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!’


The words of the priest after the Profession of Faith we make or our godparents make for us at our Baptism give inspiration to this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. During the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, after we or our godparents have answered the final question of the Profession of Faith, the priest declares:

This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord (The Roman Ritual, The Rite of Baptism for Children, no. 96).

We hear the priest pronounce the same words, when we renew the Profession of Faith before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our response is always: "Amen."

The Profession of Faith prepares us to be washed clean of sin and brought to life in Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism. The faith professed at our Baptism sustains us throughout our lifetime and prepares us for the passage from this life to the eternal life of heaven. It expresses the reality of our being as true sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. The faith professed at Baptism responds to our deepest longings and desires; it leads us to Jesus Christ, the only source of lasting joy and peace. For that reason, we are, indeed, proud to profess our faith. Our pride is, at once, filled with humility at the knowledge of our total dependence upon God and with confidence in His unconditional love of us, revealed fully and perfectly in Christ.

Life of faith in the first Christian community

We see in the life of the first Christian community at Jerusalem the profound reality of our life in Christ, which begins with our Baptism. We see the pride with which the first Christians, living in a society which either did not know Christ or had rejected Him, professed their faith and lived the Profession of Faith in the circumstances of daily life. Blessed with the gift of faith, they were baptized; they became sons and daughters of God and, at the same time, brothers and sisters of each other.

They gathered as one community in Christ to deepen their knowledge of the faith, to pray and give worship to God, and to provide, from their substance, for the good of all their brothers and sisters (Acts 2:44-57). The pride which was theirs in professing the Catholic faith expressed itself in the pursuit of sound doctrine, in the fervent offering of prayer and worship to God, and in the generous offering of self for others.

Professing the faith through stewardship

Stewardship is inherent to our life in Christ. It is the concrete expression of the truth that, in Christ, we are brothers and sisters of each other, without boundary or exclusion. In Christ, we are bound in love to all men and women, for whom He gave up His life and for whom He asks us to give up our life, with Him. By the practice of Christian stewardship, we are co-workers with God in the care of His creation and of His sons and daughters — our brothers and sisters — created in His own image and likeness, and redeemed by the Most Precious Blood of His only-begotten Son.

Stewardship means sacrifice for us. It is an essential way by which, each day, we take up the cross with Christ, doing the Father’s will and offering ourselves in love of Him and our neighbor. Stewardship is not something added on to the Christian life, when we have something extra to share. It is, rather, a mark of our daily living. It manifests the truth that all that we are and have are God’s gift to us, given to us for His glory and the service of the good of all.

Stewardship means sacrifice, but it does not mean sadness. Giving of ourselves and of our substance for the love of God and neighbor, we discover who we really are and are filled with deepest joy and peace. When we humbly recognize our dependence on God and confidently do what He asks of us, we find a truly lasting security in this life and the promise of eternal happiness in the life which is to come.

The saints, our teachers in stewardship

The saints are our great teachers in the Way of the Cross, which leads to the Resurrection. They are our great teachers of the Gospel truth that by losing our lives we save our lives, now and for all eternity (Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-37; and Luke 9:23-25).

I think, for example, of St. Francis of Assisi, who found his deepest joy in embracing the leper and in giving up all of his earthly possessions and his whole being in order to build up the Church. I think, also, of St. Louis, King Louis, IX of France, patron of our archdiocese, who spent himself in rescuing widows and prostitutes from the streets, and in building homes and hospitals for the infirm. When the Holy Father asked him to put his goods and his person at the service of saving the holy places of our Lord for Christian pilgrimage and veneration, he spared nothing, giving up his very life, for the love of our Lord and in devotion to the places in which He accomplished our salvation, above all, Jerusalem.

Finally, I think also of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who gave herself totally to Christ for the sake of "the least brethren, the poorest of the poor," without asking any earthly consolation. For her, it was enough to know that through her humble service Christ’s thirst for souls was being satisfied, His love was reaching His treasured brothers and sisters in need.

