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.

Relief for victims, prayers for our seminarians, and St. Louis


There are always so many subjects about which I would like to write to you. Usually, I try to limit myself to one topic a week, hoping that eventually I will be able to communicate with you about all matters of our mutual Christian concern.This week, however, I want to address three timely subjects, about which, I trust, you would like to hear a word from me.

Relief for victims of Hurricane Charley

All of us have been deeply concerned about the loss of life and total destruction of homes, schoolsand businesses, which have been caused by Hurricane Charley, especially in the state of Florida.In addition to the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley, the Tropical Storm Bonnie struck the Florida Panhandle just under 36 hours prior to the time when Hurricane Charley struck.The last time that two such violent storms have, at once, devastated the state of Florida was in 1906.

At least 25 people have lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Charley.At present, there is no accurate count of the many who were injured. Many still find themselves homeless, and many are living in damaged homes or with family and friends.The eating of spoiled food and drinking of contaminated water is a serious danger to the health of individuals and families returning to their homes.Shattered windows and doors also leave the residents subject to the mosquitoes which carry diseases like the West Nile virus.The lack of electricity and the oppressive heat are a further source of difficulty in addressing the emergency situation.

The calamity of Hurricane Charley has especially affected the elderly and migrant workers, many of whom have lost all of their earthly possessions. What is more, the significant number of people without insurance, has no source of help apart from the charity of others.Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise and liaison for the U.S. bishops to Catholic Charities USA, in his letter to all bishops of the United States, dated Aug. 18, included the following words from the clinical director of Catholic Charities at Fort Myers, Fla:

"We have never seen anything like this ... Because of our high concentration of elderly people and migrant workers who have lost everything and have no insurance, our immediate concern is to assess both physical and emotional needs, especially looking for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder."
It is critical that staff and volunteers be able to reach all of the victims, especially the poorest among them, before they give way to the temptation of abandoning hope.

As we prepare for the beginning of a new school year, our thoughts also turn to the families with children in the affected region. We can only imagine the worries, of parents and children alike, concerning the condition of the schools and about the means of providing for the basic needs ofchildren as school starts. We want to help the children, as best as possible, to approach the new school year with enthusiasm and confidence.

The Catholic bishops of the state of Florida have written to all Catholic bishops of our nation, asking that an appeal be made to the faithful in the United States for the assistance of their prayers and material goods on behalf of their suffering brothers and sisters in Florida and the neighboring states.Catholic Charities USA has established a special fund to assist the bishops of Florida in caring for the many needs of the faithful and of all residents.The Hurricane Charley Relief Fund, in accord with the motto of Catholic Charities USA,
"Providing Help, Creating Hope," will make it possible for the Catholic Church in Florida to respond to those in most need, giving them hope because they know that their brothers and sisters from throughout the nation are coming to their aid. Catholic Charities USA will work with the diocesan Catholic Charities agencies in helping the people of Florida and of the neighboring states, who have suffered so much from Hurricane Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie.The help provided is immediate material assistance but also long-term assistance in arranging housing for the homeless and in offering the variety of counseling needed by those who have suffered so great a hardship.

On this coming weekend, all of the parishes of the Archdiocese of St. Louis will take up a special collection for the relief of those who are suffering in Florida and the neighboring states because of the devastation of Hurricane Charley. The funds collected will go the Hurricane Charley Relief Fund of Catholic Charities USA.I ask all of the faithful to make a sacrifice, in order to assist our brothers and sisters who are in dire need.If all make some sacrifice, help will come to all in need.You may make your contribution through the collection taken in your parish or you may send it directly to me, indicating clearly that it is for the Hurricane Charley Relief Fund.Bishop Driscoll, in his same letter of Aug. 18 to the U.S. bishops, underlined the standard practice of Catholic Charities in making sure that the help which we provide truly reaches those in need:

"I write now to assure you that the funds raised by the national collection ... for Hurricane Relief in Florida will be distributed to help those who need it most."

Please be generous in your sacrifice for the relief of the victims of Hurricane Charley.May the celebration of the Sunday Mass, in which we experience directly the universal charity of Christ, offering His life for all men and women of every time and place, inspire us in using the many good gifts which God has entrusted to us for the good of all, especially our suffering brothers and sisters in Florida.

Our seminarians

On Aug. 23, I had the great joy to celebrate Solemn Evening Prayer with the seminarians from the archdiocese at the St. Vincent de Paul Chapel of the Rigali Center. A special source of joy for me and for all of the seminarians was the presence of 10 new seminarians for the archdiocese.Eight of them have begun their college seminary formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.Two of them have already obtained their university degrees and will be taking some additional courses in philosophy and Latin, and will be receiving initial seminary formation, in order to prepare themselves for entrance into the program of theological formation. Most of them had participated in a retreat for those interested in the seminary which I led this past February at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.I have begun to know them through the retreat and can attest that they are fine young men with a fervent desire to respond to God’s call in their lives.

Of course, it was also good to pray and visit with the returning seminarians whom I have gotten to know a bit during the first eight months of my service as archbishop of St. Louis. We are blessed to have excellent candidates for priestly ordination and an excellent seminary in which to prepare them for priestly ordination.Truly, I enjoy any occasion when I can be with our seminarians.As I have become more at home in the archdiocese, I want to spend some time each week at the seminary, in order to fulfill better my most serious responsibility to provide priests for all of the faithful of the archdiocese.

As you will not find it difficult to imagine, there are many challenges today for a young man who is hearing the call to the priesthood.There are our own weaknesses which hinder us in being completely generous with God, but there are also so many influences from outside, especially our highly secularized culture, which discourage and cause difficulties for a seminarian.Our seminarians count upon the help of your prayers and your support.Please pray every day for our seminarians that they will persevere in doing God’s will in their lives.

Also, if you have a seminarian from your parish or know a seminarian, do not fail to assure them of your prayers and to tell them about the great hope which they offer for the future of the Church in the archdiocese.

In writing to you about our seminarians, of whom I am very proud, I must also ask you to pray daily for an increase in the number of young men from the archdiocese who respond to the call to the priesthood for the service of the faithful in the archdiocese and in the missions.This past May, I ordained Father Timothy J. Henderson to the priesthood for the service of the archdiocese. This coming May, God willing, I will ordain Deacon Gerald Blessing to the priesthood for our archdiocese. Given the size of the archdiocese, there should be many more ordinations each year.I know that God is calling young men from throughout the archdiocese to serve the Church in the person of His Son, the Good Shepherd.Please continue to pray with me for those whom God is calling, that they will have the courage and generosity to enter the seminary.Also, please do not hesitate to invite young men in your families and in your parishes, in whom you see the signs of a priestly vocation, to consider whether God may be calling them to the ordained priesthood. Seminarians frequently tell me how the invitation to consider the priesthood from their parents, family members, parish priests, fellow parishioners, schoolmates and friends has helped them to hear God’s call in their lives.

We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Father Michael T. Butler, director of the Office of Vocations, for his tireless work on behalf of our seminarians and those who are considering the seminary.Father Butler, together with those who assist him, carries out the apostolate of priestly vocations with great energy and
creativity.Please do not hesitate to contact him with any questions which you have about priestly vocations in the archdiocese at (314) 792-6460.

In the name of us all, I thank Msgr. Theodore L. Wojcicki, rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary; Father Timothy P. Cronin, director of Cardinal Glennon College Seminary; and all of the faculty and staff of our archdiocesan seminary for their outstanding work of seminary education and formation. In my first months of service to the archdiocese, I have been deeply impressed with the work of our seminary administration, faculty and staff.Please keep them in your prayers.

In writing about our seminarians and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, I also ask you to be generous in support of the seminary.From my previous experience as bishop, I know what a great gift it is for the archdiocese to have its own seminary.When I was informed of my transfer to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, among my first thoughts was the blessing of our seminary.Having our own seminary is a major commitment on the part of the archdiocese, including the preparation of good faculty and the provision of fitting facilities and necessary funds.In the tithing of your material gifts and in your last will, please remember Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Our patronal feast

On Aug. 25, the archdiocese celebrated the Solemnity of St. Louis of France, the saint after which our see city and archdiocese are named, and one of the patron saints, together with St. Vincent de Paul and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, of the archdiocese. I was privileged to celebrate the Mass for the Solemnity at the Old Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Louis King of France.The Mass was celebrated in French, recalling the irreplaceable service of the people of the nation of France in bringing the Catholic faith to our region.I express my deepest gratitude to the Societe Franaise de St. Louis and the St. Louis-Lyon Sister Cities Organization for their work in preparing for the solemn celebration of the Mass to honor St. Louis of France for his heroic sanctity and to invoke his intercession on behalf of all of the faithful of the Archdiocese.

St. Louis IX of France was born on April 25, 1214, to King Louis VIII and his saintly wife Blanche, daughter of Alfonso of Castile and Eleanor of England. Queen Blanche carefully educated her son in the human and Christian virtues.St. Louis was only 12 when his father died.Queen Blanche was regent for her son until he reached the age of majority.

