Archbishop's column

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

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

‘Be not afraid!’

Hope and the exercise of hope

After having provided a rather extensive reflection on the nature of hope in the Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI proceeds to describe what he calls "settings" of hope.

The "settings" provide for us the occasion to "learn in practice about hope and its exercise" (Spe Salvi, n. 31).
Our Holy Father proposes four "settings" for learning about hope and putting the virtue of hope into practice in our lives. They are: prayer, action, suffering and judgment.

Prayer

The first place in which we learn about and practice hope is prayer. Making reference to No. 2657 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that we are never alone, that we are never without someone with whom to speak, for God never abandons us, and we can always speak with Him in prayer. Pope Benedict cites, as an example, the experience of the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who was a prisoner in his native Vietnam for 13 years. During nine of those years, he was kept in solitary confinement. Cardinal Van Thuan, in his book, titled "Prayers of Hope," published after his release from prison, gives witness to the truth that prayer made him ever stronger in hope. In the years given to Cardinal Van Thuan after his release from prison and before his death in Rome on Sept. 16, 2002, he was an heroic teacher of hope to many throughout the world. His life gave eloquent witness to the truth of what he taught about hope (Spe Salvi, n. 32).

In the homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Cardinal Van Thuan, Pope John Paul II, making reference to the passage about hope "full of immortality" from the Book of Wisdom, declared:

"Like his life, Cardinal Van Thuan’s death was indeed a testimony of hope. May his spiritual legacy, like his hope, be ‘full of immortality’ (Andr Nguyn Van Chu, The Miracle of Hope: Francis Xavier Nguyn Van Thun, Political Prisoner, Prophet of Peace, Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2003, p. 280).

"Prayers of Hope: Words of Courage by Cardinal Van Thuan," to which Pope Benedict XVI refers, was published in 2002 at Boston by Pauline Books & Media.

Another example of an heroic witness to growth in hope through prayer is the Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek, SJ. Father Ciszek spent 23 years in the Soviet Union. During most of those years he was in prison or in the labor camps in Siberia. In his book, "He Leadeth Me" (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), Father Ciszek tells how the discipline of praying the Morning Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer and other prayers nourished his hope during his days of torture in the dreaded prison of Lubianka, a place which, to all appearances, was hopeless (pp. 49-60). Through his prayer, he knew God’s presence with him and spoke with God.

Prayer and hope in St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo helps us to understand the relationship of prayer to hope in a homily which he gave on the First Letter of John. He reminds us that we are made for God and that we, therefore, desire God above all else. But our hearts must be expanded through prayer in order to increase our desire of God and our capacity to know God and receive the gift of His love. To illustrate his point, St. Augustine refers to the passage of St. Paul, in which the Apostle speaks of his constant effort to know his true destiny in God:

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:12-14).

It is our hope, nourished by prayer, which leads us to press ever onward toward our final destiny with God in the Kingdom of Heaven (Spe Salvi, n. 33).

St. Augustine uses the image of a vessel filled with vinegar, which we now wish to fill with honey to describe the soul that needs to be disposed to receive the gift of God’s love. Pope Benedict XVI summarizes St. Augustine’s analogy in this way:

"The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined" (Spe Salvi, n. 33).

The soul which is small and ill-disposed to receive the love of God is purified and enlarged through prayer. It is confirmed in the hope of attaining its true destiny (The Works of St. Augustine, Vol. I/14: Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Fourth Homily, Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, pp. 69-70).

The prayer which purifies and expands our hearts opens us not only to God but also to our neighbor. Prayer, in order to be worthy of God, must be purified of any wrong intention regarding our neighbor, of superficiality and self-seeking, of self-deception. "We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes" (Spe Salvi, n. 33).

We cannot excuse ourselves from recognizing that which keeps us from praying with a pure and sincere heart. "Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is" (Spe Salvi, n. 33). As Pope Benedict XVI observes, if God did not exist, then we might be justified in seeking security in lies and self-deception. But my encounter with God in prayer shines His light upon my conscience, so that I recognize the truth and grow in a "capacity for listening to the Good itself," listening to God (Spe Salvi, n. 33).

Personal prayer and liturgical prayer

For prayer to purify and enlarge our hearts with the desire of God, it must express the personal encounter with God, which we experience, "an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God." At the same time, "it must be guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly" (Spe Salvi, n. 34). Pope Benedict XVI refers again to the example of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan who, even though there were periods when he found it must difficult to pray, always prayed the public prayers of the Church, so that God continued to speak to his heart and he to the Heart of God.
Father Ciszek also tells how, even though he could not offer the Holy Mass in prison, he would recite all of the prayers of the Mass from memory and also recite many of the Church’s other public prayers (the Angelus, the Rosary, and hymns), in order to be united to the Church’s greatest act of worship (He Leadeth Me, pp. 54-55).

When we pray, using both our personal forms of prayer and the public prayer of the Church, our hearts indeed become purified and expanded to receive the gift of God’s love and to give love to our neighbor. "We become capable of great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others" (Spe Salvi, n. 34). The hope which prayer teaches us is always hope to be shared with others and hope for the world.

