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.

Amendment No. 2 and safeguarding the sanctity of marriage

On June 28, the Missouri Catholic Conference published a letter written by the bishops of the Province of St. Louis, which is made up of the state of Missouri. The letter is addressed to all of the faithful of the province regarding an action of the legislature of Missouri.The action in question has profound implications for the future of marriage and family life.

The legislative branch of the state government has decided to place before the citizens of Missouri a serious question about the requirements for a "valid and recognized marriage."On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the citizens of Missouri will decide whether to amend the Missouri Constitution, in what pertains to marriage.The question posed to us on the ballot will be: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman?"So serious a matter demands the attention of us all.For that reason, the bishops of the Province have deemed it important to write to you in the matter.

The letter of the bishops of the St. Louis Province, together with a helpful document prepared by the Missouri Catholic Conference, "Questions and Answers on Proposed Marriage Amendment" (see page 1) will be distributed in the parishes of the archdiocese on this coming weekend, July 17-18, in order that you have sufficient time to consider both documents. If you have need of a copy of these documents, please do not hesitate to request a copy from my office.

Duty to vote

Before addressing the substance of the question, I urge you to exercise your right and fulfill your duty to vote on Aug. 3.We can have various reasons for excusing ourselves from voting.We need to consider carefully the validity of these excuses, in the light of our moral duty to serve the good of our brothers and sisters through responsible citizenship.

Some think that their individual vote does not matter within so large a voting population.The truth, however, is that every vote counts.Failing to vote means failing to do my part in promoting the common good.How many elections and referenda have been decided as much by those who have failed to vote as by those who have voted?The responsibility for the outcome of elections and referenda falls upon all of the citizens of a democratic republic.We cannot excuse ourselves for failing to fulfill our responsibility because we are falsely convinced that our vote does not count.

Regarding the question at hand, some say that the right response to the question is clear and, therefore, will surely be sustained by those who do vote, thereby excusing themselves from the bother of going to the polls. The right response should be clear to us as Catholics, but we must realize that the question would be not be presented to us, if there were not some, including Catholics, who are confused in the matter.It is our responsibility as Catholics to fulfill our responsibility to vote, in accord with the moral law.In other words, if we do not exercise our right to vote for an amendment to the Constitution, which upholds the moral law, then we fail to safeguard the good of the individuals and families of the state of Missouri.

I urge you to make every effort to vote on Aug. 3.Also, please encourage family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to exercise their right to vote on so important a question for us all.If you know of persons who find difficulty in getting to the polls, for whatever reason, I ask you to offer them assistance, so that they, too, can exercise fully their civic responsibility.

Sanctity of marriage

The truth regarding marriage is written in human nature as it issued from the hand of God at Creation.From the study of human nature, it is clear that God has made man and woman for each other, in order to provide for them a faithful and lasting relationship of love and to provide for the procreation, that is creation with Him, of offspring.By marriage, a man and a woman promise faithful and enduring love, giving to each other, exclusively and for life, the right to the conjugal act by which married love is blessed with its highest fruit, the conception of a child.

Marriage is not an institution which was established by society or culture.Rather, it is inherent to our human nature and is found in all societies and cultures.Down the centuries, marriage has undergone changes in certain societies and cultures.The goodness of these changes depends upon the fidelity of the society or culture to the natural moral law, which reveals to us the essential requirements of marriage.The "Catechism of the Catholic Church," in setting forth the Church’s teaching on marriage, first acknowledges the teaching on marriage, which human nature itself provides:

The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes.These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures (No. 1603).

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council provides a most helpful presentation of natural law regarding marriage (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, Nos. 47-52).It articulates more fully what the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" states in summary form.

The natural law regarding marriage is also revealed in the Sacred Scriptures.In the two accounts of Creation, given in the Book of Genesis, the essential characteristics of marriage, revealed in the natural order, are presented (Genesis 1:1-2:4a; and Genesis 2:4b-25).God creates man in His own image and likeness as male and female.He creates man and woman to be suitable partners for one another.So intimate is the relationship of male and female in the creation of man, that woman is formed from the very rib of man. Male and female are so created that a man and a woman leave their own families, in order to form a new family, to become "one body" with each other. God gives to the union of male and female in marriage, to the "one body," the grace of fruitfulness. The fruitfulness of the new home, the new family, formed by marriage is expressed either in the procreation of offspring through the conjugal act or in the adoption of children into the family.

The good of the whole of society depends upon fidelity to nature’s requirements for marriage.The teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council aptly reminds us:

"The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life" (Gaudium et Spes, No. 47a).

Reflecting upon our own experience, we know the critical importance of the relationship of father and mother to the growth and development of the child.At the same time, we recognize how much the state of society depends upon the soundness of life in individual families.The most important lessons of life are learned in the relationship of the child to father and mother, in the child’s experience of their relationship as husband and wife.Lack of harmony and violence in the marital relationship lie at the root of so many ills in society.

For us, as Catholics, the sanctity of marriage is seen, above all, in the teaching of our Lord, recorded for us in the Gospel and handed down to us in the Magisterium of the Church.Christ taught the original plan for marriage and, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Easter and Pentecost — the great fruit of His Passion, Death and Resurrection — He gave to married persons the gift to live in relationship to one another, as God intends.Christ instituted the Sacrament of Marriage, making Himself the source of the grace of the Holy Spirit for the married, so that they may live in faithful, enduring and procreative love of each other, and so attain eternal life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1642).

Respect for the sanctity of marriage requires that we do all within our power to safeguard its essential elements, so that marriage can serve the good of all in society, as it alone can. Respect for the sanctity of marriage means the recognition of God’s plan for marriage and the rejection of any intervention by ourselves which violates God’s plan.

Marriage and same-sex attraction

The present need to define clearly the nature of marriage arises from the efforts of persons with same-sex attraction and others, who wish to have same-sex relationships recognized as marital.In other words, they wish civil authority to recognize as marriage the relationship of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.To do so would be to treat marriage as an institution created by man, instead of God, and to violate what nature itself teaches us about the marital relationship.

Same-sex attraction, that is "an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex" may have various causes, but it cannot be attributed to God’s plan for man and woman, as it is clearly revealed in their bodies and in the Sacred Scriptures (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2357). Persons suffering from same-sex attraction are endowed with the same dignity as every man and woman, and, therefore, "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358).But, accepting each other with respect does not mean failing to recognize our disordered tendencies and defects.

Respecting individuals who suffer same-sex attraction means honoring their call to lead a chaste life, a call which is inherent in our dignity as sons and daughters of God.It would be wrong, on our part as individuals and on the part of society, to give institutional recognition to same-sex relationships by giving them the status of the marital relationship.Rather, we, as individuals, and society, in general, should assist persons with same-sex attraction to lead a good and chaste life by recognizing their same-sex attraction as disordered and disciplining it, so that the inclination does not express itself in immoral actions and the affections of the individual are purified and express themselves in good and chaste friendships.

The protection of the institution of marriage by means of a constitutional amendment is not discriminatory toward persons with same-sex attraction. It does not offend their dignity or foster any unjust attitude or action toward them.It simply provides assurance that all in society will respect the true nature of marriage as the foundation of the life of the family, of society and of the Church.As Catholics, we must respect the moral law in all of its dictates, opposing homosexual acts and opposing any unjust attitude, word or action directed toward persons suffering with same-sex attraction.