During the time of his regency and his reign, there was much civil strife because of ambitious barons and also threats from outside the kingdom of France.What is more, St. Louis responded generously to the call of the Holy Father to lead crusades to save the Holy Land from the control of non-Christian forces. In all of the strife which he had to confront as a Christian civic leader, St. Louis strove for peace, above all, by seeking the common good of all of his subjects. His mother had once said to him: "I love you, my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should ever commit a mortal sin" (Butler’s Lives of the Saints, 1956 edition, p. 394). St. Louis grew up with a horror of sin and the harm which it causes to others.He never forgot the strong lesson which his good mother taught to him.

He loved the Church, was fervent in his daily prayers and welcomed any occasion to speak with priests about his faith and his concerns for the people of the Kingdom.For example, he is known to have invited St. Thomas Aquinas and other religious leaders to his palace, so that he might benefit from their counsel.The good king was especially known for the purity of his thoughts, speech and actions.

St. Louis IX married Queen Eleanor, the daughter of the count of Provence, and God blessed them with a most happy marital union, crowned with the birth of 11 children, five sons and six daughters. Together with his wife, he provided his children with an outstanding upbringing in the Catholic faith. His last instructions to his children before his death are a sterling example of Christian parenting.

St. Louis was generous in his support of Catholic institutions for the good of all the people.In recognition of his generous aid, the patriarch of Constantinople presented the Crown of Thorns of our Lord to him in 1239.The present was a fitting expression of gratitude to a monarch with such strong and generous Catholic faith and practice.St. Louis had the beautiful Ste. Chapelle built as a worthy home for so important a relic. Many of the representations of St. Louis show him holding a pillow with the Crown of Thorns, his head bent in prayer.

St. Louis also provided for the foundation of the University of Paris, at first a theological institute, popularly known as the Sorbonne after Master Robert de Sorbon, a priest and learned professor who was a confessor of the saint and his good friend.St. Louis also founded a hospital in Paris for the blind and made many other provisions for those in most need.He provided meals daily for the poor near his own palace and often personally served them.

His love for our Savior was heroically manifested by his leading of crusades to safeguard the places sacred to our faith in the Holy Land. In 1270, at the age of 55 and weak from his hard work, illnesses and austerity of life, St. Louis set out on another crusade.St. Louis was stricken with typhus and died on Aug. 25, 1270, expressing in prayer his trust in God’s mercy.
There is much more which I could write about the life of St. Louis. I urge you to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and to view the beautiful mosaics in the narthex, which depict important aspects of his saintly life.The bookstore at the cathedral basilica also has available a good summary of his life.


On Aug. 31, 1941, Archbishop John J. Glennon spoke about the life of St. Louis of France over the Columbia Broadcasting System.The original manuscript of his presentation is preserved in the archives of the Missouri Historical Society here.The text is most inspiring for the manner in which the archbishop relates the heroic virtues of St. Louis to the challenges faced by the world and Church in the early 1940s.I conclude with words taken from Archbishop Glennon’s characteristically eloquent address.They express my own hope and prayer as we celebrate the memory of St. Louis, our noble patron.

"By the banks of the mighty river St. Louis keeps watch and ward, surrounded by a veritable litany of saintly men and women — St. Mary, St. Genevieve, St. Francois, St. Charles and St. Joseph, to which we may add the name and fame, the ashes and memory, of his own country-woman Blessed (now St.) Philippine Duchesne.Invoking their patronage it becomes our bounden duty even in an humble way to live worthy of them."

100th anniversary of the birth of John Joseph Cardinal Carberry


John Joseph Cardinal Carberry, sixth Bishop and fifth Archbishop of St. Louis, was born on July 31, 1904.On this past Saturday, July 31, 100 years to the day since his birth, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, in order to thank God for the gift of his life and priestly vocation and to pray for his eternal rest.I was pleased that Msgr. Joseph D. Pins, rector of the Cathedral, who was ordained by Cardinal Carberry, Msgr. Joseph W. Baker, pastor of St. Hedwig Parish and judicial vicar of the Tribunal of Second Instance of the Province of St. Louis, a close co-worker of Cardinal Carberry, and Father Albert A. Mattler, pastor of St. Theodore Parish at Flint Hill and Chaplain of the local Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, an apostolate which Cardinal Carberry fostered very much, were able to concelebrate the Mass. Following the Mass, the faithful, together with the concelebrants and me, went to the crypt of the cathedral basilica, in which Cardinal Carberry’s earthly remains are entombed.There we prayed for Cardinal Carberry’s eternal rest.We also prayed what was surely Cardinal Carberry’s favorite prayer, the rosary.

Reflecting upon the life of Cardinal Carberry and studying his writings, I have been greatly encouraged in my service as Archbishop of St. Louis.I was especially edified by the many signs of God’s Providence in his life and by two strong aspects of the his pastoral care and direction of God’s flock in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

His years of priestly ministry

John Joseph Cardinal Carberry was the 10th and youngest child of James J. and Mary O’Keefe Carberry. His parents sent him to St. Boniface Elementary School in Brooklyn.After elementary school, he entered the high school and college seminary of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception.In the homily which he gave on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Cathedral College, Cardinal Carberry reflected upon the maternal care which our Blessed Mother, under her title of Immaculate Conception, had given to his seminary and the profound influence which her care had on his vocation (John J. Cardinal Carberry, Mary Queen and Mother: Marian Pastoral Reflections [Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1979], pp.174-175).
After his first years of college, he was sent to the Pontifical North American College to complete his philosophical and theological studies in preparation for ordination.He was ordained a priest in Rome on July 28, 1929, for the service of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He had completed a doctorate in philosophy and theology in Rome, but the Bishop of Brooklyn wanted him to study also Canon Law. He completed his doctorate in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1934.Over the years of his priestly ministry, he served in various parishes of the Diocese of Brooklyn and also taught in two of the Catholic high schools.In the booklet of his funeral rites, special mention is made of his weekly pastoral ministry to the patients at a tuberculosis sanatorium during the years of his service in the Matrimonial Tribunal of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Responding to the call for help from the Bishop Moses Kiley of Trenton in New Jersey, Cardinal Carberry was loaned for the service of the Diocese of Trenton in 1935.After completing six years of service in Trenton, Cardinal Carberry was called back to Brooklyn to teach in the seminary and to work in the Matrimonial Tribunal of his home diocese. The Matrimonial Tribunal is the office of a diocese, which receives petitions for the declaration of nullity of marriage and makes a first judgment regarding whether the nullity of the marriage has been established or not.Cardinal Carberry became the head or Officialis (today, judicial vicar) of the Matrimonial Tribunal of Brooklyn in December 1944, a position which he held until he was named Coadjutor Bishop of Lafayette in Indiana in 1956.His knowledge of Canon Law and extensive experience as a canon lawyer led to his service as president of the Canon Law Society of America from 1955 to 1956.

Cardinal Carberry was also active in the Mariological Society of America, an association of the faithful who are dedicated to the study of the place of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, in the mystery of salvation. His active membership in the Mariological Society reflected the deep devotion to our Blessed Mother, which characterized his whole life as a priest and Bishop.

Cardinal Carberry received two papal honors. On March 25, 1948, he received the title of papal chamberlain, which today is the title of chaplain to his holiness.On June 8, 1954, he received the title of domestic prelate, which is today the title of prelate of honor.

His years of episcopal service

On May 3, 1956, Cardinal Carberry was appointed by Pope Pius XII to the office of Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana. His episcopal consecration took place on the Feast of St. James the Apostle, July 25, 1956, in Brooklyn, some almost 27 years after his ordination to the priesthood.He was installed as Coadjutor Bishop on Aug. 22 of that year, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.He became Bishop of Lafayette on Nov. 20, 1957.

On Jan. 16, 1965, Pope Paul VI named Cardinal Carberry to the office of Bishop of Columbus in Ohio.He was installed as Bishop of Columbus on March 25, 1965, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.Finally, Pope Paul VI named Cardinal Carberry Archbishop of St. Louis on Feb. 17, 1968, to succeed Joseph Cardinal Ritter.He was installed as Archbishop of St. Louis on March 25, 1968.He was created a Cardinal of the Church by Pope Paul VI in the Consistory held on April 28, 1969. One cannot fail to appreciate how many important days of the episcopal life and ministry of Cardinal Carberry coincided with feasts honoring mysteries in the life of the Virgin Mary whom he loved with total devotion.

During his years of episcopal ministry, especially in St. Louis, Cardinal Carberry held many posts of service of the Church in our nation and in the world.For example, he was the vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1974 to 1977, and was a delegate to the World Synod of Bishops, convened by the Holy Father, in 1971, 1974 and 1976.

Cardinal Carberry participated faithfully in all of the sessions of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.He also participated in the two conclaves in 1978, which elected Pope John Paul I on Aug. 26 and Pope John Paul II on Oct. 16 of that year.He also served as a member of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith and the Congregation for Bishops, offices of our Holy Father.As a member of these congregations, he traveled to Rome for meetings to advise the Holy Father regarding the governance of the Universal Church.

