Archbishop's column

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

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

The dignity of the celebration of the Mass


In Chapter 5 of his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II took up the question of the dignity with which the Holy Mass must necessarily be celebrated.In presenting the model of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Pope John Paul II points to the account of the Lord’s Supper, found in the Gospels and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; John 13:1-17; and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).Pondering the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, when our Lord Jesus Christ handed over His life to us sacramentally on the eve of handing over His life for us on the Cross, we discover the heart of Sacred Liturgy.

Our Lord’s celebration of the Last Supper or First Eucharist was marked by both simplicity and solemnity.The disposition of Christ at the First Eucharist is the foundation and model for all the liturgical rites, especially the Rite of the Mass, which have developed in the Church over the centuries. Christ commanded the Apostles to renew His Last Supper for the disciples, in every time and place, until the day of His Final Coming. He told them, in simple and direct language: "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; and 1 Corinthians 11:24).By these words, He consecrated the Apostles as priests for the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.These words uncover the reason for the existence of the ordained priesthood, the Holy Eucharist, which, without the ordained ministry of the priest, cannot be celebrated.In a certain sense, the whole history of the Church may be described as the story of the obedience of the Apostles and their successors to our Lord’s commission to them at the Last Supper (no. 47a).

Anointing at Bethany

The attitude and disposition of Christ at the Last Supper is best understood by recalling the account of the Anointing at Bethany.At Bethany, shortly before His Passion and Death, Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead, anointed Jesus with a most precious oil.Some disciples, most notably the Apostle Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord, objected strongly to Mary’s gesture of great reverence and love.Judas Iscariot and others saw it as a waste of resources which could have been used to provide for the poor.

Our Lord responds to their reaction in what may be, for some, a surprising manner. He teaches them that the anointing by Mary is an act of profound reverence for His body, the instrument by which He was to carry out our redemption. He, in no way, calls into question the responsibility to provide for the poor but indicates what is prior to our care for the poor and inspires it most fully and consistently, namely, our love of Him and our devotion toward Him.

Mary’s act of generous respect and love is imitated by us in the care which we take to have only the most fitting place for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and to use the best furnishings, vestments, linens and vessels for the Eucharistic Sacrifice.The Holy Father reminds us of our Lord’s command to the disciples to prepare the Upper Room for the Last Supper.The Church’s special care for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist reflects her faith in what takes place at the Mass; it reflects her deep reverence for our Lord Who is both our Priest and Victim in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 47b).

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is a model of the consistent regard for the worthy celebration of the Mass and other sacraments.In his instructions, while requiring the strictest simplicity of life for himself and his friars, he urged that nothing should be spared in what is employed for the House of God and for the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments.In his Letter to All Clerics, St. Francis wrote:

"Those who are in charge of these sacred mysteries, and especially those who are careless about their task, should realize that the chalices, corporals and altar linens where the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are offered in sacrifice should be completely suitable.And besides, many clerics reserve the Blessed Sacrament in unsuitable places, or carry It about irreverently, or receive It unworthily, or give It to all-comers without distinction.God’s holy name, too, and his written words are sometimes trodden underfoot, because the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14); (The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Benen Fahy, OFM, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1964, p. 101).

The clear concern of St. Francis for the sacred places and the various elements of the Eucharistic Sacrifice was inspired by his firm faith that it is Christ Himself who acts through the sacraments and, in a pre-eminent way, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.The truth which St. Francis expresses has been honored in a long and rich tradition of sacred art and architecture, also in the making of sacred linens, vestments and vessels.

In "The Testament of St. Francis," we read: "Above everything else, I want this most holy Sacrament to be honored and venerated and reserved in places which are richly ornamented.Whenever I find his most holy name or writings containing his words in an improper place, I make a point of picking them up, and I ask that they be picked up and put aside in a suitable place" (The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, p. 67).

We, too, should spare nothing possible in showing our respect for the sacraments, the divinely inspired Word of God in the Holy Scriptures, and the place and the manner of the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.

Liturgical faith of our ancestors

In reading the history of parishes in the archdiocese which are celebrating the 100th, 125th and 150th anniversary of their foundation, I am struck by the great sacrifices made by the faithful, most of them immigrants with very few means, to have, as soon as possible, a worthy parish church and worthy materials for the decoration of the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.It was not at all uncommon for a farmer to mortgage his farm in order to make a generous pledge toward the building of a fitting parish church or the provision of fitting sacred vessels and vestments.We marvel today at the extraordinary beauty of many of the churches which our ancestors constructed and decorated and furnished with the finest sacred art.Those who have gone before us in the archdiocese certainly had the faith of Mary at Bethany.The beautiful art and architecture which has been associated with our churches and their altars of sacrifice and other furnishings down the centuries inspires us to reflect upon the great mystery of the Eucharist, the Mystery of Faith.

Sacred banquet

The Holy Father rightly asks: "Could there ever be an adequate means of expressing the acceptance of that self-gift which the divine Bridegroom continually makes to his Bride, the Church, by bringing the Sacrifice offered once and for all on the Cross to successive generations of believers and thus becoming nourishment for all the faithful?" (no. 48).The Eucharist is indeed a banquet at which Christ feeds us with the incomparable Food which is His true Body and Blood.Recognition of the heavenly Food of the Holy Eucharist halts any tendency to a familiarity which would fail to recognize, respect and adore the true Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Eucharist is not adequately described as a banquet or meal, for it is a sacrificial banquet, a sacred banquet in which we partake of the holiness of God Himself.Pope John Paul II reminds us that the Sacred Host which we receive is truly the Bread of Angels, the Body of Christ, and, therefore, Holy Communion cannot be approached except with a profound sense of humility, the sense of our own unworthiness because of our sins.

During the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I made a pastoral visitation to all of the Newman university apostolates in the Diocese of La Crosse.Usually, the visit consisted of praying the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, a meal and a time for discussion.At one visit, a student leader, who clearly was most interested in the faith and its practice, asked me the meaning of the prayer we say before Holy Communion, when the priest holds up the Sacred Host, saying: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."He stated that the prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," made no sense to him because, according to his mind, we are worthy to receive Holy Communion.His question made me recognize more than ever the serious need of a thorough catechesis regarding the reality of the Holy Eucharist and our relationship to our Eucharistic Lord.

When we pray at Mass and, most especially, when we come forward to receive Holy Communion, there is at once a sense of God’s great intimacy with us, inviting us to participate in the mystery of His Son’s Suffering, Dying and Rising from the Dead, and a sense of our unworthiness and of great awe before the presence of God Himself.That is the reason why our churches are not built as multi-purpose centers, meeting halls or banquet facilities.It is also the reason why we should be very attentive to the manner of our dress and our comportment in church, especially during the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Banquet.

Liturgical law

The outward aspects of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist express our interior disposition, in imitation of Mary at Bethany.For that reason, the Church has developed liturgical laws which both safeguard and promote the fitting disposition or devotion before the greatest treasure of our Catholic faith and practice, the Holy Eucharist.The Church’s liturgical norms, developed over the centuries of her life, safeguard the fitting celebration of the Holy Eucharist.The development of liturgical norms has been accompanied by a parallel development of sacred art, architecture and music to express and strengthen faith in the Holy Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II evokes the rich history of sacred architecture, beginning with the churches in the home. The developments in design of churches and of their altars and tabernacles is not merely a reflection of the great art of the various periods of the Church’s history but, most of all, an expression of the profound faith in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.The examples of original art and quality craftsmanship in the building of churches, and especially of their altars and tabernacles, from the very first days of the Church, tells a wonderful story of faith in the Holy Eucharist.In visiting beautiful churches, one notes how the various furnishings have been beautifully designed and crafted.Special attention was fittingly given to the confection of beautiful vestments for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and of fine linens on which to place the sacred species or with which to cleanse the sacred vessels, and to the production of beautiful vessels to contain the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the same way, sacred music has developed down the Christian centuries to help lift the minds and hearts of the faithful to contemplate the great mystery of faith, which is the Holy Eucharist.Gregorian Chant is, of course, the greatest jewel in the body of music written specifically for the celebration of the Holy Mass.As is the case with sacred art, there is a rich history of beautiful music written for the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 49).

