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!’


In writing about the expectation of the Final Judgment as a setting for the learning and practice of Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)," treats those whose life, because it is profoundly marked by lies and hatred, merits eternal punishment and those whose life is marked by a faithful pilgrimage home to God the Father. He then takes up the question of those who maintain, in the depths of their being, a desire and love of God but who sin in the decisions of their daily life. These souls soil the purity of their desire of God by their sins, but yet, in the depth of their heart, the purity of the desire remains. He asks:
"What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur?" (Spe Salvi, no. 46).

In giving a response to his important question, the Holy Father turns to a text from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

In the text, St. Paul reminds us that the one foundation of the Christian life is our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a secure foundation that even death cannot destroy. We, however, build upon the foundation with the different materials of our daily living, our daily works. When our Lord returns on the Last Day, the fire of His judgment will test our works.
St. Paul concludes:

"If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

Reflecting upon the text, we see that before we can be received into the presence of God, the purification of our unworthy works must take place. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "in order to be saved we personally have to pass through ‘fire’ so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast" (Spe Salvi, no. 46).

The purifying fire

What is the purifying fire which prepares us to be received into the Banquet of Heaven? Our Holy Father, referring to the thinking of certain "recent theologians," proposes that the fire is the encounter with "Christ Himself, the Judge and Savior." In other words, when we appear before Christ, "the Judge of the living and of the dead," His complete purity will burn away everything in our life that is not worthy of Him. Pope Benedict XVI writes:

"The encounter with Him is the decisive act of judgment. Before His gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with Him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of His heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of His love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God (Spe Salvi, no. 47)."

We see in the words of the Holy Father, interpreting the truth enunciated by St. Paul, the meeting of the justice and mercy of God in the doctrine of the faith regarding Purgatory.

God in His justice must address the wrong we have done in our lives, the impurity with which we have soiled the purity of His love in our hearts. But God, in His mercy, sees the love of Him which remains in the depths of our hearts, notwithstanding our sins. Our Holy Father reminds us that, Christ, by His Suffering and Dying, has conquered our sins. At the moment of the Last Judgment, His victory over sin, "the overwhelming power of His love," confronts our sins. In that encounter, "(t)he pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy" (Spe Salvi, no. 47).

The time of purification

How long will the pain of the purification, "the pain of love," which is at the same time "our salvation and our joy" endure? Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the measurement of earthly time does not apply in the world which is to come. How can we conceive then the measure of the purification which will take place? Since it is a purification wrought by the love of God, its duration will be measured by our heart:

"The transforming ‘moment’ of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning — it is the heart’s time, it is the time of ‘passage’ to communion with God in the Body of Christ" (Spe Salvi, no. 47).

We rightly fear the pain of the purifying encounter with the Face of Christ at the Last Judgment. We fear the endurance of that pain. We are justifiably fearful because we are sinners, we have sinned. Yet, hope leads us to embrace the purification which most surely prepares us for complete communion with God, in the company of the angels and all the saints. "The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace" (Spe Salvi, no. 47).

The purification of the encounter with Christ at the Last Judgment answers the question about what the justice of God necessarily requires before the reality of our sins. God’s grace does not overlook our sins, as if they had no reality when, in fact, we know all too well their painful reality. At the same time, His justice does not leave us in a fear which becomes despair. In our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace and justice of God are united, so that, in the grace of Christ, we face His judgment with hope.

Prayer for the poor souls in Purgatory

Pope Benedict XVI concludes his treatment of the Last Judgment as a setting of hope by discussing the help which we can give to souls going through purification before entrance into Heaven. The early Jewish faith taught that, by prayer, those on earth can assist deceased brothers and sisters "in their intermediate state," that is, in the state between earthly life and the eternal life of Heaven.

The Christian faith, in both the East and West, has always taught that our love can reach those who have died, "that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death" (Spe Salvi, no. 48).

As our Holy Father observes, it is only natural that we want to communicate with those whom we love and who have died. Their death is not the death of our love of them; it does not quench our desire to show kindness to them or to express to them our gratitude or to ask for their forgiveness.

