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.

'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.

Catechists: instruments of God's joy and peace


On Sept. 19, we joined Catholics throughout our nation to celebrate Catechetical Sunday.Catechetical Sunday is a privileged time to reflect upon the fundamental apostolate of teaching the faith in the Church, the apostolate of the Church upon which all her other apostolates depend.It is also our annual time to commission new catechists and to express gratitude for the service of all catechists, especially by praying for them during the Mass.

As diocesan bishop, my first responsibility is to teach the faith.Therefore, I am closely united to all who, with me and in communion with me, teach the Catholic faith in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.To put it plainly, I depend upon our catechists to teach the faith with integrity and, therefore, I have the responsibility to provide for catechists the ongoing education and formation which will equip them to hand on the deposit of faith to those whom they catechize.

Catechetical Sunday is appropriately celebrated in each parish, but I, as archbishop, thank God, in a special way, on Catechetical Sunday for the fidelity and generosity of catechists throughout the archdiocese.Also, each day, one of the first prayers I offer is a prayer for the catechists of the archdiocese, because of the essential service which they provide for the soundness of the life of the Church.

Instruments of God’s joy and peace

We live in a time marked strongly by international strife and domestic violence.Many in our time also suffer personal unrest, that is, the lack of inner joy and peace in their personal lives.We witness shocking manifestations of the absence of joy and peace in the high incidence of domestic violence and in phenomena like "road rage."The absence of joy and peace in our lives is reflected in the high incidence of failure in relationships, especially permanent relationships like marriage, and of addictive behavior, by which persons repeatedly seek internal joy and peace where they cannot be found and thus gradually destroy themselves and harm others.Clearly, our children and young people are profoundly affected by the prevailing unrest and violence in our society.

Joy and peace are the fruits of justice, of right relationships with God, with others and with our world.They are the fruits of righteousness.Only when we have disciplined ourselves to honor the truth about our relationship with God, with one another and with the rest of creation, do we find abiding joy and peace in our lives.When we live a lie in our relationship with God or with each other or with some earthly creature, then we experience profound unhappiness and unrest and are the source of unhappiness and unrest in the lives of others.

If we are to honor the truth about ourselves, about God, about others and about our world, we must first know the truth.And how do we know the truth?From the Word of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — Who is the source of all being.And how do we know God’s Word?From His heralds, those whom He gives the grace to announce and teach His Word to others.
Parents are the first heralds of God’s truth to us and form us in the discipline which leads to inner joy and peace with others.The parish priest and catechists work together with parents in handing on the truth of the faith to our children and young people. Catechists, heralds of God’s Word, are, therefore, appropriately called instruments of God’s joy and peace. The service of catechists has everything to do with the way in which those who are catechized live before God, with others and in the world. Those who have not been taught the truth will never know lasting joy and peace in their lives.The fundamental importance of catechesis is, therefore, clear to us all.

Catechists work with parents in leading their children into all truth. Helping students to know and reflect upon the Word of God, faithfully transmitted to us in the Church’s teaching, is leading them to honor the truth in their thoughts and words and actions, and, therefore, to find abiding joy and peace in their lives, and to bring joy and peace to others.

Some months ago, I met a young man in his early 20s who is suffering from a serious and potentially fatal illness which, so far, the doctors have not been able to arrest. Even in my short time here, I have gotten to know his parents a bit. I met him at Mount Grace Chapel of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, the "Pink Sisters," during the novena in preparation for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.His father had told me about the great serenity of his son in his illness and his son’s concern that too much attention is given to him, when there are others who are suffering from more serious illnesses. In my brief conversation with the young man, I witnessed the fruit of a sound catechesis at home and in the parish.The young man is indeed deeply joyful and at peace, even as he bears a heavy burden of physical suffering.His parents, his parish priest and catechists could not have given him any more important gift than teaching him the truth of the faith, leading him to Christ Who is our lasting joy and peace.

Catechesis: foundation of lasting joy and peace

The situation of international conflict, of pervasive domestic violence and of personal unrest among so many leads us to reflect upon the manner and effectiveness with which we have handed on and are handing on the truth of the faith to the coming generations. Certainly, the universal Church has had a deep concern about catechesis because of its fundamental importance to the life of faith and, therefore, the salvation of the world.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, gave us the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" on Oct. 11, 1992, in order that we might have an authentic point of reference regarding the doctrine of the faith.On Aug. 15, 1997, he gave us the "General Directory for Catechesis" to help us understand more fully the nature and importance of catechesis, and the proper method for carrying out the apostolate of catechesis.In the time since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, two important apostolic exhortations have been published, which underline the importance which the Universal Church gives to catechesis.On Dec. 8, 1975, Pope Paul VI published his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on "Evangelization in the Modern World" (Evangelii nuntiandi) and on Oct. 16, 1979, just one year after he had assumed the office of successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II published his apostolic exhortation on "Catechesis in Our Time" (Catechesi tradendae).Both these papal documents remain as current today as when they were first published.A thorough study of these two documents is required in order to understand properly the critical service of catechesis in fostering justice and peace in the world. If you are interested in studying these documents and do not have ready access to them, please let me know.I will be happy to provide you a copy of them.