Pope John Paul II refers to a certain competition in sacred art and architecture between the East and the West.He reminds us especially of the strong sense of the mystery of faith expressed in the sacred art of the East.As he states, it is a call for all of us to make certain the Church is, above all else, "a profoundly Eucharistic Church" (no. 50).


Our late Holy Father also reflected upon the legitimate desire of the Church in new places to employ the "forms, styles and sensibilities of different cultures" in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, so that it can truly be spiritual food for all peoples (no. 51a).The proper term for the rooting of the Catholic faith and practice in a particular culture is inculturation.Clearly, it is a delicate process because there may be elements of the local culture which need purification and transformation before they can fittingly receive and serve the Eucharistic mystery.

Inculturation must always be secondary to respect for the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, lest the greatest treasure of our faith be obscured or, even worse, betrayed.Any experimentation in inculturation must be reviewed by Church authority with the involvement of the Apostolic See "because the Sacred Liturgy expresses and celebrates the one faith professed by all and, being the heritage of the whole Church, cannot be determined by local Churches in isolation from the universal Church" (no. 51b).

Responsibility of priests

Priests act in the person of Christ at the Holy Eucharist and, therefore, bear an especially weighty responsibility for the worthy celebration of the Mass.They are "to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church which is part of every Eucharist" (no. 52a).

Pope John Paul II writes very frankly about abuses
which have entered into the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because of "a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation" (no. 52).He begs that the liturgical law pertaining to the celebration of the Holy Mass be faithfully observed.He reminds us that the Sacred Liturgy is never the private possession of the priest or the community, and speaks of the deep suffering caused to the faithful by abuses introduced into the celebration of the Mass.Our observance of liturgical law is a fundamental expression of love of Christ and of the Church.


Because of the importance of the fitting and dignified celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Pope John Paul II, at the conclusion of Chapter 5, announced the preparation of a special document "to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms" (no. 52b).On March 19, 2004, Pope John Paul II approved the document in question, prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and entitled "Instruction on Certain Matters To Be Observed or To Be Avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (Redemptionis Sacramentum)." The document was published on the following March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.As we continue our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, I will also be writing reflections on "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

I conclude with the words with which Pope John Paul II concluded Chapter 5 of "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":
"No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality" (no. 52).

May the special graces of the Year of the Eucharist lead us to an ever greater appreciation of the great mystery of the Eucharist, the Mystery of Faith, and to the expression of reverence for the Holy Eucharist by our care to celebrate the Holy Mass with the greatest care for its incomparable dignity.

Sacrament of Communion


Having interrupted my reflections upon Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," to address the historic events of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and to urge your participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal for the support of the Church’s many apostolates, I return to the consideration of the encyclical letter as an aid to your participation in the Year of the Eucharist.Today, I write about the fourth chapter, "The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion."

The principal image with which the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council described the nature of the Church was communion.The Church is the instrument of our communion with God and with one another.It is her mission to safeguard and foster our communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and our communion with all the faithful.

The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the highest expression of the Church’s identity as communion.Through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the Church best carries out her mission of maintaining and promoting "communion with the Triune God and communion among the faithful" (no. 34).It is not surprising to us, therefore, that one of our most common ways of naming the Holy Eucharist is Holy Communion.

Desire for Holy Communion

There can be no fuller communion with God than the Holy Eucharist, in which we receive the Body of Christ, God the Son made man for our salvation.For the person of faith, all other goods in life are seen always in relationship to the Holy Eucharist, our greatest good.The measure of the depth of our Catholic faith is clearly the strength of our desire to receive Holy Communion.

Our late Holy Father reminded us that the practice of making a "spiritual communion" comes from our deep desire to receive the Body of Christ."Spiritual communion" is the expression of our profound and enduring desire to receive the Body of Christ.The act of spiritual communion prepares us fittingly for the time when we are able to receive Holy Communion.

Whenever we experience a period of time during which we may not receive Holy Communion because we are guilty of a mortal sin which we have not confessed in the Sacrament of Penance or because we are, in some other way, not properly disposed to receive, then we unite ourselves to Christ in the best possible way by expressing, in prayer, our desire to receive Him.God always responds to our act of spiritual communion with the help of His grace.Regarding spiritual communion, Pope John Paul II quotes St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church:

"When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you" (no. 34b).

Too easily, receiving Holy Communion can become rote for us.Whenever we are at Mass, we simply receive Holy Communion without reflecting upon the reality of the sacrament and our disposition to receive the Body of Christ.

The temptation to receive Holy Communion without recognizing the sacrament has beset the Church from her very beginnings.St. Paul addressed the situation of Christians at Corinth who were receiving Holy Communion while, at the same time, engaging publicly in activities which offended Christ and contradicted true communion with Him (1 Corinthians 11:17-29).The practice of making "spiritual communion" helps us to avoid approaching the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist routinely, that is, without due reflection.

Invisible dimension of communion

Pope John Paul II points out that the Holy Eucharist sustains and develops a certain communion which necessarily must precede it and which it expresses.The communion which participation in the Holy Eucharist presupposes has both invisible and visible dimensions.

The invisible dimension of communion is the life of grace within us.It is only by God’s grace that we have communion with Him and with one another.God, for His part, gives us the virtues of faith, hope and love — our reason for calling them the theological virtues — and we, for our part, cultivate these virtues and the moral virtues by which we, with the help and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, become more like Christ.

The invisible dimension of communion, which is the presupposition of Eucharistic Communion, demands that we examine ourselves before approaching to receive the Body of Christ and that, if we are conscious of having committed a mortal sin, we seek the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Penance before approaching to receive Holy Communion (no. 36).

The Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Penance are intimately related to each other.Communion in the Body of Christ necessarily inspires daily conversion of life, which is greatly helped through frequent confession.With the ardent desire of the Holy Eucharist comes also a deep sorrow for the ways in which we have offended God and our neighbor.The response to sorrow for sin, even venial sin, is the reconciliation with God and with the Church, which is God’s gift to us in the Sacrament of Penance.Grave or mortal sin prohibits our reception of Holy Communion, until we have received God’s forgiveness of our sin in the Sacrament of Penance.Eucharistic Communion, moreover, will inspire within us the desire to confess also our venial sins, lest we grow complacent and lukewarm in our love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Each of us must examine his conscience regarding the state of grace, which is required to receive Holy Communion, each time we approach the sacrament.The Holy Father also mentions the case of public conduct which is "seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm."If a person is guilty of such conduct, then the Church must deny Holy Communion to him (canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law).If the person guilty of such conduct does not examine his conscious and refrain from approaching to receive Holy Communion, then the Church herself is required to refuse Holy Communion to the person.Such action of the Church is required to safeguard the sanctity of the Most Blessed Sacrament and to avoid confusion and scandal in the community of faith (no. 37).

Visible dimension of communion

The visible dimension of the communion which is the precondition for Eucharistic Communion is oneness in the doctrine of the faith, in the sacraments and in Church governance (nos. 35a and 38a). Reception of the Body of Christ is the manifestation of fullness of communion in the Church and, therefore, demands that the visible bonds of communion be present.It is, therefore, never permitted to give Holy Communion to someone who dissents from the truth of the faith regarding the Holy Eucharist or who is not baptized (no. 38b).