But can we intervene, in any way, in their purifying encounter with Christ, the Judge? The answer is: Yes. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that our lives are continually involved with the lives of others. We are constantly a source of influence on each other, and a source of material and spiritual help for each other. My prayer for the dead, therefore, reaches the poor soul in Purgatory, and, in that interconnectedness of our lives, "can play a small part in his purification." Our communion with each other, living and dead, is not bound by the limits of time. As our Holy Father declares, "It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain" (Spe Salvi, no. 48).

Even as our love for those who have died remains forever, so should our loving prayer for them never cease. Christian hope is not only hope for ourselves but for all of our brothers and sisters:

"As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: How can I save myself? We should also ask: What can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them, too, the star of hope may rise?" (Spe Salvi, no. 48).

What is more grateful, loving and reconciling toward a deceased brother or sister than to pray for them daily and to have the Holy Mass offered for their eternal rest?

'Be not afraid!’


On Dec. 15, 2005, I was obliged to declare the excommunication of the members of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation because of their persistence in schism. The members of the board had committed the most grievous delict of schism by hiring a suspended priest, that is, a priest not in good standing in the Church, for the purpose of attempting to celebrate the Sacraments and sacramentals at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, all outside of the communion of the Catholic Church. The priest in question, the Rev. Marek B. Bozek, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., had left his priestly assignment against the expressed will of his bishop, Bishop John Leibrecht, to be hired by the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation.

Bishop Leibrecht warned Rev. Bozek, several times, about the grave consequences of his actions, and, when Rev. Bozek refused to heed his warnings and abandoned his priestly assignment, was obliged to suspend him from all acts of the power of Holy Orders and of governance. When I received news of Rev. Bozek’s coming to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I urged him to be obedient to his bishop and not to participate in the schismatic activity of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation. Rev. Bozek also refused to follow my direction and, likewise, incurred the penalty of excommunication because of persistence in schism.

On March 23, 2006, the board of directors and Rev. Bozek presented a recourse against my declaration of their excommunication before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of the Holy Father which treats all matters of heresy and schism. The recourse alleged that I had unjustly declared the excommunication of the members of the board of directors and of Rev. Bozek.

Decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
After careful study of the recourse, which has necessarily taken a long time, especially because of the many and weighty matters which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith treats, the Congregation, by its letter of May 15 last, has communicated to me its decision regarding the recourse. The complete text of the letter is printed, with this column, for your information.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has taken two actions in the matter. First, it has rejected the recourse presented by the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation, including Rev. Bozek. In other words, it has found the recourse to be without foundation.

Secondly, the Congregation has confirmed my decrees of Dec. 15, 2005, by which I declared that the members of the board of directors had incurred the canonical penalty of excommunication because of persistence in schism.

Reasons for the congregation’s response

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gives two reasons for its decisions. The first reason is the failure of the members of the board of directors to observe the time-limits set by law for the presentation and pursuit of a recourse, and their negligence in fulfilling what is formally required to pursue a recourse.

The second reason is the evident fact that the members of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation have committed the delict of schism and persist in the delict. As the letter of the congregation explains, the board of directors have made what was St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, a parish of the Roman Catholic Church, into "an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church." The letter observes how the former St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was gradually "removed from the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary." In other words, the actions of the members of the board of directors demonstrate their refusal to submit themselves to the legitimate authority of the Church (cf. can. 751).

The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that the actions of the board of directors have broken communion with the universal Church.

Frequently, especially in the communications media, the difficulties of the board of directors have been presented as a disagreement with me as archbishop of St. Louis and have been reduced to a personal conflict between them and myself. As their pastor, I have been obliged to call them to reconciliation and repentance for the good of the salvation of their souls and the good of the whole Church.

In doing so, I have acted in accord with what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church require. My actions have nothing to do with any personal conflict but, rather, with the integrity of the Catholic faith and its practice, which I have the solemn responsibility to safeguard and promote.

Further recourse or reconciliation

Clearly, the finding of the congregation is most serious for the members of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation. It touches upon the eternal salvation of their souls. For the congregation, and also for me, the matter is of the deepest pastoral concern. The congregation, therefore, indicates two possible responses of the members of the board of directors.

If the members of the board of directors believe the decision of the congregation is unjust, then they may appeal the decision to the ordinary session of the cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation, which takes place each Wednesday, Feria IV in Latin, within 30 "useful days" from the day on which they receive a copy of the congregation’s letter. In Church law, the "useful time" which a person has to exercise a right does not run when the person is unaware or is unable to act (can. 201, 2).