There is a tendency to accept same-sex relationships because we do not want to deal with the embarrassment and hurt of recognizing same-sex attraction as disordered.We find various excuses for failing to address a matter which lies at the foundation of our nature as man and woman.As with any anomaly or affliction in life, our human weakness leads us to pretend that it does not exist or to act as if it were other than a difficulty.By giving in to the tendency or temptation to treat same-sex attraction as equivalent to the attraction of man to woman and woman to man, we serve neither the good of persons who struggle with same-sex attraction nor the good of the family and of society.The fact that our American culture more and more fails to make any distinction between same-sex attraction and heterosexual attraction does not justify our failure to make the distinction, respecting God’s gift of human life in its integrity and helping others to attain the perfection to which we are called as true children of God.

Necessity of constitutional amendment

The Missouri General Assembly has already safeguarded the nature of marriage by the state law which declares that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.Some have asked why, then, is it necessary to have a constitutional amendment treating the exact same matter.

Constitutional Amendment No. 2 is needed in order to provide the fullest legal safeguard of the sanctity of marriage. The constitutional amendment safeguards marriage against the action of the courts which could declare the current state law to be unconstitutional, as has happened already in Massachusetts.

The extent of the confusion in society regarding the nature of marriage is reflected in court decisions which have given way to the celebration of so-called marriage between persons of the same sex.It behooves society to safeguard marriage from such court actions.

In a similar vein, some hold the constitutional amendment as unnecessary and oppose it on the grounds that permitting others to have their same-sex relationships recognized as marriage by the civil law does no harm to their marriages between a man and a woman.To reason thus is to refuse to deal with the need to safeguard the integrity of marriage, which most certainly is violated by giving the name of marriage to non-marital unions.The detrimental effects upon individuals and society, in general, of the institutional violation of the nature of marriage are clear.


Once again, I urge you to fulfill your civic responsibility on Aug. 3. Please vote in favor of Constitutional Amendment No. 2, so the institution of marriage may be safeguarded in its integrity. Also, please encourage and assist others to vote.The good of individuals and of society depends upon our safeguarding the sanctity of marriage as it has been given to us by God.

Please pray, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, that the citizens of Missouri will provide for the greatest possible safeguard of the sanctity of marriage.

I close with words from the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which, I hope, will inspire us all to work for the good of marriage and the family, also by voting on Aug. 3:

"The family is the place where different generations come together and help one another to grow wiser and harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life; as such it constitutes the basis of society. Everyone, therefore, who exercises an influence in the community and in social groups should devote himself effectively to the welfare of marriage and the family.Civil authority should consider it a sacred duty to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality and promote domestic prosperity.The rights of parents to procreate and educate children in the family must be safeguarded.There should also be welfare legislation and provision of various kinds made for the protection and assistance of those who unfortunately have been deprived of the benefits of family life" (Gaudium et Spes, No. 52b).

May this solemn teaching of the Church inspire us with new hope in our every effort to promote marriage and family life in our society.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, wellspring of all virtues, have mercy on us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, mother of America and star of the new evangelization, pray for us.

St. Joseph, husband of Mary and guardian of the Holy Family, pray for us.

To the See of Peter


On Friday, June 25, I will depart from St. Louis on pilgrimage to Rome for the reception of the pallium. Several priests and some 115 other faithful of the archdiocese will accompany me on the pilgrimage. Also, a pilgrim group of about 45 priests and faithful from the Diocese of La Crosse, in which I formally served as bishop, will be journeying to Rome. Our pilgrimage will include the celebration of the holy Mass at the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome — the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican; the Basilica of St. Mary Major; the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome; and the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls; and at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. It will also include a visit, with prayer, to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus on the Ancient Appian Way.

The high point of our pilgrimage will be participation in the Mass celebrated by our Holy Father on Tuesday, June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, during which His Holiness will confer the pallium upon me as Archbishop of St. Louis. Some 44 other metropolitan archbishops from around the world also will be receiving the pallium.

It is always a singular privilege to assist at the Mass of the Holy Father on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, for he is the Successor of St. Peter in an unbroken line from Christ’s choice of Peter to be head of the Apostles. It is a special gift from God to celebrate the memory of St. Peter, head of the Apostles, by participating in the Holy Mass offered by St. Peter’s successor.

The conferral of the pallium, worn only by metropolitan archbishops, fittingly takes place during the celebration of the Mass for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, for it is the Holy Father alone who confers the pallium as a sign of the close union of the Holy Father with all the metropolitan archbishops from throughout the world.

Once a metropolitan archbishop has been named, he travels to Rome on pilgrimage for the celebration of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, to receive the vestment which is the sign of his office in the Church.
In preparation for the celebration of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul and for the reception of the pallium, let us take time this week to reflect on the service of our Holy Father as Successor of St. Peter. Then, in my column for next week, we will reflect upon the significance of the pallium and the particular service of the metropolitan archbishop in communion with the Roman pontiff, the successor of St. Peter.

To understand deeply the office and service of St. Peter within the group or college of the Apostles, it is important to study three texts from the Gospels. They uncover for us the intention of our Lord in constituting the Church under the universal pastoral care and governance of St. Peter, His Vicar on earth.

‘You are Peter’

The first text is from the Gospel according to Matthew and recounts the clear and striking profession of faith in our Lord, which St. Peter made at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20). It is a text which reflects very much the Aramaic language and the manner of speaking employed at the time of Christ. Therefore, it is held to be a text which the Apostles and disciples who were with our Lord had repeated from memory from the first days of the Church.

In the text, our Lord asked His disciples about the people’s opinion concerning His identity. The disciples began to report various opinions: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:14). Our Lord, then, inquired about the disciples’ own opinion regarding His identity. Without hesitation, Simon Peter replied: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).

Christ replies to Peter’s clear profession of faith with words which indicate Peter’s distinct mission in the Church:

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).

First of all, our Lord changes Simon’s name to Peter or "Rock," a name attributed only to God by the people at the time. Peter is the only apostle to have his name changed, and it is changed to reflect a particular mission of stable and sure leadership within the college of the 12, given to Peter by Christ.

Because of Peter’s profession of faith, Christ established him as the solid foundation upon which to build up His Church. How is Peter the solid foundation? By his leadership, his teaching, his celebration of the sacraments and promotion of the life of prayer, and by his governance of the Body of Christ. St. Peter was given the task of providing for the whole community, throughout the world. He was called to be the principle of unity and steadfastness of faith among all of the disciples.

Christ gave Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven," a sign that he is the Vicar of Christ on earth, the faithful steward of the manifold gifts of Christ to the Church. Since "the keys" were confided to Peter alone, we understand that our Lord conferred upon Peter a particular authority within the whole company of the Apostles. Christ gave Peter the office of determining what the faithful were to believe and how they were to comport themselves as members of the Mystical Body.

Closely connected to the power of the keys is the authority to bind and loose. In one aspect, the power of binding and loosing, distinct from the power of the keys, is shared by all of the Apostles. By God’s grace, through the instrumentality of St. Peter and all of the Apostles, God forgives our sins. In another aspect, the power belongs to Peter alone as head of the Apostles. Only Peter and his successors can give disciplinary rules which bind all and can make authoritative decisions regarding the deposit of faith. It is through Peter and his successors that bishops, successors of the Apostles, receive the jurisdiction over the many portions of the flock of Christ throughout the world.

The story of St. Peter’s profession of faith in Christ as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, uncovers for us the distinct dignity and responsibility of St. Peter as Vicar of Christ on earth. As keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, St. Peter and his successors bind and loose in a proper sense; the successor of St. Peter proclaims the doctrine of faith and provides the rules of discipline for the universal Church.

‘Strengthen your brethren’

The second text is from the Gospel according to Luke and recalls words of our Lord to St. Peter at the Last Supper. At the conclusion of the Last Supper, a dispute arose among the Apostles about "which of them was to be regarded as the greatest" (Luke 22:24). In response, our Lord teaches them that greatness is measured by humble service; the leader, He tells them, is the one who serves.

