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.

Bishop Hermann: 'I thought you should know’

Sooner or later we will have a new archbishop. When will this happen? People keep asking me if I know anything. I give them a variety of answers. Sometimes I tell them, "Only three persons really know and they are not speaking." They immediately ask me who the three persons are and I tell them: "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." This usually stops the speculation. I also tell them that as soon as it is announced in Rome they can consult their smart phone or their computer if they signed up for this information on the Archdiocesan Web, and find out who it is.

However, more important than when we get a new archbishop should be the question, "Are we prepared to accept the gift that the Holy Spirit is about to bestow upon us?" The Holy Spirit is always full of surprises. Consider the following examples:

In 1958 the world was shocked when the College of Cardinals elected a 77-year-old cardinal, Cardinal Roncalli, to be pope. As Pope John XXIII, he began the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Hermann: ‘I thought you should know’

St. Stanislaus Parishioners, welcome home to the Catholic Church!

This past Monday, March 9, 2009, Bishop James Johnston, Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, informed Father Marek B. Bozek that on January 31, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI had dismissed Father Marek Bozek from the priesthood. This means that Mr. Bozek no longer has any priestly powers, aside from giving absolution to a person in danger of death.

St. Stanislaus Parishioners, welcome home to the Catholic Church! The Catholic Church is your home. You have a right to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, including the valid celebration of the Holy Mass, the valid celebration of Confession, the valid celebration of marriages. We want to work with all those couples who have been led into believing that the marriages Mr. Bozek celebrated in St. Stanislaus were valid marriages. They were not. I encourage you to go to your pastor in order to discuss how to get your marriage validated in the Catholic Church. Until your marriage has been reconciled with the Church, you should not present yourself for Holy Communion at Holy Mass. The Marriage Tribunal is ready to work with any pastor who might have questions.

This was the pastoral concern that moved Archbishop Burke to encourage all such parishioners, who had received the Sacraments invalidly at St. Stanislaus since the coming of Mr. Bozek, to seek out a Catholic priest for assistance. Archbishop Burke was concerned about the eternal salvation of those who had been misled. A number of parishioners, including several former members of the Board of St. Stanislaus Parish, have returned and have been reconciled with the Church.

Archbishop Burke was simply expressing the Church’s pastoral concern. This has never been a dispute about money or property, but only about obedience. The Church regulates the use of all Church property for the sake of unity. Obedience to Christ and His Church begets unity and peace. St. Ignatius of Antioch tells us that wherever the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church, and wherever the Catholic Church is, there is Christ.

Bishop Hermann: ‘I thought you should know’

Today I want to reflect further on the meaning of Lent. In the Gospel for last Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, St. Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for 40 days, where he was tempted by Satan. In the desert, Jesus enters more deeply into all the demands and cries of his humanity, but he also enters deeply into prayer so that he can address human demands before entering his public ministry and, eventually, his passion and death. Scripture tells us that he was tempted in every way that we are, but that he did not sin. Thus, he models for us what it is like to prepare ourselves by prayer and fasting in order that we can carry out the will of the Father in our lives. It is the call to holiness.

Jesus shows us that by entering more deeply into prayer, we become more sensitive to the movements of the flesh and the movements of the Holy Spirit.

When we first think of fasting, we would rather think of feasting. We don’t like to fast. Once, a person told me, "I did not like to hear you talk about fasting, but then I decided to give fasting and prayer a try. In the last year, I have shed far more than unwanted pounds, and I have grown in virtue. I feel as though I am a person in control again." Isn’t that great! This person was not saying this with any sense of pride, but was saying this with a great sense of humility, because the individual realized it was the Lord who graciously granted that mercy and that grace. It really does work!

Bishop Hermann: 'I thought you should know’

In last week’s Gospel, on the seventh Sunday of the year and immediately preceding Lent, Jesus is confronted by a paralytic man on a mat lowered through the roof by four men. When Jesus saw the faith of the four men, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

We may well ask ourselves, "Why didn’t Jesus first heal the paralytic man of his physical paralysis and then forgive his sins?" The answer is that Jesus is Jesus, and we are not; therefore, we need to look at what He did and reflect on why He did what He did.

It is obvious that all who were present were aware of this man’s physical paralysis, but probably only Jesus knew of his spiritual paralysis. Spiritual paralysis comes from the realization that inside we have guilt because of our sinfulness, but, since sin seems to be bigger than we are, we don’t always know how to deal effectively with sin. If we commit a sin and confess that sin, and then we recommit that same sin, we often feel too discouraged and too proud to try again, so we go into denial. Denial is spiritual paralysis. We cannot move.

"When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’"

Jesus was aware that the paralytic man did not have the same access to the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance and the Holy Eucharist as we do today. Christ saw into the depths of the paralytic man’s soul and saw there irresolvable guilt, so he freed him from this spiritual paralysis by extending to him forgiveness for all of his sins. Christ gave him more than he realized he needed. By forgiving the paralytic man of all his sins, he removed the paralyzing guilt.

Only after Jesus extended God’s mercy to the paralytic man’s soul did he extend God’s healing to his body.

'Be not afraid!’


On June 27, Pope Benedict XVI appointed me to the office of Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

With the appointment, which took effect at noon in the Vatican (5 a.m. in St. Louis) on the same day, I ceased to be the archbishop of St. Louis. In the afternoon of June 27, the College of Consultors of the archdiocese, in accord with Church law, met and elected Bishop Robert J. Hermann to the office of archdiocesan administrator. As archdiocesan administrator, Bishop Hermann will govern the archdiocese until the new archbishop is appointed. From my very close work with Bishop Hermann, over the past four years and five months, I can assure you that the governance of the archdiocese is in the best of hands. It is in the hands of a bishop of deepest faith and prayer.

