Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

The holiest days

Introduction

A week ago, on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we celebrated the beginning of the work of our Redemption, when God the Son became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.That God Himself would come to live with us is a great and wonderful mystery.We call it the mystery of the Incarnation.
God the Son took our human nature for one only purpose, namely, to save us from our sins and to win for us the freedom to love Him and to love one another.God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to us on a mission, our salvation.On this coming Sunday, Palm Sunday, we enter into the holiest days of the Church Year, the days in which we celebrate the completion of the mission for which our Lord Jesus was sent into the world: His suffering, dying and rising from the dead for our eternal salvation.So singular is this time for us that we call "Holy Week" the days from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.Of all the weeks of the Church Year, during which God faithfully pours forth His grace upon us, we refer to one week only as Holy Week, because the source of all grace is found in the events which took place during this week.

Even as we call the truth that God became man for us the mystery of the Incarnation, so we call the truth that God Incarnate suffered and died for our salvation the mystery of the Redemption.The two mysteries are inseparably united.For that reason, our Holy Father is fond of referring to the two great mysteries together as one, the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation.
Our 40 days of Lenten observance have been preparing us for Holy Week, so that we might enter as fully as possible into the celebration of the mystery of our Redemption.Accompanying Christ, through prayer and worship, during these days of His Passion and death, we recognize the mystery of His Life within us. He reveals to us the deepest truth about our life in Him. In the cleansing and life-giving waters of Baptism, we were buried with Christ, dying to sin, and we came to life with Christ in the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.Our life, as we have come to understand more deeply, through our Lenten penance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is a pilgrimage in the company of Christ, which reaches its completion at the portal of death.In Christ, the portal of death leads to resurrection and life without end in the presence of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the company of the angels and all the saints. Through our participation in Holy Week, especially the Sacred Triduum — beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and concluding with the Easter Vigil — we will draw closer to Christ and grow more gratefully conscious of His life within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Passion or Palm Sunday

We begin Holy Week by participating in the Mass on Passion or Palm Sunday.The Mass begins with the blessing and distribution of palms, and the procession which recalls Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem, in obedience to the will of the Father, to suffer a most cruel passion and death for love of us and in the desire to win for us both freedom from sin and life without end.At the Gospel, the account of the Passion and death of our Lord is proclaimed to us in its fullness, so that we may understand the significance of the holy time into which we are entering.

We can never comprehend sufficiently the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death.Christ Who entered Jerusalem with the acclaim of the people would soon hear the same people crying out repeatedly for His crucifixion. The words of the verse for the Communion Rite, taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, reveal the depth of the love of Christ for us as He enters into His Passion. They are words which Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He awaited His arrest and condemnation to the most ignominious form of execution known at the time, crucifixion.Christ, ever obedient in carrying out the mission which the Father had entrusted to Him from the moment of His Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, turned to His Father and prayed: "Father, if this cup may not pass, but I must drink it, then your will be done" (Mt 26:42).

Throughout Holy Week, it would be good to return to a meditation on these words and on the text of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to enter as deeply as possible into the events of His redeeming work.Participation in Holy Mass on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week would be a wonderful way of accompanying Christ during these days.If participation in Mass is not possible, it would be good to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament each day.For all, time each day in prayer, meditating upon the Passion of our Lord, will help us to be with our Lord during these holiest of days.I recommend especially the praying of the rosary each day, meditating upon the mysteries of our salvation and keeping in mind the intentions of the family and of world peace.

Chrism Mass

On Holy Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, I, together with the priests of the archdiocese, will offer the Chrism Mass, during which the sacred chrism will be consecrated and the holy oils will be blessed for use in the celebration of the Sacraments and other sacred rites during the coming year.It is a most beautiful celebration, the last solemn liturgical rite before the Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper during the evening of Holy Thursday.All of the faithful of the archdiocese are invited to participate in the Chrism Mass. It is one of the most important and beautiful liturgical celebrations of the Church Year.