The other possible response of the board of directors is to withdraw from the state of schism, in which they have placed themselves, and to be reconciled with the Church. As the Congregation points out, reconciliation with the Church necessarily includes repentance for the grave harm which their schismatic actions have caused to individual souls and to the whole Church.

Pastoral care of the congregation

The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asks that I, as archbishop of St. Louis, assist the members of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation to accept its decision and offer them, on the congregation’s behalf, "special pastoral care and kindness." I have been and continue to be committed to the reconciliation of the members of the board of directors with the Roman Catholic Church. From the beginning, extraordinary efforts have been made by the Archdiocese of St. Louis to keep St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation within the communion of the Church. I will continue those efforts.

What is clear, however, is that reconciliation can only take place through the acceptance of the Church’s teaching and discipline, in its integrity, which we all are held, in obedience, to accept and follow. Reconciliation, in the present case, must be a return to the recognition of the legitimate authority of the Church’s pastors, that is, the Holy Father, the archbishop of St. Louis and the parish priest.

Regarding Rev. Marek Bozek

Some months ago, I was obliged to take further canonical actions in the matter of Rev. Bozek, the suspended and excommunicated priest who has been serving the St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation since December 2005. Among those actions was the referral of his commissions of the delict of prohibited communicatio in sacris to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has the competence to handle such matters.

Prohibited communicatio in sacris is the concelebration of "the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church" (can. 908). Regarding such activity, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council taught: "Worship in common which is detrimental to the unity of the Church or implies a formal assent to error or the danger of erring in faith, of scandal, and of indifferentism is forbidden by Divine Law" (Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, "On the Catholic Eastern Churches," Nov. 21, 1964, no. 26).

By a separate letter, also dated May 15 last, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has informed me of its decision in the matter. Referring to Rev. Bozek’s delicts of disobedience to his bishop by abandoning his priestly assignment and of persistence in schism, by which he has incurred the penalties of suspension and excommunication, the congregation declared: "After a careful and attentive study of the material submitted this dicastery has concluded that Rev. Bozek has also committed the delict of prohibited communicatio in sacris."

As a result of its decision, the congregation has asked me to impose a penal precept upon Rev. Bozek, namely, ordering him, with the time-limit of 30 useful days, "to recede from his perseverance in contumacious schism and promise to refrain from any further violation of prohibited communicatio in sacris." The Congregation also has asked me to inform Rev. Bozek that, if he refuses to comply with the terms of the penal precept, the congregation intends "to present his case to the Holy Father for his dismissal ex officio from the clerical state."

The congregation has further requested that "every effort be made to communicate to Rev. Bozek the seriousness of this matter and the harm his behavior has caused to the faithful," and that Rev. Bozek be encouraged to reconciliation and repentance. I have provided a copy of the Congregation’s letter to Rev. Bozek and have assured him of my continued commitment to assist him in being reconciled with the Church and offering repentance for the harm which he has inflicted upon the Church.

Conclusion: Request of your prayers

While it is necessary that I inform you of the decisions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the situations which have necessitated these decisions are profoundly sad for me as, I am sure, they are for you. Our archdiocese has suffered great spiritual harm, over the past four years because of the situation of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation. As we thank God for the help which the Holy Father, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has given us in bringing about reconciliation and repentance, let us pray that the decisions of the Congregation will be received by the board of directors and Rev. Bozek with faith and obedience.

Please pray for the graces of reconciliation and repentance for the members of the Board of Directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Corporation and Rev. Marek Bozek. I urge you to invoke especially the intercession of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church; Our Lady of Czetochowa, Queen of Poland, and St. Stanislaus Kostka.

‘Saved in Hope’ — XIII

Judgment as a setting of hope
The fourth setting for the learning and practice of Christian hope is the expectation of the Final Judgment, when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory on the Last Day. It is an expectation which we declare every time we profess our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ as judge of the living and the dead. Regarding the final judgment and hope, Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)" observes:

"From the earliest times, the prospect of the Judgment has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God’s justice" (Spe Salvi, n. 41).