Annual Catholic Appeal

One of the premier ways in which Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis profess their faith with pride is the Annual Catholic Appeal. The Annual Catholic Appeal is a work of all the faithful in the archdiocese on behalf of all of our brothers and sisters in need. Through the Appeal, we all, as one body in Christ, in imitation of the first Christians at Jerusalem, place our goods at the service of all. By the gift of ourselves through the Appeal, we participate in the many and various charitable, educational and missionary works of our archdiocesan parishes, schools and other apostolates.

We are proud to profess our faith through the Annual Catholic Appeal. We are grateful that God has given us such a wonderful means to work together in doing His work in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. We gratefully acknowledge the heritage of the Annual Catholic Appeal, spanning five decades, and we pledge ourselves to continue to develop the Appeal, in accord with our Christian vocation, an essential part of which is Christian stewardship.

Because the Annual Catholic Appeal is a work of all of the faithful, it is important that a report be given to all of the faithful, giving us the assurance that our stewardship is attaining its purpose. In other words, it is important for us to know that our sacrifices are benefitting those who are in most need. Such a report is given annually and is available, at any time, to anyone who wishes it.

It is, likewise, important that all of the faithful participate in the Appeal, so that it becomes more and more a work of the whole Church in the archdiocese. No matter what be the amount of the gift to the Appeal, if it is given from our substance, from the heart, it is the greatest gift we can give and is most pleasing in the eyes of God. We should never be ashamed to ask a brother or sister to participate in the Appeal, for our request of their help is our recognition of their dignity in the Body of Christ and of their call to be co-workers with God.

In a special way, I commend the work, led by Father Gregory Mikesch of St. Alban Roe Parish and extended now to many more parishes, which introduces our children and young people into the practice of Christian stewardship through participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal. The children and young people testify to the joy they find in giving of themselves for the good of all.


The Annual Catholic Appeal is only made possible through the work of our parish priests, deacons, parish chairpersons and lay leaders. Dedicated to this archdiocesan work of Christian stewardship, they help us all to bring Christ’s unconditional love to our brothers and sisters who are in most need. I thank, in a most special way, the priests whose leadership is irreplaceable.

At the same time, I thank the lay leadership, especially the parish chairs and all of the volunteers, whose dedication to the Annual Catholic Appeal gives hope to countless individuals and families. Our priests give their leadership in solidarity with a host of lay volunteer leaders.

I thank the Annual Catholic Appeal Council and, in a most special way, the general chairman, Con Franey. The enthusiasm, skill and leadership of the council, exemplified in Mr. Franey, is truly remarkable and maintains the vitality of the Appeal. In thanking the council, I thank also the excellent staff of the Archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, especially Frank Cognata, director of the office, and Brian Niebrugge, who heads up the work of the Appeal.

Finally, I thank all of you, the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who, as good stewards of God’s manifold gifts and co-workers with Him, make the Annual Catholic Appeal happen for the good of all. May God bless you!

‘Be not afraid!’


In some places in the English-speaking world, under the influence of a false feminism, a new and unauthorized practice has been introduced into the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism. The practice consists in substituting for the names of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, in the formula for Baptism, the names of three functions. In one formula, the three functions named are: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. In another formula, they are: Creator, Liberator and Sustainer.

Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of our Holy Father with responsibility "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world" (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, "On the Roman Curia," June 28, 1988, art. 48), responded to two questions regarding the use of the unauthorized formulas in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. The response was signed on Feb. 1 last and was officially published on March 1 last. Pope Benedict XVI approved the text of the two responses and ordered them to be published.

Response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

How did the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith respond? The full text of the response can be found online at:

The first question to which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded was: "Whether the Baptism conferred with the formulas ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier’ and ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator and of the Sustainer’ is valid?" The response was: "Negative," that is, the attempt to confer the Sacrament of Baptism by the use of either of the two formulas is invalid, empty and without effect.

The second question to which the Congregation responded was: "Whether the persons baptized with those formulas have to be baptized in forma absoluta?" The response was: "Affirmative," that is, the persons involved must be baptized absolutely, not conditionally. In other words, when such formulas are used, there is no doubt that the Sacrament of Baptism has not been validly conferred, and, therefore, the person must be baptized.