Facing His cruel Passion and death, our Lord confided to His Apostles that they would suffer greatly in carrying out the apostolic mission. Referring to all of the Apostles, He tells Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat" (Luke 22:31). The image of sifting like wheat portrays the confusion and testing which Satan was to work on the Apostles, to discourage them from trust in Divine Providence and, therefore, from carrying out their apostolic charge. One has only to recall the response of the Apostles to Christ’s arrest, His trial and condemnation, and His Passion and death to understand the full force of what our Lord was saying.

In the context of speaking about the severe trials faced in carrying out the apostolic mission, our Lord speaks tender and encouraging words to St. Peter: "[B]ut I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32). We know, especially from the wonderful extended prayer of Christ before His Passion and death, recorded in the Gospel according to John (John 17), that Christ prayed for all of the Apostles that they might be one with the Father and Him, and one, therefore, with each other. But, these words directed to St. Peter alone, much like the words directed to him when he made his profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi, indicate his particular mission. Our Lord prayed that Peter, in the midst of all the trials and temptations, would remain confident in God’s grace, in Christ’s victory, in which he had been given a share.

The particular grace of St. Peter, for which our Lord prayed, was given to him for a particular mission. Peter, by his office, is to strengthen his brothers. When the teaching, sanctifying and governing of the flock by the Apostles and their successors is threatened by Satan’s "sifting," then Peter and his successors support them, in virtue of a special grace given to the office of Peter.

The grace of his office was experienced by Peter in a most powerful way through his own conversion, his "turning again" (Luke 22:32). We recall Peter’s weakness during the time of our Lord’s Passion. He denied three times that he knew our Lord (Luke 22:56-60). Unlike Judas the betrayer who was unrepentant, Peter, as soon as he recognized his sin, at the crowing of the cock, "went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62). With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter became courageous and steadfast in carrying out the apostolic office.

‘Feed my sheep’

The third text is taken from the Gospel according to John. It recalls an appearance of the risen Lord to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias. The Apostles, at Peter’s invitation, had spent a night fishing without any success. Our risen Lord appeared on the shore and instructed them to cast their nets to the starboard side of the boat (cf. John 21:6). The scene recalls an earlier and most important encounter with our Lord, involving a miraculous catch of fish at the time of the calling of the first Apostles and confirming the apostolic mission to which the Apostles are called (cf. Luke 5:1-11).

After the miraculous catch, our risen Lord invited the Apostles to have some breakfast with Him. After they had finished the breakfast, our Lord engaged in a most striking conversation with Peter. Three times He asked Peter: "[D]o you love me more than these? ... [D]o you love me? ... [D]o you love me?" To each question and with increasing fervor, Peter professed his love of Christ. To each expression of love, our Lord responded with words which indicated Peter’s special office and mission in the Church: "Feed my lambs ... Tend my sheep ... Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). The threefold question of Peter underlines very much that the foundation of his service in the Church is Christ and his love of Christ. The threefold question reminds Peter of his frailty, manifested most of all in his threefold denial of Christ. It is the grace of Christ which enables Peter to overcome his human frailty and to serve as chief shepherd of the flock.

The threefold question also mirrored a practice of the great teachers of the people in handing over authority. In His conversation with Peter, our Lord signified the handing over of the care of the flock. Peter is indeed to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. From His glorious seat at the right hand of the Father, our risen Lord gives to Peter and to his successors the grace of shepherding the flock throughout the world. The whole language of feeding and tending the lambs and sheep reflect the participation of Peter in the office of Christ the Good Shepherd.

After the threefold questioning, our risen Lord speaks words to Peter, which indicate the full import of shepherding the flock, after the Heart of the Good Shepherd. Peter’s shepherding, no less than that of our Lord Himself, means laying down his life for the sheep. Our Lord tells Peter:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18-19).

The Gospel comments that our Lord’s words refer to the manner of Peter’s martyrdom for love of Christ and Christ’s flock.

The Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican is built over the tomb of Peter, which was very close to the arena in which he was put to death for the faith by crucifixion. Peter, who considered himself unworthy to die the same death as our Lord, insisted that he be crucified upside down. Christ’s words were fulfilled in Peter’s arrest, suffering and dying.

Successor of St. Peter

The texts from the Gospels help us to understand the reality of the grace given to the successor of St. Peter for the pastoral care and governance of the universal Church. They make clear Christ’s intention, in constituting His Church, that one among the Apostles should be His Vicar, defining for the brethren the doctrine and discipline of the faith, holding them together in unity during the inevitable times of trial and temptation, and giving his life for them.

In celebrating the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, these texts from the Gospels help us to enter more fully and deeply into the celebration, the mystery of our life in the Church, the mystery of God’s immeasurable love for us in the Church, as we see it reflected in the mission of Peter and of his successors. The teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, found in the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen Gentium," or "On the Church," expresses the profound truth of Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Church through the service of the Roman pontiff or Holy Father:

"The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches, which are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists. And for that reason precisely each bishop represents his own Church, whereas all, together with the Pope, represent the whole Church in a bond of peace, love and unity" (n. 23a).

Reflecting upon this teaching, we recognize the great gift which is ours as Catholics to receive the pastoral care of St. Peter through his successor, Pope John Paul II.

In the service of Pope John Paul II, we see his response to the call of Christ, first given to Peter. Our Holy Father teaches us the doctrine of the faith in all of its riches, visits us in every part of the world to celebrate the sacraments and lead us in prayer, and he guides us in following Church discipline. Especially in this last period, his giving up of his life for the flock is so visible and the source of so much inspiration to us all in living our faith with the enthusiasm and energy of the first disciples of our Lord.


I ask you to keep in your prayers me and all the pilgrims to Rome for the celebration of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Please pray that, through our pilgrimage, we will grow in our knowledge and love of Christ, and of His holy Church. May our pilgrimage bring special blessings to the Church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and throughout the whole world.

As I receive the pallium, I will express your gratitude and deepest love to our Holy Father. Please join me in these days in special prayer for the intentions of our Holy Father.

Let us pray for our Sovereign Pontiff Pope John Paul II.
The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies ("Enchiridion of Indulgences").

Editor’s note: Archbishop Burke will return from Rome after the trip concludes July 3. The Review through Catholic News Service will have coverage of the bestowing of the pallium in its Friday, July 2, edition.

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Sacred Scripture

A Matter of Deep Concern

Before returning to the discussion of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I ask your help on behalf of the poor of Haiti. Last Friday, Bishop Yves-Marie Pan, CSC, of Les Gonaves in Haiti, was in St. Louis to visit friends and seek help for the poor of his diocese. I was happy to meet him for the first time and to visit with him.

He explained to me the extreme poverty in his diocese, with many not having even safe drinking water. The faithful of his diocese, already suffering from very poor living conditions, have now been further devastated by most destructive flooding. There is need to do so much to provide for the health and safety of the people. There is a desperate need of clean water, medicine, food and shelter. Bishop Pan asked me to make a plea for help among the faithful of the archdiocese, and I assured him that I would be happy to do so.

Bishop Pan suggested that the best way to help is through Catholic Relief Services. He praised the extensive and effective work of Catholic Relief Services, carried out without any fanfare or self-reference, in assisting the victims of the recent flooding. Catholic Relief Services needs financial support in order to provide the breadth of emergency help needed.

If you are able to help our poor brothers and sisters in Haiti, please send me your gift for them, marked clearly: Catholic Relief Services — Haiti. After I have received all of your gifts, I will forward them to Catholic Relief Services for the care of the Haitian people. Thank you for any consideration you may give to Bishop Pan’s plea, which I make my own, for your help on behalf the faithful of his diocese, who are suffering so much at the present time.