We do not live "as if there were no tomorrow," for we firmly believe that our Lord will come, at the end of time, to judge us, according to our deeds in this life.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the traditional decoration of Christian churches: On the east end of the church, it was customary to represent Christ the King returning in glory as a symbol of hope, while, on the west end of the church, the Last Judgment was depicted to remind the faithful of the responsibility which we all have for our actions. During the celebration of the Mass, the faithful would be facing the east and viewing the sign of hope in the glorious return of Christ. When the faithful were leaving Mass, they would view the depiction of the Final Judgment and be reminded of the Christian responsibilities to be fulfilled in their daily living.

Modern forgetfulness of the Last Judgment
In our time, and actually since the time of the Enlightenment, man has grown forgetful of the Last Judgment. Salvation is seen as something completely individual, and the situation of the world is viewed solely in terms of human progress. Pope Benedict XVI observes that the notion of awaiting the Last Judgment has not disappeared but has been given a completely different content. The modern atheist protests against God because of the suffering in the world and declares that man must establish his own justice, outside of any concept of divine justice.

As Pope Benedict XVI points out, such an approach is "both presumptuous and intrinsically false," and "has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice." One thinks of the horrors of atheistic communism in practice or of the culture of death. Historically, every attempt to create a justice based on human ideology has proven the truth of our Holy Father’s declaration: "A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 42).

The Frankfurt School
Pope Benedict XVI comments on the philosophers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, who addressed both the lack of faith in divine justice and the inherent failure of any kind of merely human justice. In "an extreme radicalization of the Old Testament prohibition of images," both philosophers rejected any image of God (Spe Salvi, n. 42).

Horkheimer, while he did not accept "the image of a good and just God," also "radically excluded the possibility of ever finding this a worldly substitute for God." Adorno, for his part, declared that a true justice would have to address both the suffering of the present and the rectification of past suffering. Pope Benedict XVI points out that what, in fact, Adorno is demanding is what we believe by the Resurrection of the Dead (Spe Salvi, n. 42).
Image of good and just God

While our Holy Father acknowledges the need of great caution regarding images of God, especially in the light of the First Commandment of the Decalogue, he recalls the teaching of the Fourth Lateran Council, "which explicitly stated that however great the similarity that may be established between Creator and creature, the dissimilarity between them is always greater." At the same time, "God has given Himself an ‘image’: in Christ Who was made man." In Christ, God the Son Incarnate, God reveals Himself as the One Who takes on all of the suffering of His fellow man while remaining always innocent. Regarding Christ and His taking-on of all our sufferings, Pope Benedict XVI declares:
"This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: There is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an ‘undoing’ of past suffering, a reparation that sets things right. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope — the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life" (Spe Salvi, n. 43).

Surely, man’s deep desire for love, which is everlasting, a love that this world cannot offer, is a strong argument for faith in eternal life. But, if historical injustices are not to be "the final word," then Christ must return in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, that is, to restore all things to the Father, in accord with His plan for the salvation of the world (Spe Salvi, n. 43).

Justice and grace
Our Holy Father observes that rejection of God because of injustice in the world "is not helpful." God alone gives just judgment and, therefore, gives hope. For some, the thought of the Last Judgment is the cause of extreme fear, but, in fact, it should inspire hope. Yes, we must fear the judgment to the degree that we do not take responsibility for our own actions upon which we will be judged on the Last Day. We fear the Last Judgment because we know God’s love and our often grievous failure to love Him, in return (Spe Salvi, n. 44).

Our fear of the Last Judgment, however, does not overwhelm us, for God Who gives just judgment also gives grace. "This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ." But the relationship between justice and grace has to be carefully understood (Spe Salvi, n. 44).

Lazarus and Dives
Referring to the Dostoevsky novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that grace does not eliminate justice. "It does not make wrong into right." Making reference to the philosopher Plato’s assertion that "in the end souls will stand naked before the judge," our Holy Father recalls the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Rich Man (Dives) and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul (the Rich Man) destroyed by arrogance and opulence, who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man (Lazarus); the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures; the chasm of forgetting the other, of incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst (Spe Salvi, n. 44).

Pope Benedict points out that the state in which the Rich Man finds himself is not yet the eternal punishment of Hell, according to the Jewish belief, but "an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a state in which the final sentence is yet to be pronounced" (Spe Salvi, n. 44).