Eucharistic Communion is also communion with one’s own bishop and with the Roman pontiff, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the local community is the celebration of the one Church throughout the whole world.The bishop is "the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular Church."It is a contradiction to speak of the celebration of the Church’s great sacrament of unity when communion with the bishop is lacking.Likewise, the Holy Eucharist must be celebrated in communion with the Roman pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, who, in the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is "the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful" (no. 39b).

Fostering communion

Participation in Holy Communion, when it is sincere, leads us to examine anything which separates us from one another, and to seek reconciliation.Holy Communion fosters harmony among the members of the Body of Christ.

The obligation of participation in Sunday Mass follows from the importance of the Holy Eucharist in fostering communion among all the members of the Church.In the Holy Eucharist, the community of disciples finds its true identity, and also the inspiration and strength to conform itself more and more to that identity by overcoming any element of division.Pope John Paul II recalled his apostolic letter "Dies Domini (Day of the Lord)," in which he presented the rich significance of the Sunday Mass obligation.

"All of us have responsibility for the fostering of communion in the Church and, therefore, must give special care to the Holy Eucharist.Those who have pastoral authority in the Church are especially bound to make known and to apply faithfully the Church’s "norms aimed both at fostering frequent and fruitful access of the faithful to the eucharistic table and at determining the objective conditions under which Communion may not be given" (no. 42).

The Holy Eucharist fosters unity among Christians through the prayer, which it naturally inspires, that all may be one in Christ.At the same time, because Eucharistic Communion requires full communion in the faith, in the sacraments and in Church governance, it is not possible to celebrate the Holy Eucharist when those bonds do not fully exist.To attempt the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with those who are not in full communion with the Church is not a means of fostering unity and, in fact, becomes an obstacle to unity because it ignores what yet divides us and causes confusion about fundamental truths of the faith (no. 44).

Our late Holy Father reviewed the Church’s discipline regarding the administration of the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.They may receive these sacraments under the following conditions, to be verified in the case of each individual who request the sacraments: 1) the individual cannot approach his own minister; 2) he seeks the sacraments spontaneously; 3) he manifests Catholic faith in the sacraments; and 4) he is properly disposed (canon 844, paragraphs 3-4).Pope John Paul II made clear that the just-mentioned discipline respects "a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer."It is not an attempt "to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established" (no. 45a).

In this regard, our late and beloved Holy Father reminded us that an essential part of faith in the sacraments is "the truth regarding the need of the ministerial priesthood for their validity."If the person requesting the sacraments does not hold to this truth, then he or she does not manifest Catholic faith in the sacraments and may not receive them.This also explains the discipline by which a Catholic, under certain conditions, may approach a non-Catholic minister to receive the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, as long as the sacraments are validly celebrated in the Church of the non-Catholic minister (canon 844, paragraph 2) (nos. 45-46).


The careful study of the relationship of Holy Communion to the communion of the Church inspires in us an ever deeper knowledge and love of our Eucharistic Lord.Such study also helps us to give faithful witness to the sacred truth regarding the Holy Eucharist, our greatest treasure of faith, so that the Blessed Sacrament may foster our communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and our communion with our fellow members of the Church and with all Christians.

Mary's month


We, in the Church, dedicate the month of May to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In our families, we give special attention to the praying of the rosary and to making a May Altar.In our parishes, Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions, it is also the month for the celebration of public devotions to the Mother of God, including the May Crowning, the crowning of the statue of the Blessed Mother with beautiful flowers as a sign of her honor and our devoted love.

May is a fitting time to give attention to our relationship with the Virgin Mary and to grow in our love of her.In May, the earth becomes fresh with new growth.The many flowers and flowering trees, especially the fruit trees, are a sign of the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth.Farmers plow the fields and plant the seeds which soon sprout, giving hope of an abundant harvest to feed and clothe us.Gardens are hoed and sown with seeds of flowers and vegetables.

Spiritually, we consider the unimaginable spiritual fruitfulness of Mary who conceived our Lord in her womb, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and brought him into the world at Bethlehem. Mary is indeed the Mother of our Redeemer.Her spiritual motherhood is fully expressed in a life totally dedicated to our Lord, her Divine Son.She was not only His mother but also His best disciple.We see Mary’s discipleship powerfully reflected in her standing at the foot of the cross, assisting her Divine Son at His dying, and in her care for our Lord’s burial.Perhaps the words which describe best the life and vocation of Mary are the last of her words to be recorded in the holy Gospels.At the Wedding feast at Cana, she said to the wine stewards who came to seek her help: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).Her help was to send those in need to Christ. Surely, we want to do whatever Christ tells us, and it is Mary who will never fail to bring us to her Son, to know His will and to do it with a pure heart, like her own Immaculate Heart.

Devotions in the home and parish

As a child, I always looked forward to May as a time to show special love to our Blessed Mother. Especially in Wisconsin, where I grew up and where the winter months are long, May is most welcome.

In my home, the May Altar was placed in a prominent place.A special table was designated and covered with a beautiful cloth. The statue of the Blessed Mother was placed on the table.A candle and vase with fresh flowers was placed near the statue.We children took care to gather the fresh flowers, lilacs and other flowers which bloomed in May for our heavenly Mother.Daily prayers venerating our Blessed Mother and asking her intercession were offered before her enthroned image.
The family rosary gave special joy and inspiration during May.With the new growth of the springtime, there was also a new spiritual growth in appreciation of the depth and power of the Church’s favorite prayer to Mary.The Memorare also became a favorite prayer.It expresses so well our filial relationship with the Mother of Christ, whom, in the moment of His greatest act of love for us, He gave to us as our mother.

Public praying of the rosary in the parish and Catholic school, processions in honor of the Mother of God and the crowning of her statue all helped me to become a more loving and obedient son of Mary.The beautiful hymns to the honor of Mary — "The Lourdes Hymn"; "Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above"; "Daily, Daily Sing to Mary";"Sing of Mary"; "O Sanctissima"; "Be Joyful, Mary"; "Ave Maria"; "Salve, Mater Misericordiae," to name a few — expressed a son’s fervent love and helped inspire a more fervent devotion to our Blessed Mother.
The special prayers, hymns and devotions are, of course, also the occasion for parents to speak with their children about the Virgin Mary and her place in our spiritual life.In Catholic school and in the Parish School of Religion, May is also a time for lessons in Marian devotion, the study of the classical Church teaching regarding our Blessed Mother and familiar conversation about her.

Cardinal Carberry’s plan

Cardinal John Joseph Carberry, the sixth bishop and fifth archbishop of St. Louis, proposed an excellent plan for the observance of Mary’s month.It is described in his book, "Mary, Queen and Mother: Marian Pastoral Reflections," published by the Daughters of St. Paul in 1979, from page 26 through page 32.Cardinal Carberry reminded us of how easy it is take a relationship for granted, even our relationship with our Blessed Mother.He urged us to make May a time to reconnect or to connect more strongly with our Mother in Heaven.He wrote:

"For the month of May we would ask you to do the following: think of Mary; pray to Mary; speak of Mary; and read about Mary.It is hardly asking too much, for everyone, young and old, if they will, (to) have the name of Mary in their minds. They can whisper it in daily prayer, they can pronounce it in conversations with their companions, and lastly they can constantly read the beautiful praises that are written to the honor and glory of Mary" (p. 27).

May devotions give the occasion to carry out the excellent program of Cardinal Carberry.

