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!’

Introduction

On Dec. 17, we entered into the last days of Advent, the seven days before the Vigil of Christmas. During these days, our anticipation of Christmas increases in intensity, making us aware not only of how much we have yet to do to prepare for Christmas but also how much we have yet to do to welcome Christ more completely into our lives. With the knowledge that the days of Advent are coming to an end, we are led to those means by which Christ comes to us in the Church and asks us to welcome Him into our lives. I refer especially to the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and of Penance.

As we anticipate the celebration of Christmas, we want to be with our Lord in the Holy Mass each day, if possible, offering ourselves to Him and with Him in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. We want to spend time with Him in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, either reposed in the tabernacle or exposed for adoration. We also desire to meet our Lord in the Sacrament of Penance, confessing our sins to Him, with sorrow, and receiving from Him, through the ministry of the priest, the absolution of our sins. There is no better way to make our final preparation for Christmas than to spend time with our eucharistic Lord and to meet Him in the Sacrament of Penance.

The ‘O’ Antiphons

At Evening Prayer during the last days of Advent, the Church sings a solemn antiphon before the singing of the Magnificat. On each of the seven days, the Church addresses the Messiah, the Christ, by one of the titles given to Him in the Holy Scriptures. These seven antiphons are popularly known in the Church as the "O" Antiphons, because each one begins with the exclamation "O" before naming the title of Christ from the Holy Scriptures. After the invocation of our Lord by the title, a pray to Him follows, begging Him to come to us, to visit us, and to fill us with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The "O" Antiphons are sung at Evening Prayer because "as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the evening of the world (vergente mundi vespere) that the Messiah came amongst us" (Abbot Prosper Gueranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, translated by Dom Laurence Shepherd, OSB, Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto Publications, 2000, vol. 1, p. 484). They are sung at the Magnificat "to show us that the Savior whom we expect is to come to us by Mary" (Abbot Prosper Gueranger, vol. 1, p 484).

The Gregorian Chant for the "O" Antiphons is especially beautiful and expresses the longing of the Church to celebrate once again the great day of Our Lord’s Birth and the desire of each soul to know Christ and to offer Him the home of a pure and selfless heart. The singing of the antiphons is filled with hope, for indeed we know that the Lord has come and that His great desire is to find in us the response of love to His immeasurable and ceaseless love of all mankind.

I offer the example of two of the "O" Antiphons. The first addresses Christ by His biblical title of Wisdom: "O Wisdom, which comes forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching mightily from end to end, and gently disposing all things, come to teach us the way of prudence." The prayer expresses the truth that, in all things, God accomplishes His holy and saving will, and He does so without violence to our freedom, and asks that we might have the prudence which permits us in all things to choose what leads to eternal salvation.

The last of the antiphons addresses Christ by the biblical title which most explicitly declares the reality of His Coming. He is Emmanuel; He is God-with-us: "O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expectation of the nations and their Savior, come to save us, O Lord our God!" The prayer declares the truth that Christ alone answers the longing of every people of every time and every place to know the truth and love of God. Christ reigns by becoming the servant of all, offering His life totally for the eternal salvation of all men, without boundary. Christ is the Lawgiver whose discipline does not distort or destroy human freedom but leads human freedom to its fullest flower in selfless love of God and neighbor, unto death and for all eternity.

Conclusion: Christmas Eve

Our final preparation for the celebration of the Birth of the Lord brings us to Christmas Eve. The final hours before Christmas are observed with a great recollection, the concentration of our attention upon the great mystery of the Incarnation, and the substantial and unchanging meaning which it gives to our lives.

Whatever may be lacking in our preparation for the celebration of Christmas, in the disposition of our hearts to receive Christ fully into our hearts, the Church’s prayer announces to us: "Today you will know that the Lord will come, and in the morning you will see His glory." The Church’s prayer points to the reality of the unceasing outpouring of Divine Love upon us in Jesus, the Christ born for us at Bethlehem to die for us at Jerusalem. On Christmas Eve, there can be no place in our hearts for discouragement, let alone despair, but rather our hearts must be filled with confidence in God’s love, with the sure hope that He will redeem us from all our sins, even as He has sent His only-begotten Son to do. How can we doubt the mercy of God Who comes to us in all humility and poverty to be for us our All! He will not permit His plan of infinite mercy and love toward us to fail!