In the intermediate state, which, by definition is temporary, a soul experiences either punishment for his sins or the beginning of eternal happiness because of his virtue. "There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God" (Spe Salvi, n. 45). The full development of this notion is found in our belief in Purgatory.

Without entering into a lengthy discussion of the development of the notions regarding the afterlife, Pope Benedict XVI points out that death gives a finality to the kind of life we have lived, the actions that we have taken or failed to take. Some people may have totally destroyed "their desire for truth and readiness to love," and, therefore, merit eternal punishment. Regarding such a case, Pope Benedict XVI observes:

"This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: This is what we mean by the word Hell" (Spe Salvi, n. 45).

At the same time, others maintain communion with God and are daily growing in their love of Him, making faithfully the Christian pilgrimage home to God the Father. But, there is the third situation that perhaps describes the greater part of Christians: There is a desire to please God but, at the same time, many actions which betray that desire. What about the souls in the third situation?

One sees clearly how the Last Judgment is a setting for the learning and practice of hope. To complete the reflection on the Last Judgment, Pope Benedict will take up the answer to the question about the eternal salvation or eternal damnation of souls who desire to please God but have betrayed that desire in action.

‘Be not afraid!’

Suffering and the measure of humanity

In writing about suffering as a setting for the learning of hope, Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)" reminds us that the "true measure of humanity is essentially determined" by the response to human suffering, both on the part of the individual and on the part of society. A society which does not accept its suffering members with compassion is "a cruel and inhuman society"(Spe Salvi, n. 38). But, as our Holy Father points out, society can only accept and support its suffering members with compassion when the individual members of society do the same.

How can the individual help and support suffering brothers and sisters? He can only do so by discovering the meaning of human suffering as "a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope." The discovery of the meaning of human suffering leads us to embrace our suffering brothers and sisters, and, thereby, to make their suffering our own. By so doing, their "suffering is penetrated by the light of love" (Spe Salvi, n. 38).

Pope Benedict XVI reflects on the meaning of the word, consolation (consolatio in Latin), to illustrate the way in which we help and support our neighbor who is suffering. By taking another’s suffering as our own, we make ourselves present to the suffering person. We are with him or her in the solitude which is characteristic of suffering.

Consolation means literally being with someone in solitude, so that the other no longer remains alone.

Our Holy Father reminds us that "the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity." If it were not so, then my own "well-being and safety" become the ultimate criterion, and society is ruled by the more powerful who follow the rule of violent force and betrayal of the truth.

We are created to deny ourselves in order to love God and our neighbor. To live for my own gain, "my comfort and physical well-being," is a betrayal of my deepest nature, which requires that I accept pain and suffering that I may be purified of myself and, thereby, may live for others in love (Spe Salvi, n. 38).

Christian capacity for suffering

Pope Benedict XVI next asks whether we are capable of suffering for the sake of goodness and truth: "Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on this account, a person who suffers?" It is, in fact, at the heart of the Christian life to develop the capacity for suffering of various forms for the sake of love of God and mankind (Spe Salvi, n. 39). Christ Himself is the Way. He, God the Son, became man and took upon Himself all our suffering because He loves us unconditionally and without boundary.

Pope Benedict XVI recalls a wonderful saying of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which illustrates the truth of our life in Christ. St. Bernard declared that God cannot suffer but He can suffer with man ("Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis"). Christ Who accompanies us all along our pilgrim way to our heavenly home, the heavenly Jerusalem, shares with us all our sufferings; Christ carries the Cross with us. "Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence consolatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God’s compassionate love — and so the star of hope arises" (Spe Salvi, n. 39).

In our suffering, it is clear that we also need "the lesser and greater hopes too — a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on." In the less severe sufferings of our life, our lesser hopes may be sufficient for us. In our most severe trials, however, in which we must put ourselves, our reputation and our possessions on the line for the sake of goodness and truth, we must anchor our hope in Jesus Christ Who is with us always.

The example of Christian martyrs

The Christian martyrs uncover the truth of Christian hope, which makes us strong in the face of ridicule, rejection and even persecution. Regarding the martyrs, Pope Benedict XVI declares: "We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day — knowing that this is how we live life to the full" (Spe Salvi, n. 39).