On his 75th birthday, July 31, 1979, in accord with the law of the Universal Church, Cardinal Carberry submitted his resignation of the office of Archbishop of St. Louis.His resignation was accepted by Pope John Paul II.He continued, however, as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese until the installation of his successor, Archbishop John L. May, on March 25, 1980.Cardinal Carberry remained active in ecclesiastical and civic affairs after his resignation.When he suffered a stroke in 1988, he was no longer able to continue the active life of before and took up his residence at St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood, at which the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus gave him exceptional care until the time of his death. He died at St. Agnes Home on June 17, 1998, just five weeks short of his 94th birthday.

Son of Mary

The first strong aspect of Cardinal Carberry’s service as Archbishop of St. Louis was his profound devotion to the Virgin Mary, especially under her title of Queen and Mother.From the very beginning of his service as a priest, Cardinal Carberry was given heavy responsibilities.He had learned at home and in the seminary to turn to the Mother of God for help in all matters.He had come to know in the depth of his being that just as Mary is the Mother of Christ, the High Priest, so also is she Mother of all priests.His devotion to the Virgin Mary was expressed, above all, by his love of praying the rosary.In so many of his homilies and writings, he explained the beauty and power of praying the rosary, and exhorted all to pray the rosary daily.
If you wish to study the Cardinal’s teaching about our Blessed Mother, I commend to you a volume of his reflections, which was published toward the end of his service as Archbishop of St. Louis.I am quoting from it throughout this tribute to Cardinal Carberry.It is titled Mary Queen and Mother: Marian Pastoral Reflections and was published by St. Paul Editions in 1979.
In his homily at the Mass during which he was installed as Archbishop of St. Louis on March 25, 1968, Cardinal Carberry entrusted his years of service here to the care of our Blessed Mother.His words of entrustment on the day when he began his service in St. Louis were faithfully reflected in his daily activities as Archbishop:

"Under the light of faith, it is a source of comfort and consolation for me to entrust the years of my service with you, as your Archbishop, to the loving care of Mary Immaculate, our Queen and our Mother, now inscribed on my coat of arms.Like a golden thread, love and devotion to Mary has intertwined itself in the glorious history of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.To this blessed tradition of the venerable archdiocese, which is ours, I most prayerfully dedicate myself.I pray that the rosary will be the treasured prayer of our Catholic families and that all of us may seek to know Mary better, to depend upon her in our undertakings, and to imitate her virtues in our everyday life" (Ibid., p. 187).

There can be no question that Cardinal Carberry obtained countless graces for his faithful priestly and episcopal ministry through the praying of the rosary.
In preparation for the Month of the Holy Rosary in 1969, Cardinal Carberry wrote to all of the faithful of the Archdiocese, reminding them of the gift of Mary to the Church, the gift made by Christ, her divine Son, as He died on the cross for our salvation (John 19:26-27).He listed the many personal needs and needs of the Church, which the faithful should be confiding to the intercession of Mary through their daily praying of the rosary.He noted especially the need to pray in reparation for "the many moral evils that are openly degrading the society in which we live and the apostasy into which so many of the baptized have been lured" (Ibid., p. 187). His list of needs, including the need of prayer of reparation, is as timely today as it was in 1969.

The personal devotion of Cardinal Carberry to our Blessed Mother and his constant urging of devotion to our Blessed Mother, especially by praying the rosary, had one end in view, our deeper knowledge and love of Christ.It is the end of all Marian devotion, as our Holy Father has recently taught us in a powerful way (cf. Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, "On the Most Holy Rosary," Oct. 16, 2002, especially Nos. 1, and 13-17).Cardinal Carberry described the fruit of Marian devotion in the Rosary Rally Address which he gave in Albuquerque, N.M., on Oct. 28, 1973:
"Always Mary seeks Jesus, always Mary is our loving Mother. Her desire for us is that we be Christ-centered; her desire for us is that we share in the fruits of His redemption; her desire for us is to know Him, and to hope in Him, and to love Him, and for us to listen to His teachings, and to follow His commands of love" (Mary Queen and Mother, p. 310).

Cardinal Carberry recounts, in his Pastoral Letter for the Month of the Rosary in 1968, a phrase, taken from St. Alphonsus Liguori, which a religious Sister had written on a holy card, given to him when he was her student in elementary school: "A child of Mary will never be lost" (Ibid., p. 194).Truly, Mary always leads her devoted children to Christ and His Cross, our only salvation.She will never permit us to lose our way.
Loyalty to the Successor of St. Peter
The second strong aspect of Cardinal Carberry’s service was his unswerving loyalty to our Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter.The Cardinal’s faith in the Church and in the irreplaceable office of St. Peter was clearly reflected in his teaching and pastoral activity.Having participated fully in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, he adhered to and took comfort from the teaching of the Council regarding the relationship of the Diocesan Bishop to the Holy Father:
"This sacred synod, following in the steps of the First Vatican Council, teaches and declares with it that Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as he himself had been sent by the Father (John 20:21).He willed that their successors, the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in His Church until the end of the world.In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided He put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion. This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful, and, proceeding undeviatingly with this same undertaking, it proposes to proclaim publicly and enunciate clearly the doctrine concerning bishops, successors of the apostles, who together with Peter’s successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of whole Church, direct the house of the living God" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, n. 18b).
Cardinal Carberry often gave expression to his faith in the unfailing shepherding of the flock by Christ the Good Shepherd through the bishops in communion with the Holy Father.In his Rosary Rally Address at Albuquerque in 1973, to which I referred earlier, he pointed out how our Blessed Mother, in leading us to love Christ, also leads us to love His Mystical Body, the Church, and, in a special way, Christ’s Vicar, the Roman Pontiff:

"Her desire for us is to love His Church, for us to be one with His Vicar on earth, for us to be guided in our faith by the teaching office of the Church, by His bishops in union with the Vicar of Christ" (Mary Queen and Mother, p. 310).

He had already expressed, in a moving way, his loyalty to the Holy Father, shared with all the faithful of the archdiocese, at the beginning of his service in St. Louis. In his homily at the Mass of Installation on March 25, 1968, he declared:

"I am conscious of the fact that your prayerful welcome and acceptance of me reveals your faith in holy Mother Church and in particular your deep affection for the person of our Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, who has sent me to you. To him, as the Vicar of Christ on earth, as the successor of St. Peter, as our guide and our inspiration, I offer my homage of dedication, loyalty, obedience, service and my life. He is to us in the world today the source of unity, of peace, of strength and guidance. I know that you join with me in the prayer for him: "May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon earth" (Ibid., pp. 184-185).

The Cardinal’s characteristic humility and corresponding trust in God’s Providence was expressed, above all, in his devoted loyalty to the Holy Father.

Cardinal Carberry became Archbishop of St. Louis at a very challenging time for the Church.He faced the task of the careful implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which were easily betrayed by those who had not studied them and yet believed themselves to be following "the spirit of the Council." The year 1968 witnessed a cultural revolution marked above all by a rebellion against authority.The Paris student riots symbolized a rejection of authority at all levels.The spirit of the cultural revolution also entered into the Church.Just a few short months after Cardinal Carberry’s installation, Pope John Paul II published his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, which was met with open dissent on the part of many.In an address which he gave to honor our Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Cardinal Carberry reflected upon the suffering of the Church from dissent within:

"Might we not consider the tumult within the Church, the rebellion against authority, the lack of respect for Peter’s successor, the strange new doctrinal proposals, the contempt in some for tradition, and the uncertainty which has followed in the minds of our people — might we consider these another way in which the Church is suffering in our midst? Perhaps what we are going through may be worse than physical persecution which usually unites the persecuted; our sufferings are such that they divide, they create distrust, they give rise to fear, and lack of trust and certainty. On the surface it may not have the image of suffering, but beneath, suffering indeed it is" (Ibid., p. 292).
In the midst of the trials of the Church in his time, through which Cardinal Carberry carefully steered the Church in the archdiocese with a heart after the Heart of Jesus, it was his loyalty to the Vicar of Christ on earth which maintained the Church in unity, the unity founded on the Word of Christ handed down to us unfailingly in the Church.

In the same address, the Cardinal indicates to us the inseparable link of his devotion to Mary and his loyalty to the Holy Father. Referring to Mary’s maternal care of the Church, he declared:

"With motherly concern and love she points to the one whom we are to follow, the one whom we see and who dwells in our midst, the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Church of Christ, the people of God — .... he is the rock on which Christ built His Church, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail.Mary, the Mother of the Church, stands by to protect the Church from the power of Satan (Ibid., pp. 292-293).