The pontificate of Pope John Paul II has been marked by an extraordinary richness in presenting the doctrine of the faith and in calling us to live the faith with integrity.Our Holy Father has steadfastly addressed the forces which have impoverished greatly the quality of our catechesis and left the catechized in a weakened position before the secularist challenge of our culture.Those forces are, in the words of the "General Directory for Catechesis," "crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis" (No. 2).With the help of the comprehensive teaching of Pope John Paul II, we can study in ever greater depth the truth of our faith and overcome the challenges to sound catechesis in our time.

The textbook of our life

Ultimately, the catechist teaches others the way of life which he or she lives.The catechist teaches Christ, in whom he or she lives.Those who are catechized look first to the life of the catechist to discover the joy and peace which are the fruits of teaching the truth and living the truth with a right conscience.Through catechesis, we hand on to others what we have first received, life in Christ. We cannot hand on to others the faith unless we first believe and live what we believe.To the degree that the faith of the catechist has integrity, to that degree will his or her catechesis be effective.
For that reason, the spiritual formation of the catechist is as important as is the doctrinal formation.The catechist wants above all to communicate Christ to others.Therefore, the catechist needs to know Christ intimately, especially through daily prayer, frequent Mass — daily, if possible — and the regular confession of sins and reception of God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.Only through a disciplined spiritual life will the catechist come to know Christ deeply and be able to bring Christ to others.Otherwise, the danger is that the catechist will be teaching himself or herself, his or her ideas, rather than teaching Christ and His Word.

Doctrinal formation goes hand-in-hand with spiritual formation.In fact, the more one grows in the spiritual life, the more one desires to study the truth, the deposit of faith, which Christ teaches us in the Church.Proper doctrinal formation requires regular study of the faith, through the help of sound teachers and texts. The more deeply the catechist understands the faith, the more fully he or she will be able to live the faith and to hand on the faith and its practice to others.

Marian Catechist Apostolate

The late Jesuit Father John A. Hardon, gifted theologian and master catechist, established the Marian Catechist Apostolate in order to help catechists address the unusually great challenges which they face in our time.Rightly, Father Hardon saw the service of catechists as critical to the future of the Church. In order to prepare catechists to carry out their critical mission, he provided, through the Marian Catechist Apostolate, an appropriate spiritual and doctrinal formation.
The spiritual formation leads to a discipline of daily spiritual exercises centered on participation in the Holy Eucharist, and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.Through participation in the Mass and worship of the Blessed Sacrament, the catechist comes to know Christ in the most perfect way possible to us on earth, so that he or she can bring Christ to others by the example of daily living, first of all, and, then, by teaching. The Holy Eucharist fortifies the catechist to meet the serious challenges to teaching the faith in a totally secularized culture, a society which has grown indifferent and even hostile to God and His truth.Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads one to an ever deeper love of our Lord Jesus, the Son of God and her Son.As she did for the wine stewards at the wedding feast at Cana, so she unfailingly does for catechists.She sends us to Christ with the instruction: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). These words of Mary are the motto of the Marian Catechist Apostolate. If you are interested in more information about the Marian Catechist Apostolate, please let me know.


There is nothing that we want more for our world and for all of our brothers and sisters than the lasting joy and peace that Christ alone gives.Joy and peace are the fruits of righteousness, of knowing the truth and putting it into practice.Therefore, our desire of joy and peace must lead us to take up with new enthusiasm and energy the apostolate of catechesis. It must lead us to seek for ourselves the spiritual and doctrinal formation which will make us effective catechists, teachers of the faith and, therefore, instruments of God’s joy and peace.

My heartfelt thanks to all catechists in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and my promise to continue to remember you daily in my prayers!

Serving others through the Annual Catholic Appeal


During the Easter Season, the Church directs our attention to the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, which recount the story of the first days and weeks of her life.It is a wonderful story of the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing all to Christ in the Church and building up the Church in unity and love, so that she, in turn, might bring Christ to the world.On this coming weekend, we will hear the account of the ordination of the first deacons to carry out the ministry of Christ the Servant in the Church.We see in the ordination of the deacons, the Holy Spirit continuing Christ’s works, as our Lord promised in His final conversation with the Apostles before His Passion and Death (John 14:12). The reading from the Acts of the Apostles concludes by telling us that the "word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly..." (Acts 6:7).

