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.

'Be not afraid'

Death of Mother Mary Francis

On Feb. 11, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, Mother Mary Francis, PCC, died in the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Roswell, N.M.Born on Feb. 14, 1921, in St. Louis, to John and Anne Maher Aschmann, she would have celebrated her 85th birthday on this past St. Valentine’s Day. In the providence of God, it became the day of her Christian burial.Since shortly before Christmas, she had been suffering from a severe decline in her health.Over the weeks since Christmas, her deep love of God and neighbor became ever purer as she patiently united her intense suffering to the suffering of Christ.

God granted Mother Mary Francis the grace to die within the walls of the monastery which had been her home since Nov. 7, 1949.She left this world, surrounded by the sisters whom she had loved and served so nobly, especially as abbess since May 16, 1964.In fact, just this past October, Mother Mary Francis completed her more than 40 years of service as abbess.Having given her all, as Christ’s faithful bride, she was prepared to meet Him in death, in order to be with Him forever in heaven.

Proud St. Louisan

Mother Mary Francis was most proud of her hometown of St. Louis, of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Parish in which she grew up and of "my beloved Redemptorists," as she always referred to the priests who served the parish; of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, by whom she was educated and from whom she received her first religious formation; and of St. Louis University, at which she did her college studies.Before completing her college degree, she heard the call to the contemplative religious life and, with generous obedience, entered the Poor Clare Monastery at Chicago on July 7, 1942. Her parents had given her the name, Alberta, at her baptism.On July 26, 1943, she received the holy habit of the Poor Clare Nuns and a new name, Sister Mary Francis of Our Lady.
I first visited Mother Mary Francis at Roswell while I was bishop of La Crosse.She was so pleased when I was transferred to St. Louis.She never tired of recounting for me the many blessings of her growing up in St. Louis.

Poet and writer

Mother Mary Francis was a gifted poet and writer.In the Poor Clare cloister, she was encouraged to develop her literary gifts, which she did to an extraordinary degree.She wrote many poems, plays and other books about the contemplative life, our Blessed Mother and the saints, and other spiritual topics. One of her plays, "Smallest of All," celebrates the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous.I am confident that the Mother of God, whom Mother Mary Francis honored so much by her writings and on whose feast she died, came to meet Mother at her dying.My favorite of all her plays is "Counted as Mine," which recounts the apparitions of the Mother of God in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Perhaps her most famous work is "A Right To Be Merry," first written in 1956 and available today in a new edition from Ignatius Press.It is a most engaging account of the vocation of a young woman to the contemplative life in the Poor Clare Monastery.The story of how the book came to be is most charming.

The roof of the monastery at Roswell was in bad need of repair.The abbess, Mother Mary Immaculata, learned of a writing contest, with a monetary prize and, therefore, asked the then-Sister Mary Francis to write something, in order to win the prize for the repair of the roof.Mother wrote the book on the back of labels from the cans of the vegetables and fruits which the nuns ate."A Right To Be Merry" became the best-selling Catholic book in 1956.I recommend it to you most highly.You will enjoy Mother’s excellent writing, and you will gain not only an excellent insight into the vocation to the contemplative religious life, but also receive much encouragement in meeting the challenges of your everyday Christian life.

Mother of the World

I first came to know Mother Mary Francis through her writings but then was blessed to visit her at the Poor Clare Monastery in Roswell.I recall so well the first time I met her in the parlor or speakroom of the monastery.The beauty and peace of her face reflected her love of Christ, her Bridegroom, for whom she had entered the cloister and to whom she had been espoused since her final profession as a Poor Clare nun on July 26, 1947.I soon discovered the source of her love, when I offered the Holy Mass for the Sisters and prayed with them in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.Her love of Christ had its source and finest expression in her communion with Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Her love of Christ was necessarily Christlike love of the whole world.While we often think of the walls which enclose a cloistered sister to be confining, Mother Mary Francis described them as "walls around the world."Her heart united fully to the pierced Heart of Jesus was constant in prayer for her brothers and sisters, known and unknown to her.I never came away from meeting her without being inspired to give myself more completely to our Lord and in His service.