The 100th anniversary of the birth of the beloved Cardinal Carberry is an occasion for us all to grow in our love of Christ and His holy Church. It is the occasion for us to reflect especially upon the vocation and mission of Mary as Mother of the Church, and upon the irreplaceable ministry of St. Peter and his successor in the Church, "the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful" (Lumen Gentium, No. 23a).Cardinal Carberry remains always our teacher in devoted love of Mary and in unswerving loyalty to the Vicar of Christ.

Let us thank God for the gift of life which he gave to John Joseph Cardinal Carberry 100 years ago and the gift of his priestly vocation. Let us pray for the eternal rest of Cardinal Carberry, that God grant him the reward of the faithful shepherd of the flock.

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart

Church Teaching


It will come as no surprise that there has always been a devotion to the Pierced Heart of Jesus. The Holy Scriptures both reflect a devotion present in the Church from the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit and inspire the same devotion in those who reflect upon the Word of God with faith. It is especially in the application of the Word of God to the daily life of Christians that Church teaching has encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In his Encyclical Letter on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Pius XII commented on the development of the devotion in the life of the Church from her first beginnings:
"We are convinced, then, that the devotion which we are fostering to the love of God and Jesus Christ for the human race by means of the revered symbol of the Pierced Heart of the crucified Redeemer has never been altogether unknown to the piety of the faithful, although it has become more clearly known and has spread in a remarkable manner throughout the Church in quite recent times. ...

"But if men have always been deeply moved by the Pierced Heart of the Savior to a worship of that infinite love with which He embraces mankind ... it must yet be admitted that it was only by a very gradual advance that the honors of a special devotion were offered to that Heart as depicting the love, human and divine, which exists in the Incarnate Word" (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Haurietas Aquas [May 25, 1956], nn. 90 and 93).
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was bound to grow and develop down the Christian centuries, especially in times when our love of God has grown cold or we have become indifferent to the love of God. At those times, God our Father draws us to the Heart of His Son, the image of His immeasurable love for us, so that we may be inspired and strengthened to love Him in return.

Early Teaching

The great teachers of the faith, from the beginning days of the Church, always spoke of the birth of the Church from the wounded side of Christ. Their teaching was truly theological and, therefore, spiritual. It invited the faithful to draw from the Pierced Heart of Jesus the grace of salvation, especially through the Sacraments and, above all, through the Holy Eucharist. Often the birth of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam was presented as the foreshadowing of the birth of the Church from the wounded side of Christ asleep in death.

St. Augustine of Hippo, great teacher of the Church in the West, commented on the text from the Gospel according to St. John, recounting the piercing of the Heart of the crucified Christ:

"The second Adam with bowed head slept on the cross, in order that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from His side as He slept. Death, by which the dead come to life again! What could be more cleansing than His blood? What more healing than this wound?" (Treatise on John, IX, 10).

The early Fathers of the Church taught that, in the Heart of Jesus, the Christian finds the source of his or her life in Christ. Even as the Church herself came to birth from the wounded side of Christ, so does each Christian come to life spiritually from His glorious Pierced Heart which ever pours out the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit upon us.

St. John Chrysostom, great teacher of the Church in the East, also points to the wounded side of Christ as the source of all grace, the source of our life in the Church:
"Blood and water at once flowed out of the wound. It is not by mere chance or unwittingly that these two fountains sprang up at this juncture. It is because blood and water are two constitutive elements of the Church. Those already admitted to the sacred rites know this well; those, I mean, who have been regenerated in the waters of Baptism and who in the Eucharist feed on Christ’s flesh and blood. It is to this one source that all the Christian mysteries trace back their origin. And so when you apply your lips to this awesome cup, do it as though you drank that precious Blood from the open side of Christ Himself" (Homily on John, 85).

In his characteristically strong language, St. John Chrysostom reminds us of the unity of our participation in the Holy Mass and the Sacrifice of Calvary. The wounded side of Christ, His Most Sacred Heart, is a constant reminder to us of His living presence in our midst, in the hearts of those who love Him, who place their hearts in His Sacred Heart.

The Middle Ages

A noticeable development of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus took place during the Middle Ages. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1070-1153), writing about the love of Christ, reminds us that, through prayer, our hearts are made one with the Heart of Christ. St. Bernard inspired many other theologians and spiritual writers to reflect lovingly upon the Heart of Christ as the source of our love of God and of one another.

Timothy T. O’Donnell, in his Heart of the Redeemer, provides us with texts of a beautiful prayer and hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, composed in the 12th and 13th centuries. I quote a brief part of the hymn, Summi Regis Cor [Heart of the Supreme King]:

"Let us live so, Heart to heart,
Wounded, Jesus, as Thou art.
If through my heart Thou wilt but strike
With shame’s arrow, sharp and dire.
Put my heart within thine own,
Hold me, leave me not alone.
Here my heart shall live and die,
To Thee ever drawing nigh;
Strongly would it thirst for thee,
Jesus, say not no to me,
That it may rest in Thee content" (Quoted in the reprinted edition of Heart of the Redeemer [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992], pp. 96-97).

The hymn illustrates, in a striking way, the intimate love of God and of others, which has always been inspired by the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Friars of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, and of the Order of the Friars Minor, or Franciscans, helped very much to bring the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to all the faithful to whom the Friars preached and ministered. St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars Minor, meditated so deeply upon the deep internal suffering of the Heart of Christ that God granted to him the favor of bearing in his own body the sign of the wounds of Christ, the stigmata, especially His pierced side.

St. Bonaventure, spiritual son of St. Francis of Assisi and great theologian of the 13th century, gave rich expression to what he had learned from St. Francis about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He has left to us inspiring theological reflections on the union of our hearts with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In one of his writings, he exclaimed: "Oh, what a blessed lot is mine to have one heart with Jesus!" (Quoted in Heart of the Redeemer, p. 101).

17th Century France

The 17th century witnessed a flowering of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in France. Three spiritual writers, in particular, helped to spread the devotion among all the faithful. They are Cardinal Pierre de Berulle, St. Francis de Sales and St. John Eudes. In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales gives the foundation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

"God’s love is seated within the Savior’s Heart as on a royal throne. He beholds through the cleft of His pierced side all the hearts of the children of men. His Heart is King of Hearts, and He keeps His eyes fixed on our hearts. Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly while they themselves are only half seen, so too the divine love within that Heart, or rather that Heart of divine love, always sees our hearts and looks on them with His eyes of love, while we do not see Him, but half see Him. If we could see Him as He is, O God, since we are mortal men we would die for love of Him, just as when He was in mortal flesh He died for us, and just as He would still die for us were He not now immortal" (Quoted in Heart of the Redeemer, p.118).

St. Francis de Sales helps us very much to know how to live always in the presence of Christ whose Pierced Heart ever lies open for love of us.

St. Francis de Sales influenced greatly St. Jane Frances de Chantal, foundress of the Sisters of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have a monastery and school in the St. Louis Archdiocese, in which the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is very much fostered.

St. John Eudes helped to develop the liturgical aspect of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, under which God the Son took a human heart. Reflecting upon the union of the Heart of Mary with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. John Eudes referred to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He also founded a religious order of men and of women, under the title of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Many communities of men and women religious have been founded under the inspiration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the archdiocese we have, for example, Sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Society of the Sacred Heart and Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The Jesuit Fathers and Brothers also have a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a member of the Sisters of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was deeply imbued with the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi influenced her very much in her devotion. At the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial, Christ appeared and revealed His Sacred Heart. The apparitions took place between Dec. 27, 1673, and the Octave of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1675. They are all connected with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. There were four apparitions, the last of which is the greatest. The apparitions reported by St. Margaret Mary are a matter of private revelation. No one is held to believe in them. They have enjoyed the highest approbation of the Church.

The apparitions to St. Margaret Mary were not given to her for her personal consolation but for a mission which our Lord confided to her, namely the spread of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. From the first apparition, our Lord made it clear to St. Margaret Mary that His Heart is burning with love of mankind and that He desired her to be the Apostle of His Divine Love, His Sacred Heart.

It was during the first apparition that our Lord asked for St. Margaret Mary’s heart which she mystically gave to Him. In other words, she placed her heart completely in His Sacred Heart. The union of her heart with the Sacred Heart is the model of the placing of our hearts in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so that they may be purified of all wrong desire and be aflame with divine love. At the conclusion of the first apparition, our Lord declared to St. Margaret Mary: "I give you now the title of the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart" (Louis Verheylezoon, SJ, Devotion to the Sacred Heart [Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1955], p. xxiv).

It was through the fourth or great apparition, during the Octave of Corpus Christi in 1675, that our Lord spoke the powerful words which express the deep significance of the devotion to His Sacred Heart:
"Behold this Heart which has so loved men that It spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them Its love. And in return I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude, by the contempt, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness with which they treat Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what is still more painful to Me is that even souls consecrated to Me are acting in this way" (Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. xxvii).

Our Lord then asks that reparation be made and love be inflamed through the consecration of hearts to His Sacred Heart. Specifically He asked for the observance of the First Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation, the Holy Hour on the Thursday night before First Friday (recalling the Agony in the Garden), and the solemn feast in honor of the Sacred Heart. It was during the great apparition that Christ revealed the image of His Sacred Heart that is depicted in statues, paintings and icons: His Pierced Heart on fire with love, crowned with the Cross and enfolded with the Crown of Thorns.