To understand more deeply the responses of the Congregation, the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Sacrament of Baptism should be consulted (nos. 1213-1284). I now offer some brief reflections which, I hope, will be helpful for your reflection upon the significance of the responses.

Conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism is conferred or administered through the pouring of water over the head of the baptized person three times or the immersion of the head of the baptized person in water three times, while saying the words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." There are also other ceremonies that accompany the administration of the sacrament, for example, the anointing of the crown of the head with Sacred Chrism, the clothing with the white garment, the handing over of the lighted candle and the praying over the ears and mouth. The essence of the Sacrament of Baptism, what is called the matter and the form of the sacrament, is, however, the pouring of water or immersion in water while speaking the Trinitarian baptismal formula. Without these two elements, the matter (the pouring of or immersion in water) and the form (the speaking of the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"), the Sacrament of Baptism is not conferred.

The essence of the Sacrament of Baptism comes to us from our Lord Himself. After His Resurrection and before His Ascension, our Lord sent the Apostles into the whole world to teach the faith and to baptize those who receive the gift of the faith "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).

The outward sign, the water and the Trinitarian formula, as Christ instituted it, confers the grace it signifies. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the essential rite of Baptism "signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal Mystery of Christ" (no. 1239). The water of Baptism, united to the words of Baptism, both signifies and accomplishes the cleansing from sin and the giving of new life.

The cleansing of sin is accomplished by the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we share in the victory of Christ over sin and death, accomplished by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In Baptism, we die with Christ to sin, and we rise with Him to eternal life. Eternal life is a share in the very life of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian formula for the conferral of Baptism expresses the great mystery of God’s love of us, which we first know and experience in this sacrament by which we come to life in Christ and enter into the life of the Church. God, in His immeasurable and unceasing love of us, desires that we share in His own life, the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Necessity of Baptism for eternal salvation

From the time of the Apostles, the Church has always shown the greatest care in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism, as in the celebration of all of the Sacraments.

Baptism has received special attention because it is the foundation upon which our whole life in the Church depends. Baptism is the door, so to speak, through which we enter the Church. Our Lord Jesus Himself made it clear that reception of Baptism is necessary for our eternal salvation (cf. Mk 16:16; and Jn 3:5; cf. Tit 3:5). The Church cannot permit, then, that the Sacrament of Baptism be conferred invalidly, leading the person "baptized" and those who witness the "baptism" into a most serious confusion and error.

Can the Church simply overlook the false practice, trusting that God will supply the grace of Baptism, notwithstanding human error? The answer is: No. Christ entrusted the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism to the Apostles and their successors. Christ works through the Church; He depends upon us to carry out His mission that He has entrusted into our care. We must, therefore, exercise every possible care to do everything which our Lord has commanded us to do.

Can the Church change the matter and form of the Sacrament of Baptism, to achieve some other purpose, for example, to advance the use of "inclusive language"? Clearly, the answer is: No. The Church does what Christ does. Christ has made clear how He cleanses us of the stain of original sin and all actual sins, and brings us to life in Himself in the Church. It is Christ Who acts through the Sacrament of Baptism, according to the unchanging will of the Father. It is an offense to Christ Himself to use the sacred rite for the conferring of Baptism for any other purpose than what He intends.

Are not the functions described in the unauthorized formulas equivalent to the names of the Persons of the Holy Trinity? The answer is: No. The Persons of the Holy Trinity are Persons whose names have been revealed to us by God Himself through His inspired Word in the Holy Scriptures. They are not functions and are not adequately named by substituting their names for functions ascribed to them. When we baptize, we express our faith in the three Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in one God.


I have no knowledge that the practice addressed by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has ever been introduced into the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I certainly hope that it has not been ever introduced in the archdiocese. Given, however, the mobility of our society and the instantaneous communication of information worldwide, it is important that you be informed about the matter, especially because it deals with the sacrament by which we are washed clean of sin and receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, bringing us to life in Christ as members of His Mystical Body, the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1213).

It is my solemn duty, as archbishop, to see that the sacraments are validly conferred and to prevent, as much as possible, the invalid celebration of a sacrament, which involves a deception of the most serious kind, that is, deception about the eternal salvation of the person who falsely believes that he or she is receiving a sacrament.