In urging us to take up the mission of the new evangelization, our late and most beloved Holy Father held up for us the lives of many saints and blesseds, and the lives of those around us, who love Christ with an undivided heart.Mother Mary Francis was for me a most special inspiration in carrying out my responsibility for the new evangelization.She was exactly what her title said.She was a spiritual mother who taught me to be a better servant of her Divine Son.She once wrote, "A Poor Clare vocation is a vocation to be the mother of the world." Mother Mary Francis was indeed a "mother of the world"; her life was offered daily for the salvation of the world.

Her writings contain many inspiring sayings. One which I have found especially instructive is: "Love is less lyric than dogged."Mother knew that to love was to take up the cross daily in self-sacrifice for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.Her example has inspired and strengthened me in my vocation and, especially, in carrying out the mission of the new evangelization, giving witness to the love of our Lord Jesus with ever new enthusiasm and new energy.

End and beginning

Toward the end of "A Right To Be Merry," Mother Mary Francis talks about her death.She tells of the little doors which mark the cloister in the chapel.One upper panel is opened daily for the reception of Holy Communion.The lower panels are opened at the dedication of the monastery by the bishop.They also are opened at the death of a sister, so that the faithful may pay their respects to her earthly remains and pray for her.These lower panels of the doors, she writes, were a daily meditation on the end of our earthly life in death, which is the beginning of our eternal life with Christ in Heaven.I share with you her words:

"I look meditatively at two lowers panels, which I have seen unlocked only once, when Archbishop Byrne and his entourage entered the choir on the day of the dedication of the new chapel and monastery.One day they will be opened for me.It will be the day when my coffin is placed before the grate, and people will file by to look at my dead face.I hope they will say what people always say when they look upon a dead Poor Clare: "How happy she looks, how peaceful!"The Franciscan friars will come through those doors after my Requiem Mass and escort me to the little cemetery in the cloister garden.My sisters will sing: "May the angels conduct you into paradise."And afterward they will have a festive dinner in my honor, and there will be recreation all afternoon because I have achieved my goal and finished my course.I hope they will miss me a little; I know they will envy me.And I will sleep in the little cemetery where my sisters will come to visit me after they have said the stations of the cross under the trees.They will spread benedictions of holy water over my grave and ask my Spouse to grant me eternal rest."

Mother Mary Francis, we will miss you a lot.We thank God for your life and your vocation.We pray that your Spouse will receive you into His company forever.Please pray for us, that we may join you, when we, like you, have achieved our goal and finished our course.


Before leaving you, I want also to write a few brief words about Father John H. Miller, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, who was director of the Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Verein of America, headquartered at 3835 Westminster Place in the city, from 1986 until his death on Feb. 8.Father Miller was born in New Orleans, four years after Mother Mary Francis, in 1925.He was a holy priest and distinguished theologian who served his religious congregation and the Church in a number of important ways from the time of his ordination to the priesthood in 1951 until his death.His Mass of Christian Burial was in Austin, Texas, on St. Valentine’s Day, the same day Mother Mary Francis was buried.

Over the brief two years of my service as archbishop of St. Louis, I was struck by the dedication and energy with which Father Miller served the Church.For the past 10 months, he was suffering from pancreatic cancer.He did not let his illness keep him from continuing to serve the Church he loved with all his priestly heart.He masterfully edited the Social Justice Review, the publication of the Catholic Central Verein, and carefully directed the annual Christ the King Dinner.This past January, he finally had to consent to leave St. Louis to receive care at the retirement home of his religious congregation near Notre Dame University.Father Miller has been a true inspiration for me.Please pray for his eternal rest.

‘Be not afraid’

Consecrated life and the new evangelization

In carrying out the work of the new evangelization, Pope John Paul II gave special attention to the various vocations in life: the vocations of the laity to the married life or the dedicated single life; the vocation to the consecrated life in its many forms; and the vocations to the permanent diaconate and to the priesthood.In calling us to follow Christ with new enthusiasm and new energy, he reminded us that the principal way in which we follow Christ is our vocation in life, God’s plan for each of us.