May the celebration of our Lord’s Birth, this year, bring us all a deeper knowledge of how much God has loved us and continues to love us in our Lord Jesus Christ!

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

The observance of the Season of Advent opens our eyes anew to the many and concrete ways in which Christ our Good Shepherd cares for us in the Church. At the Last Supper, when Christ instituted the Sacrament of His Real Presence with us, the Holy Eucharist, He also instituted the Sacred Priesthood. The Sacred Priesthood is, in fact, primarily at the service of the Holy Eucharist. By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ acts in ordained priests and bishops to give pastoral care and direction to the flock. Above all, He acts in ordained priests and bishops to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, by which He feeds us with us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and remains present as the Bread of Heaven for us in the tabernacles of our churches and chapels. The reason for the existence of the Sacred Priesthood is the Holy Eucharist. At the same time, the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice requires absolutely the ministry of the ordained priest.

Advent is the time for us to renew our relationship with those whom Christ has given to us as our shepherds, our parish priest, our bishop and our Holy Father. It is the time to renew our daily prayers for those who give their lives to be our shepherds. It is also the time to renew our sentiments of deepest respect for the pastoral office in the Church. Those who exercise the pastoral office are human beings with both strengths and weaknesses, but the office which they exercise is of Christ and, therefore, most sacred to us.

Pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI

Christ’s pastoral care of us in the Church will be expressed in an extraordinary manner by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our nation in April 2008. The Holy Father, shepherd of the Universal Church, will visit Washington, D.C., from April 15 to 17, and New York City from April 18 to to 20. Both Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York have written to me about arrangements for the participation of the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in his visit to their archdioceses.

As you can imagine, the arrangements are, at this point, very much in the planning stage. The Archdiocese of St. Louis is planning a pilgrimage to New York City to participate in the Holy Father’s meeting with youth, especially seminarians, at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers on April 19 and his Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20. It is my hope that a good number of the faithful of the archdiocese, including our young people and seminarians, will be able to join the archdiocesan pilgrimage. As soon as more information is available and the plans are finalized, you will be informed.

The coming visit of the Holy Father underlines for us the daily and tireless pastoral care which he has for all of us. Let us remember to pray for Pope Benedict XVI every day, and let us pray for God’s blessing upon his pastoral visit to the United States in April of next year.

Pastoral direction in a relativist society

Respect and obedience toward our pastors in the Church is a particular challenge in today’s society, which views everything in relation to what each individual thinks and wants. Pastors who have the solemn responsibility to teach and uphold the truths of the faith, that is, the objective reality of our relationship with God, with one another and with our world, become very unpopular and are openly rejected when they fulfill their responsibilities toward the flock in their care.

The secular media, which reflect very much the relativism rampant in our society, view the pastoral authority of the Church as extremism. When the Holy Father, the bishops and parish priests enunciate the Church’s teaching on the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, for example, they are labeled "the religious right." Easily enough, secular thinking enters the Church, remaking pastoral authority according to its own image while, at the same time, ridiculing and even resisting any firm teaching or discipline given by the Church’s pastors.

Recently, the pastors in our nation have cautioned the faithful, especially parents, regarding the film "The Golden Compass." Through George Henry, superintendent of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, parents and teachers were warned that the author of the books ("His Dark Materials," by Philip Pullman) from which the movie is drawn is an avowed atheist who has a particular hatred of the Catholic Church.

As archbishop, I caution all Catholics regarding the atheistic and antiCatholic nature of Pullman’s writings, upon which "The Golden Compass" is based. If you wish further and more in-depth information, I recommend the publication of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, "The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked," which can be obtained through the League’s website, www.catholicleague.org. I also commend the book by Peter Vere and Sandra Miesel, "Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy," published by Ignatius Press (www.ignatius.com).

Before concluding, I wish also to correct an erroneous statement made in a commentary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, titled "After ruckus over its roots, ‘Compass’ film mollifies some" (Dec. 8, 2007, p. A23). The commentary claims that the Catholic bishops of our nation viewed the film and praised it. The statement is false. A most defective review of the film was published by Catholic News Service. The review has by now been removed from the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The review was not based on a viewing of the film by bishops and was not endorsed by the bishops.