It is hope that gives us the capacity to suffer for the sake of the good and true. Without hope, we will prefer our own convenience and comfort to what is good and true. Pope Benedict XVI declares: "The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with hope" (Spe Salvi, n. 39).

Offering up our suffering

Many of us were raised with the devotion of offering up our sufferings for the sake of the intentions of others, especially the intention of the poor souls in Purgatory.

When we offer our sufferings for love of another, our sufferings are no longer meaningless; they take on a profound significance. Pope Benedict XVI, while acknowledging that there may have been some exaggerations in the practice of the devotion of offering up our suffering, acknowledges that the devotion contains for us "something essential and helpful" (Spe Salvi, n. 40).

To understand better the devotion, Pope Benedict asks what it means "to offer something up." When we offer something up, we unite our "little annoyances" to the suffering of Christ. They, thus, become part of His "treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race" (Spe Salvi, n. 40). In a wonderful way, the devotion of offering up our daily sufferings, small and great, underlines the profound meaning of all suffering. Even the small irritations take on meaning and become a means of purifying ourselves for love of our neighbor.


Pope Benedict XVI’s reflection on suffering as a setting for the learning of Christian hope provides a wonderful help to us all. It uncovers for us the profound meaning of human suffering as taking up the Cross with Christ for the sake of love of God and our neighbor. The cultivation of Christian hope comes by way of the acceptance of suffering and the identification of ourselves with the suffering of others. The greater our hope, the more generously we imitate Christ in taking upon ourselves the sufferings of our brothers and sisters.

The devotion of "offering up our suffering" provides an excellent means of perfecting our Christian hope. The devotion teaches us to see all suffering, even the multiple small irritations suffered on any given day, as a means of working with Christ in His Suffering and Dying for the salvation of all men, without condition. Often we dream of doing, one day, some heroic act for the sake of our neighbor, but we fail to see the splendid heroism in transforming the many small sufferings of our daily life into an act of love for our brothers and sisters who are in most need.

'Be not afraid!’

Suffering in Life

The third setting in which we learn and practice hope is suffering. Before discussing suffering as a setting of hope, Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter "Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope)," briefly considers the reality of human suffering in itself. He begins by reminding us simply that "suffering is a part of our human existence" (Spe Salvi, n. 36).

What causes suffering? There are two principal causes. The first is our human limitation, our finitude as human beings. The second is "the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today" (Spe Salvi, n. 36).

Our response to human suffering

What can and should we do in the face of suffering? First of all, "we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering: to avoid as far as possible the suffering of the innocent; to soothe pain; to give assistance in overcoming mental suffering" (Spe Salvi, n. 36). The Holy Father reminds us that such action, on our part, in the face of suffering is a requirement not only of justice but also of love.

Pope Benedict XVI observes that, although there has been much progress in dealing with human pain, "yet the sufferings of the innocent and mental suffering have, if anything, increased in recent decades" (Spe Salvi, n.36).

We must continue to eliminate suffering as much as possible, but, as the Holy Father reminds us, we are not able to eliminate all suffering from our lives.

The reasons why we cannot remove all suffering are strictly tied to the causes of suffering. We remain limited human beings, and we, by ourselves, are incapable of overcoming the forces of evil and of sin: Pope Benedict XVI declares:
Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power.

This is simply because we are unable to shake off our finitude and because none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil, of sin which, as we plainly see, is a constant source of suffering (Spe Salvi, n. 36).

Only God can win for us the victory over sin and its evil fruits.

God’s response to our suffering

Only God can overcome suffering in our lives and, in fact, He has done so by winning the victory over sin in our human nature. God the Son has taken our human nature and, thereby, has taken upon himself all of man’s suffering.

Pope Benedict XVI recalls to our minds the words of St. John the Baptist in the Gospel according to St. John, regarding the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate, over evil. Seeing our Lord Jesus, at the beginning of His public ministry, St. John the Baptist declared: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Faith in God’s power to forgive our sins in Jesus Christ fills us with hope for the healing of all human suffering.

Pope Benedict XVI, however, reminds us that hope remains hope; it does not take away suffering but gives us "the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations, aware that, as far as the external course of history is concerned, the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence" (Spe Salvi, n. 36). The power of hope, in other words, does not remove suffering but brings healing in the midst of the suffering caused by our sins.