This coming weekend, we also begin the 2005 Annual Catholic Appeal — Serving Others.Through the Annual Catholic Appeal, the entire archdiocese joins in solidarity to carry out Christ the Servant’s works of charity.The Annual Catholic Appeal began in 1949, when Cardinal Joseph Ritter inaugurated what he called the Easter Campaign, asking all of the faithful in the archdiocese to help him in meeting the ever greater pastoral needs of the flock in his care.In 1954, he changed the name to the Expansion Fund, reflecting the need of the help of all to build churches, Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions for a rapidly expanding Catholic population.In 1972, Cardinal John Carberry changed the name to the Archdiocesan Development Appeal to express the support given by all to the archdiocese in developing her mission on behalf of those in most need.On Oct. 29, 2004, I changed the name to Annual Catholic Appeal to reflect the nature of the appeal: the yearly call issued to all Catholics and other persons of good will in the archdiocese to come to the help of all in the Church.The motto of the Annual Catholic Appeal, "Serving Others," identifies more accurately the work and places the emphasis on Christ serving others through us.The Annual Catholic Appeal is carried out in obedience to Christ Who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).With the new name, we strive to carry out the work of Christ with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first disciples who placed themselves and their goods at the service of one another, especially those in need.

Serving others

Recently, I wrote to you, asking for your pledge to the Annual Catholic Appeal.In my letter, I recounted the story of Melissa, a student at one of our archdiocesan Catholic high schools.Among all of the activities which typically fill the life of our teenage brothers and sisters, Melissa was blessed to take part in an annual retreat offered at her high school.Through the retreat, Melissa was given a new enthusiasm for her faith. Now, her busy life also includes regular visits to the elderly at a nearby nursing care center.Participating in the spiritual retreat, Melissa came to understand more deeply the gift of Christ’s life within her.Now, she desires to share that gift more generously with others.

Through the Annual Catholic Appeal, all the faithful of the archdiocese are called to recognize the gift of Christ’s life within them and to share that gift with others, especially those who long for a sign of God’s merciful love in their lives.Through your generous support of the Annual Catholic Appeal, Melissa has received a strengthening of her faith, leading her to show Christlike love to the elderly.Countless others could tell you of how the work of the Annual Catholic Appeal has brought God’s merciful love to them and has inspired them to share God’s merciful love with others.

This year, the goal of the appeal is $11.75 million.With the letter which I wrote to you about the appeal, I enclosed a brochure listing all of the apostolates and programs supported by the appeal. All sacrificial gifts collected through the Annual Catholic Appeal are designated, that is, they go directly to support the apostolates and programs listed in the brochure.

Serving parishes

Your sacrificial gift to the appeal serves our parishes directly.The Parish School Assistance Fund helps to ensure vital Catholic schools for the children and young people in the families of our parishes.Scholarship programs assist families seeking a Catholic education for their children.The Emergency Assistance Fund helps parishes meet unforeseen expenses.

The work of the appeal sustains many archdiocesan apostolates and programs which serve the faithful of the archdiocese by providing resources and guidance for couples preparing for marriage and for those who are experiencing challenges because of extraordinary stress or special needs.The work of the Pro-Life Office, the Office for Natural Family Planning and the St. Charles Lwanga Center, all of which are supported by your sacrificial gifts to the appeal, reaches every neighborhood in the archdiocese.

Through the Annual Catholic Appeal, your parish priests and deacons have received the education and spiritual formation which has prepared them to serve you well.The future priests of the archdiocese, our seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, are supported by the appeal.Our permanent deacons are prepared for ordination through funding from the appeal.

The appeal funds the ongoing formation of the priests of the archdiocese.At the same time, through the appeal, our retired priests receive the assistance and care which they require.Our retired priests have lovingly dedicated their entire life to our service in the archdiocese.In return, we want to do everything possible to care lovingly for them during their senior years, especially when they are experiencing health difficulties and other forms of diminishment.

Serving youth

Through the appeal, you serve our youth who, as our late and beloved Pope John Paul II frequently reminded us, are the hope of the future of the Church and society.All archdiocesan, regional and parish high schools receive direct financial grants.Through the Annual Catholic Appeal, the Office of Catholic Education provides support and resources for our Catholic schools and parish schools of religion.

Youth retreats, the university apostolate carried out at our Newman Centers and the apostolate of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are all supported by the appeal.In all of these ways, you serve our children and young people, so that they may grow into strong members of the Church and good citizens of our nation.

Serving those in need

During the weeks of the Annual Catholic Appeal, thousands of faithful in the archdiocese will participate.Their sacrificial gifts and pledges of gifts will bring apostolic and social services to so many in need.Through Catholic Charities, Immigrant and Refugee Support, Birthright Counseling, Catholic Legal Services and scores of food pantries, all of the faithful of the archdiocese will lend a hand to those in most need in our midst.