The vocation to the consecrated life is especially rich in its forms.The Holy Spirit has inspired and continues to inspire various forms of consecrated life, according to the needs of the Church.In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, we are blessed to have monks; canons regular; religious sisters dedicated completely to the contemplative life; religious sisters, brothers and priests dedicated to the apostolic life; and consecrated hermits.God willing, in the near future, I will consecrate a woman called to the vocation of virginity lived in the world.We also have members of societies of apostolic life.

Universal call to holiness

Giving attention to each vocation, Pope John Paul II reminded us that we are all called to holiness. Christ calls us all to be perfected in love as our heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Matthew 5:48).Our late and most beloved Holy Father showed us how each vocation fosters the growth of all in holiness of life.

The consecrated life helps us all to live out the call to holiness, according to our vocation.By giving themselves totally to Christ, consecrated persons give us confidence that we, too, can follow Christ faithfully.When we hear Christ’s call to be perfected in our love, according to the model of the love of God the Father for us, we can easily be discouraged.We are easily tempted to think that it is just too difficult for us to love others as God loves us.The witness and the apostolate of consecrated persons give us confidence that what is impossible for us alone is made possible because Christ is with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.Married persons, single persons and priests have a special affection for consecrated persons because of the encouragement and help which they give to us all in following Christ.

World Day for Consecrated Life

On Feb. 4, the archdiocese observed a special day in honor of our brothers and sisters called to the consecrated life.Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, have designated Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, as the annual World Day of Consecrated Life.The Feast for the Presentation gives the occasion for each bishop to honor and celebrate with the faithful who have given themselves completely to Christ and the Church in the consecrated life.As Christ was recognized as the Messiah, the light of revelation to the nations, at His presentation, so those called to the consecrated life give strong witness to Christ the light in the world today.

This year, the World Day for Consecrated Life was observed in our archdiocese on Feb. 4 so that as many consecrated persons as possible would be free to participate.The heart of the archdiocesan celebration was the solemn celebration of the Holy Mass at St. Louis Abbey Church at St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur.The Benedictine monks of St. Louis Abbey generously offered their hospitality so that I could gather together as many consecrated persons as possible for the celebration.After the celebration of the holy Mass, we gathered in the parish hall to visit and enjoy some lunch together.

I wish that the whole archdiocese could have had a small window into St. Louis Abbey Church to see how richly God has blessed our archdiocese in vocations to the consecrated life.

Consecrated life and the Holy Eucharist

The heart of our celebration was participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.The Holy Eucharist is the center of the life of those called to the consecrated life.Consecrated persons give their lives totally to Christ and to the Church.Their deep love of Christ is understandably expressed in a fervent devotion to the Holy Eucharist.Consecrated persons daily unite themselves to Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice.They also give time each day to prayer before our Lord in the tabernacle.

The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the most perfect way possible to honor the vocation of the consecrated life as Christ’s gift to His Mystical Body, the Church.At the Holy Mass, we prayed for those who have responded to Christ’s call to the consecrated life, that they will remain steadfast.

We also prayed that the young men and women called to the consecrated life today will put aside their fears and place their trust in Christ, knowing that He who gives the call also gives in abundance the grace to respond.

May we never fail to be grateful for the vocation to the consecrated life.May we never fail to draw inspiration and strength for our life in Christ from those who have consecrated their lives totally to Him and His Church.

‘Be not afraid!’

Pope John Paul II and Vocations Today

Since the death of Pope John Paul II, two young men have met with me to discuss a priestly vocation.Both are a little older — in their 30s or so — and both received special grace to request admission to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary at the time of the death of our late and most beloved Holy Father.In short, both of them had been considering the call to the priesthood for a long time but, for various reasons, were delaying the decision to enter the seminary, until they spiritually accompanied Pope John Paul II in his dying.

Pope John Paul II is the Holy Father whom they have known from their childhood, and they have loved him very much. Like so many other young people, they observed how he poured out his whole life for the flock, how he taught us about all of the most important aspects of our faith and its practice and how he made pastoral visits to every part of the world to invite the faithful — and all men and women of good will — to know Christ more fully in their lives and so to love Him more ardently.They will never forget how he always gave special attention to young people, inviting them to know and love Christ.