Christ holds His Heart to show us how much He loves us. The image which He revealed to St. Margaret Mary is understood through the words which He spoke and which I have just quoted.

Other Testimonies and Papal Teaching

The story of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus includes many saintly witnesses. St. Therese of Lisieux had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart. Her autobiography, Story of a Soul, contains as an appendix the words with which she consecrated her heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "Act of Oblation to Merciful Love."

In his Journal of a Soul, Blessed Pope John XXIII writes:

"Today everything which concerns the Sacred Heart of Jesus has become familiar and doubly dear to me. My life seems destined to be spent in the light irradiating from the tabernacle, and it is to the Heart of Jesus that I must look for a solution of all my troubles. I feel as if I would be ready to shed my blood for the cause of the Sacred Heart. My fondest wish is to be able to do something for that precious object of my love" (Journal of a Soul [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964], pp. 148-149).
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was the center of his spiritual life.

When visiting the death cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe at the concentration camp of Auschwitz, in September of last year, I was shown another death cell around the corner from that of St. Maximilian. The guide told the story of a doctor who died in it. After his death, the guards discovered that he had etched an image in the plaster of the wall with his finger nails. When his family was asked what the image could be, they recognized it immediately as the figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was enthroned in their family home. Placed in the cell to die, the doctor made a wonderful act of hope in the immeasurable love of God.

Papal teaching, especially from Pope Leo XIII to our present Holy Father, holds up the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a privileged form of devotional life for all of the faithful. Quoting Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XII declared devotion to the Sacred of Jesus "the most effective school of the love of God; the love of God, we say, which must be the foundation on which to build the kingdom of God in the hearts of individuals, families, and nations. ..." (Encyclical Letter Haurietas Aquas, n. 123).


In a few weeks, the archdiocese will publish the guide to the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Consecration for the home. As soon as it is ready, I will be writing about it. In the meantime, I hope that my reflections of the past weeks will help you to prepare your heart and home for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May the Immaculate Heart of Mary intercede for us, that many hearts and homes will be consecrated, with her Heart, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, of Whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.

Consecrated monks, hermits, virgins and religious


Last week, I wrote about the vocation to holiness of life, to which we are all called at baptism and confirmation, and the stable form which that vocation takes in adult life, in response to God’s call to the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the priesthood. I concentrated my attention on the consecrated life and the rich variety of its forms.Consecrated persons may be called to the monastic life, the eremitic life, consecrated virginity, apostolic religious life, contemplative religious life or consecrated secularity.

During this month of August, I have been and am blessed to participate in a number of events to promote and celebrate God’s call to the consecrated life.It is a call which is so important for the holiness of life of us all and for our faithful response to our vocation in life.Yet, the consecrated life is often not well understood. It seems good, therefore, to spend some time in considering the vocation to the consecrated life and the richness of its forms.

On Aug. 4 and 5, I participated in the inquirers’ conference, organized by the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, for women who are hearing the call to consecrated virginity lived in the world. On Aug. 23 and 24, I will celebrate two Masses and give two conferences at the Annual Retreat of the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, to be held nearby, at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.On Aug. 7 and 8, I was in Nashville, Tenn., for the final profession of vows of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, a community of apostolic women religious who have their motherhouse there.On Aug. 15, I traveled to Alton, Ill., for the entrance into the novitiate and the first profession of vows of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, an international community of consecrated women religious who have their motherhouse at Thuine in Germany and their provincial house for the United States at Alton.These joyous events for those called to the consecrated life are most inspiring for me and for all who are privileged to participate in them.

Those called to the consecrated life are a model of following Christ for all of us. They are also a living reminder of our final destiny, eternal life with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in our heavenly home.It is most understandable that sharing in the life of consecrated virgins or religious gives us new enthusiasm and energy in our everyday Christian life, new enthusiasm and energy in meeting the challenges of our vocation in life, whether it be marriage, the dedicated single life or the priesthood.

Vocations to the consecrated life

The consecrated life is one of the most beautiful gifts which God has given to us in the Church.Those called to the consecrated life help us to recognize Christ present in our lives and, with Him, to take up the cross which is our salvation.The Code of Canon Law provides a full description of the distinctness of the vocation to the consecrated life:

"The life consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that having been dedicated by a new and special title to His honor, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory" (can. 573, No.1).

The variety of forms of consecrated life are the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring men and women to give their lives completely to Christ and His Mystical Body.

The monastic life, together with the eremetical life and consecrated virginity lived in the world, are the most ancient forms of consecrated life.St. Basil the Great and St. Benedict of Nursia, in the East and West, respectively, contributed most significantly to the development of the monastic vocation.Those called to the monastic life follow Christ into the desert, living for God alone, praying and doing works of penance for the love of God and the salvation of the world. Our Holy Father describes the great blessing of the monastic life for the Church in these words:

"In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the Spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city" (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, "On the Consecrated Life and Its Mission in the Church and in the World" [March 25, 1996], No. 6d).

We are blessed in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to have several monastic communities which very much exemplify the goods which our Holy Father describes.

Hermits and consecrated virgins living in the world

Individuals who hear the call to the eremetical life are assisted by the diocesan bishop in discerning their vocation and in professing the evangelical counsels.The hermit, like the monk or nun, is called to follow Christ into the desert to fast and pray.The hermit, however, lives in solitude and not in community.He or she depends upon the diocesan bishop for direction and discipline.Hermits, because they live apart from the world, wear a simple habit which is approved by the bishop and use the title of sister or brother.It is also possible for hermits to live in proximity to one another and to have a certain community life under a religious superior. The response of the hermit to his or her vocation reminds us all, as Pope John Paul II has written, "never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord" (Vita Consecrata, No. 7b). For that reason, the faithful often confide to hermits their prayer intentions and seek from them spiritual counsel.

Consecrated virginity, in contrast to the eremetical life, is lived in the world.The virgin, carrying out some service in the world, hears the call from God to offer to Him solely her gift of virginity.With the help of the diocesan bishop, she comes to know her vocation and to find the spiritual help to make certain that her resolve to live as a virgin for her entire life is firm.Once the time of discernment, which usually will last from one to two years, has been completed, the virgin presents herself to the Church, declaring her resolve to remain a virgin for the rest of life, and the Church, by an ancient and most beautiful rite, consecrates her, calling down upon her the help of God’s grace and constituting her a sacred person in the Church.Consecrated virgins usually live alone, but sometimes two or three consecrated virgins will live in community.They are a living sign of the great gift which is ours in the Church.As members of the Church, we are the Bride for whom Christ the Shepherd as laid down His life.The witness of the life of the consecrated virgin reminds us that, in our vocation in life, Christ must always have the first place.

During the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin Living in the World, the virgin does not profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.She announces her firm resolve to live in perfect continence for the rest of her life as a sign of her love of God and an anticipation of the life which is to come.In another sense, therefore, she professes the vows, for in asking to be espoused for the rest of her life to Christ, she chooses with Him the Gospel virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience.She will follow these Gospel virtues, in accord with her condition as a member of the faithful living in the world.

Hermits and consecrated virgins do not depend upon the Church for their sustenance.Hermits, before professing the vows, must demonstrate to the bishop that they have the means to provide for their own livelihood and insurance.Periodically, the hermit will meet with the bishop to discuss his or her progress in the eremetical life and to show the bishop the prudent administration of his or her means.

The consecrated virgin, by the very fact that she lives in the world, provides for her own salary and benefits.Likewise, she does not wear a habit and does not use the title of sister.As is the case with the hermit, the bishop meets with the consecrated virgin at least once a year to discuss the various aspects of her life, including her financial stability.

Consecrated religious: apostolic and contemplative

The form of consecrated life called religious life is perhaps best known to us.Many of us have been blessed to be taught by religious sisters and brothers, or to have received health care from them.Apostolic religious also carry out many other apostolates in the Church.

Apostolic religious, through their profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, witness to the Christlike sacrifice of self, which we all must make, in order to be faithful to our vocation in life and so to love God and our neighbor.Through their profession of vows, they consecrate their lives to Christ, and the Church asks God’s abundant blessing upon them.By their apostolates, they draw us closer to Christ who, through them, teaches, guides and heals us.In this sense, the consecrated life has a certain superiority over all other states of life, because it manifests the holiness of the Church, to which we are all called (Vita Consecrata, No. 32).