Thinking of Mary leads us to a realization of how close she is to us, how much she cares for us, how warmly she welcomes our prayers for her intercession.The wine stewards at the wedding feast of Cana, in a moment of potentially great embarrassment, immediately thought of going to Mary for help.By looking daily upon the image of our Blessed Mother and considering her deep maternal care, we will go to Mary in all things, trusting that she will lead us to Christ.Cardinal Carberry cautions us about the result of negligence in thinking daily of Mary, as we think daily of all those we most love:

"(I)f we never think of her, if we forget that she is a real person, as real as your parents, or your children, we will reach the stage when we rarely ever think of her — and the opposite is true — if we think of Mary, understand who she was and is, know how much she loves us, and intercedes for us, if we can learn what she has done for thousands of her devoted children ... if these facts are constantly in our minds ... then, we will never forget, we will always be thinking of her!" (p. 28).
Daily, we should simply repeat the name of Mary, thinking of all that she meant to our Lord and all that she means to us, then we will grow in our devotion to the Mother of God and experience her powerful help in our daily living.

When we think of Mary, we spontaneously speak to her, pray to her.Two of my favorite prayers to Mary are the Memorare and the rosary.Both prayers are simple and yet most profound.They lead us to a deeper love of our Blessed Mother and a surer trust in her never-failing intercession.Often, we think that we do not have the time to pray the rosary.As Cardinal Carberry points out, the praying of the rosary takes 10 to 15 minutes, a relatively short time to spend with someone we love so much (p. 30).As we grow in love of our Blessed Mother, we will look forward to the praying of the rosary, which draws us to her side in contemplating the great mystery of our Redemption in her Divine Son.

Our closeness to our Blessed Mother makes us want to speak with others about her.It is especially important that parents speak with their children about their relationship with Mary and the help which they have received in asking her intercession. Our witness to the place of Mary in our lives will help others to discover or grow in their relationship with Mary.In this regard, it is especially important that we be prepared to give an account of our Marian devotion to those who would question it or consider it to detract somehow from our relationship with Christ Who alone is our salvation.We should never be ashamed to acknowledge our love of Christ’s Mother, for she brought Christ into the world and He entrusted us to her and her to us, as he was dying on the cross (John 19:26-27).

Lastly, Cardinal Carberry urges us to read about Mary.There are many wonderful texts of the Church’s teaching, of our Holy Fathers and of theologians, which help us to understand more fully Mary’s irreplaceable service in Christ’s saving work.I recommend to you especially Pope John PaulII’s apostolic letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary)," published on Oct. 16, 2002, the beginning of our late Holy Father’s 25h year of service as bishop of the universal Church. It is readily available through the Daughters of St. Paul.

Three other books which I recommend are Father Benedict J. Groeschel’s meditations on the mysteries of the rosary in his book, "The Rosary: Chain of Hope," published by Ignatius Press; and Fulton J. Sheen’s "The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God," originally published in 1952 and reprinted in 1996 by Ignatius Press.Another helpful book for growing in an appreciation of all that the Mother of God has done and does for us is John Martin’s "Roses, Fountains and Gold: The Virgin Mary in History, Art and Apparition."It is also published by Ignatius Press.

Mary, Woman of the Eucharist

Our May devotions to Mary have a most special meaning in the context of our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, as our late Pope John Paul II asked us to do from October of last year to October of this year.Already, in his first address to the cardinals after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI asked "everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the Real Presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations."

Chapter Six of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church)," is titled: "At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’"In it, the Holy Father reminded us that it is Mary who draws us to Christ in the Holy Eucharist.This truth is reflected in the last of the new Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist.

Our Holy Father reminded us that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, given to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament, was first given to us in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.Just as Mary trusted that God’s promises to her would be fulfilled and so responded to her vocation of Mother of God, so, too, we trust that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled, especially through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and we respond to our vocation of bringing Christ to the world, as married persons, dedicated single persons, consecrated persons and priests.

As Pope John Paul II pointed out, Mary anticipated each day the Sacrifice of Calvary, which is ever new for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Holy Father wrote:
"In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of ‘anticipated Eucharist’ — one might say a ‘spiritual communion’ — of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in His passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 56a).

It is Mary who best teaches us what it means to have communion with our Lord, to share in His Passion in order to share also in His Resurrection.It is Mary who leads us to an ever greater wonder before the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and an ever more fruitful participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.We have seen the truth of Pope John Paul II’s teaching in his own life.He gave his life entirely to Mary (Totus Tuus), so that, with Mary, he could be totally in Christ and for Christ.

Truly, as Pope John Paul II wrote, "[i]n the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and His sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary" (no. 58a). Our growth in devotion to Mary during the month of May will be the occasion for us to grow in love of our Eucharistic Lord.


For Catholics of the continent of America, love of Mary has a most special focus, for the Mother of God has appeared on Tepeyac Hill, in today’s Mexico City, in 1531, to express her maternal love for her children of our continent and of the whole world.She appeared to St. Juan Diego, a devout Native American and to his uncle, Juan Bernardino. In a most remarkable sign of love, she left her image for us on the tilma or mantle of St. Juan Diego.Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, first bishop of Mexico, witnessed directly the miracle of the image. It was to Juan Bernardino that she revealed her special title in coming to our continent: the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe (A Handbook on Guadalupe, New Bedford, Mass.: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 1997, p. 204).

Sadly, many of our continent, especially of North America, know very little of the apparitions at Tepeyac.They are, perhaps, the most wonderful of all our Blessed Mother’s many apparitions.Pope Benedict XIV, in 1754, when he was presented with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and was told the story of her apparitions, exclaimed in the words of Psalm 147:20, "God has not dealt thus with any other nation," "Non fecit taliter omni nationi."Pope Benedict XIV made the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, a holy day of obligation with an octave of the first class for the Church in Mexico.The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her miraculous image, which can be venerated today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, are a testimony to God’s all-merciful love of us.Our Lady of Guadalupe draws us to her Son, in order that we may know God’s mercy and love in our lives.Since the time of Pope Benedict XIV, a number of Roman Pontiffs have given special honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe and commended to her intercession the good of our continent.I think especially of Pope Pius VII, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI (A Handbook on Guadalupe, pp. 174-176).

Our late Pope John Paul II showed a special love of Our Lady of Guadalupe, visiting her in Mexico City on several occasions, beginning in 1979.In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in America (On the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America)," published at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Jan. 22, 1999 (just days before his pastoral visit to St. Louis), Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to two special titles for Our Lady of Guadalupe, namely, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, and he established Dec. 12 as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all of America. He wrote:

"With the passage of time, pastors and faithful alike have grown increasingly conscious of the role of the Virgin Mary in the evangelization of America.In the prayer composed for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, Holy Mary of Guadalupe is invoked as ‘Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization.’ In view of this, I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on Dec. 12.It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (John 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life" (no. 11e).

In a special way, I urge you to observe the month of May, the month of Mary, by growing in devotion to the Mother of God under her title, Our Lady of Guadalupe.As you grow in your knowledge of the Mother of America, she will also be the Star of the New Evangelization for you, leading you to Christ, so that you may lead others and our world to Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us!

Pope Benedict XVI: Christ’s humble servant


Our Lord has blessed us with a new shepherd for the universal Church, Pope Benedict XVI.Having enjoyed the extraordinary service of Pope John Paul II, we prayed fervently for a worthy successor to St. Peter as Vicar of Christ on earth.Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger worked intimately with our late Holy Father for practically his entire pontificate.His words at the Mass of Christian Burial for Pope John Paul II and since the time of his election make clear the profound esteem which he has for the late Holy Father and his desire to continue Pope John Paul II’s work of the new evangelization.

