means that the American population will get older in the decades to come—that 40 years from now, senior citizens will make up 25% of the entire US population. Declining fertility rates mean labor shortages, shrinking tax bases, and insolvent social safety nets.

There are social costs to all choices, including the choices of a contraceptive culture—the choices couples make to delay childbirth, to limit the number of children they have, or to avoid childbirth altogether.

Of course, the costs of our contraceptive culture are not a surprise to many Catholics, but they are worth remembering during this 50th anniversary year of the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on July 25, 1968.

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Religious Freedom Week

By Bishop James Conley  

“We cannot go to heaven,” St. Thomas More once wrote, “in feather-beds.”

He meant that the way to salvation is not comfortable, and it does not abide laziness. He meant that to be followers of Jesus Christ—to be his disciples, and to be saints—we are called to act in this world for the Kingdom of God, and for the salvation of souls. He meant that serving God requires sacrifice, self-denial, and an acceptance that the Catholic faith is an all-encompassing way of life, that we cannot compartmentalize our religion, that we have to be all in—all the time. 

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The lord of our work

By Bishop James Conley  

Jack Phillips is a Christian.  In 2016, he told a reporter that “nothing matters more” than his relationship with God.

Jack is also a baker. In 1993, he and his wife opened a cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver, not far from the parish where I lived as Auxiliary Bishop of Denver.  Jack makes custom cakes for birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and other celebrations. He is dedicated to his craft and puts himself into those cakes. He sees them as more than products; he sees them as art.

In 2012, customers of Jack’s asked him to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding. Jack believes that God intended marriage to be the union of a man and woman. He doesn’t believe he can create a piece of artwork to celebrate something that contradicts his deeply held beliefs. And so, he told his customers he could not in good conscience create a wedding cake for them. Out of respect for his customers, Jack suggested some possible alternatives.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but the Phillips family prayed about it, and acted as they believed their faith called them.

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The family is the wellspring of vocations

By Bishop James Conley 

This week, I have the great privilege of ordaining three men to the sacred order of the diaconate, and two men to the sacred order of the priesthood. It is a grace to ordain them into those mysteries.

Ordination week is always a time of great joy for me, for the Diocese of Lincoln, for each one of you, and for the universal Church.  As we celebrate the ordination of these men who have spent years in intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral formation, we realize that they enter into the mystery of holy orders—becoming deacons and priests—and thus entering more deeply into a life of service to which the Lord, Jesus Christ, has called them.

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For the honor of Ireland

By Bishop James Conley 

“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity,” Ireland’s constitution begins, “from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred.”

The constitution continues, with the Irish people “humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ...  And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations.”

It is extraordinary that a nation’s constitution should begin as Ireland’s does. And, of course, it is correct. The just action of states and their citizens can only finally be measured against the truth that is known to us, by natural law and supernatural revelation, through the Holy Trinity.

Any real sense of human dignity and freedom, of the common good, of prudence, justice, or charity, must be informed by the truth about the human person that is known to us through God’s grace: namely, the truth that every single person is created in the image and likeness of God.

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Let them be born in wonder

By Bishop James Conley 

“Wonder is the beginning of knowledge,” said Professor John Senior, “the reverent fear that beauty strikes within us.”

Professor Senior, my godfather and former teacher in the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, built his whole life around teaching the need for wonder. He reveled in the mysteries of the world and in the mystery of God himself — to which our world points. He taught me that if each of us took the opportunity to really look at the world around us — to marvel at nature, at humanity, at our own creation, and at God, we would be filled with curiosity, with delight, and with an eagerness to learn, to understand, and to know the world that the Lord has created.

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Rosary crusade

By Bishop James Conley 

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Lord called Father Dominic Guzman to preach the Gospel to the Albigensians, a sect of Christian heretics living in southern France and spreading error and confusion about the faith across Catholic Europe.

Dominic had very little success. The Albigensians had a hodgepodge of heretical beliefs and practices, much of them rooted in the idea that the material world was evil, and that the spirit needed to be liberated from the evils of the flesh. They drew support for their movement by pointing to decadence and immorality among Catholic priests and bishops.

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Cultivating love in deed and truth

By Bishop James Conley   

Jesus was a master teacher. He preached powerfully, and his words were effective. He told clever and insightful stories. He had memorable and beautiful phrases that brought his message to life.

But St. John the Evangelist wrote that it wasn’t the words of Jesus that taught the Church to love. It was his actions.

The world came to know love, St. John the Evangelist wrote, because Jesus laid down his life for us.

In response, he added, we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If a Christian “sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion,” he asked, “how can the love of God remain in him?”

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The Church that prays together stays together

By Bishop James Conley  

Father Patrick Peyton knew the power of the family rosary.

He was born in 1909, the sixth of nine children, in County Mayo, Ireland. Every night his father led the family in the rosary. They prayed the rosary as the country was split by its independence movement and its civil war. They prayed the rosary as they struggled with poverty, eking a meager living from their small family farm. And Patrick continued to pray the rosary when he immigrated to the United States with his brother in 1928.

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Gaudete et exsultate — a pro-life call

I have been praying outside of abortion clinics for more than three decades. I have spent cold mornings in the snow, and hot afternoons under a blazing sun. I have prayed more decades of the rosary and chaplets of Divine Mercy than I can recall.