Conclusion

The Season of Advent inspires in us a new devotion to what is most sacred to us, our Catholic faith, prayer and the sacraments, and the discipline of living in Christ. The strong grace of the season fortifies us to promote the understanding of the Catholic Church, in which Christ, our Good Shepherd, is alive and at work for our eternal salvation. It also inspires us to safeguard and defend our Catholic faith and practice from those who would ridicule, desecrate or attack what is most sacred to us. In our society, we as Catholics need to pray especially for the courage to stand up for what we believe, to give an account of our Catholic faith to others, and to resist those who ridicule or misrepresent our faith.

Please pray, too, for us who are your pastors that we will remain strong in teaching the Catholic faith and in giving sound guidance in living the Catholic faith, especially amid the confusion of a society blinded by materialism and relativism. Finally, we trust that Christ, Who continues to shepherd His flock daily in the Church, acts in priests, bishops and the Holy Father, to promote and safeguard the faith in its integrity. May our observance of Advent strengthen us in welcoming Christ with obedience and docility.

'Be not afraid'

Introduction

Two important feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary take place during the Season of Advent: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (a holy day of obligation) on Dec. 8 and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, on Dec. 12. Closely related to both feasts is the Memorial of St. Juan Diego, the messenger of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on Dec. 9, which will not be celebrated liturgically this year because it falls on the Second Sunday of Advent.

The celebration of these feast days of our Blessed Mother and of St. Juan Diego help us to enter more fully into the observance of the Season of Advent.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is our model in preparing for the celebration of Christmas by disposing our hearts to welcome our Lord more fully, both as He comes to us now in the Church and as He will come to us in glory on the Last Day. She is also our intercessor who asks our Lord to give us the special graces of Advent, by which our hearts are purified of whatever hinders both our Lord’s coming to us now and our preparation to meet Him when He will come in glory. A reflection on her feasts will help us to see how the Blessed Mother is both the model of our Advent observance and our intercessor for the strong graces of the Season of Advent in our lives.

The Immaculate Conception

On Dec. 8, we recall and celebrate how God preserved the Virgin Mary, from the very moment of her conception, from every stain of sin. In a mysterious and wonderful way, God permitted our Blessed Mother to receive, in anticipation, the grace of eternal salvation which her Divine Son would win for all mankind by His Passion and Death. In this way, the Virgin Mary was prepared to receive and fulfill her call to be the Mother of God; the Virgin Mary’s heart was totally pure from her conception and thus her womb was the fitting vessel in which God the Son could be received into the world. The purity of her heart is a sign to us of how our hearts must become pure, with the help of God’s grace, in order that we may welcome our Lord ever more fully into our lives and be ready to meet Him at His Final Coming.

Mary’s Immaculate Heart is filled with love of us who are called to be true sons and daughters of God in her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. When He was about to die on the Cross, Jesus gave us to His mother, as our mother, even as He entrusted her into our hands through the Apostle John. As our Blessed Mother was totally one in heart with our Lord Jesus in His saving mission, so she continues to exercise her maternal care for all who, through Baptism, have come to life in her Divine Son and, indeed, for all mankind for whom her Son died and rose from the dead and whom He desires to come to life in Him. Our Blessed Mother both teaches us the truth that God became man for our eternal salvation and leads us to experience the same truth through Christ’s love of us in the Church.

St. Juan Diego

On Dec. 9, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Juan Diego. Juan Diego was a native American of what is today Mexico, who had received the gift of faith and baptism through the ministry of the Spanish Franciscan friars.

On Dec. 9, 1531, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at that time in the Spanish Empire, he was on his way to his parish church for the celebration of the feast. He had a somewhat long walk from the home of his elderly uncle, Juan Bernardino, to the parish church.

As he approached Tepeyac Hill, which was along the way, our Blessed Mother appeared to him and asked him to be her messenger in carrying out a special mission of love on behalf of his people and all the peoples of the American continent.