On April 23 I offered the Holy Mass, with the participation of priests, consecrated persons and laity from throughout the archdiocese, for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI.We cannot imagine the heaviness of the burdens of his office.We want to lighten those burdens with our prayers, our affectionate love and our obedience.The Mass offered for his intentions was the best way that the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis could assist our new Holy Father at the beginning of his service as successor of St. Peter.What follows is an adaptation of the homily which I gave at the Mass.
Christ always provides for the Church

Throughout the Easter Season, we hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which testify to the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church.Hearing the accounts of the first days of the life of the Church, we marvel at how Christ is always providing for the needs of His Bride.In tonight’s First Reading, we have heard how our Risen Lord provided for the ordination of deacons to carry out the ministry of charity, in union with the bishops and priests.

We see in the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles the fulfillment of Christ’s promise made to the disciples during His last conversation with them before His Passion and Death.He urged them to put aside their fears at His return to God the Father, for the very purpose of His Passion and Death was to be the Resurrection and the Sending of the Holy Spirit.Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father to pour forth into our souls the gift of the Holy Spirit.The Risen Christ returned to the Father, so that He might always work, through us, in the world.He told the disciples:

"[W]hoever believes in Me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father (Gospel)."

Reflecting upon the life of the Church in her earliest days, we consider our own life in the Church, united, by an unbroken line of apostolic ministry, to the life of the first disciples.We recognize our great dignity.We have been called "out of darkness into (Christ’s) wonderful light" to be "living stones" which make up the spiritual house of the Church (Reading II).

Christ provides a new shepherd

Our reflection upon the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church, from her very beginning until the present, is most fitting as we gather tonight to pray for Pope Benedict XVI, our new shepherd in the universal Church.Within a few hours, God willing, our Holy Father will offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to begin his service as successor of St. Peter, vicar of Christ on earth.We see in the election of our new pope a most comforting sign of Christ’s faithful presence in the Church, providing for all her needs.

In these days, we have experienced directly how Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit, always provides a shepherd for the universal Church, as He first did through the call and consecration of St. Peter.In the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, "[t]he 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" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, no. 23a).St. Peter and his successors guard and foster the unity of our Catholic faith and practice and, thereby, guard and foster our communion with Christ who alone is our salvation.

The burdens of the Roman pontiff

We are deeply conscious of the challenges of following Christ in our time and what these mean for the shepherd of the universal Church.Our late and beloved Pope John Paul II wrote in his last testament: "The times we are living in are unspeakably difficult and disturbing.The Church’s journey has also become difficult and stressful, ... " (The testament of John Paul II: Totus tuus ego sum, L’Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English, April, 13, 2005, page 4).

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as dean of the College of Cardinals, in his homily at the Mass for the Election of the Pope on the morning of the opening of the conclave, reflected upon the same difficulty of teaching the unchanging word of Christ in a world in which "a dictatorship of relativism is being formed" (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 2).We live in a world in which the teaching of Christ, handed down faithfully in the Church, is viewed, even most sadly by some Catholics, as just one more opinion, when, in fact, it is the divinely revealed and abiding truth about God, ourselves and our world.
Considering the burdens which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted for the sake of the Church throughout the world, one recalls the words of our Risen Lord to St. Peter on the occasion of the miraculous catch of fish at the Sea of Tiberias.After our Risen Lord had served breakfast to the Apostles, he asked St. Peter three times: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (John 21:15, 16, 17).Peter, with sorrow, surely recalling how he had three times denied that he even knew our Lord during His Passion, fervently confessed his love of Christ.When, for a third time, he confessed his love of our Lord, our Lord spoke words to St. Peter, which indicated the full import of that love:

"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).

The Gospel comments that these words were intended to show the death by which St. Peter would give glory to God.Our Lord then said to St. Peter: "Follow me" (John 21:19).

Surely, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has obediently responded to our Lord’s invitation to follow Him and understands the immolation of self, which such obedience entails.As he reminded us in his homily before the beginning of the conclave:

"The mercy of Christ is not cut-rate grace, it does not presuppose that evil is something banal.Jesus bears all the weight of evil, all its destructive force, in His Body and upon His Soul (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 1).

Following Christ necessarily means carrying the cross with Him and engaging with Him in the spiritual warfare through which He overcomes sin and death in our individual lives and transforms our world into a civilization of His divine love and mercy.

Abandonment to Divine Providence

Surely, Pope Benedict XVI, at 78 years of age, may well have thought that his service of Christ would now permit him to have some relief from the burdens of pastoral office, the heavy burdens of his outstanding and yet most difficult service as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.Our Lord, however, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has called him to go where he perhaps would not wish, to serve even more fully the universal Church, now as its Supreme Pastor.In his first address to the College of Cardinals, on the day after his election, our Holy Father stated:

"Surprising every prevision I had, Divine Providence, through the will of the venerable cardinal fathers, called me to succeed this great Pope ....I undertake this special ministry, the "Petrine" ministry at the service of the universal Church, with humble abandon to the hands of the Providence of God.And it is to Christ in the first place that I renew my total and trustworthy adhesion" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, pages 1-2).

In his memoirs published in 1997, then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented on his life as a bishop, reflecting upon the image of the bear of St. Corbinian, founding bishop of Freising, the ancient see which is now the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, to which Cardinal Ratzinger was called to serve as archbishop.He relates the story to a meditation of St. Augustine on the text of verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 73 (72).

St. Corbinian’s bear: Christ’s donkey

As the story goes, St. Corbinian was on his way to Rome when a bear attacked and killed his pack animal, his donkey.St. Corbinian rebuked the bear and placed the load of the donkey upon his back to carry to Rome.The story of the bear of St. Corbinian reminded the cardinal of St. Augustine’s meditation on the verses of Psalm 73 which he translates thusly:

"A draft animal am I before you, for you, and this is precisely how I abide with you" (Psalm 73:22-23; Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, page 155).

The cardinal, like St. Augustine, had chosen the life of a scholar, but God called him to take up the burdens of the episcopal office, eventually serving the Holy Father as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.He comments on the frustrations which St. Augustine experienced in dealing with the many practical concerns of a pastor of souls, when he had in mind to carry out great intellectual and spiritual works.

The text of the psalm reminded the saint and reminded Cardinal Ratzinger that God chose to keep them close to Him by having them serve as His "draft animals," carrying out the humble tasks of the pastoral office, rather than the exalted service which they had in mind for themselves.Relating the meditation of St. Augustine to the story of St. Corbinian’s bear, Cardinal Ratzinger comments:

"Just as the draft animal is closest to the farmer, doing his work for him, so is Augustine closest to God precisely through such humble service, completely within God’s hand, completely His instrument.He could not be closer to his Lord or be more important to Him.The laden bear that took the place of St. Corbinian’s horse, or rather donkey — the bear that became his donkey against its will: Is this not an image of what I should do and of what I am?"A beast of burden have I become for you, and this is just the way for me to remain wholly yours and always abide with you" (Milestones, pages 156-157).

Tonight, we thank God for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has found his happiness in serving as Christ’s "donkey," His "draft animal," who has given his entire self to working humbly and steadfastly with Christ in the vineyard of the Father.When we see the image of the bear of St. Corbinian on his coat-of-arms, may we be reminded of how he has given and gives his life in service to Christ and His Church.

Assisting our Holy Father with his burdens

Conscious of the many and heavy burdens which our Holy Father carries, with Christ, for us, let us assist him, offering him the joy of our faithful prayers, loyal affection and unfailing obedience.Our Holy Father, in continuity with the teaching and direction of his much beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, has already given us an indication of his desires for our growth in holiness of life.In his first address to the College of Cardinals on the day after his election, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Holy Eucharist "cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the petrine service entrusted to [him]" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 2).