As a young priest, during the days of Operation Rescue, I was arrested numerous times for my pro-life witness. Just a few weeks ago, I led a Eucharistic procession of hundreds around the Planned Parenthood facility here in Lincoln.

I am always humbled, and have marveled for decades, at the heroism of men and women who are faithful prayer warriors at abortion clinics across this country—praying for mothers and their children and offering help to women in crisis.

Legally protected abortion is our national shame. Abortion has taken the lives of millions of children and has scarred the lives of millions of women and men. There is no moral justification for abortion, and no circumstance under which it should be afforded the protection of law—period.

I have sat with men and women who are overcome with the shame, guilt, and depression that abortion often triggers. I have seen them held captive by those burdens and have then witnessed them being set free by the awesome power of God’s mercy. I know, through faith, reason, and experience, that the sin of abortion has very gravely wounded our nation. I grieve for women and men suffering its effects, and I mourn for babies killed before they were born.

Abortion is a serious matter. And when the Church teaches about it, I pay attention.

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The witness of a holy teacher

By Bishop James Conley  

At the last supper, Jesus put things simply to his apostles: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14: 15).

In many ways, the Christian life is that simple. If we love the Lord, we should follow his commandments. As we follow his commandments, we will grow in love. Our love, expressed in holy obedience, will then beget more love, and, as we follow the Lord, we will grow more deeply in love with him, and more capable of loving our neighbors.

We are made by love and for love, and love is the measure of all things, because God is love.

The mission of Catholic education, therefore, is fostering in our children love for the Lord, and teaching them to follow the will of the Lord out of love, not in a kind of mindless or facile obedience to rules which will easily be overcome by temptation, but in the habits of virtue, and in the wonder, joy and delight that comes through knowing and loving Christ and His Church.

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Resurrexit sicut dixit — Christ is risen, as he said!

By Bishop James Conley  

“If Christ had not been raised from the dead,” St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ.”

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Following Jesus into love

By Bishop James Conley   

Before he was betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified, Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly. He was hailed as a hero. He was welcomed as a great prophet and healer. But he knew what he would face in Jerusalem. And still he went.

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The silent disciple of the Lord

By Bishop James Conley   

On March 19, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph. And this March 19, the Church will also celebrate the fifth anniversary of the papacy of Pope Francis, which began with an inauguration Mass on St. Joseph’s Day, 2013.

Pope Francis, as the 265th successor of St. Peter and the 266th pope, began the papacy, he noted that St. Joseph was called by God to be “the custos, the protector,” of Mary and Jesus, of course, but also of the entire Church.

“How does Joseph exercise his role as protector?” Pope Francis asked. “Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand.”

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Mater Ecclesiae - Mary, our mother, and mother of the Church

By Bishop James Conley 

Last Saturday, Pope Francis added a new feast to the Church’s calendar. The memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church will be celebrated the Monday after Pentecost.

In a letter announcing the new feast, Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote that “This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.”

We need Mary to grow close to Christ. She is the mother of Christ, our Redeemer, and the mother of his body, the Church.

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Remembering a friend

By Bishop James Conley  

“Time is short,” Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote, “and eternity is long.”

Newman meant that we must use our lives to prepare for eternity; that we must seek to know the Lord, to follow him, and to love him, during the short time we have here on earth. Though we might fall along the way, or doubt, or struggle; we are made for eternity with God, and our salvation should be foremost in our minds, guiding our choices, and giving us hope.

I have thought a lot about Newman’s words in these past few months, as a dear friend, Dr. Don Briel, spent time preparing for his death.

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The full truth of love

By Bishop James Conley 

This past Sunday, 35 men and women from parishes in and around Lincoln inscribed their names in the Book of the Elect at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Lincoln.

It was a solemn and beautiful ceremony.

At the Easter Vigil, those men and women will be baptized, confirmed, and receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They will be given new life in Jesus Christ, and become a part of the Lord’s body. They will be forgiven for their sins. They will be filled with the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations in the Lord.

Related item: Rite of Election slideshow

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We are mortals

By Bishop James Conley 

This is the lesson of Lent: We are mortals. We each come into this life as a loving creation of the Lord. We each are called to know him, to love him, and to serve him during our short sojourn on earth. We each will face our deaths. And each of us will face our judgment.

When Lent begins and ashes are distributed on Ash Wednesday, a cross is traced upon our foreheads, and we hear a reminder. “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

This message is really very simple. We will die, and we will face the Lord. We must be prepared to meet him. That is the reminder of Lent.

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Forming saints for the 21st century

By Bishop James Conley   

The first time Pope St. John Paul II sent a message to Americans, it was a letter to teachers.

He had been pope for less than six months. He had met with some American bishops, of course, but he had not yet travelled to the United States for the first time, or sent a message to a uniquely American audience. The pope had been a life-long learner. He had two doctorates. He had been a university professor, and a college chaplain. He loved to talk with seminarians, or camp with university students, or visit elementary school classrooms in Krakow, where he had been archbishop.

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Catholic schools benefit everyone

Researchers are finally realizing what parents have long understood: that Catholic schools make a difference.