The mission was to have Bishop Juan de Zumarraga, OFM, first bishop of Mexico, build a chapel on Tepeyac Hill, in which she might show to all peoples God’s mercy and love in her Divine Son. In her appearance, our Blessed Mother was with child. She appeared to Juan Diego three more times and once to his ailing uncle to whom she brought healing and to whom she announced her name: the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe (Handbook on Guadalupe, New Bedford, Maine: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 2001, p. 204). At her fourth appearance, on Dec. 12, God miraculously supplied, through her, roses in the middle of winter and on a rocky and thorn-infested hill, as a sign of the truth of St. Juan Diego’s messages to the bishop. Through Our Lady, God also worked an even more wonderful miracle.

When she had arranged the flowers in the mantle (tilma or ayate) of Juan Diego, she instructed him not to show the flowers to anyone but the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his mantle and the most beautiful flowers cascaded before the bishop, the bishop witnessed a miracle which we continue to witness today. God imprinted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s cactus-cloth mantle. There is no human explanation of how the image is imprinted. The cactus-cloth mantle which should have disintegrated within thirty to forty years remains intact today, so that we can still gaze upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is, by a very special title, our mother in America.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

We celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the day which marks both her last appearance to St. Juan Diego, with the miracle of the roses and of the sacred image, and her appearance to Juan Bernardino. On her feast day, the Mother of God invites us anew, as she has faithfully done since her appearances from Dec. 9 to 12 in 1531, to know the mystery of God’s mercy and love in our lives by coming to know and love her Divine Son. Her words to Juan Diego in 1531 are her words to us today:

Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives. ... I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me (Handbook on Guadalupe, p. 194).

In her maternal love, Our Lady of Guadalupe wants, most of all, to show us how much God loves us in Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate in her womb. She draws our hearts, which are frequently beset by fear and doubt and sin, to her Immaculate Heart, so that we, with her, may place our hearts into the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, the only source of our joy and peace, of our healing and strength.

In a very special way, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe uncovers for us what the Coming of our Lord means for us in America. It is our Blessed Mother who teaches us how immeasurably God loves us, treasures every human life, without exception or boundary. She draws us to Jesus Christ, her Divine Son, so that, through our union of heart with His Sacred Heart, we may know directly in our lives, especially through the Holy Eucharist, the love of God and become, with her, bearers of God’s love to all our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and those in most need.

Conclusion

May the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe draw us closer to Christ Who comes to us in the Church and Who will come to us in glory at the end of time. As we honor the Mother of God, let us make our hearts one with her Immaculate Heart, so that we, with her, may make our hearts one with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In a special way, may our celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the title under which the Blessed Virgin Mary is the patroness of our nation, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, inspire in us a new enthusiasm and a new energy to be the heralds of God’s mercy and love to all our brothers and sisters.

With the Mother of God, may we become ever more generous and tireless in safeguarding and fostering every human life, called into being by God out of His immense love and redeemed by the outpouring of the life of His only-begotten Son Who became man for us and for our eternal salvation. So may we, day by day, with the Mother of God, await faithfully the Coming of the Lord.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

The Season of Advent is, above all, a season of preparation by means of purification. The words of St. John the Baptist, which express his mission in the world, uncover the meaning of our Advent observance: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Matthew 3:3). Even as St. John the Baptist prepared the way of our Lord’s coming into the world in time, so, too, the four weeks of Advent are our preparation to welcome our Lord more completely into our lives now, so that we may be ready to welcome Him finally and fully on the day of His coming in glory at the end of time.

St. John the Baptist’s proximate preparation of our Lord’s coming brought to culmination the some 4,000 years of preparing, on the part of the People of God, for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, which began with the Fall of Adam and Eve and God’s promise of the Savior (cf. Genesis 3:15). During the weeks of Advent, we unite ourselves to our brothers and sisters of the Chosen People who looked for and longed for the Messiah, the Savior. At the Sacred Liturgy, we will listen to the Word of God, given to us through the Prophets, by which God the Father inspired and nurtured the expectant hope of His people, until the day of the Incarnation of God the Son for our eternal salvation.

During Advent, we unite ourselves especially with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the finest flower of the People of God, whom God disposed from the moment of her conception to receive the Messiah in her womb at His coming in time. We ask her intercession, that we may imitate her purity of heart, making our hearts ever more disposed to receive Christ at His coming into our lives, especially in the Holy Eucharist.