Holy Thursday is a most special day for priests, for Christ instituted the ordained priesthood on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper.Also, the priests, united around the bishop at the Chrism Mass, are reminded that they, by their ordination, have been constituted the ministers of the sanctifying and healing sacred chrism, oil of the catechumens and oil of the sick.Before the consecration of the sacred chrism and the blessing of the holy oils, the priests of the archdiocese renew their commitment to priestly service.With these words, all of the faithful are invited to pray for their priests:

Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of his love,

To help them be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest,

So that they will be able to lead you to Him,

The Fountain of your salvation. (The Roman Missal)

The consecration of the chrism and the blessing of the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick remind us of the living presence of Christ, the Anointed of the Lord, with us in the Church, ceaselessly accomplishing the work of our salvation, especially through the sacraments.The word chrism comes from the same root as Christ, the word for anointing.Throughout the Chrism Mass, we recall how Christ was anointed by God the Father with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so that He might win for us the gift of the Holy Spirit by suffering, dying and rising from the dead.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

The Sacred Triduum begins with the celebration of the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.We recall how Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist on the night before He died, in order that the fruits of His suffering and dying, the outpouring of His life for us, might be available to us always in the Church. The Holy Eucharist is the source and the highest expression of our life in Christ, for it is communion in His true Body and Blood.For that reason, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is central to the celebration of the mysteries of our Redemption.During the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, sufficient hosts are consecrated, so that the faithful may be able to participate in Holy Communion on Good Friday, the day of our Lord’s Passion and death.At the Gloria, all of the bells of the church are rung with exultant joy and then remain silent until they are even more exultantly rung at the Gloria of the first Mass of Easter during the Easter Vigil.

During the Mass, after the Gospel and homily, the priest carries out what is called, in Latin, the mandatum (command) or the Washing of the Feet.This striking rite recalls what our Lord Himself did during the Last Supper, and His command that His disciples do likewise.The love of Christ which we receive in the Holy Eucharist is expressed in our humble service of our brothers and sisters.

At the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in solemn procession throughout the church and is then reposed in a tabernacle in a fittingly decorated chapel.The faithful are invited to make a holy hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament during this holy night of its institution.After the Mass, the altar is stripped.Mass will not be celebrated at the altar again until the Easter Vigil.

Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Around 3 p.m. on Good Friday, good because it is the day when Christ died for us on the cross, we solemnly celebrate our Lord’s Passion and death.We begin with the Liturgy of the Word, the heart of which is the proclamation of the Passion from the Gospels.After the homily, the Liturgy of the Word concludes with the General Intercessions for the needs of the universal Church and of the world.

The second part of the celebration is the Veneration of the Cross.A large crucifix is carried in procession and shown to all the faithful, so that they may worship the Savior who hung on the wood of the cross for our salvation. After the solemn procession with the crucifix, the priest, other clergy and faithful approach the crucifix for veneration.During the Veneration of the Cross, appropriate sacred music, based on texts of the Holy Scriptures, helps us to meditate on the immeasurable love of God for us in Jesus Christ.

The celebration concludes with Holy Communion.The hosts consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper are brought to the altar and distributed to the faithful.Any hosts remaining are reposed in a place outside the main body of the church, so that the church remains without the Real Presence as the Church waits at the tomb of Christ for the announcement of His glorious Resurrection at the Easter Vigil.

Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting.It is day when we should observe periods of silence, remembering the Passion and death of our Lord.

The Easter Vigil

The Sacred Triduum concludes and the Easter Season begins with the celebration of the Easter Vigil.Fittingly, the liturgical rites for the Easter Vigil are the richest in meaning and beauty.The blessing of the fire and the lighting of the Easter Candle signify Christ the Light, dispelling the darkness of our sin and restoring life in us by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.The Easter Proclamation (Exultet) sung before the Easter Candle is a most striking meditation on the mystery of our salvation.

The Liturgy of the Word is very ample.Nine readings, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, are provided, in order that we may have the fullest divine instruction regarding the saving events we celebrate.After the last reading from the Old Testament has been proclaimed, the candles on the altar are lighted and the Gloria is sung with the joy-filled ringing of all the church bells once again.Then follows the prayer, Epistle, Gospel and homily.