Recent sociological studies have found that Catholic schools are a benefit to their students, and to their communities. Researchers have found that Catholic schools benefit student achievement and happiness, form graduates more engaged in public, family, and community life, and contribute to the social cohesion of their entire neighborhoods. 

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Love saves lives

By Bishop James Conley

In early January, the city of Lincoln reported that there had been no homicides in the city during the entire year of 2017. It had been 26 years since the last time the city recorded no homicides taking place.

This is great news for the city of Lincoln, and an accomplishment for which our police, first responders, and emergency room personnel can be proud. In fact, all of us can be proud to live in a city in which violent crime is on the decline, and the murder rate has declined all the way to zero.

But there is another reality that all of us must remember. In 2016, the last year for which data is available, 1,907 abortions were reported to have taken place in Nebraska, and 382 of those abortions took place in Lancaster County.

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Following the light

By Bishop James Conley 

An epiphany is a moment of startling clarity; a moment when the truth is suddenly and blindingly clear to us. An epiphany is the moment when we suddenly see the meaning of something that had been hidden, mysterious, or unclear to us just moments before.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, remembering magi—spiritual seekers—who had come to Bethlehem seeking the meaning of a mystery. They had seen a star rising in the east, a star which they believed portended the birth of a great king. They had travelled to Jerusalem, seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” whom they believed would be a great leader to his people, and to the world.

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The radical claim of Christmas

Christmas celebrates the reality that God himself came into the world as a man—fully divine and fully human, to die for us.

Christmas celebrates that God, the Creator of everything that is, became a baby, born into poverty, so that we could be set free from sin, be unconquered by death, and spend eternity in paradise, with God.

Christmas makes claims which defy our understanding, and exceed our comprehension. Christmas makes claims which, because they are true, should change everything about the way we live.

But in the celebration of Christmas—in giving gifts, and gathering with families, and singing familiar carols, in feasting and making merry —we can sometimes lose sight of just how radical Christmas really is. Even when we celebrate it well, we can lose sight of what it means for our lives.

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Gaudete in Domino semper!

By Bishop James Conley 

This Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we will light the rose-colored candle as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete simply means “rejoice,” and is taken from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” – Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4: 4-6). And so, as we make our final preparations for Christ’s coming – we rejoice!

Advent, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, is “the time of expectation for the definitive return of Christ!”

If we abide in Christ, and live as his disciples, then his “definitive return” is, indeed, a reason for great joy. If we follow Christ, we can anticipate his coming as faithful servants expecting the Master, who will draw us into the fullness of his love.

But Gaudete Sunday offers something for those who have fallen away from the Lord as well, those who have drifted from the path. Christ came into the world for sinners, not for the righteous. He became man, and went to the cross, and conquered death, and ascended to heaven, for the broken, the lost, the stubborn, and the reprobate. Christ came into the world so that all people might live in the freedom of truth, and in the joy of his love.

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Advent: the season of hope

By Bishop James Conley 

“Advent,” says Pope Francis, “is a journey toward the horizon of hope.”

The hope of Advent, the pope says, “does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!”

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The School Sisters of Christ the King and the vocation of consecrated life

By Bishop James Conley 

This past Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Diocese of Lincoln celebrated the establishment of our own School Sisters of Christ the King as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right.

Related item: photo slideshow

Founded in 1976 by my predecessor, the Most Reverend Glennon P. Flavin, the Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, the School Sisters of Christ the King have educated thousands of children in our Catholic schools and in CCD programs throughout the diocese and beyond.

In 1996, my immediate predecessor, the Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz, the Eighth Bishop of Lincoln, recognized the School Sisters of Christ the King as a Public Association of the Faithful.

Establishing the School Sisters of Christ the King as a religious institute is a recognition of God’s guiding hand on their lives, their charism, and their community over these past 40 years. It is a recognition that they live the life of consecration to which they have been called, as a public, vital and enduring part of the Church’s own life.

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Happy Thanksgiving

By Bishop James Conley 

This Sunday, as the Church celebrated the first World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that each of us should be thankful for “the joy of breaking the bread of God’s word, and... the joy of breaking and receiving the Bread of the Eucharist, food for life’s journey. All of us, none excluded, need this, for all of us are beggars when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end.”

God’s love, which gives our lives meaning and invites us to eternal life, is a gift of grace. A gift the Lord gives us only because he loves us. Not because we have earned it and not because we are worthy of it, but solely because God created us, delights in us, and desires to love us.

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The prophetic witness of chastity

Last month, more than a dozen women accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of harassment and sexual assault. Since that time, similar allegations have been made against public figures in entertainment, politics, business, and media.

Of course, allegations do not constitute proof, and justice requires that such serious allegations be considered fairly, in light of the evidence. Nevertheless, it is becoming clear that incidences of sexual harassments, assault, and abuse are far more commonplace in American society than many people would prefer to admit.

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Overcome evil with good

By Bishop James Conley 

Twenty-six people were killed Sunday morning as they prayed in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Five days before that, eight people were killed when a terrorist, who claimed allegiance to ISIS, drove a truck along a pedestrian path in New York City.

A month before, a sniper killed 59 people as they attended an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.

Most people, in the wake of these kinds of evil acts, ask themselves why such things happen. People become fixated with a search for answers. Media reports often reflect this: seeming to search for some clue, or some hint, that might point at the reason such things happen.   