To prepare well for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and for the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is essential to reflect upon the Heart of Jesus in the divinely inspired texts of the Sacred Scriptures and the official teaching of the Church.

Through His inspired Word in the Sacred Scriptures, God Himself opens up for the depth of His love for us in Jesus Christ, love symbolized most fully in the Sacred Heart. The official teaching of the Church guides us in applying the Word of God to our daily living, helping us to return a response of love to God for the immeasurable gifts of His love to us. Our attention to the Word of God and the Church’s teaching, and the obedience of our response makes our devotional life true and strong, fruitful in love of God and our neighbor.
The Pierced Heart of Jesus

The principal text from the Holy Bible which inspires devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the account of our Lord’s Passion and Death. After our Lord Jesus had died on the cross, the soldiers wanted to use the customary means of ensuring that crucified criminals had truly died, namely the breaking of the legs. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that the soldiers broke the legs of the other two criminals crucified with Jesus (Mt 19:32).
When they came to Jesus, however, it was clear to them that there was no need to break His legs, for He was already dead. As a result, one of the Roman soldiers thrust his spear into the side of our Lord, from which there immediately flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). The soldier pierced the Heart of Jesus with his lance. The blood and water which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus is the sign of His life with us in the Church. Once risen from the dead and seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, Christ has never ceased to pour out, from His glorious Pierced Heart, the grace of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. The Preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus expresses the ancient symbolism of the water and the blood:

"Lifted high on the cross,

Christ gave His life for us,

So much did He love us.

From His wounded side flowed blood and water,
The fountain of sacramental life in the Church.

To His open side the Savior invites all men,

To draw water in joy from the springs of salvation" (The Roman Missal).

The flow of water and blood from the Pierced Heart of Jesus also reminds us of our Lord’s words regarding the source of salvation in His Heart:

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me,

Let him drink who believes in Me."

Scripture has it:

"From within Him rivers of living water shall flow" (Jn 7:37).

Our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus leads us to remember always the many ways in which Christ has poured out and continues to pour out His love for us in the Church from the moment of His death on the cross.

Meaning of Heart in the Scriptures

In understanding the meaning of the Scriptural passage referring to the piercing of the Heart of Jesus, it is important to remember the significance of the heart in the Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, the heart is the center of man, wherein is found his fullest being. It is in the heart, in the words of the Holy Scriptures, that all our thoughts and desires have their origin. When God speaks to us, He speaks to our heart. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, our Lord quotes the Prophet Isaiah to describe our hypocrisy when we claim to love God and, at the same time, disobey His commands:
"How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites when he wrote, ‘This people pays Me lip service but their heart is far from Me’" (Mk 7:6).

Later on, in the same passage, our Lord reminds us that our evil thoughts and deeds have their origin in the heart:

"Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit" (Mk 7:21-22).

Uniting our heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our heart is at once purified of all wrong thoughts, desires and inclinations and inflamed with love of God and our neighbor. The revelation of the Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary showed the mark of the piercing and the purifying flame of love with the cross within it, which crowns the Divine Heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is surrounded by the crown of thorns to signify the entire Passion by which He poured out His life for us.
Heart of Jesus

What the Holy Scriptures understand about the heart of man applies also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for His heart is the heart of a man. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, took a human heart under the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. In the Litany of the Sacred Heart, there is a most beautiful invocation which is inspired by our reflection upon the Incarnation: "Heart of Jesus formed by Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us." The invocation which follows reminds us again that the human heart of Jesus was made one with His divine nature: "Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God." It is to His own Heart that Christ refers in the Gospels: "My heart goes out to My people" (Mt 15:31); and "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-29).

The outpouring of Christ’s Life for us, represented in the blood and water which flowed from His pierced Heart, continues in the Church, especially through the sacraments. The Church has always seen in the water and blood which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus a sign of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, by which we come to life in the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls, and by which the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is nourished by the Heavenly Food which is the true Body of Christ.

Heart of God

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the forming of the human heart of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is the fulfillment of the Word of God spoken through the Prophet Ezekiel. Speaking through Ezekiel, God described His work of Redemption with these words:
"I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart, so that they will live according to My statutes, and observe and carry out My ordinances; thus they shall be My people, and I will be their God" (Ez 11:19-20).

The "new heart" and the "new spirit" is nothing less than a heart animated by God the Holy Spirit because the Heart of God the Son was pierced and welcomes now every contrite heart into the deep and peaceful recesses of its joy and peace.

The prophet Jeremiah provides a profound and ample reflection upon the heart of the people whom God is coming to save. In speaking about His saving work, through the Prophet Jeremiah, God the Father refers to His own Heart, His deepest being:
"I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently" (Jer 3:15).
We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to send shepherds to care for us, who are animated by His own divine love, by the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through the sacramental consecration God transforms a man’s heart, in order that he may act in the very person of Christ for the salvation of the people.

It is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that Christ the Good Shepherd continues to lay down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11-18), faithfully fulfilling the promise of God the Father.

When Christ appeared to St. Thomas the Apostle after the Resurrection, He showed him His wounded hands and feet, and His open side, beneath which lay His pierced Heart. He said to Thomas:
"Take your finger and examine My hands. Put your hand into My side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!" (Jn 20:27).

The response of St. Thomas at seeing the wounds of Christ, and especially His open side, has become for us a favorite prayer when the Host and chalice are elevated after the consecration: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28). In the apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, our Lord Jesus invites us, who may have grown weak or cold in faith or who may have abandoned the faith, to examine his Pierced Heart and to believe in Him, the Incarnation of God’s
immeasurable and unending love of us.

St. Paul reflects upon the Incarnation of the love of God in the Heart of Jesus in his Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3:8-19). He writes of the "inscrutable riches of Christ," which open up to us God’s plan for our salvation. He, then, prays that "Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith," and that "(we) will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that (we) may attain to the fullness of God himself" (Eph 3:18-19). Christ dwells in our hearts through the gift of His life for us, most perfectly in the Holy Eucharist. Christ dwells in our hearts when we respond to His invitation to place our hearts completely in His Sacred Heart, to open our hearts completely to Him in the celebration of the Holy Mass and throughout each day of our lives.

In a wonderful reflection on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expresses the profound significance of the references to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. He writes:
"The pierced Heart of the Crucified is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the Heart of God, which overturns His justice with compassion and precisely in this way remains just. Only in this concordance between the Old and New Testament can we behold the full extent of the biblical message concerning the Heart of God, the Heart of the divine Redeemer (‘The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart’ in Towards a Civilization of Love [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985], p.159).

Heeding the Cardinal’s wise words, we should frequently return to the Word of God, in order that the Word of God may inflame in us a sorrow for our sins, a desire to make reparation and a new generosity in returning love to God for His immeasurable love for us.


There are many more texts from the Holy Scriptures which refer to the human heart, to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus. It is recommended that the Holy Bible be kept on the small table or shelf beneath the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, enthroned in the home. In our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should take up the Word of God daily, so that God can speak to us from His Heart, so that our Lord Jesus can open up to us all the riches of His Sacred Heart. It will be good to mark the passages which refer to the human heart and the Divine Heart, so that we can easily meditate upon them.

Now, it is important that we look at the Church’s teaching regarding the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Next week, I will examine briefly the teaching of the Word of God about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.

Enthronement of Sacred Heart


Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a most effective means of living always in the company of our Lord Jesus whom we receive in Holy Communion. In other words, our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an extended act of love for Him who shows us the greatest possible love by offering His Body and Blood for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.In His fourth apparition to St. Margaret Mary, our Lord revealed His Sacred Heart, declaring:

"Behold this Heart which has so loved men that It spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them Its love.And in return I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude, by the contempt, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness with which they treat Me in this Sacrament of Love.But what is still more painful to Me is that even souls consecrated to Me are acting in this way" (Louis Verheylezoon, SJ, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1955, pp. xxvii).