Christ knocks at the door of our hearts

Dom Prosper Guranger, OSB, the renowned commentator on the Sacred Liturgy of the 19th century, writes about Advent with these words:

"Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men’s hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for he wishes to be born in their house" (Dom Prosper Guranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2000, Vol. 1, p. 37).

Advent is, indeed, a time of strong grace for the purifying and expanding of our hearts to welcome our Lord Jesus more fully into our lives.

Dom Guranger’s description of Advent recalls to mind the vision of St. John the Evangelist, in which our Lord speaks to the seven Churches of Asia Minor about His coming at the end of time.

Our Lord urges repentance of sin and the rekindling of His love in the heart. Yes, our Lord’s words understandably engender fear, what the Church calls "holy fear" or Fear of the Lord. It is the fear which awakens us to the ways in which we are living as if Christ had never come to us and which gets us on the road to changing our ways. It is not a fear which leads to despair, for our Lord Himself assures us:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).

Our Lord stands ever knocking at the door of our hearts, sometimes in very dramatic ways but always in the usual ways by which He comes to us in the Church, thirsting for our love, desiring to take up His dwelling with us.

Purifying our hearts to receive the Lord

The practice of penance and, above all, the confession of our sins and their absolution by God’s grace in the Sacrament of Penance, are at the heart of our Advent preparation. How better can we prepare the way of our Lord into our hearts than by praying with greater fervor and by practicing acts of mortification by which our Lord frees our minds of distractions and our hearts of wrong affections!

Our Advent prayer and penance reach their fullness and, at the same time, are sustained by our regular meeting of our Lord in the Sacrament of Confession.

Through the confession of our sins, be they great or small, we purify and expand our hearts, so that Christ may dwell more fully within us. Through Christ’s absolution of our sins, He comes to dwell within us, helping us to take up the work of reparation, so that His mercy and love may take ever deeper root in our hearts.

A good confession of our sins, therefore, requires that a person confess "all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience." Such a confession must be integral, in the sense that grave sins are confessed according to their kind and the number of times we have committed them.

To do less is to fail to confront our sinfulness with honesty and to seek the forgiveness of all the sins of which we are conscious.

One is not obliged to confess venial sins, but it is good to do so, for even small faults keep Christ from reigning fully in our hearts. Not paying attention to venial sins can also lead to more serious sins. "The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1493).

Conclusion

Christ comes knocking at the door of our hearts each day. He desires to make His home with us always. May we all draw upon the strong graces of the Advent Season, into which we will enter on this coming Sunday, so that our ears may be attuned to hear Christ knocking, and our minds and hearts may be disciplined to welcome Him ever more fully into our lives.

'Be not afraid!'

Introduction

On Sunday, Dec. 2, we begin our annual observance of the Season of Advent. During the Season of Advent, the Church draws our attention to the most fundamental reality of our life: eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

Advent draws our minds and hearts to the truth that God the Son has been made man, has taken our human nature, in order to: 1) save us from our sins and their fruit, eternal death; and 2) win for us the inheritance of true sons and daughters of God, that is, the inheritance of eternal life.

The all-glorious reality that captures our attention and inspires our wonder during the Season of Advent is the coming of Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate, into the world. The reality is greater than we can ever fully comprehend. Our annual observance of Advent keeps our eyes fixed on the truth that is fundamental to our everyday life in Christ, the truth that God the Son has come into the world and remains with us always in the Church, above all, in the sacraments.

If you wish some spiritual reading for the Season of Advent, I commend to you two books of Pope Benedict XVI: "God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life" (Ignatius Press, 2003) and "The Blessing of Christmas" (Ignatius Press, 2007); and two books of the lay theologian John Saward: "Redeemer in the Womb" (Ignatius Press, 1993) and "Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery" (Ignatius Press, 2002).