Thanks to the media’s extraordinary coverage of the Holy Father’s last days and the Rites of Christian Burial for him, these young men had witnessed the Holy Father giving the very last ounces of his being and energy to serve Christ as a faithful shepherd of the flock.In relating to me what has brought them to the seminary now, both made it clear that Pope John Paul II’s selfless love of the Church had given them the courage to put aside any self-centered concerns regarding their vocation. In accord with the constant exhortation of our late Holy Father, they have cooperated with the grace to set aside their fears and put out into the deep.

New evangelization and the vocational apostolate

The influence of Pope John Paul II upon these two young men, one of whom has already entered the seminary and the other who intends to enter this coming fall, makes clear the essential part of the new evangelization in vocational discernment which is our principal task as young people.Pope John Paul II was the embodiment of the new evangelization, never failing to seek out the youth and to call them to live in and for Christ with all the newness and energy of their youth.He called youth to set aside their fears, because of our unworthiness, and to place their total confidence in Christ who calls us to follow Him.

When we have heeded Christ’s exhortation, "Be not afraid," and have set out, with confidence, on the Way of the Cross, then we begin to live our faith with the enthusiasm and energy of the first disciples, of the first missionaries to our nation, of the saints who are our spiritual heroes. Only when we have ceased to fear and have placed our trust in Christ will we hear His call and respond with a full and courageous heart.

From the moment of our baptism, Christ dwells within us, leading us to maturity in Him. From the moment of our baptism, God has a special plan for each of us, our vocation in life.The grace of the Holy Spirit, first given to us in baptism, is meant to reach maturity in the gift of our whole life, in response to God’s call, in the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood.It is in our vocation, first and foremost, that we carry out the new evangelization, living our Catholic faith with all our heart and soul.Helping young men and women to know their vocation in life is, therefore, a fundamental work of the new evangelization.

Vocations, home and Catholic education

In the home, the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through baptism, first grows and develops within us so that, when we come to adulthood, we are ready to give our life with Christ in selfless love.Parents help their child, from the first moment of life, to know his or her vocation.The greatest joy of parents is to see their child embrace his or her vocation.

Catholic schools and parish schools of religion work with parents in bringing their children to maturity in Christ. Catholic education, therefore, is directed primarily to a child’s knowing his or her vocation and being prepared to respond with a full heart.The Catholic school and the parish school of religion, as truly schools of Christ, are essential to the mission of the new evangelization, leading children and young people to holiness of life.In my own vocational discernment, the Catholic school played a major role.

As we draw Catholic Schools Week to a close, we thank God for the fundamental service of the Catholic schools in the work of the new evangelization, especially in the vocational discernment of our young people.We ask God to bless our children and young people in their families and in their schools, so that the grace of Christ, which they received at their baptism, will reach its fullest expression in their vocation in life.

‘Be not afraid!’

Handing on the Truth

Next week, the Church throughout our nation will celebrate the great gift of Catholic schools.From the first planting of the Catholic Church on American soil, the faithful have been keenly aware of the importance of handing on carefully and completely the truth of the faith to their children.First of all, the native Americans were non-Christians.Then, as the nation grew, Catholics formed neighborhoods with people of different Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths.The nation was predominantly Protestant.

Parents and children alike had to understand well their Catholic faith, if they were to give an account of their faith to others. At the same time, they were in danger of losing their Catholic identity, falsely thinking that, as it is sometimes said, "one religion is as good as another."The Catholics who settled in the various parts of our nation established, as soon as possible, their own Catholic schools as the most effective means of evangelizing their own children and other children whose parents chose the Catholic school.

Over the decades, the importance of the Catholic school was more and more recognized.Because of the importance of the teaching of the faith to children and young people, it was not uncommon that a new parish would build first a Catholic school and, only later, the parish church.The faithful rightly understood that, if the faith was not taught with great care and thoroughness, there would be no one to worship in the parish church. At the same time, they understood that the sacred worship of the parishioners would be active and full to the extent that they knew their faith deeply.