When the devotional life is neglected, then there is a loss of gratitude and reverence, and a coldness before our Lord in the Eucharist.Our Lord asks St. Margaret Mary to make known His desire for a renewed devotion to His Sacred Heart, so that He might give His love ever more abundantly and we might respond with gratitude and return love for His divine love.

The center of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Enthronement of the image of the Sacred Heart in the home. By the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, we link the tabernacle of our parish church to our home, inviting our Lord to be our constant and most intimate companion. The Enthronement is a way of life.It means that Christ is King of our hearts, and we desire Him to be present with us always.

In other words, by the Enthronement we signify our desire to make our hearts and our homes holy, to sanctify our lives in every aspect.Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SSCC (1875-1961), great apostle of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, insisted on Its official and social characteristics.The Enthronement is the outward expression of an interior commitment to submit one’s whole life in obedience to Christ.It is social because it involves every member of the household in which we live and all our relationships with others, in and outside the home.Those who carry out the Enthronement always comment on the difference it makes in the relationships of family members with each other, and in work, business, recreation and other relationships.

Here it should be noted that the Enthronement can be made in every home.Often, in speaking of the Enthronement, I refer to the family, but it is understood that the home may be of a single person.The person living alone, no less than a family household, rightly desires that Christ be his or her constant companion.Also, there is always a relationship with others, with family and friends, which is expressed in the Enthronement, even by the person who lives alone.

Enthronement and Consecration

The Enthronement includes with It the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.The Enthronement without the Consecration would simply amount to the placing of a sacred image in a prominent place in the home.It would be a good and pious practice, but it would not transform lives in the way that the Enthronement does.The Act of Consecration gives expression to the profound meaning of enthroning the image of the Sacred Heart in our home.

By the words of the Consecration, we articulate the meaning of the Enthronement.We place our hearts totally into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we beg Him to be the source of our healing and strength, the medicine and nourishment by which our poor and wounded hearts are made strong and whole. The enthroned image of the Sacred Heart gives us the occasion to renew frequently, throughout the day, our act of consecration.

The words of the Act of Consecration of the Family proclaim the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the heart of each member of the household and in the home itself.They express the commitment of the family members to return love to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in response to the constant and immeasurable love which He shows to us in the Church.In short, the Act of Consecration is a full response to the promises made by our Lord to St. Margaret Mary. It pledges frequent reception of Holy Communion, penance for sins committed and acceptance of the divine will at death.

The form of consecration calls upon the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ and our mother, and St. Joseph, our protector, to intercede on our behalf.In truth, it asks our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph to present our Act of Consecration to Christ, in order that it may be as fitting and worthy as possible.

The Act of Consecration takes place after the image of the Sacred Heart has been enthroned.It expresses in words what the Act of Enthronement expresses in action. Enthronement and Consecration go together inseparably.

Necessity of Preparation

When we are about to undertake any important action, we always give ourselves ample time to prepare.Certainly, when we desire to consecrate ourselves and our home to Christ, we want to prepare well.It would be a mockery of the worst sort to enthrone the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus thoughtlessly, without regard for the profound meaning of our action. It would be a demonstration of the lack of reverence and of the coldness toward our Lord, to which He referred in His fourth apparition to St. Margaret Mary.

Since the Enthronement is a way of life for us, demanding our daily conversion of heart, we do not undertake it without considering carefully what it means for us.Our preparation should deepen in us our understanding and desire of the Enthronement and

The preparation has three principal parts: study, prayer and practical arrangements.Each part is important to the proper disposition of the family members and the home itself.The goal of the preparation is hearts aflame with love of Christ.Only a careful preparation and thoughtful Act of Enthronement and Consecration will dispose minds and hearts to follow Christ the King, to trust in His never-failing love and to place our hearts in His.

Preparing by Study and Prayer

An important means of preparation is study which deepens our knowledge of the Enthronement and its meaning for our daily living.Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey has provided a complete presentation on the Enthronement and Consecration in his book, Jesus King of Love.Father Francis Larkin, of the same religious community as Father Crawley-Boevey, has also written an excellent book on the various aspects of the Enthronement.It is titled Enthronement of the Sacred Heart.As I noted in my last column, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will be publishing a small guide to the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home in the coming weeks.It will be available to all families who request it and will contain all of the prayers for the preparation of the Enthronement and the Rite of Enthronement.

The second means of preparation is prayer. Father Crawley-Boevey has suggested special prayers in the home on the three days which immediately precede the day of the Enthronement.The prayer directs the attention of the whole family to our Lord and His desire to dwell with us always.The prayer begins each day with a decade of the rosary: on the first day, the Third Joyful Mystery; on the second day, the Fifth Joyful Mystery; and, on the third day, the Fifth Glorious Mystery.After announcing the mystery, one of the family members reads a passage from the Gospels, which refers to the mystery.The reading from the Gospels is followed by the praying of the decade of the rosary, which is followed by the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a prayer expressing the desire for the Enthronement and calling upon the help of our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.The prayer each day concludes with an indulgenced prayer to the Divine Heart of Jesus; the invocation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael the Archangel and the Holy Guardian Angels; and a hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Third Joyful Mystery, the Birth of our Lord, is chosen for the first day to underline the truth of the Incarnation and our response of worship before our Lord who is indeed God made man.In the adoration of the Infant Jesus by His Mother Mary, His guardian Joseph, the shepherds and the three kings, we find the inspiration for our desire to enthrone the image of the Incarnate Redeemer in our home to inspire constant adoration of Him.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery is chosen for the second day to inspire us to model the life of our home upon the pattern of life of the Holy Family at Nazareth.The care of Mary and Joseph for Jesus and His obedience to them are models for our relationships within the family and in other social settings.

The First Glorious Mystery leads us to reflect upon Jesus’ Rising from the Dead, Ascension and Sending of the Holy Spirit. Our meditation on the three great moments of the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation helps us to recognize the living presence of our Lord with us in the Church. Reflection upon the encounters of our Risen Lord with the Apostles and disciples increases in us the desire to be with the Lord always.

It would be good that the whole family or, at least, one member of the family participate in Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion during the triduum of preparation for the Enthronement.It would be especially fitting that the whole family participate in Mass and receive Holy Communion on the day of the Enthronement.

Preparing the Throne

The place of the Enthronement in the home must be fitting. In other words, it should be a central place, a place in which family members spend time each day.The living room is usually the best place for the Enthronement.The image may be enthroned on a small table upon which flowers, candles, a Bible, pictures of absent family members or of family members and friends in need of prayers, and prayer intentions can be placed.If the image is hung on the wall, a small shelf should be placed under it for the placement of the same objects. In any case, the place of the Enthronement should reflect the great reverence and love which we have for our Lord.It should be the most dignified and beautiful place in the room.

Regarding the image of the Sacred Heart, there are different possibilities.It can be a statue or a print of a painting or icon. A print of a beautiful icon of the Sacred Heart will be available through the Office of Sacred Worship.It is the same print which was given to each of the Catholic schools during the Mass at the Cathedral Basilica on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.In choosing an image, care should be taken that it reflect the great mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation and inspire prayer.

For the day of the Enthronement, a separate table for the image and Holy Water should be set in a different part of the room. The image will be carried from this table to its place of permanent Enthronement.

Inviting Family and Friends

Because of the official and social nature of the Enthronement, it is most appropriate to invite family and friends to join in the Rite of Enthronement.The invitation gives a strong witness to the Catholic faith and its practice, and has the potential of inspiring others to learn about the Enthronement and enthrone the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their homes. Copies of the Rite of Enthronement should be available for all who are invited, so that they may participate as fully as possible.