A eucharistic season

Advent is, first of all, a eucharistic season. When we recall, with wonder, Christ’s coming into the world by His birth of Mary at Bethlehem, our hearts understand immediately the oneness of the manger, in which the Blessed Virgin Mary placed her Infant Son to rest, with the altar upon which our Lord comes down to be with us and the tabernacle in which he remains with us always. The glorious Body and Blood of Christ, which we receive in Holy Communion and adore in the Most Blessed Sacrament, first came into being in the womb of Mary and were first visible to the world in the manger at Bethlehem. Even as the neighborhood shepherds and kings from the various parts of the inhabited world came to worship the Infant Jesus at His Birth, so we, too, hasten to visit and adore our Lord Jesus, really present with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We should come before His Eucharistic Presence with the wonder of those who first beheld the Savior at His Birth.
The Advent Season is a special time for us to grow in faith in the Real Presence of Christ and, thereby, in faith in the Church which is His Mystical Body. How often we take for granted or, worse yet, neglect and ignore the manifold ways in which Christ Who was born in time at Christmas remains with us in the Church. May Advent be a time for us to be with our Lord Jesus through eucharistic adoration and visits to Him in the tabernacle; through meeting Him regularly in the Sacrament of Penance, in which He receives the confession of our sins and absolves us; through the study of His Word given to us in the Holy Scriptures and the magisterium; and through His presence with us in His "least brethren," the hungry and those in need of the basic requirements of life, the lonely and the imprisoned (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

The season of our destiny

Advent is clearly also a time in which we grow in appreciation of our true destiny, the inheritance which is ours in Christ Who, by His Coming, has made us His true brothers and sisters. God the Son has loved us so much that He wishes to share with us the eternal glory, joy and peace which are always His with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. As we contemplate the coming of Christ at Christmas and His abiding coming to us in the Church, above all, in the Holy Eucharist, we are filled with wonder at the great dignity which is ours, namely, to be truly, in Christ, sons and daughters of God, and, therefore, to share in Christ’s destiny, eternal glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Advent Season brings us strong grace to view everything in our lives under the aspect of our final destiny, eternal life, that is, sub specie aeternitatis. With what greater care we approach even the simplest matters of our daily living, when we recognize that everything in our lives is meant to prepare us to welcome Christ at His Final Coming, His return to us in glory on the Last Day. With what greater wonder we will look upon the world, of which we are the stewards, when we are looking forward to its final transformation into "a new heaven and a new earth," at the end of time (Revelation 21:1).

If we have been tempted to discouragement or to doubt our own dignity, the Advent Season opens our eyes to see ourselves as we truly are. Yes, we are sinners and make mistakes, even big mistakes, in our lives but, through it all, God never ceases to look upon us with the immense love with which He always looks upon His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. If we have betrayed our destiny, as surely we sometimes have done, God has never ceased to love us and to draw us to Himself and to our final destiny which is eternal life with Him. May Advent open our eyes to see how much God loves us and, therefore, with what humility and confidence we should meet the challenges of our daily life in Christ.

Conclusion

So often, I am filled with deepest gratitude for the ways in which our Lord instructs our minds and captures our hearts throughout the days of our life. Our life in the Church is truly life in Christ, that is, hearing Christ’s call and following Him along the daily path which brings us home to Heaven. Through the observance of Advent, we recognize more clearly Christ’s presence in our midst and His calling us to follow Him, to be one with Him.

Our Lord gives us the Season of Advent to open our eyes anew to His Coming at Christmas, His Coming in the Church, and His Coming on the Last Day. He gives us the Season of Advent to inspire and strengthen our hearts to welcome Him with love and to remain in His company always, until we are perfectly with Him forever in heaven.

May the Season of Advent be strong in grace for you, filling you with wonder and gratitude before the mystery of God’s unceasing and immeasurably great love of you in Jesus Christ.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

Next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, one of the principal holidays of the year and a time for families to gather in celebration.Although Thanksgiving Day is a civic holiday, it was religious in its origins and remains for us always a religious celebration.Even as the Pilgrims desired to give thanks to God for the first harvest brought home in their newfound land, we want to give thanks to God for all of his many blessings given to us in our homeland which we love.