Contemplative religious profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live what is called an enclosed life.They devote themselves to prayer and penance to purify and sanctify their own souls, and to plead for God’s help for all who are in need in the world.Once a religious is professed within a contemplative community, his or her entire life takes place within the walls of the convent or monastery.Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare Sister at Roswell, N.M., explained to me, at one time, that the walls of convent enclosure, in fact, embrace the whole world. In visiting religious communities of contemplative religious, I note how the sisters are keenly and accurately aware of the needs of the world and dedicate themselves to prayer and sacrifice for those in need.Mother Mary Francis has written an excellent and most readable book on the contemplative religious life, titled "The Right To Be Merry."It is published by Ignatius Press ( and should be available at your local Catholic bookstore.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is abundantly blessed with the witness of apostolic and contemplative religious congregations. Each community manifests a special gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.The mosaics in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis honor in a most wonderful way a number of the religious congregations which have been so important to the birth of the Church in the Archdiocese and its growth and development over the decades.St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a member of the congregation of Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, attained heroic holiness of life in carrying out her apostolate in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.She and St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian fathers and brothers), are the two patron saints of the Archdiocese after St. Louis IX, King of France.

The Holy Spirit has inspired the foundation of each congregation with what is called a particular charism, the raison-d’etre of the congregation.The charism is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the founder or foundress of the religious congregation; it is the heart of the life of the congregation.By fidelity to the charism, which reflects some aspect of the mystery of Christ’s life poured out for us, the religious sister or brother becomes more like Christ and leads others to become more like Christ.For example, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation have the charism of giving Christian education to youth in institutions of learning.The Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George have the charism of making God’s merciful love visible.Their charism is expressed in a wide variety of apostolates, all of which are a living sign of God’s merciful love to others.

Consecrated secularity

During the first half of the last century, a new form of consecrated life emerged, the life of consecrated secularity. Pope Pius XII was the first to recognize the foundation of what are called secular institutes.Members of secular institutes profess publicly the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.They also live in community.They do not, however, wear a habit or use the title of sister or brother, for their aim is to be like the hidden yeast in the mass of dough.They do not have an apostolate but have regular employment in the world.In their employment, they are called to give witness to poverty, chastity and obedience. Regarding the new forms of consecrated life, Pope John Paul II singles out the secular institutes:

"One thinks in the first place of members of secular institutes seeking to live out their consecration to God in the world through the profession of the evangelical counsels in the midst of temporal realities; they wish in this way to be a leaven of wisdom and a witness of grace within cultural, economic and political life.Through their own specific blending of presence in the world and consecration, they seek to make present in society the newness and power of Christ’s Kingdom, striving to transfigure the world from within by the power of the beatitudes. In this way, while they belong completely to God and are thus fully consecrated to his service, their activity in the ordinary life of the world contributes, by the power of the Spirit, to shedding the light of the Gospel on temporal realities. Secular Institutes, each in accordance with its specific nature, thus help to ensure that the Church has an effective presence in society (Vita Consecrata, No. 10b).

Vocations to the consecrated life


On Aug. 4 and 5 of last week, I traveled to Chicago to take part in an inquirers’ conference for women who are hearing the call to consecrated virginity lived in the world.The conference is sponsored each year by the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, to which many of the consecrated virgins in our nation belong. Since the mid-1990s, I have been the episcopal moderator of the association, which means that I represent the concerns of the Catholic bishops of our country to the members and, likewise, communicate their concerns to the bishops. For me, it has been an honor and inspiration to assist the consecrated virgins. I have been deeply edified by their love of Christ and of the Church.Any assistance which I have given to them has been much exceeded by the prayers which they have unfailingly offered on my behalf.

Since the vocation to consecrated virginity is very little known, I want to describe a bit the vocation and respond to some common questions about it.Also, I look forward to meeting with any consecrated virgins living in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, so that I can may carry out my spiritual responsibilities on their behalf.

Before discussing, in particular, the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world, it is important to reflect upon the meaning of vocation.Also, it is important to place the particular vocation to consecrated virginity within the context of the various vocations to which God calls men and women in the Church.

Vocation and vocations

From the moment of our baptism, God has a special plan for each of us.God calls us to life in Christ by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our soul, in order that, with Christ, we may offer our whole life in love of Him and our neighbor. At our confirmation, God strengthens and increases the life of the Holy Spirit within us, so that we will have the inspiration and strength to give public witness to Christ in the world.We are called to follow Christ in holiness of life.This is our vocation.We are called to follow Christ as a married person, a dedicated single person, a consecrated person or a member of the clergy: deacon, priest or bishop.These are the vocations by which we respond to our universal vocation to holiness of life.

Whether God calls us to the married life, the dedicated single life, the consecrated life or the ordained ministry, He asks us to make the gift of our whole life.Others see Christ in us, most of all, through our faithful response to our vocation in life.

We say in the Church that our vocation is our way to salvation, and it is true.It is through our vocation that we most fully express our life in Christ and fulfill our part in His mission of salvation.We are called to life in Christ, so that, when we reach adulthood, we may give our lives in response to God’s call.Therefore, it is important that children and young people pray each day to know their vocation in life, and that those of us, who have already responded to God’s call by embracing our vocation, pray each day for the virtues of goodness, fidelity and generosity in living our vocation.

During our childhood and youth, our education in the faith and its practice has as its principal end help for us in hearing God’s call and our preparation to respond with an undivided heart.During our adult years, our study of the faith and its practice assists us in respond to God’s call ever more faithfully and with the most generous heart possible.

Responsibility for vocational discernment

The whole Church has the responsibility to assist children and young people to hear God’s call and to prepare them to respond, and to assist all in the Church to live fully their vocation in life.The bishop as chief shepherd of God’s flock bears an especially weighty responsibility to assist children and young people in the discernment and pursuit of their vocation.
On the 25th anniversary of his election as successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II signed the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World." Pastores Gregis is the fruit of the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in October of 2001.In it, our Holy Father underlines very much the responsibility of the Bishop for the promotion of vocations.He reminds all bishops that they are to foster "a vocational culture" in which young people will come to understand that our entire life is a vocation and that the various vocations are the way in which we live out most fully the one vocation of Christ, in which we have all been given a share (Pastores Gregis, No. 54a).

Our Holy Father instructs bishops to exhort families, parishes and institutions of Catholic education "to assist boys and girls in discovering God’s plan in their lives and in embracing the call to holiness which God from the beginning addresses to each person" (Ibid., No. 54b).The Holy Father goes on to remind bishops that the apostolate of vocations must permeate all pastoral activity.In particular, the bishop is to entrust the vocational apostolate to the priests who are his co-workers and to other members of the faithful "capable of passing on their love for Jesus by their enthusiasm and the example of their lives" (Ibid.).Priests and others who assist the Bishop in the apostolate of vocations are to help children and young people to pray to know their vocation.They are also to accompany patiently the same young people as they strive to know God’s will for them.It is especially important to encourage young people to participate in the Holy Mass as frequently as possible and to confess their sins regularly and receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. By participation in the Holy Eucharist and by Eucharistic devotion, the young person comes to know his or her own deepest identity in Christ.No prayer to know one’s vocation is more powerful than prayer offered in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.

Special attention must be given to helping young people know about the vocations to the consecrated life and priesthood, because these calls are difficult to hear in a totally secularized society. Within the apostolate of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, there is always to be an emphasis on missionary vocations.In this regard, the bishop is to make certain that the associations of the faithful in the Church "support the pastoral work of promoting vocations in the dioceses and foster an acceptance of all vocations, especially those to the ordained ministry, the consecrated life and missionary work" (Ibid., No. 51c).In the archdiocese, the Serra Club, the Knights of Columbus and other Catholic associations are strongly committed to the vocational apostolate.I am deeply grateful to them.

Office for Vocations and for Consecrated Life

As Archbishop of St. Louis, I fulfill my responsibility for the apostolate of vocations most especially with the help of Office of Vocations and the Office of the Consecrated Life.The steadfast work of both offices underlines the fundamental importance of the vocational apostolate to the life of the whole Church.

The Office of Vocations principally helps me in the promotion of priestly vocations.Under the direction of Father Michael T. Butler, the Office of Vocations is in regular communication with those who have expressed an interest in the priestly vocation and assists our seminarians as they respond to God’s call in their lives.The office also sponsors various activities throughout the year, which help young men to consider God’s call to the priesthood. I refer especially to the Annual Retreat of the Archbishop for young men who are hearing the call to the priesthood; Cardinal Glennon Days, which are held at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary during the month of June for young men of middle-school and high-school age; and other special events. Father Butler is also actively engaged in promoting visits of young men of the archdiocese to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, our archdiocesan seminary for university studies and theological studies (the last five years of priestly formation). Please contact Father Butler regarding any question which you may have in the matter of the promotion of priestly vocations at (314) 792-6460.

Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, FSGM, director of the Office of the Consecrated Life, works with Father Butler in promoting vocations to the consecrated life.Various activities are planned, inviting the participation of the different institutes of consecrated life.Events with the participation of the Archbishop are scheduled during the year for young women to raise in their minds the possibility of God’s call to the consecrated life.Please contact Sister Eva-Maria regarding any question you may in the matter of the promotion of vocations to the consecrated life at (314) 792-7250.