In countless other ways, the appeal supports and provides help to those who serve our brothers and sisters who are in need.The work of the appeal is the work of Christ who identifies Himself with those who are considered the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40).

Challenges of our time

The archdiocese faces many challenges in carrying out the new evangelization in our society which has become totally secularized.It is not my desire to be involved in controversy, but I also know that, in Christ, I am bound to be a sign of contradiction in the world.In a world which has grown forgetful of God, I am bound to find myself involved in controversy, if I am faithful in my witness to Christ.I am certain that you have the same experience when you give an account of your Catholic faith to others and witness to the Church’s teaching by your actions.As archbishop, it is my responsibility to lead and to provide help to all in giving witness, through my service as teacher, priest and shepherd of the whole archdiocese.It is a most weighty responsibility which I would never be able to fulfill without the unfailing help of the Holy Spirit.I am constantly calling upon the faithful of the archdiocese to pray for me that I may be a wise and good shepherd.It is a sincere and urgent plea.

I know that the controversies in which I have been involved during the first year of my service in the archdiocese, especially because of the manner in which they have been presented by the media, have led some to disagree with me.I regret the harm that misunderstandings and misinformation have caused in the archdiocese.

Also, I feel keenly the suffering of the faithful who are undergoing profound changes in their parish life as a result of the necessary pastoral planning which has been carried out in the Northeast County and South City deaneries.I hope that, through better communication, my service as archbishop will reach more effectively all of the faithful in the archdiocese, drawing us all together in unity and love, so that we, in turn, will carry out ever more effectively the work of the new evangelization.

The Annual Catholic Appeal is a call to us all to come together, by putting aside our disagreements and hurts, so that the merciful love of God can reach all of our brothers and sisters in any need.Our hearts are poor and sinful but, by God’s grace, Christ opens His Heart, full of God’s merciful love, to us.Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, invites us to place our poor hearts in His Sacred Heart, all rich in divine love, and to draw from His Heart abundant love to bring to our neighbors in need and in trouble. Let our hearts be united, in the Heart of Jesus, in carrying out the Annual Catholic Appeal on behalf of all our brothers and sisters.

Conclusion: all serving all

The Annual Catholic Appeal is our way of reaching out to the wider community to share our spiritual gifts and material goods. The history of the generosity of the faithful in the archdiocese to the Annual Catholic Appeal is rightly a source of pride.Since my arrival as your archbishop in January 2004, I have been deeply impressed by your generosity.I ask you to continue in the Christlike tradition of generosity of all on behalf of all.

In a particular way, I ask young adult Catholics and young families with children in our schools and parish schools of religion to participate strongly in the appeal.So many aspects of the appeal benefit children and young people. Fittingly, more than 25 percent of the sacrificial gifts collected through the appeal serve our youth directly.Another 30 percent benefits our parishes directly, and supports programs and apostolates which provide care, material and spiritual, for all the faithful in the archdiocese.

As you consider your gift to the 2005 Annual Catholic Appeal, please remember that the need is great.A part of your pledge will return to your parish, our children and your neighbors, as I have briefly described above.Please consider in prayer a sacrificial gift to the appeal this year.By your gift, you will join all in the archdiocese in solidarity with all in the archdiocese.With Christ, you will go out to meet your brothers and sisters, not to be served but to serve.

Before closing, I express my heartfelt thanks to all who make the Annual Catholic Appeal possible.First of all, I thank our deans and parish priests who lead the appeal by their example and the call they give to all the faithful to participate.With the priests of the archdiocese, I thank the members of the Annual Catholic Appeal Council and the chair, Mark Guyol, for the irreplaceable counsel and direct service which they give to the work of the appeal.I also thank the deanery chairpersons, lay deanery vice-chairpersons, the parish chairpersons and all who volunteer at every level by inviting others to participate in the mission of the Church through the Annual Catholic Appeal.

I thank you, in advance, for the sacrifice which you will make through the Annual Catholic Appeal.May God bless you and abundantly reward you for serving others in Christ.

The apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist


My fourth reflection upon Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church," centers on the third chapter of the encyclical letter, "The Apostolicity of the Eucharist and of the Church."In chapter two, Pope John Paul II presented the Holy Eucharist as the source of the strength and the growth of the Church.The relationship between the Church and the Holy Eucharist is, in fact, so intimate that the marks of the Church — one, holy, catholic and apostolic — also describe the Holy Eucharist. In chapter three, our late Holy Father devotes his attention to the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist, because of its particular importance to our understanding the Holy Eucharist in our time (no. 26).