Reflecting upon Divine Providence, which called him to the office of St. Peter during the Year of the Eucharist, he has asked that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi "be celebrated in a particularly special way."He reminded us that the celebration of World Youth Day in Cologne in August will center on the Holy Eucharist, and that the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held this coming October, will devote itself to the theme:

"The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."He concluded with a solemn request addressed to us all:

"I ask everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations" (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 3).

As we thank God tonight for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI, let us help him shoulder his heavy burdens by deepening and strengthening our knowledge and love of the Holy Eucharist, above all by the piety with which we participate in Holy Mass, and adore and worship the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.

As we are now united sacramentally to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, let us lift up to His glorious and open Heart the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Placing our Holy Father and his intentions into the all-merciful and all-loving Heart of Jesus, we trust that no grace will be lacking to our Holy Father as he pours out his life, with Christ, as Christ’s "donkey"for our salvation and the salvation of our world.

We ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to pray with us for our Holy Father:

"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, June 29, 1968, no. 39).


I hope that the text of my homily has helped you in some way to understand the office of St. Peter and the deep trust in Divine Providence with which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the office from our Lord.He is the humble worker in the vineyard, Christ’s "draft animal" who seeks only to do God’s will.

Let us continue to assist our Holy Father by our daily prayers.I ask especially that you remember the intentions of our Holy Father when you pray the rosary.The indulgenced prayer with which I conclude my homily is also a good way to pray for our Holy Father every day, gaining a partial indulgence.

In a most special way, let us heed his call for a deeper knowledge and more arduous love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.Let us make every effort to intensify our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, so that we, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, may grow in holiness of life, building up the whole Church in unity and love.

Long live Pope Benedict XVI!

'I thirst': Our faith is missionary

By Archbishop Raymond L. Burke


One of the best memories which I have from my days in Catholic elementary school is the many activities surrounding the Church’s missions. I recall enrollment in the Holy Childhood Association and the practice of making little offerings so that children in the missions could be catechized and baptized.We called it "ransoming pagan babies," which is not politically correct language for our day, but the meaning of our activity is at the heart of our faith. Our parents and teachers taught us to love Christ with all our hearts and, therefore, it was only natural that we wanted our brothers and sisters around the world to come know and love Christ.During my years of study in Rome, from 1971-1975 and from 1980-1984, I met many brother priests from Africa, who mentioned how much the donations of the Catholic schoolchildren of America had meant to their receiving the gift of faith and baptism.

Being the youngest of my family and wanting a little brother or sister, I was always hoping that we might be able to bring one of the babies home.But my parents and Sister Lucia, OSB, my teacher in third grade, explained to me that the babies needed to remain with their parents. I also recall saving coins during Lent for the diocesan mission in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.My parents were always good to provide the little offerings, when they learned it was for the missions.

When I entered the high-school seminary, Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse, I discovered that the most important organization in the seminary was the St. Francis Xavier Mission Society.Throughout the year, seminarian volunteers ran a bookstore and laundry service, shined shoes for fellow seminarians and provided other services, all to raise funds for the missions. Every spring, the whole seminary worked for several weeks to put on a mission festival, which, thanks to the generosity of our families and friends, raised significant funds for the missions.

I am grateful for all of those early experiences which deepened within me the essentially missionary aspect of my Catholic faith.When I began teaching in the Catholic high school in La Crosse in the fall of 1977, it pleased me to discover that the Mission Club was an important part of student activities.I look forward to learning more about the missionary activities of our Catholic schools, as I get to know the archdiocese better.

Mission Sunday collection

On the weekend of Oct. 23-24, the Universal Church celebrates Mission Sunday. It is an important annual celebration to renew the missionary zeal which is integral to our Catholic faith.It also provides us a special occasion each year to renew our prayers and devotions on behalf of missionaries throughout the world and to make a sacrifice from our substance to supply for their many needs.Missionaries throughout the world depend upon our prayers and upon our material sacrifices.

In his Message for World Mission Sunday 2004, our Holy Father recalls to mind the unforgettable expression of the missionary character of our faith, that is, Christ’s words as He was dying on the Cross: "I thirst" (John 19:28). The Roman soldiers mistakenly thought that Christ was referring to physical thirst.In fact, He was expressing His thirst for our souls, the souls of all mankind.In His pierced Sacred Heart, we find the ultimate expression of His thirst for souls, His desire that all hearts find in His Sacred Heart abiding joy and peace.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta insisted that the words of Christ, "I thirst," should be placed next to the crucifix by the tabernacle and altar of every chapel of her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.Her sisters are indeed missionaries.The gift of the Holy Spirit, given to Mother Teresa and her sisters, inspires and strengthens them to bring Christ to "the poorest of the poor" throughout the world.Christ’s words, "I thirst," remind them of their share in His mission.

The Holy Eucharist and mission

This Mission Sunday, our Holy Father invites us to discover anew the missionary nature of our Catholic faith in the holy Eucharist, in which Christ, in His thirst for souls, pours out His life for the salvation of the world.The theme which our Holy Father has chosen for Mission Sunday this year, the Year of the Holy Eucharist, is "Eucharist and Mission."In his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church)," our Holy Father had already drawn our attention to the relationship of the holy Eucharist to our missionary activity.He wrote to us:

"Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church’s mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination.In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have His redemptive sacrifice, we have His resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 60b).

One with Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, we go forth from the Mass to carry out, with Christ, His mission to all the nations, to the ends of the world, to all brothers and sisters without boundary or border.The Latin words of dismissal at the conclusion of the Mass, "Ite, missa est," which we translate today with the words, "The Mass is ended, go in peace," express the essentially missionary aspect of our sacramental communion with Christ.

Our Holy Father reminds us, too, of the importance of eucharistic adoration to the missionary work of the Church.It is in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that we deepen our knowledge and love of Christ in His Real Presence. The recognition of the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament draws us to pray before the tabernacle in which He remains for us and to worship Him through eucharistic exposition, benediction and processions. Our Holy Father reminds us that the Church carries out her missionary apostolate, first of all, by loving our eucharistic Lord:

"How could the Church fulfill her vocation without cultivating a constant relationship with the Eucharist, without nourishing herself with this Food which sanctifies, without founding her missionary activity on this indispensable support?To evangelize the world there is need of apostles who are ‘experts’ in the celebration, adoration and contemplation of the Eucharist" (Pope John Paul II, Message for World Mission Sunday 2004).

May our observance of the Year of the Holy Eucharist express itself also in a new generosity of prayer and sacrifice on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the missions.

Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate

Our observance of Mission Sunday comes not only during the Year of the Holy Eucharist but also during the year in which we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.We believe, as an article of faith, that the Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Ann, in order that she might be the worthy vessel of the Incarnation, the first tabernacle in which God the Son came to dwell among us for our salvation.Mary Immaculate constantly intercedes on behalf of those whom her Son came to save, in order that His grace may reach their souls and bring them to eternal life.

Our Holy Father, in his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," strikingly reminded us that we come to know Christ through His Mother.We gaze upon the Face of Christ with the help of Mary. Mary, the first tabernacle in history, always draws us to Christ, in order that we may draw others to Christ (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Nos. 55, 57 and 62).Her last recorded words in the Holy Scriptures are spoken to the wine stewards at the Wedding of Cana, who had come to her for assistance and whom she, in turn, sent to her Son, with the words: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). Mary always sends us to Christ with her maternal, loving command: "Do whatever He tells you."Christ gave His final command to us before ascending to the right hand of the Father:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

Let us daily call upon the help of the Immaculate Virgin, that we may fulfill our missionary mandate, that, having received Christ, we may bring Christ to all other brothers and sisters.