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, under the direction of Msgr. Theodore L. Wojcicki, rector, and Father Timothy P. Cronin, director of Cardinal Glennon College, not only provides appropriate formation and education for seminarians doing university and theological studies.It also serves as a center which young people may visit, either individually or in groups, to seek a deeper understanding of God’s call in their lives. Father Butler will be happy to arrange for visits to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

For young women who are hearing the call to the consecrated life, Sister Eva-Maria will be happy to assist them in making visits to the convents of the many religious orders, both contemplative and active, in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and in other parts of our nation.Also, the communities of women religious in the archdiocese sponsor Camp Mater Dei each summer to assist young women during their middle-school and high-school years to consider the vocation to the consecrated life.

Vocations to the consecrated life

The Church distinguishes three states of life: laypersons, consecrated persons and the clergy.Within the states of life, the vocation in life is given by God.The lay faithful are called to the married life or to the dedicated single life.Consecrated persons are called to the monastic life, the eremitic life, consecrated virginity, apostolic religious life, contemplative religious life or consecrated secularity.The clergy are called to the diaconate, priesthood or episcopacy.

The state in life defines the form of the individual Christian life.In that sense, each state in life is founded upon a consecration, the gift of the Holy Spirit who configures the Christian life to Christ.In his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, "On the Consecrated Life and Its Mission in the Church and in the World," our Holy Father Pope John Paul II gives the following summary of the distinct form of each state of life in the Church:

"For the mission of the lay faithful, whose proper task is to ‘seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God,’ the consecration of Baptism and Confirmation is a sufficient foundation. In addition to this basic consecration, ordained ministers receive the consecration of ordination in order to carry out the apostolic ministry in time.Consecrated persons, who embrace the evangelical counsels, receive a new and special consecration which, without being sacramental, commits them to making their own — in chastity, poverty, and obedience — the way of life practiced personally by Jesus and proposed by him to his disciples. Although these different categories are a manifestation of the one mystery of Christ, the lay faithful have as their specific but not exclusive characteristic, activity in the world; the clergy, ministry; consecrated men and women, special conformity to Christ, chaste, poor, and obedient" (No. 31d).

The characteristic of the consecrated life is a closer adherence to Christ, especially in His poverty, chastity and obedience, those virtues which mark most distinctively the way of life to which He calls us and along which He accompanies us.Those who are called to the consecrated life help everyone else in the Church to be true to Christ in living out the demands of their vocations.

Consecrated virginity

The consecrated life is like an orchard in the Church in which grow a variety of beautiful fruit-bearing trees.The most ancient form of the consecrated life is consecrated virginity lived in the world.It existed from the very first years of the Church.Because of the esteem in which consecrated virginity has been held from the beginning, the Church, very early on, developed a proper liturgical rite for the consecration of virgins.After several centuries, it was no longer used, except for religious sisters who wished to be consecrated as virgins.At the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Bishops called for the revision of the Rite of Consecration of Virgins (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dec. 4, 1963, No. 80a).

On May 31, 1970, in response to the directive of the council, the Order of Consecration of Virgins was published.The first paragraph of the revised rite expresses the profound meaning of the vocation and the esteem which the Church has for it:

"The custom of consecrating women to a life of virginity flourished even in the early Church.It led to the formation of a solemn rite constituting the candidate a sacred person, a surpassing sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of the world to come and the glory of the heavenly Bride of Christ. In the rite of consecration the Church reveals its love of virginity, begs God’s grace on those who are consecrated, and prays with fervor for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (Introduction, No. 1).

The virgin, once she is consecrated, is constituted a sacred person in the Church.She is a particularly striking sign of the love of the Church, the Bride, for Christ, Her Bridegroom.At the same time, the consecrated virgin is a faithful reminder of the life which is to be ours in the Kingdom of Heaven, life belonging completely to Christ.

The form of life of the consecrated virgin living in the world is a most intimate union with Christ, which is reflected in the ancient title given to the consecrated virgin, "bride of Christ." It is echoed in the beautiful refrain from the Rite of Consecration:

"I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory" (No. 29).
The consecrated virgin offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him.Through the Rite of Consecration, the Church receives the gift of the virgin and calls down upon her the grace of the Holy Spirit, that she may never fail in her resolve to live in perfect continence for the sake of Christ and His Church.

New flowering of the vocation

In our time, the vocation to consecrated virginity has experienced a new vitality as more and more women have come forward to their diocesan bishop for assistance in understanding and embracing their vocation in life.It is a phenomenon which brings renewed faith, hope and charity to the whole Church.Regarding the new appreciation of consecrated virginity, the Holy Father wrote the following in Vita Consecrata:

"It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times.Consecrated by the diocesan bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world.Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come, when the Church will at last fully live her love for the Christ the Bridegroom" (No. 7a).

Through the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, I have come to know some 100 or more consecrated virgins from throughout the United States.There are also a fair number of virgins who do not belong to the association. Each year at the inquirers conference, a number of virgins seek to understand whether God may be calling them to request the consecration.

As in the first centuries of the Church’s life, when the order of virgins had its beginning, so also today the life of consecrated virginity is lived principally in the world.While women religious may also receive the consecration to the life of virginity, their consecration is intimately connected with their religious profession and is lived within the primary call for them, which is to the religious life (Order of Consecration, No. 7).

Consecrated virginity constitutes a distinct and proper vocation which is lived as the primary vocation for the consecrated virgin living in the world.For the consecrated virgin, her closer adherence to Christ is expressed in her day-to-day activities.While some virgins work full-time for the Church, the majority are professional women who profoundly sanctify their secular activities through the grace of the consecration.

The Rite of Consecration

The Rite of Consecration of Virgins Living in the World is ancient and beautiful. The consecration takes place within the celebration of the Holy Mass.The consecration proper takes place after the reading of the Gospel.The bishop calls forward those to be consecrated with the words:

"Come, daughters, that through me, his servant, the Lord may consecrate the resolution you have formed in your hearts" (Order of Consecration, No. 14).

The diocesan bishop who is the proper minister of the Rite of Consecration then gives the homily in which he sets forth the profound meaning of the consecration.

After the homily, the candidates are questioned regarding their resolve and their desire for the consecration.Then the whole congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.The candidate renews her intention "to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity" (Order of Consecration, No. 22).The bishop then prays the Prayer of Consecration. After the Prayer of Consecration, the bishop presents the consecrated virgin with the signs of her consecration.She may be given a veil, which is a sign of her total espousal to Christ.The veil, if given, is worn during the Rite of Consecration only, much like the veil worn by the bride during the Rite of Marriage.The consecrated virgin is always given the ring which is the sign that she is a bride of Christ.Like the spouse in marriage, she always wears the ring to show that she is espoused to Christ.She is also given the Liturgy of the Hours, the books containing the public and official prayers offered at the various hours of the day by the universal Church for the salvation of the world.The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours by the consecrated virgin is the principal service which she offers to the Church, while remaining in the world.


Next week, I will conclude my presentation of the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world, and I will begin a presentation of other forms of consecrated life. May our reflection upon the vocation to the consecrated life, in all its forms, inspire in us a deeper love of Christ and of those whom He calls to follow Him more nearly in the Gospel virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I close with words taken from the Order of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, which describe the deep meaning of the call to consecrated virginity and its relationship to the call to the married life:

"Among your many gifts you give some the grace of virginity. Yet the honor of marriage is in no way lessened. As it was in the beginning, your first blessing still remains upon this holy union. Yet your loving wisdom chooses those who make sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is the sign.
They renounce the joys of human marriage, but cherish all that it foreshadows" (Order of Consecration, No. 24).

Natural Family Planning: service of life and love


From July 25 to 31, the Catholic Church in the United States has been observing Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, a celebration of great significance for families, for the whole Church and for society, in general.Natural Family Planning Awareness Week is always planned around the anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (On the Rightly Ordered Propagation of Human Offspring) on July 25, 1968.This year marks the 36th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae.

The family, formed through the marital union, is the first cell of the life of society. It is "the little Church," the Church in the first moment of her life.It is also called the "domestic Church" or the Church in the home, for it is in the family that the faith is first taught. It is in the family that prayer is first offered to God and that the members are led to the bigger family of the parish to offer worship to God. It is also in the family that the Christian virtues are first exemplified and instilled (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, n. 11b).

How evident is the importance of family life to the life of the whole of society and of the Church!Practically, we witness in society today the evil effects of the breakdown of family life.In a society in which an average of 50 percent of marriages end, and sometimes very quickly, in divorce, it is no wonder that there is a parallel and most serious breakdown in the practice of the faith and in civic morality.Of all of the legitimate concerns which are ours in reforming and building up the life of society and of the Church, the concerns regarding the family must rightly receive our first attention.

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

In its teaching on marriage and family life, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council called attention to the fundamental and irreplaceable role of the family in the life of each individual, society and the Church.It further noted the positive aspects of family life in the world of today:

"The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.Hence Christians today are overjoyed, and so too are all who esteem conjugal and family life highly, to witness the various ways in which progress is being made in fostering those partnerships of love and in encouraging reverence for human life; there is progress too in services available to married people and parents for fulfilling their lofty calling; ever greater benefits are to be expected and efforts are being made to bring them about" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, Dec. 7, 1965, No. 47a).