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Prayer of intercession

By Bishop James Conley 

Out of love for God and love for our neighbor – the two greatest Commandments – we have an obligation and a duty to pray for those whom we know and love. When we pray for other people, we express confidence that the Lord will love them as they need, and we commend them to his will.  Intercessory prayer – the practice of praying for others – is an obligation for all Christians.  The Lord calls us to pray for one another. 

Blessed John Henry Newman called our obligation to pray for each other “the prerogative and the privilege of the obedient and holy.”

Our obligation, and our privilege, also extends to those souls in purgatory.  We are obliged to pray for them out of love. 

Purgatory is, for every soul who experiences it, an expression of the Lord’s mercy.

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Be not afraid

By Bishop James Conley 

In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II had plain words for the several hundred thousand young people gathered in Denver, Colorado, for World Youth Day: “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”

The pope continued: “The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love.”

“Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life,” the pope encouraged. “The liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation.”

I heard John Paul II speak those words 24 years ago. I was a young priest, travelling with young pilgrims from Wichita to pray with John Paul II. But the young people who heard the pope speak those words 24 years ago are not so young anymore.

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The important mission of the family

By Bishop James Conley 

“When the fullness of time had come,” says St. Paul, “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” so that we might be set free from sin, reborn into the inner life of God, and made sons and daughters of the Father, adopted into Christ Jesus.

God sent his son to a particular family, at a particular time and place, according the mystery and wisdom of his will. After man’s fall from grace, God formed a people, a nation, to whom he revealed himself, preparing them for the birth of his son.

And from that nation, God chose a family: one man, and one woman, Mary and Joseph, who would become the human family of the Incarnate Word of God. It was in and through this family that God saved the world.

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Our eldest brothers and sisters in the faith

By Bishop James Conley 

The Church was born at Pentecost, in the upper room of the building in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ and the apostles celebrated the Last Supper.

Faith in the Gospel spread from that room in Jerusalem to every corner of the globe. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles; they were given the grace and gifts to make disciples of all nations. They proclaimed Christ and his Church with joy and fervor.

Each of the apostles, save one, died a martyr’s death. But their successors, and the disciples they formed, continued to proclaim the Gospel across the world. It grew deep roots in some places, and became the foundation for new cultures and nations. In other places, the ground seemed to be rocky, and the Church struggled to form more than a faithful remnant. But the Holy Spirit formed the Church in Jerusalem, to go out to all nations, and the Church in Jerusalem did just that.

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The Miracle of the Sun

A steady rain fell on the morning of October 13th, 1917, onto a freshly plowed field that had become a muddy mess. Clouds covered the sky.

It was a dreary fall day outside of the village of Fatima, Portugal. Still, a crowd of more than 70,000 people had gathered, because three children had told them that the Blessed Mother would appear.

She had been appearing since the spring, six times in all, and over the summer the crowds had become larger. When she appeared in September, she said that a miracle would occur when she next came, “so that all may see and believe.”

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Meaningful, attainable and just health care

By Bishop James Conley 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear: “Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of... health care.” (CCC 2288)

Securing affordable access to health care is a requirement of just societies and a function of the common good. Catholics have an obligation to work for the common good and to work to ensure that all people have affordable access to health care. Every family and, indeed, every person, should have the freedom to treat their medical needs and to live in the freedom of good health.

The Church provides principles and guidance regarding the provision of health care. But it is primarily the work of the lay faithful to put those principles into practice: to do the hard work of discerning how to ensure affordable access to health care, for the sake of the common good, in the particular circumstances of each society.  

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The shepherd who didn’t run

By Bishop James Conley

In July of 1981, two armed men entered a church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a small town on a lakefront, in a valley between two volcanoes. It was around midnight when they entered. A teenager named Francisco was alone in the Church. It was dark, and he was at prayer.

The men pointed guns at Francisco, and asked where they could find the “red-bearded priest.” He led them to the rectory door and knocked. Father Stanley Rother answered. He was the “red-bearded priest.” He was a missionary from Okarche, Oklahoma, who had lived in Guatemala for more than 10 years.

At the time, Guatemala was in the midst of a violent civil war. There was a price on Father Rother’s head. The men pointed guns at him, and he told them “kill me here.” They shot him twice in the head. He was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.

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Rescued from the storm

By Bishop James Conley 

Three weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of Texas with ferocity, and wreaked havoc on Houston and surrounding cities. Last week, Hurricane Irma flooded parts of Florida, and displaced millions. Islands of the Caribbean have seen nearly every building flattened, and families left homeless. Everywhere, men and women are unsure of where and how to rebuild.

We can thank the Lord for the first responders and others who sheltered families from the storm, for those who risked their lives to rescue others, and for the lives saved and homes spared in the path of the hurricane and tropical storms. But we also have a responsibility to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ, the men and women who have lost so much in these storms.

Catholic Relief Services, the Knights of Columbus, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and many other organizations have collected millions of dollars in recent weeks, and begun putting those funds to work to assist the places damaged by the hurricanes. Each one of us should consider how we can contribute generously to fundraising campaigns, and how we can offer our resources to assist those in need.