Catholic Schools and the new evangelization

In the present situation of the Church in our nation, the need of good Catholic schools is as great as ever and for the same reasons that our ancestors built and opened Catholic schools from the earliest days of the diocese and, then, Archdiocese of St. Louis.Our nation has once again become pagan, not because it was never evangelized. Indeed, it was, evangelized, often in an heroic manner.

Our nation is pagan today not because it was never evangelized but because it has forgotten God and even presumed to take the place of God.Our nation needs today a new evangelization, and the Catholic school is a privileged instrument for handing on the Catholic faith and its practice in their integrity.

The evangelization must be new because even Catholic schools have suffered and continue to suffer the strong and pervasive influence of secularization in American society.Parents, parish priests and Catholic-school administrators and teachers face a challenge not unlike that faced by the first disciples and the first missionaries in our nation. Everyone involved in the Catholic school must engage in its primary mission of evangelization with new enthusiasm and new energy, attentive to correct and root out anything which compromises the identity of the Catholic school. In today’s culture, a Catholic school that does not daily attend to the integrity of its identity, to its reason for existence, risks becoming Catholic in name only.

Total education in the Catholic school

In the eyes of the world, the Catholic school is thought to give an education which is limited because of the respect for the truth of the faith.In fact, the opposite is true.The Catholic school gives a total or complete education because it places the growth in knowledge and skills, which are fostered in any good school, within the context of faith in God who is the origin of our life and all our gifts.

In the Catholic school, children grow in knowledge and skill in order to serve God and their neighbor.In other words, they develop their gifts, in order that their gifts may give God glory and become a blessing to their neighbors.

The Catholic school strives for excellence in every subject matter taught and every skill imparted.The Catholic faith, in fact, inspires the striving for excellence because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls leads us into all truth (John 16:13).The divine life within us, the source of all truth, leads us to seek the deepest possible understanding of God, ourselves and our world.

What is more, the discipline which is imparted in the Catholic school disposes the children and young people to study and practice, in order that knowledge and skill are perfected. The mark of a Catholic-school student is the discipline which makes it possible to learn from God and from His instruments, our teachers.

Prayer and work for Catholic schools

May our annual observance of Catholic Schools Week inspire in all of us a deeper commitment to sustain our Catholic schools, especially those which are at risk because of financial need, and to make them more Catholic, that is, truer to their Catholic identity. I hope that you will have the occasion during the coming week to visit one or more of our archdiocesan Catholic schools.

We in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are greatly blessed to have many Catholic elementary and secondary schools, and we are blessed with far-sighted and generous parents who gladly assume the burden of providing for a Catholic-school education for their children. Let us all do our part to assist parents with the Catholic-school education of their children. I ask your strong support of the Annual Catholic Appeal, which provides necessary assistance to our Catholic schools which are at risk. I ask also your generous support of the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, which provides scholarships for many children whose families cannot afford Catholic-school tuition.

Most of all, pray that our Catholic schools will be strong instruments of the new evangelization.They are critical to the living of the faith in our time with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first disciples. May God grant us the wisdom and courage to hand on the faith and its practice to our children and young people through our Catholic schools.

‘Be not afraid!’

‘In Truth, Peace’

For the past several years, the Holy Father has issued a special message for Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, concluding the Christmas Octave, which also has been designated as World Day of Peace.The Holy Father’s message is an inspiration and practical help to Catholics and to all people of good will who work for peace in their homes, local communities, nations and our world.Each year, the message has a different theme which highlights some aspect of the gift of peace and of our call to be peacemakers.

"In Truth, Peace" is the theme of this year’s message, the first message of Pope Benedict XVI, for the World Day of Peace.The theme calls our attention to the irreplaceable foundation of peace, which is truth.Peace is the fruit of the order in our lives and in society, which has its source in knowledge of the truth and living the truth in justice and love.