Hope, our anchor in suffering

Our response to suffering can never be a flight from what is required of us in the pursuit of truth and love. As the Holy Father reminds us, such a flight only leads to "a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater" (Spe Salvi, n. 37).

Healing, rather, comes through our capacity to embrace suffering and to grow in the likeness of Christ through suffering which is freely accepted. Our life in Christ, which is eternal life, is defined by taking up the Cross with Him for the sake of love which is unconditional and selfless.

To illustrate the truth that embracing suffering for the sake of pure love brings us healing and teaches us hope, Pope Benedict XVI quotes a letter of St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the Vietnamese martyrs during the 19th century. The saint was confined in a prison in which both the physical deprivations and the spiritual depravity were, indeed, hellish. He, however, described a profound joy and peace in his soul, as he wrote, "because I am not alone — Christ is with me."

Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ brought profound healing to St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh in the midst of the worst imaginable suffering. In his letter, quoted by Pope Benedict XVI, he declared: "In the midst of this storm I cast my anchor toward the throne of God, the anchor that is the lively hope in my heart" (Spe Salvi, n. 37). The anchor of his hope was Jesus Christ seated in glory at the right hand of God the Father. It is to the throne of our Risen Lord that we cast the anchor of our hearts in the midst of suffering.

The star of hope

Pope Benedict XVI recalls to our minds the text of Psalm 139 (138), in which the psalmist celebrates the presence of God with us always. The truth is that God is our light even in the deepest darkness of suffering. The prayer of the psalmist finds its full answer in the redemptive Incarnation of God the Son.

At His death and Resurrection, Christ descended immediately into "hell," not the hell of the eternally damned but the abode of the just who had died in the hope of the salvation which Christ won for us by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 631-635). "Christ descended into ‘hell’ and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light" (Spe Salvi, n. 37).

By the miracle of God’s grace, of Christ’s life within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the suffering that remains "terrible and well-nigh unbearable" for us is suffused with the light of Christ’s victory over sin and everlasting death. Suffering for the Christian is never the experience of the victory of the forces of evil but, rather, the cause of hope because of Christ’s victory over Satan and his cohorts. As Pope Benedict XVI declares, "The star of hope has risen — the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God" (Spe Salvi, n. 37).

The Global Day of Prayer

At 4 p.m. Sunday, May 11, Christians of many denominations will gather in Busch Stadium for the regional observance of the Global Day of Prayer. There is no charge for admission.

Having its origin in South Africa during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Global Day of Prayer has become a worldwide observance of repentance and prayer for the transformation of our world. We are all deeply conscious of the need of the conversion of our hearts to God. Our sins are the cause of so much suffering in the world. Union with Christ through repentance and prayer is powerful to overcome the evil which besets us.

The faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis will be participating in the regional observance of the Global Day of Prayer. You are encouraged to take part. More information can be found on the archdiocesan website:

Happy Mother’s Day

I wish a most joyous observance of Mother’s Day to all of the faithful of the archdiocese. I promise my prayers for God’s blessing upon all of our mothers who are living. I also promise prayers for the eternal rest of our mothers who have died in Christ.

‘Be not afraid!’

Settings for learning hope

In the last section of his encyclical letter "On Christian Hope," Pope Benedict XVI presents the settings in which our Lord provides us the occasion to "learn in practice about hope and its exercise" (Spe salvi, n. 31). The settings for learning hope, presented by our Holy Father, are prayer, action, suffering and judgment.

In my last column, I reflected upon prayer as the first setting in which we practice hope. Through prayer, we communicate with God Who is with us always through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls. Knowing God’s presence with us through prayer, we are filled with hope.

Our prayer is both personal and liturgical. Liturgical prayer or the public prayer of the Church inspires and directs our personal prayer, in order that it remain truly prayer, that is conversation with God and not, on the contrary, a talking to self. Learning hope through prayer, we are made strong to bring hope to all our brothers and sisters.

Learning hope through action

The second setting in which we learn hope is action, that is, the conduct of our daily lives. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: "All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action" (Spe salvi, n. 35). In fact, everything we do that is right and good is directed to the realization of our hopes and, finally, of our supreme hope, eternal life with Christ in the kingdom of heaven.