The third part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of Baptism, during which we witness the lasting fruit of Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection in the baptism of catechumens, and in the conferral of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion for the newly baptized.In many churches, this is also the time for the conferral of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion for those being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church or for those who were baptized Catholic but not catechized.

The final part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.Christ renews His paschal sacrifice, so that we may be healed and nourished with His true Body and Blood.

Conclusion

Please make plans now to participate in the sacred liturgies of Holy Week, especially of the Sacred Triduum. May these holiest of days bring us all to a deeper knowledge and love of Christ.In the mystery of Christ’s suffering, dying and rising from the dead may we discover the deepest truth about God, about ourselves and about our world.

Going forward gratefully

Introduction

One of the principal responsibilities of the bishop is to teach the faith.During the Rite of Ordination of a bishop, the Book of the Gospels is placed on the head of the bishop-elect and then held over his head by two deacons during the Prayer of Ordination. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II explains the meaning of this part of the Rite of Ordination:

"The Second Vatican Council, advancing along the path indicated by the Church’s tradition, explains that the mission of teaching proper to bishops consists in reverently safeguarding and courageously proclaiming the faith.

"Here we see all the rich meaning of the gesture found in the Roman rite of episcopal ordination, when the open Book of the Gospels is placed on the head of the bishop-elect.This gesture indicates, on the one hand, that the word embraces and watches over the bishop’s ministry and, on the other, that the bishop’s life is to be completely submitted to the word of God in his daily commitment of preaching the Gospel in patience and sound doctrine" (cf. 2 Tim 4) (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World" [Oct. 16, 2003], n. 28a-b).

A bishop must never grow weary of teaching the faith.At the same time, he must always be alert to give sound teaching, lest he lead the flock in a wrong direction.The grace of Holy Orders equips him to be a tireless and reliable teacher of the faith.

The first and most efficacious means of safeguarding and teaching the faith is the homily during the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.A bishop is also to use other forms of the communications media to communicate as fully as possible with the flock entrusted to his care, including those who have not yet had the faith taught to them and those who, for whatever reason, are wandering from sound doctrine and practice.

I thank God for our archdiocesan newspaper, the St. Louis Review, which provides me the way to visit your home each week to fulfill my responsibility as Chief Teacher of the Faith in the archdiocese, confirming you in the knowledge and practice of our Catholic faith and leading you to deeper knowledge and more fervent practice.Our weekly encounter through the St. Louis Review will keep us in communication between the times when we are able to communicate with one another at the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy or at other archdiocesan celebrations.

Thank you

In my first visit with you, as your new archbishop, I want, most of all, to say thank you for the faith-filled and warm welcome which you have given to me.Thank you, most of all, for all of the prayers which you have offered for me and my intentions, even before I was appointed.

From Dec. 2 of last year, the day of the announcement of my appointment as Archbishop of St.Louis, you have made me feel at home.The Evening Prayer before the Mass of Installation and, above all, the Mass of Installation were most fittingly and beautifully prepared and celebrated.The Archdiocese of St. Louis can be rightfully proud of the full and solemn expression of faith in Christ and love of Christ through the sacred liturgies on this past Jan. 25-26.I thank all who, in any way, contributed to the preparation and celebration of the beginning of my service as your shepherd.I thank all of you who participated, either by your presence at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis or by television and radio.Your prayers and expressions of best wishes fill me with courage in taking up the weighty responsibilities which are now mine.I thank those who have spoken with me personally and those who have written to me to assure me of their prayers.

All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to Archbishop-elect Joseph F. Naumann, diocesan administrator from the day of Cardinal Justin Rigali’s installation as Archbishop of Philadelphia to my Jan. 26 installation. Archbishop-elect Naumann is an outstanding churchman.His service as diocesan administrator is an eloquent testimony to his pastoral charity.I personally am deeply grateful for all of the brotherly assistance which he has given and continues to give to me.May God reward him abundantly.Let us pray for Archbishop-elect Naumann as he prepares in these days to take up his new responsibilities as Coadjutor Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas on March 19.