A certificate of the Enthronement will be available through the Office of Sacred Worship.It should be signed at the conclusion of the Rite of Enthronement and placed in a frame near the enthroned image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Also, it would be good to have some social time with refreshments after the Enthronement, so that all present can continue to express their joy at the special grace of the Enthronement and Consecration.The social time gives an excellent opportunity for family members to explain to others all that the Enthronement means for them.It is a most natural time to give witness to love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Enthronement

The Enthronement is fittingly led by a priest, if possible, but also can be led by the head of the household. It begins at the table on which the image and holy water have been placed.If a priest is leading the Enthronement, he begins by blessing the image. If a priest is unable to be present, the family should have a priest bless the image beforehand.

The head of the household, accompanied by all the members of the household, then carries the image to the place of the Enthronement and enthrones the image.All pray together the Apostles’ Creed as an act of faith and reparation. A passage from the Gospel, for example, the account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-33) or the account of our Lord’s meeting Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) or the account of our Lord’s visit to the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-41) is then proclaimed, after which the priest or head of the household offers a reflection on the meaning of the Rite of Enthronement. After the reflection, all kneel and make together the Act of Consecration.

The rite concludes with prayers for absent members of the family, living and deceased; with general intercessions; a prayer of thanksgiving, and the praying of the Hail Holy Queen in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. If a priest is present, he concludes the Rite of Enthronement with a blessing.Otherwise, it is concluded by all making the Sign of the Cross.


Next week, I will reflect upon certain texts from the Sacred Scriptures, which inspire devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.Also, I will provide a summary of the private revelation of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary and its relationship to the Sacred Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.Finally, I will reflect further upon the Enthronement as a way of life or, as Father Crawley-Boevey put it, keeping the Enthronement alive.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.

Devotional life: Enthronement of the Sacred Heart


One of the important duties of the bishop is to foster the devotional life of the faithful entrusted to his pastoral care.In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World," Pastores Gregis (Oct. 16, 2003), Pope John Paul II reminded all bishops:

"The Synod Fathers reaffirmed the importance of popular piety in the handing on and the growth of faith.As my predecessor of venerable memory Pope Paul VI once said, popular piety is rich in values both in reference to God and to our brothers and sisters, and thus constitutes an authentic treasury of spirituality in the life of the Christian community" (n. 40a).

The bishop’s concern for the devotional life of his people is an integral part of his care for their prayer life and their participation in the worship of the Church.Most of all, it is a part of his care that the faithful participate fully in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, for the devotional life is the way in which we extend our communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist to every aspect of our lives.At the same time, our devotional life stirs up in us the desire for participation in the Holy Eucharist and prepares us to take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

It is important to recall that true devotional life also leads to a desire both to know the faith more fully and to communicate the faith to others, according to our call to be missionary and to be promoters of Christian unity and interfaith understanding and cooperation.The devotional life very much inspires and sustains the witness of justice and charity in our lives.Our Holy Father has given an excellent summary of the richness of meaning of devotions in the Christian life:
"The faithful, through popular piety, should be led to a personal encounter with Christ and to fellowship with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, especially through hearing the word of God, recourse to prayer, participation in the Church’s sacramental life, and the witness of charity and the works of mercy" (Pastores Gregis, n. 40d).

Popular piety gives concrete expression to our communion with all the saints, the communion which has its source in Christ’s love for us and our love for Christ.

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

In teaching about devotions, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminded us, in the words of St. Paul, that we are to pray without ceasing, so that we may live always in the company of Christ and bring Christ to others at all times and in all places.We pray at Mass that Christ, Who gives Himself totally to us in the Holy Eucharist, may make of us a total gift of love to God and our neighbor.Our devotional life helps us to be reminded throughout the day and in the various places of our daily activity that we are called to offer our lives, with Christ, to God and one another (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium [Dec. 4, 1963], nn. 12-13).

It is important that the bishop give direction to the devotional life, so that popular piety attain its noble purpose, namely a fuller participation in the Holy Mass and other sacraments and, thereby, a fuller life in Christ. The Church carefully guides our life of prayer and worship, lest it any way fail to draw us to a greater love of Christ and His Church.The care of the devotional life belongs in a special way to the bishop.Referring to documents of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Pope John Paul II recalls "that all manifestations of popular piety fall under the responsibility of the bishop in his diocese" (Pastores Gregis, n. 40e).Regarding devotions, he states clearly:

"It is the bishop’s duty to regulate them, to encourage them as an aid to the faithful for Christian living, to purify them where necessary and to evangelize them" (Pastores Gregis, n.40e).

Down the Christian centuries, false devotions have been introduced, which have led the faithful away from Christ.The Church studies the various popular devotions which arise, in order to be sure that they are fully coherent with the doctrine of the faith and her discipline.At the same time, the Church commends certain devotions to us.The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council tells us: "Popular devotions of the Christian people, provided they conform to the laws and norms of the Church, are to be highly recommended, especially where they are ordered by the Apostolic See" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 13a).

The more closely we grow in the likeness of Christ, we desire to be in His company throughout the day, especially through prayer and devotions. One thinks, for instance, of morning prayer and evening prayer, prayers before and after meals, the Angelus, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and making the Sign of the Cross when passing before a church, the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, prayers said when hearing a siren or seeing an ambulance, lighting a blessed candle during a storm, and a host of other devotional practices which help us to keep company with Christ.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the homily at the Mass during which I was installed as Archbishop of St. Louis, on this past Jan. 26, I recalled the homily which Pope John Paul II gave at the Solemn Pontifical Mass on the second day of his historic pastoral visit to our archdiocese in 1999.In particular, I recalled how our Holy Father drew us, through his homily, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "the door through which the eternal love of the Father is poured out on the world" (Pope John Paul II, Homily, Solemn Eucharistic Celebration, America’s Center, St. Louis, Jan. 27, 1999, n. 1c).Our Holy Father reminded us that our fullest union with the Heart of Jesus in this life is through the Holy Eucharist, participation in Holy Mass and Eucharistic devotion.Truly, Christ seated at the right hand of the Father never ceases to pour out, from His glorious Heart, the riches of God’s grace upon the Church and us, her members, especially through the celebration of the Holy Mass.

Having called to mind the Holy Father’s words about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I urged the practice of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as an expression of Christ’s Kingship in our hearts and in our world.I urged the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes and other institutions of which we are a part:
"Placing our hearts within the Sacred Heart of Jesus through participation in the Holy Eucharist and Eucharistic devotion, let us enthrone the image of His Sacred Heart in our homes and places of work and recreation, consecrating ourselves and all that we do to His service.The Sacred Heart devotion is a most fitting and efficacious way of extending Eucharistic worship and devotion into every moment of our lives and every aspect of our lives" (n. IVb).

The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a true way of living always in the company of Christ Who gives us His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. The image of the Sacred Heart reminds us that Christ is alive for us always in the Church.We need only to approach Him Whose glorious Heart never ceases to beat with deepest love of us.

Since the time of my installation, a number of families have enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.On this past March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, representatives of all of our Catholic schools came to the Cathedral Basilica for a Solemn Pontifical Mass, during which I blessed the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for each school.The students took the icon to their schools for the Enthronement.When I am visiting the schools, I am pleased to see the image of the Sacred Heart enthroned in a prominent place for the devotion of the students, faculty and others who visit the Catholic school.

It is my hope that every home in the archdiocese will enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if it has not already done so.To that end, I write about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Enthronement.The reflection is particularly timely as we celebrate Christ’s Ascension to the right hand of the Father and prepare to celebrate, on Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and, through the Apostles, on all of the disciples.Following Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate a number of solemnities which express the richness of Christ’s living presence with us in the Church: the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.It is my hope that the reflection which I offer on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus will help us in celebrating these important solemnities and in living faithfully in the company of our Risen Lord in our homes.