Conclusion

If we wish to know hope in our lives and to practice it as a virtue, we must place ourselves in the presence of God by praying, praying in our own words and praying in the words given to us in the Church, so that we are purified of our smallness and of our selfishness, and disposed to receive God into our lives. God is always present to us, He is always knocking on the door of our hearts. Prayer is our means to recognize Him, to communicate with Him, and to open our hearts to receive Him.

The example of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan and of Father Walter Ciszek, SJ, teaches us the central place of prayer in our lives. Prayer gives us hope, and hope anchors our life securely in God. The discipline of daily prayers in our lives, personal prayer and the prayers taught to us by the Church, will make us ever richer in hope within ourselves and for the service of others.

‘Be not afraid!’

Divine Mercy Novena

Good Friday, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our eternal salvation, marks for us the beginning of the Novena to the Divine Mercy, which concludes on the Second Sunday of Easter, the last day of the Easter Octave. The Novena to the Divine Mercy was revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska in 1937. The private revelation regarding the novena is recorded in St. Faustina’s "Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul" (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Marians of the Immaculate Conception, 2001, nos. 1209-1229).

Some in the Church have raised a question about the fittingness of beginning a novena of prayer in the middle of the Sacred Triduum, which extends throughout Easter Week, that is, the Octave of Easter. Actually, the Novena to The Divine Mercy is inspired by the outpouring of our Lord’s life on the Cross for all men, without boundary or exception. During the nine days between Good Friday and the Second Sunday of Easter, we pray that all souls will be brought to the source of the Divine Mercy in the Church and "that they may draw therefrom strength and refreshment and whatever graces they need in the hardships of life and, especially, at the hour of death" (Diary, no. 1209). As our Lord explained to St. Faustina, on each day of the novena we are to bring to His glorious pierced Heart "a different group of souls," so that they may be immersed "in this ocean of (His) mercy," and He may "bring all of these souls into the house of My Father" (no. 1209).

What inspires the prayer each day for a different group of souls? It is the Passion of Christ, celebrated with greatest solemnity on Good Friday. It is the Passion of Christ, which is anticipated at the Last Supper in the handing over of Christ’s true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the forms of bread and wine, and which bears its lasting fruit in the Resurrection of Christ, celebrated at the Easter Vigil, on Easter Sunday and throughout the Easter Octave. By the Novena to The Divine Mercy, we ask that all souls enjoy, in the Church, the glorious and lasting fruit of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Through the Novena to the Divine Mercy we respond to the thirst of Christ for souls, for all souls, expressed perfectly on the Cross.

Intentions of the novena

For whom is the prayer of the novena to the Divine Mercy offered each day? On the first day of the novena, our Lord asks us to pray for all sinners, bringing them to Him to be immersed "in the ocean of (His) mercy" (Diary, no. 1210).

On the second say, our Lord asks us to being to Him "the souls of priests and religious, and immerse them in (His) unfathomable mercy" (Diary, no. 1212). Our Lord reminds us that priests and religious are, by vocation, "channels" through which His mercy reaches all men. They must, therefore, know deeply the mystery of God’s immeasurable mercy in their lives.

On the third day of the novena, we bring to our Lord’s foundation of unceasing mercy "all devout and faithful souls" (Diary, no. 1214). These souls were the source of consolation to our Lord during His cruel Passion and Death.

He wants, therefore, that they never grow distant from His all-merciful love. On the fourth day, we pray for the unbaptized and those who do not yet know our Lord (Diary, no. 1216). Our Lord reminds us that, as He poured out His life on the Cross, He was thinking of these souls and of how they would, by the grace of His Passion, become zealous for the Church.

On the fifth day of the novena, our Lord asks us to bring "the souls of heretics and schismatics" to "the ocean of (His) mercy" (Diary, no. 1218). Our Lord asks us to pray for the healing of the great wound which those who abandon the Catholic faith or break communion with the Church inflict upon Him and His Mystical Body. In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, we should pray, in a special way, for those of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation and of "Catholic Womenpriests" who are in schism and are refusing to be reconciled.

On the sixth day of the novena, we pray for "the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children," immersing them in Christ’s mercy. Our Lord declared to St. Faustina: "Only the humble soul is able to receive My grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence" (Diary, no. 1220). The seventh day of the novena is devoted to the souls who are most devoted to the Divine Mercy. Of them, our Lord declared: "They are living images of My Compassionate Heart," and He promised: "I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death" (Diary, no. 1224).

The eighth day is devoted to the poor souls in Purgatory. Through St. Faustina, our Lord reminds us of how much the poor souls suffer and of how they depend upon us to bring them relief, especially by drawing indulgences from the great treasury of the Church on their behalf (Diary, no. 1126). Finally, the ninth day is devoted to prayer for "souls who have become lukewarm." Our Lord speaks to St. Faustina of the profound suffering caused to Him in the Garden of Olives or Gethsemane by "lukewarm souls," and He reminds us that "the last hope of salvation" for them is "to flee to (His) mercy" (Diary, no. 1228).

Divine Mercy Sunday

The conclusion of the Novena to the Divine Mercy fittingly coincides with the conclusion of the Octave of Easter on the Second Sunday of Easter, which is now also known in the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Servant of God Pope John Paul II who instituted Divine Mercy Sunday, at the Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina, on April 30, 2000, declared:

"It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the Word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ In the various readings, the Liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that ‘man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called to "practice mercy" towards others: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Mt 5:7) (Dives in misericordia, no. 14). He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgive sins but reach out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual" (Pope John Paul II, "Homily on the Canonization of Blessed Faustina Kowalska," Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 92, p. 672, no. 4).