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Our Lady of Fatima

By Bishop James Conley 

Less than 200 years after the Ascension of Jesus, a Christian disciple wrote a biography of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The biography is not a part of Scripture; its historical accuracy is not certain, and it contains some theological ambiguities difficult to reconcile with the teachings of the Gospel. But the biography was well known among the Fathers of the Church, and it reminds us that since the earliest days of the Church’s life, Christians have revered the Blessed Mother, have prayed for her intercession, and have loved her as a mother.

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Finding Calcutta

By Bishop James Conley

Almost seven million people live in and around Nairobi, Kenya, in a river valley north of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nearly half of Nairobi’s residents live in slums—in makeshift houses and tents, surviving on less than $1 a day, where HIV, prostitution, and crime run rampant. Open sewers and garbage litter the streets. The ground is often a muddy mix of decomposing trash and human waste.

The slums of Nairobi are populated by families and children who work to survive amidst terrible conditions. They often find creative ways to work together. They are often people of faith. They often, in ways we cannot imagine, have not lost sight of their dignity, and have not lost the joy of human life. Still, no one should have to live in such terrible poverty, and it is a profound injustice that they do.

In Laudato si, Pope Francis says that those living in such abject conditions remind us that “in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable; the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

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Our response to Charlottesville

In the late 1940s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel began the process of ending segregation in the parishes, seminary, and schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He faced real opposition, from families, from teachers, from civil officials, and even some of the priests and religious of his diocese.

Political leaders threatened to end all state financial support for integrated Catholic schools. Catholics wrote to Pope Pius XII asking him to remove Archbishop Rummel from his post. At times, the opposition became violent—A cross was burned on Archbishop Rummel’s lawn; his home was picketed nightly.

In 1959, eight years after segregated Church seating was banned, two black men were beaten by a mob because they sat in the front pews of a New Orleans area parish. Some diocesan officials pleaded with Archbishop Rummel to end his mission. But the archbishop was undeterred.

In 1956, he wrote that racism “is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity… of the Redemption. The Eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, came into the world to redeem and save all men, to die for all men on the cross, to make the life of grace available through the Church and the Sacraments for all men.” Racism, he wrote, and especially segregation “would draw the color line across the inspiring plan of the Redemption and thus sin against the divine providence, the love and the mercy that conceived and carried out the wonderful Mystery.”

No matter the cost, Archbishop Rummel was committed to ending racial stereotypes and prejudices, which are, he said, “grievous violations of Christian justice and charity.”

Archbishop Rummel died in 1964. By then, the Archdiocese of New Orleans had done away with racial segregation in its institutions. But the evil of racism—which sins against Providence, justice, and charity—remains a powerful force in our country.

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The true dignity of education

The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop Conley July 5 at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference

Good students, and good teachers, seek to know things as they are. To know the Lord, and to see the world in light of divine truth. True schools are communities of learners, receiving and apprehending reality, not asserting themselves, or their importance. True communities of learners are humble disciples of the truth.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.”

Wonder is humility before the majesty of God. Wonder tolerates no self-importance. Wonder forgets the self. Wonder seeks only to gaze at the marvelous beauty of the world, and its creator. 

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Scouting and gender ideology

In 1909, a Chicago businessman named W.D. Boyce found himself lost one night, on a foggy street in London. A boy approached him, asked him where he was going, and guided him to his destination. Boyce was grateful, and offered his guide a tip. But the boy refused, saying that he was a Boy Scout, and he was doing his “daily good turn.”

Boyce was intrigued. He’d never heard of the Boy Scouts, and he asked the scout for more information. He later visited Lord Baden-Powell, a British general who had founded a movement of boys, called Scouting, just two years earlier.

One year later, in 1910, W.D. Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to teaching young men “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” In 1913, Juliette Gordon Lowe, a Georgia artist and philanthropist, founded the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, with just 18 members. Since that time, millions of American boys and girls have become scouts, including hundreds of priests and religious brothers and sisters.

For more than 100 years, scouting in America has formed men and women of character, helping each one, as the Boy Scout Oath says, “to do my duty to God and my country,” to “help other people at all times,” and to “keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

In recent years, unfortunately, both the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America, have begun to reflect the troubling errors of our culture about what it means to be men and women. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have decided to permit those with gender dysphoria—boys who think they are girls, and girls who think they are boys—to join their organizations based upon self-defined “gender identities.” Obviously, these decisions will gravely impact the moral and personal formation offered by Scouting movements.

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The evangelization of Love

“At the age of 21,” Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, shared with 3,000 people last Sunday afternoon, “I was already an alcoholic. I was very promiscuous. My life was broken by lust. It had been decimated by childhood sexual abuse that I never told anybody about.... But God didn’t abandon me.”

“Somebody loved me in my brokenness,” Sister Miriam continued, “and it changed my life. God sent a Catholic priest into my life who was authentically holy, and it rocked my world. He fathered me—loved me as a father—and I could not deny his witness.”

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Taking Christ’s love to the world

Last week, the bishops of the United States met in Indianapolis for the annual spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was a busy meeting full of committee meetings and general sessions with all the US Bishops. We had vigorous discussions about the formation of young people, Catholic healthcare, immigration, marriage and family life and our pastoral leadership in these areas. We discussed our work to support religious liberty, and reaffirmed our commitment to that important cause. And we approved new guidelines for the inclusion and support of disabled people in the Church’s sacramental life. We ended our meeting with a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction. Local priests were available during the holy hour so each bishop had the opportunity to go to confession.