What is the Enthronement?

Our Lord Himself has provided us with a most wonderful way to welcome Him into our homes. From 1673 to 1675, He appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun of the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial in France. He revealed to St. Margaret Mary the great mystery of His infinite love for us, represented by His Sacred Heart.He asked that homes be consecrated to His Sacred Heart as a sign of His living presence with us in the Church, especially through the Holy Eucharist.

The practice of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home was begun by Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. His work was first confirmed and blessed by Pope St. Pius X and then by every Pope since.When Pope St. Pius X heard of the Enthronement, he told Father Crawley-Boevey directly: "To save the family is to save society.The work you are undertaking is a work of social salvation.Consecrate your life to it." Father Crawley-Boevey could not mistake the importance which the Holy Father gave to his apostolate of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.What the saintly Roman Pontiff declared to Father Crawley-Boevey in 1907 remains true in our time.If the company of Christ is cultivated in our homes, His company will be cultivated in every sector of life for the transformation of our society and of our world into a civilization of love.

The Enthronement is bound essentially to the Holy Eucharist, for it aims to bring Christ, truly present on the altar of sacrifice and in the tabernacles of our parish churches, into our homes. It aims to unite the altar and tabernacle of the parish church with the altar and tabernacle of devotion in our hearts and in our homes.

The whole meaning of the devotion is to extend the grace of the Eucharist into the Christian home and from the Christian home to the whole world.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus expresses the true Kingship of Christ who rules over us by giving up His life for us.It daily reminds each member of the family to follow in Christ’s royal way by making reparation for sins committed and by striving to serve God and neighbor more lovingly.Father Crawley-Boevey spoke of the Enthronement as the "official and social recognition of the rule of Jesus over the Christian family" (Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC., Jesus King of Love, Fairhaven, MA: National Enthronement Center, 1997, p. 125). Once the Enthronement has taken place in the home, each family member has the occasion daily and, perhaps, many times daily to gaze upon the Face of Christ and to have Christ gaze upon his or her face. Looking into the Face of Christ, all of the various moments of daily living are seen in their lasting importance, are seen in the perspective of the eternal life which is to be ours.

Living the Enthronement

The Enthronement is not merely the placing of a sacred object in the home. It is not only an act of veneration of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.The Enthronement is a way of life, the acceptance of Christ as King of my heart, as my constant Companion, as my Friend, helping me and guiding me in the small and big matters of daily life.As Bishop of La Crosse, I urged very much the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially on the occasion of the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. As families began to enthrone the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the first time or to renew the Enthronement which had taken place years ago in the home, I received reports, both directly and by letter, recounting special graces received by the family members. The reports testified to the grace which comes to a home which makes the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus a way of life for every member of the family.I offer two examples.

One man whom I will call Joseph told me personally about the situation of his neighbor, a devout Catholic who was dying of a painful form of cancer. The neighbor was suffering physically and was also psychologically very agitated. His wife was most concerned, especially as he was nearing death.

Joseph suggested to the man and his wife the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the bedroom in which the man was undergoing his agony.After some days of preparation, the Enthronement took place. After the Enthronement, the neighbor suffering from the cancer received a wonderful grace of peace, which he enjoyed until his death some days later.

A father and mother wrote to me after the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home.They had two teenage children, a young man and a young woman, who were often disagreeable with each other and with their parents. The family prepared for the Enthronement which they carried out on Good Friday.The parents wrote to tell about the new attitude of respect for each other and for the parents, which the teenage children were manifesting after the Enthronement.Surely, the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart had helped the young people to draw upon the grace of the Holy Eucharist to live more fully in the company of Christ.


Next week, I will continue to reflect upon the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home, also giving the practical details about how to prepare for the Enthronement and how to celebrate properly the Rite of the Enthronement.The Office of Sacred Worship of the Archdiocese is helping me to prepare a booklet for families to use in preparing for and carrying out the Enthronement.It will be available in the coming weeks.

Let us pray for an ever more perfect union of our hearts with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us with Mary, place our hearts, with all of their joys and burdens, in the Heart of Jesus, the only source of our healing and peace.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother, have mercy on us.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla: Wife, mother and physician


On this past Sunday, our Holy Father declared Gianna Beretta Molla a saint of the Church.St. Gianna was a wife and mother, and a physician, who died on Easter Saturday (April 28) of 1962, following the birth of her fourth child. Gianna is a contraction for Giovanna in Italian — Jeanne in French or Joan in English. On April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II had declared her blessed.I was working in the Roman Curia at the time, was deeply impressed by the story of her life and holiness, and developed a certain devotion to her, confiding to her prayers, in a special way, the intentions of young couples.

After I was installed as Bishop of La Crosse on Feb. 22, 1995, I met a number of young couples who desired so much to have a baby but were experiencing serious difficulties in conceiving a child.A number of couples had experienced repeated miscarriages or even stillbirth.They approached me, on the occasion of a visit to their parish, to ask for my blessing and my prayers.One can understand readily the deep concern of these couples who were without child, for children are the "crowning glory" of marriage (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes [Dec. 7, 1965], n. 48a.St. Gianna is a saint of our time, who is an especially powerful intercessor regarding all matters of human life and the family.I write to you about her this week in the hope that you, too, may find inspiration in her life and seek the help of her prayers.

Intercession of Blessed Gianna

Frequently, in addition to giving a blessing and adding their intention to my daily prayers, I recommended to young couples that they pray through the intercession of Blessed Gianna.In my daily prayers, I was commending their intentions to Blessed Gianna.In the meantime, I discovered the Society of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, headed by Joseph W. Cunningham, an attorney in Philadelphia. The Society provided me with prayer cards and medals for the couples who were invoking the help of Blessed Gianna.

Through my correspondence with the Society of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, I also began to correspond with Pietro Molla, the husband of Blessed Gianna.Mr. Molla is a most devout and humble man who is totally dedicated to bringing the spiritual help of St. Gianna to as many as are in need, especially couples who are experiencing any difficulties with childbirth.Profound love of his saintly wife is transparent in the way he writes about her.If you wish to have a glimpse of the deep love of husband and wife in the life of Pietro and Gianna, I recommend the reading of Love Letters to My Husband by Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, published in 2002 by Pauline Books & Media in Boston. It is a fitting book of spiritual reading for married couples and for anyone who desires to deepen his or her appreciation of the vocation to the married life.

After Pietro learned of my devotion to Blessed Gianna, he kindly sent me a relic of Gianna, a small piece of her wedding dress, which I lent to couples who were praying to conceive a child or had conceived a child and were praying for the healthy delivery of their baby.It was most edifying to witness the effects of prayer, through the intercession of Blessed Gianna, in the lives of these young couples.She proved to be a most powerful intercessor.In several cases, a couple who previously seemed unable to conceive a child were blessed with the conception and birth of a healthy child.Some couples have had a second baby and hope to have more. They very much credit the prayers of Blessed, now St., Gianna for the great gift of the conception and birth of their child. Some have give their children the name of Gianna in recognition of the help of the saint.

Her early life

Blessed Gianna was born in northern Italy to Alberto and Maria Beretta on Oct. 4, 1922.She was the second youngest of 13 children.Eight of the 13 children survived to adulthood.

The Berettas were a most devout family.They never failed to express their faith in God and their gratitude to Him.The rosary was prayed daily in the home, and the father and mother, together with the children, strove to participate in daily Mass as often as possible.The parents had enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their home and, every evening after praying the rosary, the family members renewed their consecration to the Sacred Heart. After prayers, there was time for parents and children to visit and to deepen their understanding of the faith and its practice.