The Servant of God Pope John Paul II’s last Sunday Angelus message (for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005), dictated before his death on April 2, 2005, the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, was a prayer:

"Lord, Who reveal the Father’s love by Your Death and Resurrection, we believe in You and confidently repeat to You today: Jesus, I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Amen" (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 97, p. 462).

May our observance of Divine Mercy Sunday, concluding our Novena to the Divine Mercy, bringing all souls to "the ocean" of Divine Mercy through prayer, lead us to an ever deeper knowledge of the great mystery of God’s love of us, revealed in His Son’s Passion and Death, and made always new for us in the Church.

Worldwide Fertility Care Week

This year, Worldwide Fertility Care Week begins on Easter Sunday and concludes on Saturday of Easter Week. It has been designated by Fertility Care Centers of America, a non-profit organization founded to promote the Creighton Model of Fertility Care and the new reproductive science called NaPro Technology.

The Creighton Model of Fertility Care helps a couple to know their fertile and infertile times by observing physical signs in the body of the woman. The Model is the fruit of some 25 years of research at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb., and has attained a very high degree of effectiveness in helping couples to achieve pregnancy and to plan the births of their children. The theme of this year’s Worldwide Fertility Care Week reflects the great gift of the Creighton Model to couples: "Who Knew? Your Body Knows and Now You Know Too."

NaPro Technology

NaPro Technology developed out of the Creighton Model of Fertility Care. Observing carefully physical signs of fertility and infertility in the body of the woman has led physicians to identify physiological and hormonal difficulties in conceiving and bringing a child to birth.

The treatments which are prescribed in NaPro Technology are based on what is naturally occurring in the body of the woman. Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers has produced an eloquent testimonial to the important work of NaPro Technology in his textbook, "The Medical and Surgical Practice of NaPro Technology," published in 2004 by the Pope Paul VI Institute Press.

This year, Dr. Hilgers will be giving the annual Peter Richard Kenrick Lecture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary on March 27 at 7:30 p.m.. The lecture is open to the public. Since space is limited, it is necessary to make a reservation to attend the lecture by calling the seminary (314) 792-6100. There is no charge for attending the lecture.

Centers of the Creighton Model Fertility Care

There are a good number of centers throughout the archdiocese, which provide assistance to couples who wish to use the Creighton Model Fertility Care System. To find the center nearest to you, you may contact K. Diane Daly or Ann M. Prebil at (314) 991-0327. You may also obtain more information online at www.creightonmodel.com or www.fertilitycare.org.

It is fitting that Worldwide Fertility Care Week should fall during Easter Week. The crowning gift of God to a couple in marriage is the procreation of offspring, created in His own image and likeness, and redeemed by the Death of His only begotten Son on the Cross. Difficulties of infertility are the cause of intense suffering to couples.

The Creighton Model Fertility Care System and NaProTechnology are outstanding instruments by which the grace and mercy of our Lord reach concretely couples who are suffering from infertility.