It is hope which gives us enthusiasm and energy for our daily activities. Without hope, as our Holy Father wisely observes, "our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world’s future either tire us or turn into fanaticism" (Spe salvi, n. 35). It is hope which sustains us through the failures and disappointments, small and large, which we encounter in our daily living. Hope enlightens us to see that, by the gift of God’s love, we are attaining daily a good which is infinitely greater than the lesser goods for which we are striving at any given time, with more or less success. That good is the good of eternal life.

At the same time, hope helps us to see beyond the sometimes discouraging state of the society and culture in which we live and participate. Pope Benedict XVI encourages us with these words:

"Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere" (Spe salvi, n. 35).

Hope makes us deeply conscious that our own feeble efforts, marked by our human limitations, cannot build up the kingdom of God, but that God, in His immeasurable love, receives our efforts and responds to us with the gift of His kingdom in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Human action and openness to the kingdom

From our earliest catechism lessons, we have learned that we cannot merit, on our own, the kingdom of heaven, that is, eternal life with God. "Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something ‘merited,’ but always a gift" (Spe salvi, n. 35).

At the same time, our daily conduct is a response to the gift of the kingdom of heaven. Our daily activity either receives the gift of God’s love and becomes an instrument of Divine Love, or it closes us to the gift and, therefore, to the conversion of our personal lives and the transformation of our world, which, with our cooperation, the gift of Divine Love accomplishes. "We can open ourselves and the world, and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good" (Spe salvi, n. 35). Our Holy Father reminds us that the saints are our models and intercessors for daily living in Christ precisely because they opened themselves totally to God’s grace and so became instruments of God’s saving work in the world.

An example: our care of creation

Pope Benedict XVI offers our care of creation as an example of how hope finds its proper setting in human action. He underlines the importance of our efforts to free our lives and our world from the manipulation and contamination of created nature, which bring disease and destroy the environment. "We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose" (Spe salvi, n. 35).

We may be tempted to think that our seemingly small actions taken out of respect for God’s plan for us and our world are insignificant. Hope, however, teaches us to do what we can, by our daily activity, to respond to God’s manifold gifts with respect for their nature and purpose. As Pope Benedict XVI observes, our good and right actions "engender hope for us and for others," while "it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our actions in good times and bad" (Spe salvi, n. 35). No matter what may be the prospect of our efforts to respect God’s creation, of which we are stewards, our trust in God gives us strength to continue in doing what is right.


Our Holy Father’s reflection on human action as a setting for the learning of hope makes clear how the virtue of hope animates the daily living of the Christian. With hope, the Christian understands his own life and the world around him as a gift given by God out of pure and selfless love with the final goal of establishing "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13; and Revelation 21:1). With hope, the Christian faces disappointments and failures, personal and societal, trusting that, if he does his best daily to turn over his life to Christ and to transform the world, according to God’s plan, the power of Divine Love will bring his feeble efforts to fulfillment in the kingdom of heaven.

Action as a setting for the learning of hope is essentially related to prayer as the prime setting for the practice of hope. It is prayer which inspires and sustains the right and good action that is always an expression of hope, of trust in God and His promise of salvation.

Postscript: May, Month of Mary

As we begin the month of May, which is dedicated especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we contemplate the example of hope in the life of our Blessed Mother. On our continent of America, we call our Blessed Mother by a special title of affection, Our Lady of Guadalupe, a title which she herself revealed during her five apparitions to St. Juan Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino, from Dec. 9-12, 1531, in what is present-day Mexico City. Through her apparitions, the Mother of God conveyed the message of hope, founded on the unfailing mercy and love of God, to her children of America. By doing so, she became the Star of the First Evangelization of the continent, leading her children of America to faith in her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, the mercy and love of God Incarnate.

Today, we call Our Lady of Guadalupe the Star of the New Evangelization. Filled with hope, she inspires hope in us that we can transform our personal lives and our world by teaching, celebrating and living our Catholic faith, as if for the first time, with the enthusiasm and energy of the first disciples and of the first missionaries to our part of the world. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, intercede for us, that we may be filled with hope and be the messengers of hope to our time. Through her intercession, may our May devotion to her become the cause of ever greater hope within us.

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