In his message, our Holy Father teaches us that "peace appears as a heavenly gift and a divine grace which demands at every level the exercise of the highest responsibility: that of conforming human history — in truth, justice, freedom and love — to the divine order."He calls to mind St. Augustine of Hippo’s description of peace, "the tranquility of order" ("tranquillitas ordinis"), reminding us that peace is the condition which makes it possible for each man and woman to be respected in his or her true identity, and to develop personally, in accord with God’s plan (n. 4).

Lying, the enemy of peace

Truth is a fundamental requirement for the promotion of peace.Lying, the opposite of truth, fosters confusion, disorder, violence and death.Satan deceived Adam and Eve with a lie in the Garden of Eve.Abandoning the truth from God for the attraction of Satan’s lie, Adam and Eve gave up the trust which they had with God and the peace which flows from it. Our Lord Jesus has taught us that Satan is "the father of lies" (John 8:44).

Our sins are all, at root, a form of lying, deceiving ourselves and others about what is good and right.We are often most clever at deceiving ourselves, talking ourselves into doing what we know is wrong.We can become so clever that we actually begin to believe our own self-deceptions and the lies we tell to others.

Christ came to save us from our sin by revealing to us the fullness of truth about God, ourselves and our world.Christ brings us the grace to overcome the temptation to lying and to serve truth, restoring trust with God and with one another.

Truth and the new evangelization

One of the greatest challenges of the new evangelization — of living our Catholic faith with the enthusiasm and energy of the first disciples — is restoring the respect for the truth.Our secularized society teaches us to use language which is pleasing to ourselves and others while covering our eyes from the truth.It teaches us to say whatever will advance our own interests without respect for objective reality.For instance, we blind ourselves to the reality of procured abortion by referring to it as a woman’s choice.Now, we are told that embryo-destructive stem-cell research is really about life-saving cures, and we call the cloning
of human embryos, in order to destroy them for the harvesting of stem cells, somatic nuclear cell transfer.Our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Evangelium vitae, reminded us that a first step to restoring the respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent and defenseless human life is calling things by their true and proper names (n. 58).

The whole teaching of the faith, which leads to a life of prayer and Christian witness, depends upon a deep and uncompromising respect for the truth.Saying what people want to hear is not what will draw them and our world to Christ.It will not lead them to prayer and worship.It turns prayer into "talking to ourselves."At the same time, it so compromises our Christian witness that we are the cause of scandal, pretending that we can do good by doing evil.The new evangelization, our daily conversion of life and the transformation of our world, depends upon our taking the care to study the truth of the faith and to communicate it with the greatest possible care.

New evangelization and the annual March for Life
The annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., which will take place this year on Jan. 23, is an outstanding form of the new evangelization, of giving witness to the truth about the inviolable dignity of innocent human life from the moment of its inception until the moment of natural death.It is a most effective way to open our eyes and the eyes of society to the truth about procured abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive stem-cell research and any other form of violation of the dignity of human life.

Because of my conviction about the necessity to give witness to the truth about the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, I, together with many faithful from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and other dioceses in our nation, and men and women of good will, participate in the March for Life.I ask your prayers that all who participate in the March for Life may be courageous witnesses to the truth about human life and, thereby, effective instruments in bringing the gift of peace to our homes and nation.

I close with an exhortation to us all from the message of Pope Benedict XVI for this year’s World Day of Peace:
"When we hear the Gospel, dear brothers and sisters, we learn to build peace on the truth of a daily life inspired by the commandment of love. Every community should undertake an extensive process of education and witness aimed at making everyone more aware of the need for a fuller appreciation of the truth of peace.At the same time, I ask for an increase of prayers, since peace is above all a gift of God, a gift to be implored incessantly.By God’s help, our proclamation and witness to the truth of peace will be all the more convincing and illuminating.With confidence and filial abandonment let us lift up our eyes to Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace.At the beginning of this New Year, let us ask her to help all God’s people, wherever they may be, to work for peace and to be guided by the light of the truth that sets man free" (cf. John 8:32) (n. 16).

‘Be not afraid!’