I am happy to have the occasion to express in my own name and in the name of all of the faithful of the archdiocese heartfelt gratitude to all of the Creighton Model providers and doctors, especially at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur, St. John’s Hospital in Washington, SSM Hospitals (St. Mary’s in Clayton, and St. Joseph’s in Lake St. Louis, St. Charles and Kirkwood) and St. Anthony’s Medical Center. To all of their clients, I give the assurance of my daily prayers for your intentions, especially through the intercession of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, wife-mother-physician.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction Next week, we celebrate the holiest week of the Church Year, the week in which God the Son Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, endured His cruel Passion and Death for love of us, the week in which Christ won eternal salvation for us. After Palm Sunday, each day of Holy Week is called holy, except Good Friday, which is called "good" because it is the day when Christ saved us from our sins and restored our communion with God the Father. At Mass on Palm Sunday, we celebrate both Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for His last Passover and the beginning of His Passion, when the people, who welcomed Him so warmly, turned against Him and asked the Roman authorities to execute Him. The week concludes with the Easter Vigil, in which we mystically wait at the Holy Sepulcher of our Lord and witness His rising from the dead to remain with us always in the Church. The Easter Vigil, in fact, brings to fullness the intense celebration of the last days of Holy Week, which we call the Sacred Triduum or Three Days. The Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. It has its center in the celebration of the Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday. Good Friday was anticipated at the Last Supper, when our Lord transformed the bread and wine into His glorious Body and Blood, which He poured out for us on the Cross. Good Friday looks to the Easter Vigil. Christ died on the Cross, in order that He might rise from the dead, freeing us from sin and winning for us the grace of eternal life, above all, through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. Living Holy Week Holy Week cannot be for us like any other week but must be marked with the deepest sentiments of gratitude and love, expressed, above all, by our participation in the Sacred Liturgy. Too easily, we may permit the busyness of our lives to keep us from the Christian celebration of Holy Week. Our love of Christ and our communion with Him, however, draw us to observe Holy Week by giving our heartfelt participation to the Sacred Liturgy and by setting aside times of silence and prayer at home or in visits before the Blessed Sacrament. Our observance of the 40 days of Lent has been directed to making us ready for the celebration of Holy Week, so that the strong grace which comes with the commemoration of the events of our salvation may be poured forth into our souls and reach into every dimension of our lives. Commemorating, with Christ, His Blessed Mother and all the saints, the events of the Sacred Triduum, we contemplate the mystery of His life within each of us. Palm Sunday and Holy Monday, Tuesday,Wednesday We participate in the Holy Mass on Palm Sunday to be with our Lord as He enters Jerusalem, the Holy City, for the last time. We are deeply conscious that it was His boundless love of us, His unceasing desire that we be with Him for ever in Heaven, which led Him to enter Jerusalem in which He knew that He was to face a most cruel agony and death. The blessing of palms and the procession with the blessed palms reminds us of the pilgrimage of Christ’s life, which reached its destiny in His Suffering and Dying on the Cross. The procession with the blessed palms also reminds us of our own earthly pilgrimage, along which Christ accompanies us, during which we must pass through suffering and death in order to reach the destiny of our pilgrimage, eternal life with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the company of the angels and all the saints. Please take your blessed palm home with you and place it where you will see it daily, perhaps by the crucifix in your bedroom. It will remind you each day to set out anew with Christ on the pilgrimage home to God the Father, and to embrace the most ordinary circumstances of daily life as the occasion to give glory to God and to love your neighbor purely and selflessly. Participation in the Mass on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday would be a wonderful way to continue accompanying Christ during these final days of His life and as He prepared to enter upon His Passion, Death and Resurrection. If participation in Mass is not possible, it would be good to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament each day. For all, time spent each day in prayer and devotion, meditating upon the Passion of our Lord, will help us to be with our Lord during these holiest of days. A very simple and efficacious way to meditate upon the mysteries of our salvation is the praying of the Stations of the Cross. I also commend the praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary during Holy Week. Holy Thursday: Chrism Mass and Mass of the Lord’s Supper On Holy Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, I, together with the priests of the archdiocese, will offer the Chrism Mass, during which the Sacred Chrism will be consecrated and the Holy Oils will be blessed for use in the celebration of the sacraments and other sacred rites during the coming year. It is a most beautiful celebration, the last solemn liturgical rite before the Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening of Holy Thursday. All of the faithful of the Diocese are invited to participate in the Chrism Mass. It is a truly a celebration of the mystery of our salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ Who encounters us in the Sacraments. In the evening, we gather at the altar of our Lord’s Sacrifice to celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the Holy Priesthood. The Rite of Washing the Feet symbolizes in a striking way the depth of our Lord’s love of us and our share in the mystery of His love. The Holy Eucharist is the greatest gift of our Lord to us in the Church. It is the gift of Himself, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Our hearts are filled with joy to celebrate the gift of the Holy Eucharist, first given at the Last Supper and then in the offering of the Holy Mass in every time and place. After the celebration of the Mass, please plan to spend some time in eucharistic adoration at the Altar of Reposition. Holy Thursday is also a day for us to pray in gratitude to God for the high priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ in which He calls our priests to share for the sake of shepherding us along the way of our earthly pilgrimage. In your prayer during the day and at Mass, please remember, in a special way, our priests and our seminarians who are responding to Christ’s call to the priesthood. Celebration of the Lord’s Passion Around 3 p.m. on Good Friday, we solemnly celebrate our Lord’s Passion and Death. We begin with the Liturgy of the Word, the heart of which is the proclamation of the Passion from the Gospels. After the homily, the Liturgy of the Word concludes with the General Intercessions for the needs of the universal Church and of the world. At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the homily will be given by Father John J. Coughlin, OFM, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. The second part of the celebration is the Veneration of the Cross. A large crucifix is carried in procession and venerated by the whole congregation. After the procession, there is the opportunity for each of us to make our individual act of veneration. It is our way of showing our desire to take up with Christ, each day, the cross of pure and selfless love of God and neighbor. The celebration concludes with Holy Communion. Hosts consecrated at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the evening before are brought to the altar and distributed to the faithful. Any hosts remaining are reposed in a place outside the main body of the church, so that the church remains without the Real Presence as we mystically wait at the Holy Sepulcher for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord at the Easter Vigil. Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting. It is day when we should observe periods of silence, remembering the Passion and Death of our Lord. The Easter Vigil The Sacred Triduum concludes and the Easter Season begins with the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The rite for the Easter Vigil is the richest and most beautiful of all liturgical celebrations of the Church Year. The rite begins with the Blessing of the Fire and the Lighting of the Easter Candle signifying Christ the Light, Who dispels the darkness of our sin and wins for us the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Proclamation (Exultet) is sung at the Easter Candle. Nine readings, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, are provided that we may receive a truly full instruction on the mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ. After the last reading from the Old Testament has been proclaimed, the candles on the altar are lighted and the Gloria is sung with the joy-filled ringing of all the church bells which have been silent since the singing fo the Gloria at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The third part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of Baptism, during which we witness the lasting fruit of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection in the baptism of catechumens, and in the conferral of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion for both the newly baptized and those who are being received in the full communion of the Catholic Church. The final part of the Easter Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As Christ commanded us at the Last Supper, we offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which His greatest act of love is made present for us. Conclusion As your shepherd, I close with the simple request that you make careful plans to participate in the sacred liturgies of Holy Week, especially of the Sacred Triduum, and to mark the days of Holy Week with special prayer and devotion. May we keep company with Christ with deepest faith, hope and love during these holiest of days of the Church Year.