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The ‘fount and apex’ of the Christian Life

This week, I will have the awesome privilege of ordaining two men to the sacred diaconate, and five men to the sacred priesthood.

Their new lives in these sacred ministries of priesthood and diaconate will begin in the context of the Holy Eucharist.  During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I will place my hands upon their heads and pray the ancient words of ordination.  They will be changed forever; their souls, configured by an indelible mark, to unity in identity and mission with Jesus Christ.

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Turn away from sin, and pray for the conversion of the world

In the spring of 1916, a full year before the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an angel—the Angel of Peace—appeared to three shepherd children in a field outside their village of Fatima, Portugal, in order to prepare them for things to come. The angel taught them how to pray, and to offer penances in reparation for the sins of the world, and especially how to adore Jesus, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

The children saw the Angel of Peace several times. The last time he appeared, the angel came holding a chalice in his hands with a Host above it. Without a word, in utter silence, the angel knelt with his forehead touching the ground leaving the Host and the chalice suspended in the air. The angel prayed three times: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly, I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”

Imitating the angel, with their foreheads pressed to the ground in profound adoration, the children joined the angel in reciting the prayer three times. The angel stood up and gave the oldest child, Lucia, the Sacred Host. Then he gave the Chalice with the Most Precious Blood to the other two children, Jacinta and Francisco. He said these words: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” Once again, the angel prostrated himself on the ground in silent adoration before the raised Host and chalice, and repeated the prayer three times, and then disappeared.

I am convinced that the Angel of Peace was calling all of us, in a special way, to pray before the Holy Eucharist, in silence, for the salvation of every single soul.

On May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the shepherd children in that same field. When the Blessed Mother appeared, she was, they said “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” She asked the children to pray the Rosary every day, and to pray for peace in the world. 

The Blessed Mother appeared again. In fact, she appeared six times over the next six months. In October, a huge crowd gathered with them.  That day, a new miracle happened: the sky grew dark, and then the sun burst through the clouds, dancing and spinning across the sky. It shed colored light across the landscape.  Tens of thousands reported seeing the same thing.

During the third apparition in July, the Blessed Mother shared a message for the children: three prophetic secrets, or messages: a vision of hell, a request that the world should turn from sin and consecrate Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and a prophetic vision which was revealed in the Jubilee Year, 2000, that the Church, and the Holy Father, would be called to suffer and be called to pray for the salvation of souls, and to penance for the conversion of the world.

The appearance of the Blessed Mother at Fatima was a grace for the whole world and the most important Marian apparition of our era. Her message was that the whole world should turn from sin, and pray for the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This message is the message of the Gospel, and a message the world needs today, more than ever.

The Blessed Mother also shared with the children that the greatest battle against evil in our time is waged in the family, and for the family. That Satan wishes to attack and undermine families, and that we must be vigilant to protect our families, and to defend the importance of the family in the world. Our families are made in the image of God, and God forms us to know him in the family. The Blessed Mother called us, at Fatima, to protect the family.

In a letter to Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, first President of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, and entrusted to St. John Paul II in 1981 on the occasion of his founding of the new Institute, Blessed Lucia of Fatima wrote these words: “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of satan will be about marriage and family… Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue… However, our Lady has already crushed his head.”  

Today, we celebrate 100 years since the Blessed Mother first appeared to the children at Fatima. But her message remains urgent and critical. We must pray for the conversion of the world and for the conversion of the family.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are blessed with a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Arapahoe. This year, the Holy Father has given a special gift to those who travel to the shrine as pilgrims. 

Catholics who “visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Arapahoe in the form of a pilgrimage… humbly praying for the conversion of sinners, for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and in defense of the institution of the human family, concluding by saying the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and invoking our Lady of Fatima,” are granted a Plenary Indulgence—a remission from the temporal punishment of our sin in purgatory. 

To gain such an indulgence, Catholics must also make a good confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the Pope and the Church, and renounce attachment to sin. Those who are sick, elderly, or unable to travel to Arapahoe may gain the same indulgence through the same prayers, in the presence of an image of Mary, asking for her powerful intercession.

This indulgence is a special grace—given to us by the Holy Father to honor the Blessed Mother, and to encourage us to pray for the conversion of the world, and for the family. I encourage every Catholic in the Diocese of Lincoln to travel to the shrine in Arapahoe if they can, or to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.

Our Lady of Fatima appeared to promise us that Christ can bring peace to the world, and peace to every single heart. She begged us to pray for that peace, and to offer up every sacrifice for the conversion of the world. As we remember her appearance at Fatima, let us pray for peace, through the intercession of her Immaculate Heart.

A saint for the scourge of human trafficking

By Bishop James Conley  

Josephine Bakhita became a slave when she was 9 years old.

She was born in Darfur, on a waterless plain south of the Sahara Desert. Her family was wealthy, comfortable, and powerful. Her early years were carefree.