My family, the priests and faithful from the Diocese of La Crosse, and other friends who traveled to St. Louis for my installation have asked me to express their deepest esteem and gratitude to Archbishop-elect Naumann, Bishop Robert J. Hermann, the priests and all the faithful of the archdiocese.They were inspired by the strong Catholic faith which they witnessed here and by the many kindnesses shown to them during their time here, a few days for some and a few hours for others.
Many joined us for the Mass of Installation through the coverage provided by our St. Louis television stations and also Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), and have written to say how inspired they were. In the name of all the faithful of the Archdiocese, I express deepest gratitude to our local media and EWTN for making the Mass of Installation available to the greatest possible number of the faithful.

I would also like to express my gratitude to police, fire and street department personnel of the city of St. Louis for their assistance in making the events related to my installation not only safe but also accessible for the many who attended.

The weather since my arrival in St. Louis has presented a bit of a test for us.The Irish say that rain or snow on a day of celebration is a sign of God’s blessing.Coming from Wisconsin, where such weather is all too familiar, I thought that perhaps this was another way to make
me feel at home.Certainly, God has blessed us all abundantly as we begin together a new chapter in the life of the Church in the Archdiocese of St.Louis.We thank Him that no one suffered any injury because of the inclement weather, and we ask for His continued blessing.

Going forward

The days since my installation have been especially given to prayer and visiting with priests, permanent deacons and consecrated persons of the archdiocese, and to a first pastoral visit to each of the 10 deaneries of the archdiocese.In every visit, I have received a wholehearted welcome and the assurance of prayers.For my part, I have seen how richly blessed the archdiocese is.The time of prayer and sacred worship during each visit has been the greatest source of comfort and encouragement for me and, I hope, for all who have shared in these events.

As I have mentioned many times, the coming of a new shepherd for the flock is a time of special grace which we certainly want to receive with a generous heart.Welcoming a new archbishop, we are led to reflect upon God’s greatest gift to us, after life itself, the gift of the Catholic faith and of life in the Church.

The fullness of all that God wishes to reveal to us is found in the Catholic Church.With time, we can begin to take for granted the many blessings of our faith and even grow dull in our knowledge of the faith and tepid in its practice.The culture in which we live, indifferent and even hostile to Christ as it is, makes it all the easier for us to lack attention and care in knowing and practicing our Catholic faith.Now, there is special and strong grace in the Archdiocese of St. Louis for all of us to take up with new energy and enthusiasm the study and teaching of the faith, the life of prayer and the sacraments, and the obedient and generous response to pastoral direction.Reflection upon my responsibilities as teacher, priest and shepherd leads us to embrace anew our responsibility to be one with our shepherd in teaching, celebrating and living the faith.

Our vocation is our path

The grace of the present time in the archdiocese is above all for responding to God’s call in our lives and for helping others, especially our children and young people to hear God’s call and to respond with an undivided heart.From the moment of our conception, God has a special plan for each of us, our vocation, our way to give glory to Him and to build up His holy Church in unity and love.Once we have come to life in Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, God helps us by His grace to grow in the likeness of Christ.With the help of parents, catechists and teachers, and other family members and members of the Church, we become more Christlike and receive a first intimation of our vocation.

The Sacrament of Confirmation, conferred as we enter the important years between childhood and adulthood, strengthens and increases the life of the Holy Spirit within us, so that we will be strong witnesses to Christ in the world.The grace given in the Sacrament of Confirmation helps and guides young people, above all, in knowing their vocation, God’s plan for them and in having the courage to respond generously. For their part, it is important to cooperate with the grace by praying each day to know their vocation in life and by looking for the signs by which God reveals His will to us.

God usually communicates His will to us in the ordinary circumstances of our daily living, which, in a certain sense, are always extraordinary because Christ is accompanying us. Through our prayer, God leads us to consider a certain vocation. We are attracted to the vocation.Also, God places other faithful Catholics in our lives, who see signs of our vocation and encourage us.Parents and parish priests are especially important in helping us to know our vocation and respond to it.