‘Be not afraid’

Introduction

I interrupt my reflection on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)," to write to you about the recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land for which I was the spiritual director. The pilgrimage began on Feb. 17, with a late evening flight from New York City to Tel Aviv, Israel. It concluded Feb. 27 with a 1 a.m. flight from Tel Aviv back to New York City.

The pilgrims were all priests, apart from two laymen from the Catholic tour company that made all the arrangements for the pilgrimage; the guide, a devout Palestinian Catholic who lives in Jerusalem; and the bus driver, a Palestinian Muslim who was noteworthy both for his deep respect for the priests and me, and for his expert driving.

Ten of the priests (including myself) were from the St. Louis Archdiocese, the other 14 priests came from various dioceses in our nation: Dubuque, Iowa; Evansville, Ind.; Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.; La Crosse, Wis.; Raleigh, N.C.; St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Springfield, Ill.; and Washington, D.C. The youngest priest was ordained in 2004, and the oldest in 1952.

Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is among the most ancient spiritual practices, going back to the Old Testament. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself went on pilgrimage with His Mother Mary and His guardian, St. Joseph. Every time we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we recall how He was left behind in Jerusalem at the conclusion of a pilgrimage from his hometown of Nazareth, and how Mary and Joseph found Him teaching the doctors of the law in the Temple.

Pilgrimage, in fact, is a deeply spiritual expression of the meaning of life itself, which is a journey from the moment of conception to the moment of death. On pilgrimage, we remember that here on earth, we have no lasting city and that our days on earth, be they many or few, are a journey to the lasting home which our Lord has prepared for us in Heaven (John 14:1-7; and Hebrews 13:14).

When we go on pilgrimage, we leave the familiar surroundings of our everyday life to journey to a holy place. What do we mean by a holy place? We mean a place in which our Lord or his Blessed Mother or one of the saints has lived or appeared, or a place that has been set aside to the honor of our Lord, His Blessed Mother or one of the saints. At the holy place, a shrine or sanctuary is established, to which the faithful journey on pilgrimage, for example, the Shrine of St. Joseph in St. Louis.

If you wish to study in greater depth the spiritual practice of pilgrimage to shrines, I recommend two documents published by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in preparation for the observance of the Great Jubilee of 2000: "The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee" (April 25, 1998); and "The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God" (May 8, 1999). They are available through the Daughters of St. Paul (Pauline Books and Media), and also online at: www.vati
can.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Clearly, the holiest of places to which to go on pilgrimage are the places in which our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived, born, lived His hidden life, carried out His public ministry, suffered and died for us, rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples in His risen body, ascended to the right hand of the Father and sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. The pilgrimage to the holy places of our Lord Jesus Christ culminates in Jerusalem, in which are located the Upper Room of the Last Supper and of Pentecost, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Way of the Cross, Mount Calvary, or Golgotha, and the Holy Sepulchre.

Every other pilgrimage, in a certain way, is directed toward the Holy Land and, above all, to Jerusalem, the place in which our Lord Jesus accomplished the work of our salvation. The Holy Scriptures call it the "city of the living God," which is our lasting home, by the name, "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22). St. John the Apostle, in his vision of our final destiny and the final destiny of all creation, when our Lord returns in glory on the Last Day, describes "a new heaven and a new earth," in which is found "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:1-2).

From Galilee to Jerusalem

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land began in Galilee, at the places of the Annunciation, and the hidden life and public ministry of our Lord Jesus. It included Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, Mount Tabor or the Mount of the Transfiguration, Tiberias, Tabgha (where our Lord appeared to St. Peter and other Apostles after the Resurrection, and confirmed the Primacy of Peter), the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, or Gennesaret.

We journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem, making a stop at Jericho to view the Judean wilderness in which our Lord Jesus passed the 40 days of fasting and prayer in preparation for His public ministry. Especially striking is the Mount of the Temptation, the place in which Satan tempted our Lord three times during those forty days (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-13).

At the beginning of our days in Jerusalem, we traveled twice to Bethlehem, the place of our Lord’s Birth. We also visited Shepherd’s Field (the area very near to Bethlehem in which the shepherds were tending their flocks on the night of our Lord’s Birth and from which they were called by angels to adore Him), Bethany, and Ain Karim (the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Baptist, and the place of the Visitation).

In Jerusalem, we offered Holy Mass in the sanctuary which marks the place in which our Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; and Luke 13:34), we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we made the Way of the Cross on the very path that our Lord Himself carried the Cross from the Praetorium to Calvary. The culmination of the pilgrimage was the offering of the Holy Mass in the Holy Sepulchre and, essentially connected with it, the Holy Mass celebrated in the Cenacle or Upper Room, in which our Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist.

Challenge and goal of pilgrimage

Certain hardships are inherent to going on pilgrimage. In other words, a pilgrimage is not a tour or a vacation but a spiritual time to be renewed in faith, hope and charity.