In February 1877, Josephine was kidnapped by slave traders outside of her village. She was 9. She was forced to walk 600 miles to a marketplace in Sudan. She was forced to convert from her native religion to Islam. She was sold five times over the next 12 years.

She was branded, beaten frequently, forced to travel great distances, and so traumatized that she forgot her own name. She took the word bakhita for a name, which means lucky, because she felt she was lucky to be alive.

Eventually, Josephine moved to Italy with her Italian owners. There, in 1888, with the help of Canossian nuns, a court declared her to be a free woman. Two years later, she was baptized a Catholic, confirmed, and received her first Communion.

Josephine Bakhita became a religious sister, and by God’s grace, she became a saint. I was privileged to be in Saint Peter’s Square on October 1, 2000, when St. John Paul II canonized her a saint.

Josephine Bakhita’s path to holiness was unique and miraculous. Her enslavement traumatized her—wounded her physically and psychologically. She might have easily died during the beatings she received as a slave. And even at the end of her life, when she had been free for more than 40 years, she had nightmares of being chained up by slave owners. The Lord healed her, but she had to overcome extraordinary obstacles as she learned true freedom in Jesus Christ.

We might be tempted to imagine that stories like St. Josephine Bakhita’s only happened in the past. That slavery no longer exists; that human beings no longer buy and sell one another like property. But modern slavery exists today in many forms, most prominently, in the form of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the trade or brokering of human beings, for forced labor, sexual slavery, coercive and forced prostitution, or even coercive gestational surrogacy. Human trafficking is among the fast-growing criminal activities among gangs in the United States, and criminal organizations around the world.

Human trafficking is modern slavery. It occurs when a girl or boy is coerced by a boyfriend or a parent into prostitution. It occurs when a smuggler forces undocumented immigrants to work for years without pay, to pay off a debt or to avoid family punishment. It occurs when a poor woman is forced by her family into working as a pregnancy surrogate for the wealthy. 

Human trafficking reduces people—created in the image of God—into commodities.

In 2016, Pope Francis said that “the trade in human beings is a modern form of slavery, which violates the God-given dignity of so many of our brothers and sisters and constitutes a true crime against humanity.” Catholics, Pope Francis said, are called to “bring the balm of mercy” to the “open wound” of human trafficking in our world.

Last month, Grace Williams, the founder of Children of the Immaculate Heart, a California apostolate helping women and children escape sex trafficking, spoke at the Newman Center about her work. She said that human trafficking is growing in popularity among gangs because “you can sell a person over and over again. The supply doesn’t run out.”

Grace also shared that, in Christ, women and children can experience true healing, and escape the coercive power of human trafficking, just as St. Josephine Bakhita did.

Glen Parks, Nebraska’s Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator, spoke along with Grace. He shared that 135 people in Nebraska are sex trafficked every month—1,620 each year.

The evil of human trafficking—the “open wound”—has taken root in our state.

Each one of us is called to pray for the victims of human trafficking—modern-day slaves—especially those in our own state. We are also called to work to stop the evil of modern-day slavery, and to help its victims. In the months to come, our diocese will work to find ways to help the victims of human trafficking in Nebraska. In the meantime, I ask you to join me in continued prayer for an end to human trafficking.

The Lord gives liberty to captives. His mercy sets us free. He gave freedom to St. Josephine Bakhita. In hope, we pray that he will bring freedom to the modern-day slaves among us.       

An irrational ideology of abortion

In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would soon be elected Pope Benedict XVI, preached that “we are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

In the past month, we’ve learned that relativism can be a very cruel dictator.

Most basically defined, the pro-choice political position is that the “right to choose” is sacrosanct, and that no one may legitimately question the moral choices of another with regard to abortion. That overwhelming and indisputable scientific evidence regarding the beginning of unique human life through conception, has no place in the political conversation about abortion. That all philosophical, anthropological, or biological arguments regarding abortion must be subordinated, at all times, to the primacy of other people’s choices.

The pro-choice political position is the true embodiment of the dictatorship of relativism. It demands that there can be no “right choice” or “right answer.” Pro-choice ideology prioritizes individual decision-making above every other concern, including the right of unborn children to life. This is simply irrational.

Two weeks ago, Tom Perez, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, affirmed this position unequivocally. He said that “every Democrat” in America is expected to support the pro-choice position, without exception. He insists that there is no room for pro-life Democrats in his party. The dictatorship of relativism expects absolute conformity, and is willing to jettison anyone who dares to disagree with his party on this issue.

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

The so-called “right to choose” is sacrosanct except, of course, the choice to support unborn children. This is the real irony of Mr. Perez’ statement. He claims to prioritize the rights of conscience, but he makes no provision for those in his own party who, in conscience, disagree with him.

Of course, this means that many Catholics who agree with other elements of the Democratic platform have been rejected by their political party, for failing to swear allegiance to relativism. But the pro-choice position, which embodies the dictatorship of relativism, allows no dissent, no disagreement, no questioning and no exceptions - period.

In our state, this was demonstrated by a nearly seven-hour debate in the Legislature last week. The state’s mainline budget bill proposes to prioritize the recipients of federally-provided Title X family planning funds, directing money to facilities that offer comprehensive healthcare, namely: community health centers, hospitals, and public health departments. This move would ensure that Nebraskans have access to facilities able to provide them comprehensive health services.