Apostolic in three senses

Pope John Paul II describes three meanings of the apostolic character or apostolicity of the Church, which are all related to one another.First of all, it means that the Church "was and remains built" upon the foundation of the Apostles.The Holy Eucharist was entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has come to us through the unbroken succession of the apostolic ministry, from the priestly consecration of the Apostles at the Last Supper to the consecration of the successors to the Apostles today during the celebration of the Holy Mass (no. 27a).

Secondly, apostolicity means that the Church hands on the "deposit of faith," received from the Apostles.In other words, the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist "in conformity with the faith of the Apostles."Pope John Paul II points out that the teaching authority of the Church has necessarily defined "more precisely" the doctrine on the Holy Eucharist, in order to remain true to the faith of the Apostles.The fuller understanding of the truth of the faith regarding the Holy Eucharist responds, in a particular way, to errors that have crept into the life of the Church from time to time. The Pope reminds us that the truth of the faith does not and cannot change, but the Church is required to develop her understanding and presentation of the truth: "This faith remains unchanged, and it is essential for the Church that it remain unchanged" (no. 27b).

Thirdly, the Church is apostolic because the bishops, the successors to the Apostles, teach, sanctify and guide the Church.They carry out the apostolic ministry in communion with the Roman Pontiff, Successor to St. Peter, Head of the Apostles, and with the assistance of priests who share in their apostolic ministry.

The existence of the Church depends upon the unbroken succession of the apostolic ministry. The Holy Eucharist depends upon the apostolic ministry of the Apostles and their successors, for it is only the ordained priest, acting in the person of Christ, who can offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice on behalf of all the faithful.In truth, it is Christ who offers the sacrifice, by virtue of the grace of priestly ordination.The third sense of the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist helps us to understand the reason why only the priest recites the Eucharistic Prayer, "while the people participate in faith and in silence" (no. 28b).

In the person of Christ

The ordained priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice in virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, by which he is configured to Christ, Shepherd and Head of God’s flock.The ordained priest does not take the place of Christ in the offering of the Holy Eucharist, but Christ acts in him. In other words, the Holy Eucharist remains always the action of Christ.The Holy Eucharist can be offered "in the person of Christ" only in virtue of the sacramental grace of Holy Orders.For that reason, the manner of the priest, in the offering of the Mass, should always point to the person of Christ and not to the person of the priest (no. 29a).

The congregation gathered for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist requires the ministry of the priest, who is a gift from Christ and not a functionary of their choosing and making.The priestly service is necessary, so that the celebration of the Mass is one with the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Last Supper or First Eucharist, for Christ acts in the priest.The congregation by itself, that is without the presence and action of the priest, is incapable of renewing the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 29a-b).

The most important responsibility of a bishop, therefore, is to ordain priests, so that they may offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice for God’s holy people.The ordination of a priest by a successor of the Apostles means that the ordained priest is a gift received from Christ Himself (no. 29b).

Ecumenical reflections

The relationship of the ordained priesthood to the Eucharistic Sacrifice points to a significant area of division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecclesial Communities which have sprung up in Europe and beyond, beginning with the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminded us that, because the Ecclesial Communities do not have the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they have not preserved the Sacrifice of the Mass in its integrity (no. 30a).

Because of the significant difference of belief regarding the Holy Eucharist among members of the Ecclesial Communities, Catholics are not permitted to receive the communion which they give.Otherwise, a serious question would be raised about the Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist, causing confusion about a central doctrine of the faith. For the same reason, it is never permissible to substitute participation in an ecumenical prayer service or in the liturgical services of an Ecclesial Community for participation in Sunday Mass. While participation in ecumenical services can help lead us to a fuller unity through prayer together, it cannot replace, in any way, participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 30b).

Pope John Paul II points out that the restriction of the power to consecrate the Holy Eucharist to bishops and priests alone "does not represent any belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for, in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church, this gift redounds to the benefit of all" (no. 30c).

Center of the priestly ministry

The Holy Eucharist is the heart and the highest expression of the life of the Church. It is, therefore, also "the center and summit of priestly ministry" (no. 31a). The Holy Eucharist, in fact, is the reason for the existence of the priestly vocation and mission which Christ instituted at the Last Supper.

Pope John Paul II sensitively observes that the volume and variety of priestly activities and the fast pace of life in society, in general, could easily cause priests to suffer a loss of focus in their lives.The pastoral charity, which is expressed in every truly pastoral act of the priest, comes chiefly from the Holy Eucharist.For that reason, the priest necessarily seeks in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in eucharistic worship outside of the Mass the direction and strength for all of his pastoral activity.In his last Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, given from his room at Gemelli Hospital in Rome on March 13 of this year, Pope John Paul II urged priests to "shape" their priestly ministry according to the Eucharistic Sacrifice and, specifically, to make the words of consecration their "formula of life" (Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005," no. 1c).