Often, reaching the location of the shrine or sanctuary requires a special effort. Since most pilgrimages are made in company with other pilgrims, there is also the challenge to practice Christlike charity with our fellow pilgrims. We do not go on pilgrimage as angels but as frail human beings with all of our faults and failings which can try the patience of our fellow pilgrims.

The goal of the pilgrimage is to discover the extraordinary nature of our ordinary life because it is lived in Christ and is, indeed, a royal path leading to eternal life. The devout pilgrim discovers what the Servant of God Pope John Paul II so aptly described as the "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter "Novo millennio ineunte (At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000)," Jan. 6, 2001, n. 31). Through the pilgrimage, the pilgrim recognizes anew Christ alive within himself through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit transforms his ordinary life into something truly extraordinary that anticipates the glory of eternal life with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the company of all the angels and saints.

Through daily Mass and the confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance, pilgrims receive the special graces for their pilgrimage. Each day, at the Holy Mass, the pilgrim is reminded of the reason for his pilgrimage and receives the Body of Christ to sustain him on the pilgrimage. Through the Sacrament of Penance, the pilgrim seeks the forgiveness of his sins, of which he becomes conscious and for which he experiences deepest sorrow, as a particular grace of the pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage of priests

Why organize a pilgrimage for priests? First, because priests, no less than any other member of the faithful, need the spiritual renewal and enrichment that a pilgrimage provides. At the same time, a pilgrimage of priests prepares the priests to be spiritual directors of pilgrimages for other members of the faithful.

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land has a special significance for priests, for they contact the very places in which their priestly life and ministry have their origin: the places in which our Lord called the Apostles, in whose ministry the priest is called to share; the places in which our Lord taught and formed the Apostles, so that they would be prepared for consecration to act in His person as Head and Shepherd of the flock; and, finally, the Upper Room in which our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist and the holy priesthood, so that the Holy Eucharist might be made present in every time and place.

One of the most edifying aspects of the pilgrimage was the manner in which the unity and fraternity of all priests was immediately evident. Many of the priests had never met each other before and, even if they were from the same diocese, may not have known each other that well. Through the pilgrimage, our Lord Jesus, as He did for the Apostles, drew the priests together as sharers in His one priesthood.

Conclusion

In speaking with others about the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jerusalem, the most frequent question regards the safety of the pilgrimage. We are all sadly aware of the enduring conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On pilgrimage, one sees the tragic signs of the conflict, for instance, the so-called "security wall," which attempts to isolate Palestinians from Israelis, increasing the enmity between them instead of drawing them together as brothers of the same land.

During our visit to Bethlehem which has suffered in a particularly severe way from the conflict, we were blessed to visit Bethlehem University, a Catholic university operated by the Holy See and the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the same Brothers who operate Christian Brothers College High School. Because its students are all Palestinian, the university has suffered from all of the restrictions placed on Palestinians in entering and leaving Bethlehem. The university was under military closure from October 1987 through October 1990, and, in recent years, has suffered physical damage from direct attacks on its buildings. The Christian Brothers and the other members of the administration and faculty, however, bravely continue their mission of offering to the young Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, a brighter future through a sound university education. We, for instance, were treated to a delicious lunch prepared by the students in the Department of Hotel Management and Tourism. To witness the joy and hope of the faculty and students of Bethlehem University was truly an inspiration.

I would never encourage my brother priests to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land if I thought that their lives would be in serious danger. During the whole time of the pilgrimage, I never felt that we were in any unusual danger. At the same time, I found that, in general, both the Israelis and Palestinians treated us as pilgrims with great respect. I remember what a priest and longtime resident of Jerusalem told me during my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2005. He urged me to lead more pilgrimages because, in his words, "pilgrims bring us (Israelis and Palestinians) closer together."

It is also important for both Israelis of the Jewish religion and Palestinians of the Islamic religion to witness the essential part of the holy places in our Christian faith. A most sad effect of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is the massive emigration of Palestinian Christians from the Holy Land because they can no longer provide a decent and safe life for themselves and their families. It cannot escape us that the holy places will be reduced to lifeless monuments if there is not a resident Christian community to care for them and to celebrate the sacred mysteries in them on a daily basis.

Having Christians come on pilgrimage is a great encouragement to our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, who daily care for the holy places of our salvation.

Finally, I assure you that every day of the pilgrimage, I had in my prayers, especially at the Holy Mass, the intentions of the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I thank those who prayed for us on pilgrimage, so that we would have a safe journey and would be spiritually enriched through our visits to the holy places of our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘Be not afraid!’ - ‘Saved in Hope’ — VIII

Hope and individualism

Is placing all our hope in God’s unconditional love a totally individualistic act, made with indifference before our relationships with others? Is it a kind of "God and me" hope? In the first place, it must be observed that our relationship with God is not something that we establish on our own or by our own power. It is, first, God’s gift of unconditional love of us, to which we are called to respond with love.