From the evening of Feb. 13 through the afternoon of Feb. 15, I will be leading a retreat for young men who are completing or have completed high school and are hearing God’s call to the ordained priesthood.Please pray for me, that I may be a worthy instrument of God’s grace in helping these young men to know better God’s will for them.Please pray that the retreatants will be disposed to hear God’s call and to respond generously.

Conclusion

May this time of strong grace for us confirm each of us in our vocation, whether it is to the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood.May it also lead us to encourage one another in responding wholeheartedly to God’s call in our lives.May we be especially attentive to those who are experiencing doubts about their vocation or are struggling to remain faithful in their vocation.

Thanking God for His many blessings and going forward in carrying out His work in the archdiocese, we, with the Mother of God, place our hearts in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, trusting in Christ for all that we need and pledging to Him all our love and devotion.We count upon the intercession of Sts. Louis of France, Vincent de Paul and Rose Philippine Duchesne, our patrons.

Lenten works of mercy

Introduction

Essential to our Lenten penance is almsgiving or doing works of mercy.Too often, almsgiving may seem to be a kind of optional Lenten practice, a good work to do, if we can or if it pleases us.The truth is that all of our Lenten observance remains empty if it does not lead us to do works of mercy.Likewise, there can be no true conversion of heart, no sincere interior penance, which is not marked by almsgiving.The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" reminds us of the necessary relationship between prayer and fasting, and almsgiving in the transformation of our hearts, in the union of our hearts with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.In the catechism, we read:

"The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom, they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity ‘which covers a multitude of sins’"(n. 1434).

It makes good spiritual sense that the more correctly we view ourselves and our relationship with God, the more we will understand the destiny of the earthly goods which God confides to our care.The more we are united with God through prayer and purified of undue attachments to material things through fasting, the more we are inspired and strengthened to imitate God in His love, placing ourselves and our goods at the service of others in selfless love.

St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great, abbot of St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome, was elected to succeed Pope Pelagius II in the year 590.In all sincerity, he tried to avoid assuming the office of Roman Pontiff.He declared that he finally accepted the burden of the service of Successor to St. Peter "with a sick heart" (St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care [New York: Newman Press, 1950], pp. 3-4).He fulfilled the responsibilities of Roman Pontiff with such holiness that he was given the title "Great," a title conferred upon very few popes.Pope Gregory the Great wrote a lengthy reflection on the responsibilities of a bishop which is titled in Latin, "Regula Pastoralis."In English, it is called "Pastoral Care," although the title literally means a rule or directives for a pastor.It provides excellent meditations for anyone who is called to give pastoral care and direction to God’s flock, especially for a bishop.It was the work which I used for my meditations on the retreat I made before my episcopal ordination on Jan. 6, 1995.After my appointment as Archbishop of St. Louis, I have taken it up once again and found it so helpful in reflecting upon the duties which God has entrusted to me here.

Chapter 20 of St. Gregory’s work takes up the question of how the bishop should admonish the person who is performing a work of mercy.The great Pope Gregory declares in simple terms what must be the attitude of a person who gives from his substance to supply for the needs of others and urges a bishop to instruct his faithful in a way of thinking which may be rightly called Christian stewardship.He writes:

"Therefore, those who in pity bestow what is theirs must be admonished to acknowledge that they have been appointed by the heavenly Lord to be the dispensers of temporal means, and to display their humility the more, inasmuch as they realize that what they dispense belongs to others" (Ibid., p.152).

The virtue of humility lies at the foundation of our works of mercy.It is a virtue which teaches us to recognize that all we are and have is God’s gift to us for our good and the good of all. Works of mercy, done according to the Heart of Christ, never lead us to pride but rather to humble gratitude for the gift to sustain others from our means.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man, often named for the Latin word for the rich man, Dives, makes clear to us the fundamental importance of humility before our material possessions, so that we become good stewards, sharing from our substance to care for those most in need.The sin of Dives, which merited eternal punishment, was not that he robbed someone or that he gained his wealth dishonestly but that he failed to use his wealth to help others, especially the poor Lazarus (cf.Lk 16:19-31).The parable teaches us how fundamental doing works of mercy or giving alms is to our eternal salvation.If we fail to show the mercy of God in our words and works, we will merit eternal punishment.At the same time, doing the works of mercy is our way to eternal happiness.