St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who never left her cloistered convent in France, is the patron saint of the missions and of missionaries.Why?Because she devoted her prayers and sacrifices to the work of the missions.Spiritually, she was united with missionaries throughout the world by means of her prayers for them and the sacrifices which she made for them.She is a most outstanding example of how each one of us is called to be true to the Church’s missionary nature.In her correspondence with Father Maurice Belliere, a young French priest who was sent as a missionary to what is now Malawi, she wrote words which should inspire us all in our missionary prayer and activity:

"Let us work together for the salvation of souls; we have only the one day of this life to save them and thus to give the Lord proofs of our love.The tomorrow of this day will be eternity, and then Jesus will restore to you a hundredfold the very sweet and very legitimate joys that you sacrificed for Him (Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Vol. II, Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, p. 1042).

Let us sacrifice from our substance through the World Mission Sunday Collection, giving up some legitimate enjoyment for the sake of the salvation of souls.God is not outdone in generosity.He will, in return, shower upon us an abundance of His blessings.

Please be generous in your prayers for the Church’s missions.Please be generous to the World Mission Sunday Collection which will be taken up in your parish on the weekend of Oct.23-24.

'Am I not here, I who am your Mother?'


During the past week, we celebrated the Memorial of St. Juan Diego, faithful messenger of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization.The memorial of St. Juan Diego is Dec. 9.The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec. 12.This year, because the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe fell on the third Sunday of Advent, it was transferred to either Dec. 11 or Dec. 13.

The Mother of God appeared on our continent from Dec. 9-12, 1531.She appeared four times to St. Juan Diego and once to his uncle, Juan Bernardino.In an extended but real sense, she also appeared to Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, first bishop of Mexico, and his attendants, who were the first, with Juan Diego, to witness the miraculous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s tilma or mantle.The miraculous image remains on the tilma which is permanently exposed for the veneration of pilgrims at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

St. Juan Diego was given the name Cuauhtlatoatzin at birth; at baptism he received his Christian name.He had been a devout follower of his native Aztec religion, but, when the doctrine of the Catholic faith was taught to him by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries, both he and his wife, together with his uncle, received the gift of faith and were baptized.His wife’s baptismal name was Maria Lucia.She died in 1529, two years before the apparitions.From the time of her death, Juan Diego devoted himself to the care of his elderly and ailing uncle, Juan Bernardino. He transferred his home to be nearby his uncle.

Account of the apparitions

We are blessed to have a most reliable account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a document titled "Nican Mopohua," written by Antonio Valeriano in Nahuatl, the native tongue of St. Juan Diego.Antonio Valeriano, also Native American, was a good friend of St. Juan Diego. He, too, had received the gift of faith and baptism, hence, his Christian name.He became a respected scholar and political leader, serving as governor of the Native Americans of the city of Mexico for some 30 years.He was blessed to hear his friend Juan Diego recount many times the wonderful story of the apparitions.Gifted with scholarship, he carefully recorded what Juan Diego had reported so faithfully regarding the Virgin of Guadalupe.It is important to recall that, from the time of the apparitions, Juan Diego devoted the rest of his life to the work of Our Lady of Guadalupe.Once a chapel had been built, as she requested of Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, and the tilma was installed there, Juan Diego made his home near the chapel, at which he continued to be Our Lady’s faithful messenger until his death some 17 years later; he died in 1548 at the age of 74.It is said that Antonio Valeriano frequently visited with him at Our Lady’s chapel. Antonio Valeriano was also a friend of Juan Bernardino and of Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, who would have been easily able to confirm what Juan Diego had told him.

Historical context of the apparitions

The apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe were an expression of God’s providential love for His children of present-day Mexico and of all America.At the time, the European (Spanish) explorers and the Native Americans were on the brink of a conflict which would have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and would have left the two peoples in a state of lasting enmity with each other.Among some Europeans, contrary to Church teaching, there was a question about the full human dignity of the Native Americans.The open rejection of the pagan religion of the Native Americans by the Europeans was a cause of significant tension.

Also, human sacrifice had been adopted in the practice of the native Aztec religion.The people were convinced that the gods of their religion demanded human blood each day, in order to have the sun rise each morning.Thousands upon thousands were sacrificed on the altars of their temples by having their hearts wrenched from their chests, while they were still conscious. The historian Warren H. Carroll who has studied the practice thoroughly gives us some idea of its horrible dimensions:

"No one will ever know how many they sacrificed; but the law of the empire required a thousand sacrifices to the Aztec tribal god Huitzilopchtli in every town with a temple, every year; and there were 371 subject towns in the Aztec empire, though not all of them had full-scale temples.There were many other sacrifices as well.The total number was at least 50,000 a year, probably much more.The early Mexican historian Ixtilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children in Mexico was sacrificed.It is known that entire tribes, numbering in the tens of thousand, were on several occasions exterminated by sacrifice" (Warren H. Carroll, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1983, p. 12).

The practice of human sacrifice among the Aztec people at the time of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe ranks among the greatest horrors in the history of the world.

First apparition

The first apparition took place on Dec. 9, 1531.In those days in the Spanish empire, Dec. 9 was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.On the morning of Dec. 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a Native American who had converted to the Catholic faith with his late wife, Maria Lucia, was on his way to assist at Holy Mass and to receive instruction in the Catholic faith from the Franciscan friars who were outstanding in the pastoral care of the Spanish explorers and settlers, and of the Native Americans, many of whom received the gift of faith and baptism.Since the early death of his dear wife Maria Lucia, Juan Diego had been living near his much loved uncle, Juan Bernardino, whose home was some miles distant from the parish church.Juan Bernardino was elderly and ailing.

When he reached Tepeyac Hill, on his way to the parish church, Juan Diego heard singing of birds more beautiful than that of any songbird with which he was familiar.He sensed himself in another world.It seemed like the heavenly world of the hereafter, which his ancestors called "the land of the flowers and of the corn."He then heard a voice calling to him.He followed the voice to the top of Tepeyac Hill and there saw a most beautiful lady. Her clothing was radiant as the sun.She stood on a crag of stone that gave off light and seemed to be a pedestal of rare gems.The whole area of the apparition — the ground, the plants and the bushes — seemed like precious stones and polished gold.

The beautiful lady asked him where he was going.Sensing that she was of God, he told her that he was on his way to her house, to the parish church, to study further the divine mysteries with the help of the priests whom he strikingly described as "the images of Our Lord."

The lady spoke to Juan Diego in the most endearing terms and immediately identified herself and her mission.She said to him:

"Know, know for sure, my dearest and littlest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest.I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and of all the people who live united in this land and of all the other peoples of different ancestries, my lovers, those who love me, who seek me, who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints, and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful concern is trying to achieve, you must go to the residence of the bishop of Mexico and tell him that I sent you to show him how strongly I wish him to build me a temple here on the plain; you will report to him exactly all that you have seen, admired and what you have heard" (Nican Mopohua, nn. 26-33).

The apparition is remarkable.Our Lady immediately identified herself and immediately made known her desire that a chapel be built in which she might draw the faithful to the all-merciful love of God for them.Our Lady was with child, the Christ Child in her womb. It is fitting that she should so appear, for the mercy and love of God are most fully expressed in the Incarnation, in the taking of our human nature by God the Son in her sinless womb.

Juan Diego went immediately to the bishop to carry out the Virgin’s will.The bishop heard him respectfully and treated him in a most kind manner.But, as is altogether understandable, he questioned the nature of what Juan Diego reported to him.In any case, the bishop invited him back to visit with him again and, in the meantime, promised to give thought and study to the matter.