It is my responsibility to teach all of the faithful, so that not even one person is led into error about the most sacred realities of our faith.

In conclusion, if you or someone you know has witnessed the attempted conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism by the use of the unauthorized formulas described above, please contact your parish priest. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear, in such a case, the person involved is not baptized, and the Church is obliged to repair the most unjust situation by providing to the person the valid conferral of Baptism. As should be clear, the responses of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith apply to any attempt to confer the Sacrament of Baptism, whether in the Roman Catholic Church or in another Christian Church or ecclesial community. In the case of any doubt, the matter is best referred to your parish priest.

Even as we reflect on the sad situation of the invalid conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism, we have the occasion to reflect upon the grace of our own reception of Baptism and the gift of Christ’s life which we first received through water and the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity in the Sacrament of Baptism. May we all be renewed in our reverence for the Sacrament of Baptism.

'Be not afraid!’


On March 31, the transferred Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, I traveled to Springfield, Mo., to consecrate the Most Rev. James Vann Johnston Jr., a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, as sixth bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The Rite of Ordination of a Bishop takes place after the reading of the Gospel within the celebration of the Holy Mass, even as our Lord Jesus consecrated the Apostles during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

It was a stormy day in Springfield, with strong winds and heavy rains, but the hearts of the faithful were filled with joy and faith. Some 3,000 faithful gathered in the Springfield Exposition Center for the Mass of Ordination of a Bishop. It was necessary to move the celebration from the Cathedral of St. Agnes, one of the two cathedral churches for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau (the other cathedral church is in Cape Girardeau, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Annunciation), because of the number of the faithful who wished to take part in the Mass at which Christ gave them their new bishop. In addition to the faithful from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, many of the family and friends of Bishop Johnston, especially brother priests and faithful from the Diocese of Knoxville, traveled to Springfield for the celebration.

Bishop Johnston is blessed to have both of his parents still living. He also has two sisters and a brother, and a number of nephews and nieces. The bad weather sadly prevented a few bishops, priests and other faithful, who were traveling by airplane, from reaching Springfield in time for the celebration of the Mass.

Province of St. Louis

Why did I travel to Springfield to ordain the new bishop? The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau is part of what we call, in the Church, the Province of St. Louis. A province, which only the Roman Pontiff can establish, is made up of several neighboring dioceses and exists to foster "the common pastoral action" of the dioceses (can. 431, 1 and 3).

The principal diocese or archdiocese gives the province its name. In our case, the province is named after the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the oldest and principal diocese.

As archbishop of St. Louis, it is normally my duty to ordain the diocesan bishops in the Province (The Ceremonial of Bishops, Sept. 14, 1984, no. 1137). Bishop Johnston is the second bishop whom I have ordained. The first was our own Bishop Robert W. Finn, the bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on May 3, 2004.

The other dioceses belonging to a province are called suffragan dioceses. In the case of the Province of St. Louis, the suffragan dioceses are: the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the Diocese of Jefferson City and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The territory of the Province of St. Louis coincides with the territory of the State of Missouri. Such is often the case, as it was for me when I was bishop of La Crosse, Wis., a suffragan diocese of the Province of Milwaukee, whose territory coincides with the territory of the state of Wisconsin. The term suffragan does not share a common root with the word, suffering. It, rather, refers to the full vote or suffrage which a diocesan bishop has in meetings of the bishops of the province. The bishops of the Province of St. Louis meet three or four times a year to conduct the business of the province.

The ordination itself

The ordination of a bishop is carried out by a principal consecrator and two co-consecrators. Other bishops present also participate in the consecration of the new bishop.

Some 20 bishops, including all of the bishops of the Province of St. Louis, took part in the ordination. It was a singular honor to have present both Cardinal Justin Rigali, former archbishop of St. Louis, and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio or personal representative of Pope Benedict XVI in our nation.

In the case of Bishop Johnston, I, as archbishop of St. Louis, was the principal consecrator. The two co-consecrators were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, with whom Bishop Johnston worked very closely during the years when Archbishop Kurtz was the bishop of Knoxville; and Bishop John Leibrecht, who had been the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau since his episcopal consecration on Dec. 12, 1984, and whom Bishop Johnston is succeeding.