Our Lord’s parable of the last judgment teaches us that our service of Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned — in short, our brothers and sisters in most need — is our way of salvation (cf. Mt 25:31-46).Clearly, our justice is found in God’s self-sacrificing love alone, in emptying ourselves in the service of others.

Corporal and Spiritual Works

Our works of mercy or almsgiving are directed to both the spiritual and bodily good of others.Daily, we encounter the needs of our neighbor, both in body and in soul, and are called to address practically and effectively those needs. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" succinctly summarizes the principal works of mercy, what we have traditionally called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy:

"The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God" (n.2447).

The simple daily reflection upon our fulfillment of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy helps us very much to see how the goods with which God has blessed each of us belong to others, in the words of St. Gregory, and how we, as good stewards, must bestow them on others in their need.

The truth is that, if everyone in the Church generously gave from his or her substance for the good of the whole Body of Christ, all of our brothers and sisters would know the compassion of Christ in their need. Because so many of us fail to follow Christ in caring for the needs of one another, many suffer and the mission of the Church goes unfulfilled.

There is no one of us who is lacking in riches for the care of our brothers and sisters in need.Even the materially poor person can visit the sick and imprisoned and is rich in spiritual goods to bestow upon brothers and sisters.The comment of our Lord Jesus on the widow’s mite reminds us that God has made all of us rich for carrying out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (cf. Lk 21:1-4).

Our Lord compassionately teaches about the great temptation which comes to the person who is rich in temporal goods, the temptation to think that the goods belong to him to do with as he pleases.To the rich young man who declared that he had kept all of the commandments, our Lord stated:

"If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor.You will then have treasure in heaven" (Mt 19:21).

The Gospel account goes on to say that the rich young man left the company of Jesus with sadness, "for his possessions were many" (Mt 19:22).

Lenten Almsgiving

Our Lenten practice of almsgiving is meant to train our hearts and hands to be always generous in sharing from our substance to sustain our brothers and sisters in need.Even as Lent is a training time in all of the virtues, so, too, it strengthens us in doing works of mercy, spiritual and corporal.

Certainly, if we as parents or teachers have failed to give time to our children to instruct them and discipline them, then Lent is a time to develop a strong habit of spending time with our children.If we are alienated from someone, it is time to seek reconciliation, even if we are only able to accomplish it, for the moment, through prayer for one who needs our forgiveness and will not accept it, or needs our counsel and will not receive it.All of works of mercy begin and end in prayer.It is in prayer that we come to know the immeasurable love of God for us and of our call to share in His mission of love.At the same time, in our daily prayer and through our participation in the Holy Eucharist, we beg for God’s blessing upon all of our works of mercy.

In my first weeks of service as Archbishop of St. Louis, I have come to know about the many works of mercy which the faithful of the Archdiocese are carrying out in their homes, parishes, schools and other institutions.I think, for instance, of the work of the parish St. Vincent de Paul societies, of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese and of our Catholic Charities.A need of which I am becoming increasingly aware is the provision of a Catholic-school education in the areas in which the children of families need so keenly a Catholic education.The only way in which the Church will be able to carry out her mission of Catholic education on behalf of the poorest of the poor is good stewardship, the strong support of her charitable, education and missionary works by all of the faithful of the archdiocese.

Conclusion

Our Lenten almsgiving is at the very heart of our Christian life.It is not some optional extra in a rich variety of spiritual works.May our Lenten prayer, especially our participation in the Holy Eucharist and the regular confession of our sins, lead us to carry out the works of God’s mercy on behalf of all who are in need.May our Lenten fasting dispose us to view all our goods as gifts given to us as stewards, that we may use them to assist the poor.

St. Vincent de Paul, our patron, pray for us, so that we may imitate your Christlike love.

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