The heart of the priestly ministry in the Eucharistic Sacrifice also explains the Church’s discipline which requires that a priest offer Mass daily, even if he is without a visible congregation, for the Mass is always "an act of Christ and the Church" (no. 31b).As one of my professors of canon law frequently observed, a priest never offers the Mass alone, for the whole company of heaven assists at every offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The priest who centers his entire priestly life and ministry on the Holy Eucharist will overcome the tendency to lose his focus because of the many demands of his pastoral office. He will not become overwhelmed by the demands of his priestly ministry, for he will be united with Christ in bringing pastoral charity to God’s flock.

Center of seminary formation

Given all of the above, it is clear that the Holy Eucharist must be at the center of the formation of future priests.First of all, the manner in which a priest celebrates the Mass and brings the Holy Eucharist to the faithful outside of Mass will inspire very much those whom God is calling to the ordained priesthood. Personally, I was most deeply inspired as a boy of 8 years of age by the manner in which the parish priest came to visit my father when he was dying at home, hearing his confession and giving Holy Communion to him.

The manner of participation of all of the faithful will also contribute very much in assisting a young man to recognize the call to the priesthood and to respond wholeheartedly.Those called to the priesthood will discover God’s call before the Blessed Sacrament, through frequent and attentive participation in the Holy Mass and through eucharistic devotion.

Absence of a priest

In the context of the place of the Holy Eucharist in the life of the Catholic community and the necessity of the eucharistic ministry of the ordained priest, the Holy Father reflects upon the great distress caused to the Church by situations in which a congregation of the faithful is without a priest.For one thing, it is very difficult for those called to the priesthood to recognize God’s call without the witness of the service of the priest, especially his offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (no. 32a).

The Holy Father refers to the various temporary solutions to the situation of a congregation without a priest. In such circumstances, members of the laity and consecrated persons, who have been properly prepared, drawing upon the common grace of Baptism, lead the faithful in prayer on Sunday and may distribute Holy Communion with hosts consecrated at an earlier celebration of the Holy Mass. It is essential to point out to the congregation that the situation is defective and temporary, and to urge the congregation to pray and sacrifice, so that those whom God is calling to the ordained priesthood will respond with a generous and undivided heart. The serious deficiency of the situation should inspire everyone to develop and employ all of the resources needed for an effective apostolate of priestly vocations (no. 32b).

Finally, Pope John Paul II points out that the laity or consecrated persons who share in the pastoral care of the parish are obliged to do all that they can to foster the love of the Holy Eucharist among the faithful and their desire to participate in the Mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest.In this way, as our late Holy Father observed, the congregation will never miss the opportunity to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered by Christ through the ministry of His priest (no. 33).


Continuing reflection upon the Holy Eucharist leads us to an ever deeper appreciation of the apostolic character of our life in the Church and to safeguard the integrity of eucharistic faith and practice which have been handed down to us from the Apostles. In our relationship with members of Ecclesial Communities, we must be attentive to give a clear and strong witness to the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s greatest gift to us in the Church. Our attentiveness in witness to the truth about the Holy Eucharist will be the sign of our respect and, indeed, our affection for our brothers and sisters of the Ecclesial Communities.

Our deepening understanding of the apostolic character of the Holy Eucharist naturally fosters a deeper love of the ordained priesthood.It helps us, in our relationships with priests, to honor the source and the center of their pastoral charity in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.At the same time, it inspires us to carry out faithfully our responsibility for the apostolate of priestly vocations.

The evil of so-called euthanasia


On March 31, Terri Schindler Schiavo died from the lack of nutrition and hydration.For her parents, her brother and her sister, Terri’s death was particularly sorrowful, for they were constrained by the courts of our nation to see their daughter and sister die for lack of the food and water which they so much desired to provide for her in their loving care.

The day of Terri Schiavo’s death was most sad for our whole nation.The United States of America, with its great abundance of material goods, would not provide basic food and water to a citizen whose life was heavily burdened but, rather, let her die of hunger and thirst because the "quality" of her life was judged not to merit the protection of the law.Many, especially our fellow citizens whose lives are similarly burdened, have understandably asked where the deadly failure of respect for the dignity of the human life of citizens who are burdened with advanced years, serious illness or special needs will end. All of us have cause to fear for the future of a nation in which a class or group of citizens is set aside and denied the protection of the law, especially in what regards the fundamental right to human life.

The many discussions, both in private conversations and in the media, about the denial of nutrition and hydration to Terri Schiavo raise serious questions about our understanding of the respect for human life, the meaning of human suffering and the care of the sick and dying.The Church, by her very nature, is a guardian and teacher of the natural moral law in our society, for the natural law is written upon our hearts by God.In a society in which the natural moral law, in one of its most fundamental tenets, is violated, the Church must be more diligent than ever in her witness to the dignity of every human life from the moment of its inception to the moment of its natural death.