Since I have regularly written a column for you in our archdiocesan newspaper when I was your archbishop, I wanted to write to you one last time now no longer as your archbishop but as your former archbishop who continues to love you very much. I write simply to say "thank you" and "farewell."

'Be not afraid!'


On this coming Sunday, June 29th, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles. The annual celebration of Saints Peter and Paul gives us the occasion to reflect upon the apostolic origins and nature of our Catholic faith and to recommit ourselves to the bringing of the faith to all the nations.

Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul have individual feast days, for example, the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter on February 22nd and the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25th. The feast of both Apostles, which we will celebrate on Sunday, emphasizes the unity of their apostolic ministry in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who called Saint Peter to be the Head of the College of Apostles and Saint Paul to be the Apostle of the Nations. Saint Paul carried out his apostolic mission in communion with Saint Peter. Both Apostles were arrested and executed in Rome, Saint Peter in the year 64 by crucifixion, and Saint Paul in the Year 67 by beheading. The Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican is built over the tomb of Saint Peter. The Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls is built over the tomb of Saint Paul. To be precise, the altar of sacrifice in both basilicas is built directly above the tomb of the respective Apostle.

The grace given to Saint Peter continues to be given to the Bishop who succeeds Saint Peter in his office of Pope or Bishop of the Universal Church. The grace given to Saint Paul continues to be given to the Bishops and priests who succeed him in preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments and establishing the Church in every part of the world.

Pope Benedict XVI, Successor of Saint Peter

Recently, we have had the occasion to experience very directly the apostolic ministry of the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict XVI. The Apostolic Journey of the Roman Pontiff to our nation and the United Nations was an extraordinary gift to the Church in the United States of America. By his Apostolic Journey, our Holy Father underlined for us our communion with the Church throughout the world. His teaching, his celebration of the Sacraments, and his meeting and speaking with a rich variety of the faithful manifested directly the source of our communion, our Lord Jesus Christ Who teaches, sanctifies and governs us in the Church through the Apostles and their successors, under the headship and in communion with Saint Peter and his successor. In a special way, he taught us about the theological virtue of hope, which is the source of the direction and energy for our daily living, for our earthly pilgrimage home to God the Father.

On Sunday, we will pray, in a special way, for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, Successor of Saint Peter. We will also express our communion with him through the Peter’s Pence Collection by which all Catholics throughout the world support the Holy Father’s charitable works on behalf of those in most need.

If you are not already doing so, I urge you to include prayer for our Holy Father and his intentions in your daily prayers. A good way to do so is to begin each day with the Morning Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Year of Saint Paul

On June 28th, we begin the Jubilee Year of Saint Paul, convoked by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of the bimillennium of Saint Paul’s birth. We will conclude the special Jubilee Year in honor of Saint Paul on June 29, 2009. In announcing the Year of Saint Paul, Pope Benedict XVI, urged us to know more fully the teaching of Saint Paul, which is truly the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Various special celebrations will take place at the Basilica of Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls to promote knowledge of the Apostle of the Nations. Local celebrations will be joined to the celebrations in Rome for the same purpose.

For your own observance of the Year of Saint Paul, I commend the book, Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, edited by Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., and published by Magnificat (86 Main Street, Suite 303, Yonkers, NY 10701; Tel. 914-502-1846; E-mail:

A distinct reflection on the writings of Saint Paul is proposed for each day of the year by a wide variety of spiritual writers.

There is also an official website for the Year of Saint Paul:

Our Holy Father has granted special Indulgences for the observance of the Year of Saint Paul. The Indulgences are directed to the deepening of the spiritual life in all of us and to the good works which are the fruit of a deeper spiritual life. The grant of Indulgences is most generous; the Plenary Indulgence can be obtained by those who visit the tomb of the Apostle Paul on pilgrimage to Rome; by those who, in their home diocese, take part in a special liturgical or devotional action to honor Saint Paul; and by those who are impeded from taking part in any public action of prayer but join themselves spiritually to the activity of the whole Church to honor Saint Paul.

It is my hope that the observance of the Year of Saint Paul will bring to all of us a deeper knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his announcement of the Year of Saint Paul, on June 28th of last year, Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us of importance of the teaching and the life of the Apostle of the Nations for each of us. Reflecting upon Saint Paul’s teaching that nothing will be able to separate us from "love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," the Holy Father declared to us:

The Church’s action is credible and effective only to the extent to which those who belong to her are prepared to pay in person for their fidelity to Christ in every circumstance. When this readiness is lacking, the crucial argument of truth on which the Church herself depends is also absent (Pope Benedict XVI, "Pope announces upcoming ‘Pauline Year’," L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 4 July 2008, p. 2).

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI has asked us to give special attention to the Church’s ecumenical commitment during the Pauline Year. He reminded us: "The Apostle to the Gentiles, who was especially committed to taking the Good News to all peoples, left no stones unturned for unity and harmony among all Christians" (Ibid.). Once again, a good way in which to pray daily for Christian unity is the Morning Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer.

Conclusion: A Personal Note

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul has a special significance for me. It is the day on which I was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI in 1975. As I celebrate the 33rd anniversary of my priesthood ordination, I humbly thank God for the call to the ordained priesthood and for the many gifts of His grace, given to me over the past thirty-three years for the fulfillment of Christ’s priestly mission in the Church. Please pray for me, that I may be ever more faithful and generous in responding to the vocation and mission which our Lord Jesus Christ confided to me on June 29, 1975, the day of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood.

May God grant to Pope Benedict XVI, the Successor of Saint Peter, an abundance of the blessings of good health and pastoral charity for his service to the universal Church.

May the Year of Saint Paul deepen in the whole Church and in each of her members an obedient response to the missionary mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15).

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