Gianna loved nature and the outdoors, and struggled very much with her studies in the first years of her schooling.When she reached 15 years of age, she experienced a conversion of life.Her oldest sister, Amalia, whom she loved very much, died suddenly at the age of 26.Some time after the death of Amalia, Gianna made a spiritual retreat which had a profound effect on her life.After that time, she began to live more intensely the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.Sheshowed the greatest possible dedication in studying her Catholic faith and living the virtues, especially modesty and purity.She found great help in an association of young Catholics called Catholic Action, which stressed three essential aspects of our life in Christ: Eucharistic devotion, apostolic action and heroic purity (cf. Ann Brown, No Greater Love: Bl. Gianna: Physician, Mother, Martyr: The Story of a Mother of Our Time Who Offered Her Life That Her Child Might Live, Kentucky: New Hope Publications, 1999, pp. 11-13).The canonization of St. Maria Goretti in 1954 greatly inspired Gianna.Inspired by the life and death of the saint, she urged the young women whom she was guiding in Catholic Action to imitate the purity of Maria Goretti:

"Purity is a virtue which is the result of much effort ... Purity becomes beauty, and then strength and freedom. The one who is able to struggle and to stand firm is free" (No Greater Love, p. 12).
Gianna herself was a source of inspiration and strength for her peers and the younger members of Catholic Action, who looked to her for an example.


Coming into her adult years and having completed her medical studies, Gianna struggled to know her vocation in life. Her brother Enrico had become a Capuchin friar and was a missionary in Brazil.Her younger sister Virginia became a doctor and a religious sister, serving as a missionary in India. Her brother Giuseppe studied engineering then responded to the call to the diocesan priesthood.

Gianna was a beloved physician who cared especially for the poor.As a physician, she had a profound reverence for the gift of human life, and she urged priests to preach and teach about the respect for human life, and the evil of abortion and the abandonment of the seriously ill and elderly.

Her life, however, remained incomplete.As a devout young Catholic, she prayed to God about her vocation.She seriously considered the call to the dedicated single life, hoping to serve at the side of her priest brother in the missions of Brazil.With the help of her spiritual director, she came to understand that God was calling her to the married life.Thanks to the life of faith in her home and the religious education and formation which she received, she had a deep appreciation of the vocation to the married life.About her vocation, she wrote:

"Everything has a specific end; everything obeys a law.God has shown each one of us the way, the vocation, and the life of grace that lies beyond physical life.Our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation without faltering.What is a vocation?It is a gift from God — it comes from God himself!Our concern, then, should be to know the will of God.We should enter onto the path that God wills for us, not by ‘forcing the door,’ but when God wills and as God wills ..." (Giuliana Pelucchi, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002, pp. 71-72).

Gianna knew that God has a special plan for each of us — our way to give our life completely in love of Him and of our neighbor in the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood.Through prayer and with the help of her spiritual director, she heard God’s call to marriage.

Through Catholic Action, Gianna met Pietro Molla, a devout young Catholic gentleman who was an engineer.She was impressed by his courage and dedication in living the Catholic faith. He knew that God was calling him to the married life and believed that Gianna was to be his bride.Pietro and Gianna were engaged on April 11, 1955, and were united in marriage before the altar of God on Sept. 24 of the same year.When Gianna walked down the aisle of the church at the beginning of the Wedding Mass, the congregation applauded.They loved her very much because of the exemplary manner of her practice of the Catholic faith, especially as a physician, and they rejoiced that she had heard God’s call to the married life. Reflecting upon her vocation to marriage and preparing for her wedding day, Gianna wrote to Pietro on Sept. 13, 1955:

"With God’s help and blessing, we will do all we can to make our new family a little cenacle where Jesus will reign over all our affections, desires and actions.

"My dear Pietro, our wedding is just a few days away now, and I feel very moved to be so near receiving the sacrament of love. We will be working with God in his creation; in this way we can give Him children who will love Him and serve Him" (Love Letters to My Husband, pp. 40-41).

Her consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had grown ever deeper.She prayed that Christ might reign from His glorious Sacred Heart in Pietro’s and her heart, and in their home.Because of her deep love of Christ and her communion with Him, she recognized the special grace of the married life: the grace of total and lifelong love, and of cooperation with God in the generation of new human life.

Their treasures

On Nov. 9, 1956, Gianna gave birth to their first child, Pierluigi.Gianna suffered severe physical pain after the birth and Pierluigi had certain medical difficulties.The couple, however, were overjoyed to have received the gift of their first child and loved him very much.

In December 1957, Maria Zita, their second child, was born.The time immediately following the birth of Maria Zita, who was nicknamed Mariolina, was difficult.Pierluigi had further health difficulties, and Mariolina was not sleeping at night.These trials did not take away any of the joy from the Molla home, rather Pietro and Gianna grew in their love of each other and their children.

Gianna gave birth to their third child, Laura Enrica Maria, on July 15, 1959.Gianna experienced serious difficulties during the pregnancy and worried that she might lose the child.The child was born healthy, and her sister, Mariolina, was overjoyed to have a playmate.

Gianna and Pietro desired to have another child.She suffered two miscarriages, but in July 1961 found out that she was pregnant with their fourth child.

Gianna and Pietro refer to their children as their "treasures."One of the especially edifying aspects of studying the life of St. Gianna and reading her love letters to her husband is to see how integral having children and raising them is to their married life and love.

The final test

Early in her pregnancy with their fourth child, it was discovered that Gianna had developed a fibroma, a kind of cyst, on the wall of her uterus. The doctors recommended removal of the fibroma and the abortion of the child or a total hysterectomy which would also mean abortion.Any option which included abortion was unacceptable to Gianna and Pietro.She chose instead to have the fibroma removed and to bring her child to term.Being a physician, Gianna understood well the danger involved for her.She declared: "This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other — I want them to save my baby" (Love Letter to My Husband, p. 14).

On April 21, 1962, Gianna delivered their fourth child, Giovanna (Gianna) Emmanuela, by Caesarean section.The child was beautiful and healthy, but her birth marked the beginning of a weeklong agony for Gianna, which ended in her death on April 28.

Immediately upon her death, there developed a devotion to Gianna, for the faithful who knew her saw in her life a heroic wife and mother.Many graces were obtained by those who sought her intercession.

Maria Zita (Mariolina) died two years after Gianna, after a brief illness.Pierluigi studied engineering and eventually married.Laura and Gianna Emanuela remain at home with their father.Laura is a doctor of political science, and Gianna Emanuela followed in the footsteps of her saintly mother and became a doctor.She has dedicated her medical practice to the care of patients suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. At the Second World Day of the Family, in October 1997, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla offered the following prayer through the intercession of her mother:

"Dear Mama, thank you for having given me life two times: when you conceived me and when you permitted me to be born. ... My life seems to be the natural continuation of your life, of your joy of living, of your enthusiasm; I discover my life’s full meaning in dedicating myself to whoever lives in suffering.

"Dear Mama, intercede always for all mothers and all families who turn to you and entrust themselves to you" (A Woman’s Life, p. 140).

Indeed, many mothers and families have gone to St. Gianna in prayer, and have received the help of God’s grace through her intercession.


The life and death of St. Gianna is a powerful witness to the vocation and mission of the married.In a society which has so little respect for marriage and family life, St. Gianna is a beacon of inspiration and a powerful intercessor for conversion.I hope that you and many will come to know St. Gianna and, through your devotion to her, be strong witnesses to the truth about marriage and the family.

In any trial of the family, especially in the desire to conceive and give birth to children, I urge you to pray through the intercession of St. Gianna.Having lived so fully the life of wife and mother and having known so many trials in remaining faithful to her vocation, she will not fail to hear your prayers.

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