Respect for human life

The natural moral law teaches us the inviolability of innocent human life.Deliberately taking the life of an innocent person is intrinsically evil and is never justified.Right reason teaches us the good we are to do and the evil we are to avoid. It teaches us that human life is a gift to be accorded the highest respect and care from its beginning until death. It teaches us that we are not the creators of human life and, therefore, we must respect the plan of the Author of Life for us and for our world.Respect for the dignity of human life is the foundation of good order in our individual lives and in society.The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" teaches us:

"The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community.Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draw conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature" (n. 1959).

Clearly, without the respect for the dignity of all human life, which the natural law teaches us, our personal lives become profoundly disordered and society soon becomes a theater of violence and death.

In this regard, Pope John Paul II, in an address which he gave to the members of the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" on March 20, 2004, rightly observed:

"Moreover, to admit that decisions regarding man’s life can be based on the external acknowledgment of its quality, is the same as acknowledging that increasing and decreasing levels of quality of life, and therefore of human dignity, can be attributed from an external perspective to any subject, thus introducing into social relationships a discriminatory and eugenic principle" (Pope John Paul II, "Persons in ‘vegetative state’ deserve proper care," in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, March 31, 2004, p. 5, n. 5b).

History teaches us the grave injustices, including genocide, committed in a society which takes to itself the judgment of which lives are worthy and which are not.

The essential tenets of the natural moral law are found in the Decalogue or Ten Command-ments. The Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," demands respect for the dignity of all human life. Christ brings to fulfillment the teaching of the natural moral law by His Sermon on the Mount, the heart of which is the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:1-12). The Beatitudes are the summary of all that Christ teaches us about what is morally good.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches the divine and universal charity which is God’s gift to us in Him.
Repeating the Fifth Commandment, He teaches that it forbids not only actual murder but also the anger which wishes evil for a neighbor (Mt 5:22-25).

The teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount is further exemplified in His Parable of the Last Judgment, in which our Lord makes clear that our goodness, our righteousness, lies in following His way of universal charity by giving food to the hungry, by providing drink to the thirsty, by welcoming the stranger, by clothing the naked, and by visiting the sick and the imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46). The teaching of the parable is summed up in the words of the King:

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Our Lord, God-made man, identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.He invites us to recognize Him in our brothers and sisters who are in most need, and to love Him by caring for them.

Respect for human life burdened by suffering
The natural moral law binds us in love, in a particular way, to those who have grown weak under the weight of advanced years, serious illness or special needs.It teaches us that our brothers and sisters who most depend upon us have the first title to our care.We read in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church":

"Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect.Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible" (n. 2276).

Some have argued that, when a person is no longer able to relate to others, as he or she would most wish, then human life no longer has purpose. The gravely ill person may not be able to relate to us as he or she — and we — would most like, but indeed relates to us as a brother or sister.

In his address to the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State," Pope John Paul II observes that the clinical term, "vegetative state," is always improperly used in referring to a suffering human being:

"A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal’" (Pope John Paul II, "Persons in ‘vegetative state’ deserve proper care," in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, March 31, 2004, p. 5, n. 3b).

In the long-term care of the suffering person, our relationship with the person continues to develop and can express great, even heroic, respect and love.

The meaning of human suffering

Our culture’s view of human suffering makes it especially difficult to appreciate the good of a life which is heavily burdened.Our culture tells us that our life should be comfortable and convenient, and it devotes itself to forming us in the avoidance of all stress, pain and suffering.Sometimes, the cultural view takes on a spiritual appearance by claiming that our life in the body or physical life has no ultimate meaning, that our ultimate happiness lies in being freed of the body.

Nature, however, teaches us the unity of body and soul in the human person.All our joys and sorrows are both spiritual and physical, for we have one human nature.

The Christian faith teaches us that the soul is the form of the body. Our body, we know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit.It is through our body that we give expression to our love of God and of one another.Even as Christ was raised, body and soul, from the dead, so, when our soul has left the body at death, we await the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. For that reason, we show great respect to our body during our life on earth and, in death, bring the body to reverent burial to await the resurrection when Christ returns in glory.

Human suffering has always a physical and spiritual dimension, even as the suffering of Christ had both a physical and spiritual dimension.We know that the physical and spiritual suffering of Christ, by which He won our salvation, must be realized in our individual lives.Through baptism, we are buried with Christ sacramentally and rise with him to new and eternal life.The grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and strengthened and increased within us through the Sacrament of Confirmation, leads us to unite our suffering and dying to the suffering and dying of Christ, pouring out our lives, with Christ, in love of God and our neighbor.Suffering is, in no way, meaningless to us.Rather, it is for us an invitation to be ever more perfectly united to Christ, to be purified of whatever keeps us from loving God and one another, and to be ever more generous in that love.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, writes about his own suffering, reminding us that the Church and we, as individual members of the Church, continue Christ’s mission in the world through our share in His suffering. He declares:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints" (Col 1:23-26).