The answer to the question regarding hope and individualism, therefore, is found in our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ Who alone is the sure anchor of hope in our lives. Life in Christ is life poured out in love of others, without boundary. "Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into His ‘being for all’ it makes it our own way of being" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Living in communion with Christ means living with Him, for others. He alone makes it possible for us to live so. To illustrate the point, Pope Benedict XVI quotes words of St. Maximus the Confessor, a Doctor of the Eastern Churches, who died in the year 662. St. Maximus the Confessor, when he urged the faithful to love God above all else, at the same time reminded them that love of God frees us to give love, to give of ourselves and of our means to others in imitation of divine love. "Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: The love of God is revealed in responsibility for others" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Example of St. Augustine of Hippo

Pope Benedict XVI helps us to understand the essential "connection between love of God and responsibility for others" by recalling for us the life of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine, who had led a very worldly and, frankly, sinful life until the time of his conversion, had decided, after his conversion, to join with some "like-minded friends" in forming a type of contemplative community, that is a fraternity devoted to the things of God.

But God had other plans for St. Augustine. One Sunday, while attending Mass at Hippo, St. Augustine was called by the bishop to receive priestly ordination for the service of the faithful. Writing about the event in his "Confessions," St. Augustine tells how he had thought of running away from priestly ordination because of his gravely sinful past. It was the Word of God which gave him the courage to respond to the bishop’s call: "And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15). St. Augustine understood that living in Christ "means allowing oneself to be drawn into His being for others" (Spe Salvi, n. 28).

Life in Christ for others

Life for St. Augustine as a priest and, eventually, a bishop was most challenging. The variety of sheep making up the flock, with their various needs, and the effects of original sin in the world demanded nothing less that the total gift of himself to them. Pope Benedict XVI quotes a text of St. Augustine about his pastoral work:

"The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved" (Spe Salvi, n. 29).

Such is the life of a true shepherd of the flock in a world inhabited not by angels but by human beings who are deeply affected by the sin of our first parents. It is not, however, a life given to discouragement or desperation, for Christ has redeemed the world and acts in the Church for the transformation of the world, until the day of His return in glory, when all of creation will be restored to God in its original perfection. One of the specific ways in which Christ acts in the Church for the transformation of the world is the ministry of the bishop and his co-workers, the priests.

An additional source of deep concern in the heart of Augustine was the collapse of the Roman Empire in North Africa, of which Hippo was a part, and the resulting instability of daily life and loss of political security. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that in Augustine’s last years Roman Africa was, in fact, destroyed.

Our Holy Father comments on how St. Augustine, notwithstanding "his introverted temperament," dedicated himself to transmitting, to the people of Hippo, the hope which comes through faith. Conscious of his own sins and of the perilous social and political situation of the city of Hippo, St. Augustine put his trust in Christ and assisted others to do the same. "On the strength of his hope, Augustine dedicated himself completely to the ordinary people and to his city — renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people" (Spe Salvi, n. 29).

Summary

Pope Benedict XVI then proceeds to summarize his reflections, thus far, on Christian hope. First of all, man embraces various causes of hope throughout his life, some of which can seem to be "totally satisfying without any need for other hopes." When those hopes are fulfilled, however, we discover that they are not all for which we were hoping. "It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for him, something that will always be more than he can ever attain" (Spe Salvi, n. 30).

In our time, man has thought to replace the Kingdom of God with his own kingdom developed by means of progress in scientific knowledge and "scientifically based politics." The hope based on faith, which is taught to us by the Word of God, is truly replaced "by hope in the kingdom of man." Our culture urges us to put our hope more and more hope in man’s scientific and technological achievements, but our experience demonstrates that the realization of such hope grows ever more distant from us.

Secondly, hope for the future, while it necessarily embraces all our brothers and sisters, also is at the heart of who we as individuals are. It, therefore, also involves human freedom. The hope of the future depends on the free choice of the good by each succeeding generation. Any initiative which does not respect human freedom, even if it purports to give man hope, will not bear lasting good fruit for individuals or for the whole of society. While we must be committed to making the world better, that end in itself is not "the proper and sufficient content of our hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 30). Our hope is ultimately in the good which comes from the hand of God alone.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that God Who has taken "a human face and Who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety" is "the foundation of hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 31). Our hope in Him and in His Kingdom is not some fantasy which will never become reality but is fulfilled in the love which He pours out upon us here and now, and to which we respond, here and now, with love. God’s love, given to us in the Church, sustains us throughout the trials of our earthly pilgrimage. At the same time, it trains our minds and hearts on the future when we will know God’s love fully and forever. "His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is ‘truly’ life" (Spe Salvi, n. 31).

Conclusion

The Holy Father’s reflections lead us naturally to consider how much our own hope rests upon our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ and, therefore, expresses itself in Christlike responsibility for others. Does hope daily transform our lives, so that we ourselves are animated by hope and, at the same time, give hope to others?

Considering all of the causes of hope in our lives, we are also led to consider that God alone is the final and lasting cause of our hope. It is God’s love given so abundantly to us in the Church that both gives us hope in the present, so that we continue steadfastly along the path of the pilgrimage of life on this earth to our destiny in heaven, and is the sure promise of that destiny: life without end in the world to come, that is, the eternal life which is the fullness of the life we live now in Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate.

Having completed a rather extensive reflection on the nature of hope in the Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI proceeds to describe what he calls "settings" of hope. The "settings" he proposes in the last part of the encyclical letter will help us to gain a practical knowledge of "hope and its exercise" (Spe Salvi, n. 31).