Anniversary and new commitment

On this past Jan. 6, I celebrated the 11th anniversary of my episcopal ordination.The anniversary of ordination evoked deep gratitude as I reflected upon the great gift of my vocation as bishop and the many rich aspects of my exercise of the mission of bishop, first in the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wis., and, now, in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.It also inspired new enthusiasm and new energy in responding to the grace which I received through the imposition of hands of our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 6, 1995.

Reflecting upon the past 11 years, I am also deeply conscious of how much more Christ could have accomplished through me if I had placed myself more fully at His service each day.Thanks be to God, the grace of ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit for the ministry of bishop remains always new and strong, and, therefore, at the beginning of the 12th year of my episcopal ministry, I give myself anew in the service of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

‘After your Heart’

When I was named a bishop by Pope John Paul II, I chose as my episcopal motto the last words of a little prayer which has been part of my prayers of thanksgiving after the celebration of the Mass from the time of my ordination to the priesthood: "O Good Jesus, make me a priest after your Heart."In Latin, the prayer is: "O Bone Iesu, fac ut sim sacerdos secundum Cor tuum." The words, "After your Heart," ("Secundum Cor tuum," have been the program of my service as bishop.They are my daily examination of conscience.At the beginning of my 12th year of service as bishop, I set out anew with trust that, through God’s mercy, my heart will become more and more like the Heart of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.

Priests and other faithful, both in the Diocese of La Crosse and in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, have often asked me what is my program as bishop. It is, as my motto indicates, making my heart more and more one with the Heart of the Good Shepherd, so that I can help all of the flock in my care to unite their hearts more perfectly to the Heart of Jesus Christ. In other words, I desire to live deeply my vocation in Christ, so that I may help all of the faithful live ever more deeply their life in Christ, each according to his or her vocation.

New evangelization

Our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II called the pastoral program of a bishop in our times the "new evangelization." In a remarkable apostolic letter, written to the whole Church at the conclusion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II stated plainly that the pastoral program of the Church today is the same as it has always been. It is living in Christ who comes to us in the Church through the truth of His teaching, the love of His sacraments and the freedom of His discipline.

Pope John Paul II made reference to our tendency to think that we have to invent the program of the Church.For me, as archbishop, the temptation is to think that I must discover some innovative formula for accomplishing my mission in the Church.The truth is that Christ the Good Shepherd is my program.

Teaching, sanctifying, guiding

Being a shepherd after the Heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd, carrying out the work of the new evangelization, means, first of all, studying deeply the truths of the Catholic faith and faithfully handing on those truths by means of preaching, teaching and the use of the communications media.It means preparing priests to be shepherds of the flock, authentic teachers of the faith.It also means assuring that catechists and Catholic-school teachers, both lay faithful and consecrated persons, are prepared to work with the priests in the teaching of the faith.

Regarding the teaching mission of the Church, I underline the importance of the St. Louis Review.Our archdiocesan newspaper is my way of being in communication every week with all of the faithful of the archdiocese.It brings the news of the Church, both universal and archdiocesan, into the homes of the faithful in my pastoral care.During these days, please renew your subscription to the St. Louis Review.

Hand-in-hand with the deeper knowledge of the faith goes the greater love of Christ in the sacraments.The bishop must constantly deepen his participation in the sacramental life so that he can bring the sacraments to all the faithful.He fulfills his responsibility by preparing priests to be true ministers of sacramental grace, above all, through the worthy celebration of the Holy Eucharist and through sacramental absolution given in the Sacrament of Penance.He also prepares permanent deacons for ordination, so that they may assist him and the priests.

Lastly, the bishop must govern the diocese or archdiocese entrusted to his pastoral care, so that in every aspect of the life of the Church, from teaching to administration of temporal goods, Christ may draw us into the unity of love, which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit.Unity expresses itself in obedience to the will of the Father, for which the Holy Spirit inspires and strengthens us.

Prayer for the archbishop and priests

My little reflection makes clear the weighty responsibility of the bishop as a true shepherd of the flock.Considering the responsibilities of the bishop, together with his priests, please pray daily for me and our priests, asking that we may be faithful, generous and loving shepherds, after the Heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

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