It is not that Christ’s redemptive work is, in any way, lacking.Rather, we are called to share in His redemptive work in every time and in every place, and, in that sense, to "complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of ... the Church."

I recall Pope John Paul II’s extended reflection upon the meaning of human suffering in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering," published on Feb. 11, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, in 1984. Referring to the passage from the Letter to the Colossians, he wrote:

"The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption.This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite.No man can add anything to it.But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as His body, Christ has in a sense opened His own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings — in any part of the world and at any time in history — to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world" (n. 24b).

Even as Christ pours out ever new His life for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is one with the Sacrifice of the Cross, so also those united to Christ in His Sacrifice, unite their sufferings to His for the sake of the salvation of the world.

Our Holy Father expresses this profound truth:

"In this dimension — the dimension of love — the
Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished.Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limit; but at the same time he did not bring it to a close.In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so.Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed" (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 24c).

While society may consider human suffering to be useless and a diminishment of our human dignity, we know that just the opposite is true.Human suffering, embraced with the love of Christ, brings immense blessings to the Church and the world, and sheds an ever greater light upon the dignity ofevery human life.

In his "Message for Lent 2005," in which Pope John Paul II reflects upon the great gift of advanced years or old age, he raises the question:

"What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people [the elderly], our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming toward them" (n. 3c).

In the suffering of our brothers and sisters, we see the Face of Christ and are invited to assist them in offering up their sufferings, with Christ, for the needs of the Church and the world.

Care of the sick and the dying

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the question has been raised about appropriate care of the sick and the dying. First of all, we should be clear that, although Terri Schiavo suffered from the effects of a serious medical condition, she was not dying at the time of the withdrawal of food and water from her. It is clear, from the number of days she lived after the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, that she died slowly from the privation of the most basic human care.

In his address to the International Congress on ‘Life-sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State," Pope John Paul II reminded us that the sick person in the so-called "vegetative state," like any seriously ill person, has "the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed" (n. 4b). In addition, the Holy Father reminded us, that he or she "has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery" (n. 4b).

The Holy Father underlined that "the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act" (n. 4c). Recalling the Church’s perennial teaching that we are morally obligated to use ordinary and proportionate measures in our care of the sick, Pope John Paul II made it clear that provision of nutrition and hydration by artificial means constitutes an ordinary and proportionate means. He went on to address the case of a person who remains for a prolonged period in the so-called "vegetative state," reminding us that "waning hopes for recovery" cannot morally justify "the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration" (n. 4e). To cause the death of the patient through starvation or dehydration is truly "euthanasia by omission" (n. 4e).

Euthanasia, which literally means "good death," in fact, cannot be a good death, for it fails to respect God and His plan for us.In a"good death" or "holy death," we embrace our sufferings with faith in Christ and His Resurrection, abandoning ourselves completely to God’s will.We read in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church":

"Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable" (n. 2277).

To withdraw nutrition and hydration from a person who is not dying to bring about the death of the person "constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2277).

The situation is entirely different when medical procedures are discontinued because they are "burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church," n. 2278).In such a case, one does not intend to cause death but one recognizes his "inability to impede death" (n. 2278).One accepts the will of God Who is clearly calling the person home to Himself in death.

Regarding extraordinary and disproportionate measures for the preservation of human life, individuals are encouraged to make known their wishes before they become ill by drawing up and executing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.For a Catholic, such a document will respect fully the dignity of human life.Certainly, it will not exclude the administration of food and water, even by artificial means.If you are interested in further information about a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, please contact the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office.

What about the so-called "right to die"?No one of us has a right to die, in the sense of a right to cause one’s own death. We have a right to those material and spiritual helps which will prepare us for death, when God calls us home to Himself.Therefore, even if a person will have expressed the desire to die under certain circumstances, his desire can be respected only to the degree that his desire is true to God’s Law.


It is my hope that the above will help you in thinking about the complex issues of death, respect for human life and the care of the sick and dying, with which our nation was confronted in the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo.I also hope that it will lead you to find ways to give a strong witness to the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, especially when they are experiencing diminishment and serious illness.

Let us be one in praying for the eternal rest of Terri Schiavo and for the consolation of her family and friends.Let us also be fervent in our daily prayers that respect for all human life may be restored in our nation.

Let us treasure those among us who suffer from any form of weakness or infirmity. May the witness of their union with Christ in the mystery of His Passion and Death lead us to deeper faith and a stronger commitment of love.

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