Certainly, the Church supports the ways in which society seeks to promote sound and enduring family life.What is more, the Church, faithful teacher of the perennial moral law, makes an invaluable contribution to all of society’s efforts to promote solid family life.

The teaching of the council rightly goes on to note, with deepest concern, the negative aspects of family life in society today:

"However, this happy picture of the dignity of these partnerships is not reflected everywhere, but is overshadowed by polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and similar blemishes; furthermore, married love is too often dishonored by selfishness, hedonism and unlawful contraceptive practices.Besides, the economic, social, psychological and civil climate of today has a severely disturbing effect on family life.There are also serious and alarming problems arising in many parts of the world as a result of population expansion.On all of these counts an anguish of conscience is being generated" (Ibid, No. 47b).

The writing and publication of Humanae Vitae was, in fact, a response to the concern, expressed at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, about the dishonor brought to marriage by artificial contraception.In a prophetic way, Pope Paul VI cautioned against the destructive consequences of the use of artificial contraception (Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, No. 17).

Church teaching on the conjugal union

Critical to the stability of family life is the right ordering of the sexual union of husband and wife, the full expression of their faithful and lifelong love of each other.Through the sexual union, which has its rightful place solely in marriage and is, therefore, also called the "conjugal union," husband and wife become "one body" (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31).Unless the conjugal union is understood in its deepest meaning by a couple, that which, by nature, expresses their vocation to marriage can, in fact, betray their vocation and lead to division between them, and even separation and divorce.On the other hand, when God’s plan for the conjugal union is understood and fully respected by a couple, their bond of marriage grows in beauty and strength.

The Church has the solemn responsibility to teach God’s plan, His moral law, in accord with the mandate which our Lord gave to St. Peter and the other Apostles, when He sent them to preach the Gospel to all the nations (Matthew 28:18-19).Teaching the plan which God has revealed to us includes not only teaching the divine law articulated in the revealed Word of God but also the law which God has written in our nature itself, what we call the natural law (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1950-1974).

The Church’s teaching regarding the transmission of human life and the education of human offspring has been constant down the Christian centuries. In fact, until 1930, all of the Christian churches and ecclesial communities shared the Catholic Church’s teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception.In 1930, the Episcopalians, or Anglicans, accepted artificial contraception as moral. Since that time, a number of ecclesial communities have also accepted the morality of artificial contraception.

On July 25, 1968, the perennial teaching of the Church regarding the full meaning of the conjugal union was strikingly presented in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Examining thoroughly all of the reasons given for accepting artificial contraception as moral, Pope Paul VI concluded that the Church cannot change her teaching in the matter without betraying the law of God, written in our very nature and confirmed by the Word of God.

God’s plan for the conjugal union

According to God’s plan, sexual intercourse or the conjugal union has two inseparable meanings.On the one hand, through sexual intercourse, the married couple give themselves fully to each other, affirming the goodness of the other and the full commitment of each partner to the good of the other.On the other hand, by the same act, the couple accept the highest mission possible to mankind, that is, the procreation of offspring, who are "the supreme gift of marriage and greatly contribute to the good of the parents themselves" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, Dec. 7, 1965, No. 50a).

Not every act of conjugal union is, in fact, procreative.God has placed in nature the means by which the conception of new human life is spaced.By coming to a deeper understanding of the natural means of spacing births, husband and wife can cooperate with God and nature in the planning of the birth of their children.In this way, in every act of sexual union, husband and wife will express the full meaning of the act, accepting the life-giving power of the other and being generous in readiness to accept the gift of a new human life.

When, for some natural reason, a couple is unable to conceive their own child, they express the procreative dimension of their conjugal union by their dedication to the care of children and youth, especially those with specials needs, and by their adoption of children whose parents are not or cannot care for them.

The two meanings of the conjugal act are inseparable; they are essentially related to each other.There can be no complete conjugal union, when the fertility or capacity for procreation of the spouse is excluded.At the same time, the procreation of new human life is the proper fruit of the exclusive and indissoluble love of a man and a woman united in marriage.Pope Paul VI wrote:

"Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while closely uniting husband and wife, makes them apt for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and woman.By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination to man’s most high vocation to parenthood (Humanae Vitae, No. 12b).

It is God’s will that the conjugal act both unites husband and wife in one flesh and, at the same time, makes their love fruitful in the procreation of new human life.We are called to respect God’s plan and cannot presume to rewrite the order which He has placed in our very being.

Confusion in our time

Many of the faithful in our time have become confused regarding the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception.Part of the confusion is caused by the above-mentioned abandonment of the Church’s perennial teaching in the matter by the Episcopalian, or Anglican, and other Christian bodies.Also, the concern about the growing population of the world, to which the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council referred, has led some to the false conclusion that artificial contraception is the answer to the concern.We have seen the same argument used to urge the use of artificial contraception to prevent the conception of children through illicit sexual union, that is outside of the marriage bond, and to prevent the spread of certain dread diseases communicated through the misuse of sexual intercourse.

Also, a false feminism has concluded that a woman must have absolute control over her body and, therefore, must be able to control artificially whether she conceives a child or not.According to this view, artificial contraception is seen as an essential instrument of woman’s freedom.But our nature, including our human body, is God’s gift with its own integrity which must be respected.

Here, one must note that, once we believe that we can separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal union, the way is opened to a general fear of human life, as if conception were an illness associated with sexual union, and to the taking of other immoral measures to eliminate the procreative meaning of sexual intercourse, for example, contraceptive sterilization and procured abortion.In this line, it should also be noted that some devices and chemicals which are called contraceptive are, in truth, abortifacient, that is they prevent the implantation of the newly conceived human life in the endometrium of the womb and so cause death.

As a result of the strong movement in society to promote contraception and a certain failure in the Church to present clearly and insistently her teaching on the transmission of human life, many Catholics have also been confused and have believed themselves to be morally justified in practicing artificial contraception.As in every matter, we are morally obliged to inform correctly and fully our conscience.Natural Family Planning Awareness Week provides a good occasion to engage in such conscience formation, which touches the very foundations of family life.

Clearly, it is essential that the consciences of children be formed correctly regarding the twofold meaning of sexual union, so that they grow in the virtues of purity, modesty and chastity.Children learn these virtues, most of all, from the example of life of their parents.As Pope Paul VI reminded Christian husbands and wives, the grace of baptism in them has been further defined and strengthened through the grace of matrimony (Humanae Vitae, No. 25b). Therefore, they should never give way to doubt or fear about their ability to fulfill the duties of the their vocation.

Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning (NFP) assists couples to be responsible parents by respecting fully God’s plan for the conjugal union.Through NFP, couples come to know more deeply the full meaning of their sexual union and of their mission of procreation.Understanding more fully how God has made them to share with Him in the creation of new human life, they cooperate with their God-given nature to conceive children and to space the conception of their children, so that they may fulfill their responsibilities for the upbringing of the children God gives them.At the foundation of NFP is a generosity of cooperation with God in the conception and birth of children made in His own image and likeness.

NFP contributes significantly to the depth of communication between husband and wife.It should come as no surprise that, in a world with a very high rate of divorce, divorces of couples who follow NFP are very rare, less than 1 percent, according to one scientific study.

Sometimes, it is said that NFP is no different than artificial contraception in that they both have the same end in view.Pope Paul VI responded to this argument in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae:
"The Church is not inconsistent when she teaches both that it is morally permissible for spouses to have recourse to infertile periods and also that all directly contraceptive practices are morally wrong, even if spouses seem to have good and serious reasons for using them.These two situations are essentially different.In the first, the spouses legitimately use a faculty that is given by nature; in the second case, the spouses impede the order of generation from completing its own natural processes" (No. 16c).

The Holy Father goes on to underline how NFP requires mutual respect and discipline on the part of both spouses, and provides for them the occasion to grow in holiness of life and to witness to God’s plan for procreation.The care required by both partners in following NFP is an unmistakable sign of their self-sacrificing love for one another.It draws them closer to God and closer to one another.


The Archdiocese of St. Louis is blessed to have an outstanding program of education and assistance in NFP, coordinated through the Office of Laity and Family Life, under the direction of Susan Edwards, and developed and presented by K. Diane Daly, RN, CFCE, archdiocesan coordinator.Through their work and the work of many generous couples, the teaching of NFP is available in every part of the archdiocese. I take the occasion to thank Edwards, Daly and all of our teaching couples for their outstanding service of life and love.

May Natural Family Planning Awareness Week be the occasion for all of us to grow in our understanding of God’s plan for the transmission and education of new human life through the love of man and woman in marriage.Let us all pray daily for those whom God has called to the married life, that they will be good, faithful and generous in carrying out the high mission of their vocation of life and love.

Syndicate content