Thanksgiving defines for us our whole being.It is our response to God Who has first loved us and has given up His life for us, out of pure and selfless love.Reflecting upon the mystery of God’s love of us, we can only be filled with the deepest sentiments of gratitude toward Him and of love of Him, in return.The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes our moral life as "the acknowledgment and homage given to God and a worship of thanksgiving" (n. 2062).The Servant of God Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, expressed the truth about our life by his frequent pastoral counsel that we should be always thanking God "ahead of time" (Brother Leo Wollenweber, OFM Cap, Meet Solanus Casey: Spiritual Counselor and Wonder Worker, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002, pp. 65-66).

Our highest act, our most perfect prayer, is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.The very name, Eucharist, means action of thanksgiving.The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares regarding the Holy Eucharist:

"The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all His benefits, for all that He has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’" (n. 1360).

As the source and summit of our life in Christ, the Holy Eucharist inspires in us the habit of thanksgiving at all times.

Thanksgiving and the family

Be assured that you and your families will be remembered in my prayers, especially at Holy Mass, on Thanksgiving Day. I will be spending a few days with my family in Wisconsin during the week of Thanksgiving Day. As I thank God for all of His many blessings extended toward me, I will be remembering, with particular affection, you whom I am most blessed to serve.I will be asking God to bless your home with the unity and peace of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

When we pause to thank God for His many gifts, we thank Him, most of all, for the gifts of life and of our Catholic faith, gifts which come to us through the family.I hope that the celebration of Thanksgiving Day will be the occasion for all of us to express openly to one another, in the family, our gratitude for the gift of life and faith which we first received at home.May it also be a time to set aside hurts and to seek the reconciliation of differences in the family, so that we can more freely and fully thank God.

Although Thanksgiving Day is a civic holiday, it is also a day when Catholics naturally desire to participate in the Holy Eucharist, our greatest prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God.At the Holy Eucharist, we experience the source of family life in the love of God, which is unceasingly poured out upon us from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus.Our Lord Jesus, Who offers us the gift of His Body and Blood through the Holy Eucharist, is the One Who binds husband and wife in marriage, so that they may be the image of His faithful and enduring love for us.

Christ, alive for us in the Church and, most of all, in the Holy Eucharist, gives to husband and wife the grace of parenthood, of procreating and educating new human life made in God’s own image and likeness.I hope that you will be able to participate in Mass on Thanksgiving Day to thank God for the gift of marriage and the family, which are the foundations of our individual lives and of the life of the Church and of all society.

Thanksgiving and the enthronement of the Royal Heart of Jesus

On the Sunday following Thanksgiving Day, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, bringing to a conclusion the current Liturgical Year.The new image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which I dedicated and blessed on June 17, expresses the true meaning of the kingship of Christ.Christ rules from His glorious pierced Heart, receiving into His all-glorious Heart the hearts of all who call upon His Name and invoke His mercy.The Sacred Heart of Jesus is rightly also called the Royal Heart of Jesus.

The enthroned image of the Sacred Heart in our homes, our schools and other places of significant activity, reminds us, in a very practical and beautiful way, that our Lord Jesus, Whom we receive in Holy Communion, remains with us always and desires to be always in our company.He constantly thirsts for our souls, for our love.Christ the King is our dearest brother who tirelessly seeks only what is for our good and provides for us His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity as our greatest good, the Heavenly Bread of our earthly pilgrimage and the pledge of our future glory.

On Thanksgiving Day and on the Solemnity of Christ the King, be sure to give special honor to the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which you have enthroned in your home. Gather before the image of the pierced Heart of Jesus to recognize God’s manifold blessings in your life and in our world, and to offer Him your homage of praise and thanksgiving.If you have not yet enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home, what more fitting time to do so!Why not make the three days of preparation for the enthronement, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, and, then, joyfully and gratefully make the solemn enthronement on the Solemnity of Christ the King?You can obtain the booklet for the enthronement, which includes the details of the triduum of preparation and the ritual of enthronement, from the Office of Sacred Worship of the archdiocese.

Conclusion

Again, my best wishes for the celebration of Thanksgiving Day and the Solemnity of Christ the King.Please continue to pray for me that God will help me to be a good, faithful and generous shepherd of His flock.You will be in my prayers, as I thank God for calling me to serve you, His flock in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.In these days, let us pray with special fervor: Heart of Jesus, of Whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.

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