‘Saved in Hope’ — VII

Hope and human freedom

Pope Benedict XVI returns again to the question about the substance of our hope. He reminds us that hope is not founded upon a steady progress that is realized in the world of our interaction with material reality. Hope is not sustained by the progress in the knowledge of material things or the progress of technology in controlling the material world by "ever more advanced inventions" (Spe Salvi, n. 24).

Hope depends upon us, and we are free to either accept the good which is handed down to us from one generation to the next or to reject it. No one can make moral decisions for us. Because we are free, we must decide. "Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). The good, also in the history of man, is there for us to choose, but it is not imposed upon us. We know, for instance, how man has made choices in our time that reject goods long treasured and protected in society; for instance, the protection of innocent and defenseless human life and the prohibition of procured abortion.

Hope and human structures

The Holy Father draws two conclusions from his reflection on freedom and the nature of hope. First, good human structures alone, necessary as they are, will not guarantee man’s choice of the moral good. "Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). The community must be attentive to instill in her members the conviction that leads to choosing the good in practical matters.

Secondly, in this life, we will never arrive at a point in which "the kingdom of good" is definitively established. It must be established ever anew in each individual and in the whole community by our free choice of what is good and right. "Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good" (Spe Salvi, n. 24). There can never be a complacency in society about the good having been achieved.

It must be achieved again and again in the lives of the members of society and, thus, in the whole of society. Pope Benedict XVI rightly cautions us against anyone who would try to convince us that a certain societal structure represents the definitive establishment of the good for all. The reality of human freedom shows such a claim to be a lie.

Hope and the challenge of each generation

Hope of achieving "the kingdom of good" means that each generation of mankind must do its best, seek the best structures, for the right exercise of human freedom. What those who have gone before us have accomplished for the good of society gives us hope of meeting the challenge to do the same in our time and place.

It is not a question of scientific progress, as the philosopher Francis Bacon and other modern philosophers have thought and would have us believe. Science offers us so much in the work of doing the good, but, unless it is disciplined and directed by the moral order, it also can destroy us. Think, for instance, of the scientific research which would artificially generate human life outside of the conjugal act and would, then, experiment with and eventually destroy the human life generated.

In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI offers a criticism of modern Christianity, inasmuch as it also has had a kind of blind faith in scientific progress and, thereby, "has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation" (Spe Salvi, n. 25). The hope which our Christian faith offers cannot be restricted only to our personal lives, in which it inspires great good, especially on behalf of those in most need. It must also address scientific and technological progress with the message of eternal salvation. The moral good sought in one’s personal life cannot be different from the good which must be sought in our interaction with the world.

Unconditional love and hope

Christian faith teaches us that we are not redeemed by science but by divine love, and, as the Holy Father makes clear, this "applies even in terms of this present world." We experience this truth, in a limited way, when we are loved by another. Human love nourishes hope, but it is not enough in itself, for it is fragile and subject to death.

The love which redeems the world, including the world of here and now, is the unconditional love of God. Only when we know that we are loved unconditionally and absolutely, do we have lasting hope. Writing of God’s unconditional love of us, which alone gives us secure hope, Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Paul:

"For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

In our Lord Jesus Christ, we have come to know God’s unconditional love of us.

So immense and so ceaseless is God’s love of us that He has taken our human nature, that He might be our Brother, might love us always in the Church. God is not far away and abstract for us, an unknown power over us, but, rather, He has become one with us in the fullest manner possible. For that reason, St. Paul can declare:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
God the Son has taken a human heart under the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and has permitted His Heart to be pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, after He died for us on the Cross, to pour out His every last ounce of being in love of us.

God alone is our hope

It is God alone who gives us sure hope. Without faith in God, a man can "entertain all kinds of hopes," but he is finally without hope because he has not come to know and love God Who has created and sustains all being, and Who alone, therefore, gives us sure hope. "Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God Who has loved us and Who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30)" (Spe Salvi, n. 27).

Our Lord Himself teaches us what it is to have life and, therefore, hope. In his prayer for the Church before entering upon His Passion and Death, our Lord addressed these words to God the Father: "And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Life ultimately is not "something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: It is a relationship" with God (Spe Salvi, n. 27). Life for us is Jesus Christ, to Whom we relate as Brother and Who is the secure anchor of our lives, our lasting hope.

Pope Benedict XVI recalls his earlier reflection on the Rite of Baptism before the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Spe Salvi, n. 10). During the dialogue between the priest, parents and godparents at the beginning of the Rite of Baptism the parents declare that they are seeking faith for their children, the faith which gives eternal life. In other words, faith puts us into relationship with God "Who is Life itself and Love itself," and, therefore, faith indeed offers the gift of life in Christ, which is eternal life (Spe Salvi, n. 27).

Conclusion

Our Holy Father’s reflection on the relationship of human freedom and human structures to hope leads us to consider our own understanding of the freedom with which God has created us. Do we live in such a way that we daily choose anew the good and encourage others, especially those who depend upon us for an example, to do the same? Are we complacent before the good which we have inherited from those who have gone before us or do we actively choose it for ourselves and our world? Do we think that human structures can establish "the kingdom of good" in our personal lives and in the world? Do we understand that the good in any human structure depends upon the daily choice of the good by individuals and by the whole of society?

Is our hope founded on our relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a relationship in which God loves us unconditionally? Is Jesus Christ the center of all our affections and desires, the center of our lives? Do we say with St. Paul: "(T)he life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20)?

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