But Planned Parenthood, by far the largest provider of abortions in America, and the primary recipient of Title X funds in Nebraska, opposed the change, because it would route the few hundred thousand dollars Planned Parenthood receives to other, more qualified, and more accessible agencies. The dictatorship of relativism would not allow this.

Immediately, Planned Parenthood and its allies attacked and reframed a reasonable and commonsense measure designed to help Nebraskans, as a “war on choice.” The bill is about helping Nebraskans to access healthcare. But the dictatorship of relativism demands federal dollars, and bullies and threatens those who oppose it.

We oppose the dictatorship of relativism by the telling the truth. Abortion harms women. Abortion kills children. Planned Parenthood is an abortion retailer masquerading as a community health provider. And Planned Parenthood opposes providing healthcare access to Nebraskans in order to protect its bottom line. None of those things is morally right. And none of them should be acceptable to Nebraskans.

It’s time we choose to support women and their unborn children, by ending abortion. It’s time we choose to stop providing public money to abortion providers who exaggerate their public health services. It’s time we choose to stop living under the dictatorship of relativism. It’s time we choose the freedom that comes from truth. 

Footprints

By Bishop James Conley 

On a hilltop in the mountains of Spain, an iron cross has stood for at least one thousand years, visible from villages, roads, farms, and mountain paths for miles away. Below it is a pile of rocks—some pebbles, and some much larger—which have been carried from around the world and quietly, and prayerfully, placed at the foot of the cross.

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Divine Mercy and the Culture of Death

By Bishop James Conley 

On Good Friday, I joined Christians from around the city of Lincoln to pray at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility on south 48th Street, for an end to abortion, and for a flourishing of the culture of life. In the grey and rainy mist, we prayed for those who are involved in the abortion industry, for women and families in unexpected or crisis pregnancies without a sense of where to turn, and for children in the wombs of the mothers, being formed and nurtured for life.

Together, we prayed that our world would become a place in which the dignity and humanity of the unborn is respected, and in which women and families can come know the love and mercy of God, through the love of his Church, especially in situations of crisis or challenge.

We prayed that the unborn would be safe in the refuge of their mothers' wombs, and that their mothers would bask in the joyful and live-giving light of hope. Fittingly, we concluded our prayers with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. “Where, if not in Divine Mercy,” asked Pope St. John Paul II, “can the world find refuge and the light of hope?”

God’s mercy is exactly what is needed to combat the culture of death, and to build a culture of life. “How greatly today’s world needs God’s mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II. “Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth.”

We gathered on Good Friday to pray at a place which represents abortion, the profound evil of our time—which takes the life of an innocent child, and causes grave harm to its mother. We gathered at a place which has become a modern day Calvary, where pure innocence meets deadly evil. Abortion is disguised in the language of choice and empowerment, but abortion disempowers, objectifies, and wounds. And that is exactly why we prayed for the Lord’s mercy.

“The cross,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II, from which Divine Mercy flows, “is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man’s earthly existence.” At Planned Parenthood, we prayed for a touch of eternal love upon the painful wounds which cause abortion, and which are caused by abortion.

Many of you have read that as we concluded praying, there was a terrible accident. A pickup truck skidded on a slick road, jumped the curb, and drove onto the sidewalk where we were gathered. Five people were hit by the pickup, and another was knocked down by those thrown by the truck. Some suffered serious injuries, though, thank God, none were life-threatening. There were two of us priests still on the scene, and we had the opportunity to pray with those who were injured before they were treated. Those who gathered with us also, quite immediately, began to pray.

After I got home that evening, I found myself wondering why something so terrible had happened. I don’t think we’ll have a full answer to that question until we are in heaven with God. But I do think that God might bring, from that terrible accident, “a touch of eternal love” upon very painful wounds.

Accidents are unsettling. When the accident happened, our entire city took note. Media crews arrived almost immediately. Many people expressed concern for the injured. That accident was a reminder that life is precious, and that human dignity is innate, and undeniable. Perhaps it might remind people that all life is precious—even unborn life. Perhaps the sense of unsettledness caused by the accident might lead some to consider why some lives seem so naturally worthy of protection, while the lives of the unborn, and their mothers, are so casually disposed of, disregarded or dismissed.

Perhaps that unfortunate accident outside of Planned Parenthood, and on Good Friday, might be a reminder that there is nothing accidental about abortion.

Perhaps the love and concern expressed by so many people for those who were injured might be extended through the quiet prompting of Divine Mercy, to the unborn and to their mothers, who are sorely in need of love, concern, and respect.

The accident which occurred at Planned Parenthood was very unfortunate. For some, it will have lasting effect. We must pray for the young driver of the truck. But unified with the cross of Jesus Christ, perhaps it might take on a different meaning. Perhaps, unified with Christ’s cross, it might bring about “a touch of eternal love,” and a “light of hope” for a world longing for Christ.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Please join me in praying for the unborn, for their mothers, and for those who were injured on Good Friday. Please include in your prayers, the driver of the truck. Please also join me in praying that the Lord might use something, even a frightening accident, as an occasion of Divine Mercy—through the power of the Cross—which heals every wound and frees every heart.

See also: Pro-lifers hit by truck in accident after prayer vigil

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