Bishop Leibrecht is particularly beloved in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, being a native son of All Souls Parish in Overland and a priest of the archdiocese since his priestly ordination on March 17, 1956.

Thanks be to God, Bishop Leibrecht is in good health and looks forward to helping Bishop Johnston, as he is able.

Parts of the ordination rite

After the reading of the Gospel, I led the whole congregation in singing the hymn, "Veni, Creator Spiritus," invoking the help of the Holy Spirit. Msgr. Thomas Reidy, who served as vicar general for Bishop Leibrecht, then formally presented Bishop Johnston for episcopal ordination, and Archbishop Sambi read out, in English translation, the apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XVI appointing Bishop Johnston to the office of bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The apostolic letter, as most official documents of the Church, is written in Latin. At the conclusion of the reading of the apostolic letter, all of the faithful present showed their assent by responding, "Thanks be to God," and by applause. After the reading of the apostolic letter, Msgr. Reidy presented it to the College of Consultors, a small group of the priests in a diocese who assist the bishop in his governance of the diocese, and then held it up for the whole congregation to see.

I then gave the homily, which commented on the readings for the day, the Solemnity of the Annunciation and on the significance of the rite of the ordination of the new bishop. The text of the homily can be found on the archdiocesan website:

Following the homily, the candidate for ordination is questioned about his intention to fulfill the responsibilities of bishop in obedience to the Roman Pontiff. Then, all are invited to sing the Litany of the Saints, invoking their intercession for the sacred rite of ordination of a new bishop, which is about to take place.

One of the invocations of the litany is: "Bless, sanctify, and consecrate this chosen man, Lord, we ask You, hear our prayer" (Roman Pontifical).

Once the singing of the Litany of the Saints was concluded, two actions took place by which the bishop was ordained or consecrated. First of all, I imposed my hands on the crown of his head. I was joined by Archbishop Kurtz, Bishop Leibrecht, Cardinal Rigali and the other bishops present.

The second action was the Prayer of Ordination, during which the Book of the Gospels is held open over the head of the man chosen to be bishop by two deacons. The central words of the Prayer of Ordination are the form of the sacrament, the matter being the laying-on of hands:
"Pour out now upon this chosen one that power which is from You, the Spirit of governance Whom you gave to Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit whom He bestowed upon the holy Apostles, who established the Church in each place as Your sanctuary for the glory and unceasing praise of Your name" (The Roman Pontifical).

These words refer to the mystery of the Sacrament of Ordination by which the bishop, once he is ordained, acts in the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Father’s flock, teaching, sanctifying and governing the flock.

The Prayer of Ordination is followed by the anointing of the head of the bishop with the Sacred Chrism, the handing-on of the Book of the Gospels, and the presentation of the insignia of the office of bishop: the ring, the miter and the pastoral staff or crosier. Once the insignia had been presented, I led Bishop Johnston to the cathedra, or bishop’s chair (which had been brought from the Cathedral of St. Agnes for the ceremony), and seated him in the chair. The cathedra, from which the principal or mother church of each diocese takes its name, is a principal symbol of the authority of the bishop. From that moment, as the new bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Bishop Johnston became the principal celebrant of the Mass, offering, for the first time as their bishop, the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the salvation of the people of his diocese.


At the conclusion of the Mass of Ordination, Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Leibrecht led Bishop Johnston through the congregation to give his blessing to all. All present gratefully received his first blessing as bishop. While he was blessing us all, we sang the traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving to almighty God, the "Te Deum."

I look forward to the first official visit of our newest suffragan bishop to the Archdiocese of St. Louis and hope, in the meantime, that you will have the occasion to meet him or be present for one of the Masses which he celebrates. He is a great blessing to our brothers and sisters of the Province in Southern Missouri, and to the whole Church. Please pray for him and for the faithful of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. Also, please pray that Bishop Leibrecht, who has served the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for nearly 24 complete years, will have many, healthy years of retirement. God bless Bishop James Vann Johnston Jr., sixth bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau!

‘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.


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.


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 or

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.

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