Second and third apparitions

The second apparition also took place on Dec. 9, as Juan Diego was returning from his failed visit with the bishop.Speaking to the Mother of God and describing himself as a lowly man of the fields, he asked her to send a nobleman, someone of importance, to carry out her mission, someone to whom the bishop would listen.Our Lady responded by making it clear that Juan Diego was her chosen messenger and that, although she had many messengers and helpers, she was asking him personally to carry out her wishes.Juan Diego, humble and obedient, agreed to return to the bishop on the following day.

On Dec. 10, Juan Diego went the second time to the bishop’s residence.This time, he had a bit more difficulty in obtaining an audience with the bishop but eventually succeeded.The bishop asked him many questions and, then, requested a sign of the veracity of what he was claiming.On his way home from the bishop’s residence, Juan Diego met the Virgin of Guadalupe for the third time.He informed her of the bishop’s request of a sign.She, in turn, asked him to return the next day, when she would provide for him the sign he was requesting.

Fourth and fifth apparitions

Juan Diego did not return to the place of the apparitions on Dec. 11, as the Mother of God had instructed.His uncle had taken very ill and appeared to be dying.Juan Diego cared for him during the day and into the night.Early on the morning of Dec. 12, his uncle asked him to bring the priest, in order that he might hear his confession.Following the path to the parish church, Juan Diego decided to go around Tepeyac Hill on the side opposite to his customary way, hoping to avoid the Virgin.Instead, she came down from the hill to ask him what he was doing.When he told her, she replied in most beautiful and loving words, words which we treasure yet today:

"Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing.Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed.Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is painful or hurtful.Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?Are you not under my shadow and protection?Am I not the source of your joy?Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?Do you need anything more?Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.Do not let your uncle’s illness worry you, because he will not die now. You may be certain that he is already well" (Nican Mopohua, nn. 118-120).

With Our Lady’s words, Juan Diego put his trust in God’s merciful love and was ready to carry out the mission which the Mother of God had given him on the previous days.

Our Lady sent him to the top of Tepeyac Hill to gather beautiful flowers, the sign which the bishop requested.Notwithstanding the cold winter season and the rockiness of the hill, Juan Diego found there the most wonderful flowers, including Castillian roses which did not grow in Mexico at the time.He gathered them and brought them in his tilma to Our Lady at the bottom of the hill.She carefully arranged the flowers in his tilma and instructed him to show them only to the bishop, for they were the sign which the bishop had requested.She said to Juan Diego: "And you, who are my messenger, in you I place my absolute trust" (Nican Mopohua, n. 139).Can you imagine hearing these words from the Mother of God!Who could ever doubt the dignity of Juan Diego as a Native American, after the Mother of God had placed her complete trust in him?

The fifth apparition took place at the same time as the fourth apparition.While Our Lady was appearing to Juan Diego to calm his fears and to provide him with the sign for the bishop, she was also appearing to Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino.After Juan Diego had taken the flowers to the bishop, had witnessed the miracle of the tilma, and had shown the bishop where Our Lady wished the chapel to be built, he, together with some others, went to visit his uncle to see how he was doing.When they arrived at Juan Bernardino’s home in Tolpetlac, he recounted to them the vision of the Blessed Mother; how she had healed him; and how she had revealed to him her name: the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe. Juan Diego took Juan Bernardino to visit Bishop Zumrraga who insisted that Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino stay with him for some days.Juan Bernardino recounted for the Bishop all that the Mother of God had said and done in his presence.

‘Non fecit taliter omni nationi’

Juan Diego hurried to the bishop’s residence, holding the treasured sign in his tilma.Upon arriving at the residence, he was treated roughly by the bishop’s servants who were impatient with his visits. They tried, without success, to have him show them what he was holding.Finally, he was received by the bishop.

Juan Diego told the bishop, in detail, the story of the fourth apparition.He, then, opened the tilma.The most beautiful and fragrant flowers fell at the bishop’s feet, a powerful sign in itself.But the eyes of all were quickly drawn to a far more powerful sign, a sign which remains for us today.The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego.The bishop and his staff fell to their knees in veneration.They wept that they had not earlier heeded the Blessed Mother’s request.They also wept for joy at such a wonderful sign of God’s love for them.

On the following day, Bishop Zumrraga had Juan Diego take him to the place in which Our Lady desired the chapel to be built. In a short time, the bishop had the chapel built and he personally enthroned the miraculous image there.At her chapel, true to her word, the Mother of God has brought her children to know God’s merciful love in her Divine Son.From that time forward, a series of chapels have been built in the same place to accommodate the always greater number of pilgrims.What remains constant is the enthroned tilma of Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, through which God has granted so many favors to pilgrims.

Recalling the historical context, I note, in particular, two outstanding ways in which the Virgin of Guadalupe has shown the mercy and love of God to the peoples of our continent.In less than 10 years from her apparitions, some nine million Native Americans received the gift of faith and baptism.What is more, the imminent and bloody conflict between the Europeans and Native Americans never took place.Instead, they formed one new people and culture, mestiza, inspired by their common mother, the Mother of God. There was no more question about the equal dignity of Native American brothers and sisters. Juan Diego, a devout Native American, was the chosen messenger of the Mother of God and Mother of America.

In 1754, Father Juan L-pez, SJ, was sent to Rome to seek further recognition of the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Pope Benedict XIV.When Father Lopez recounted the story of the coming of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the American continent and presented the Holy Father with a reproduction of the miraculous image, the Holy Father fell to his knees, exclaiming, in the words of Psalm 147, "Non fecit taliter omni nationi (He has not dealt thus with any other nation)." Indeed, our continent has been singularly blessed by God through the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Meditation upon the apparitions and the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe helps us very much in our observance of these last days of Advent and our celebration of the coming of Our Lord at Bethlehem.The Mother of God brings the Christ Child, conceived in her sinless womb at the Annunciation, into the world.He is the mercy and love of God in human flesh.He is the One who will suffer, die and rise from the dead in our human nature, so that we may enjoy forever freedom from sin and its most evil fruit, everlasting death.

At the same time, she confirms us in our mission as messengers of God’s merciful love in the world.We are horrified at the thought that the Spanish explorers and settlers could have considered their Native American brothers and sisters to be of less than full human dignity. We are even more horrified at the cruel practice of human sacrifice. Yet, how often we do not respect the full human dignity of our brothers and sisters who are different from us or who are in trouble. And, why are we not more horrified at the cruel practice of the abortion of some 40 million infants in the womb since Jan. 22, 1973.May the Virgin of Guadalupe inspire in us new enthusiasm and new energy to be her messengers, to bring the mercy and love of God to every brother and sister, without exclusion, without boundary.May she lead us to Christ during these final days of Advent and at Christmas, so that we in turn may become ever more like Christ.

As bishop of La Crosse, I was so convinced of the importance of the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all Americans that, with the help of a wonderful group of the faithful — priests, consecrated persons and laity — I began to build a shrine in her honor, through which she could show God’s mercy and love to us.The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at La Crosse continues to be built, and I am blessed to continue giving leadership to this holy work.In the spring of 2005, I hope to lead a pilgrimage from St. Louis to the shrine at La Crosse.When the details of the pilgrimage are available, you will be informed through the St. Louis Review.In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, of her shrine at Mexico City, and her shrine at La Crosse, you may request information from me or visit the website of the shrines: (Mexico City) and (LaCrosse).You may also wish to visit the website of the Queen of Americas Guild, an association of the faithful dedicated to the work of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

When Bishop Juan de Zumrraga enthroned the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her first chapel, he offered the following prayer.Let us make it our own.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose of Heaven, make intercession for the Church of God!

Protect the Sovereign Pontiff, and have pity on all who call to you in grief and need.Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, win from your Son the grace that we keep faith and hope amid life’s bitterness and sorrow.

Make love burn brightly in our hearts all days until you bring us safely to the vision of your most holy Son, Our God and Savior. Amen.

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