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!’

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.

‘Be not afraid!’


Truly, our nation and world were blessed by the apostolic journey of Pope Benedict XVI to Washington, D.C., to New York City, and to the headquarters of the United Nations, on this past April 15-20. Throughout the days of the apostolic journey, we witnessed the love which the Vicar of Christ, the spiritual father of the Church throughout the world, has for his flock in the United States. Those who were blessed to be with Pope Benedict XVI, either directly or through the communications media, saw in him an unmistakable sign of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ and, therefore, received the gift of renewed hope. The title which the Holy Father gave to the entire apostolic journey, "Christ Our Hope," expressed the inspiration of his coming to our nation and the United Nations. As I reflect on the apostolic journey, I make reference to the words addressed by Pope Benedict XVI to us during his treasured days with us. All of the references to the Holy Father’s words are taken from the website of the Holy See:

At the welcome ceremony, which took place on the South Lawn of the White House, Pope Benedict summarized the reason for his journey:

"As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens."

At the farewell ceremony at Kennedy International Airport in New York, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his esteem and gratitude to Catholics of the United States and offered us these words of encouragement:

"With great affection I greet once more the priests and religious, the deacons, the seminarians and young people, and all the faithful in the United States, and I encourage you to continue bearing joyful witness to Christ our Hope, our Risen Lord and Savior, who makes all things new and gives us life in abundance."

The Holy Father’s entire bearing was one of the fatherly love which gives hope. His words to us provide us with the solid reasons for our hope.

I offer just a few reflections upon the great richness of the Holy Father’s words to us. I encourage you to read the complete texts of his speeches, either online or in printed versions which will soon be available.

Message to bishops

In his address to the bishops of our nation, the Holy Father addressed a number of concerns. Early on in the address, recalling the diversity of immigrants to whom the first priests and bishops of our nation ministered, he declared: "Brother bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hope, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home." Certainly, in the present moment, one of the greatest challenges of the bishops in our nation is to welcome the stranger and immigrant, and to teach and direct the faithful, so that they understand their call to welcome and care for strangers and immigrants as brothers and sisters.

Pope Benedict XVI reminded the bishops of the need to clear away barriers to the planting of the seeds of the Gospel in our nation. Secularism and materialism are major obstacles to the teaching of the faith and its reception, in our time. These barriers must be clearly and directly addressed. In this regard, our Holy Father commented upon the contrast between "the genuinely religious spirit" of our nation and the inconsistent practice of the faith. He asked:

"Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?

Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?"

Pope Benedict XVI strongly exhorted us to resist altogether "(a)ny tendency to treat religion as a private matter," so that the faith may permeate every aspect of our lives for the transformation of our lives and of our world.

Regarding Catholic education and Catholic health care, the Holy Father reminded us bishops of our duty to provide "sound formation in the faith" and "thorough formation in the Church’s moral teachings." With such direction, the apostolates of education and health care are "made new in Christ our hope" and, thereby, "promote the integral good of the human person."

Our Holy Father emphasized many other aspects of the responsibilities of the bishop in our time, upon which I will be reflecting. Finally, he reminded us bishops to be men of prayer, especially through eucharistic adoration, faithful praying of the Liturgy of the Hours and of the Rosary. He wisely declared:

"Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his life to all his beloved brothers and sisters."

He concluded by confiding our country "to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States."

Sexual abuse of minors by the clergy

In his address to the bishops, in his homily at Washington Nationals Stadium, and in his homily at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York on Saturday, April 19, directed, in particular, to bishops, priests, deacons, men and women in the consecrated life, and seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the "gravely immoral behavior" of sexual abuse of minors and of the immense harm which it has caused in the lives of individuals and their families. On April 17, following the Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium, our Holy Father met with several victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The Holy Father prayed with them, "listened to their personal accounts," and "offered them words of encouragement and hope."

Our Holy Father urged bishops to continue to do everything possible to prevent this grave abuse of the most sacred of trusts, now and in the future, and to work for the healing of the deep wounds caused by it. Noting that the situation has, at times, not been addressed well but "very badly handled," Pope Benedict underlined the continued need of "remedial and disciplinary measures" and of the promotion of "a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people."

Placing his profound concern about sexual abuse of minors within the context of our culture, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out the right of children "to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships." He spoke about the "the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today," and about the importance of the family and of the promotion of the Gospel of Life. He asked us: "What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?"

The United Nations

In his address to the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, Pope Benedict XVI recalled "the higher role played by rules and structures that are intrinsically ordered to promote the common good, and therefore to safeguard human freedom." He underlined the essential relationship of human rights and duties, if freedom is to be safeguarded and fostered.

He gave particular attention to the state’s "responsibility to protect" its citizens from violations of human rights and from humanitarian crises, "whether natural or manmade." He urged every effort to prevent conflicts through the avenues of diplomacy, and the giving of "attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation."

Recalling the 60th anniversary of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," our Holy Father stressed that these rights "apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high point of God’s creative design for the world and for history." He also reminded us that these rights "are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations." He cautioned against the abstraction of human rights from the natural moral law, leading to a relativism which denies the universality of the rights "in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks." In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI distinguished between legality and justice, noting that justice considers human rights in their ethical and rational foundations. He declared: "Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators."

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the service of religious faith in establishing "a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person." Religious faith recognizes the supreme good of the human person and commits believers "to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace." Our Holy Father pointed out the important service of dialogue between religions, which is directed to the common good and is carried out with unwavering respect for the truth.

Catholic educators

On April 17, Pope Benedict XVI met with Catholic educators, emphasizing the importance of their service for the discovery of the truth about the ultimate meaning and destiny of human life and of history. In a wonderful way, he described the need of Catholic educators to take care that "the power of God’s truth" permeate "every dimension of the institutions which they serve":

In this way, Christ’s Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student toward the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Romans 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.

It is through faith in Christ and a personal relationship with Christ that students and teachers alike promote the authentic freedom which serves the good of others and of the nation. It is faith in Christ which gives the proper identity to Catholic schools and universities.

Our Holy Father underlined the particular importance of what he called "intellectual charity" which "calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love." "Intellectual charity" safeguards the unity of knowledge from "the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth." Through the practice of "intellectual charity," students are led to seek the truth, to seek Christ Who is their hope and so to bring hope to others.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the essential importance of the "professionalism and witness" of Catholic educators. He thanked Catholic educators. He acknowledged the principle of academic freedom which calls educators "to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads." He also cautioned Catholic educators against "any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church." Noting "the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice," our Holy Father underlined the essential aspect of the witness to Christ given by Catholic educators, "both inside and outside the classroom."

Young people and seminarians

The meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with some 25,000 young people and seminarians on the afternoon of April 19 was a remarkable manifestation of the love of the Good Shepherd for youth and of the love of youth for the Good Shepherd. In a deeply personal way, Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon the challenges of youth, calling to mind the particularly difficult challenges of the time of his own youth. Nearly all of the seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary took part in the encounter.

The encounter was set within the context of reflection upon the lives of six heroically holy Americans: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. John Neumann, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Pierre Tousst and the Servant of God Father Felix Varela. Pope Benedict XVI urged young people to imitate the examples of these heroes of Christ through personal prayer and silence, liturgical prayer, charity in action, and vocational discernment. In this way, he emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with our Lord, which issues in a loving service of God and neighbor. Through the contemplation of the Face of Christ in prayer and worship, the Holy Father reminded the youth, (w)e can begin to imagine the path of love along which we must move."

Regarding vocational discernment, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the irreplaceable service of parents, grandparents and godparents. He asked for prayer for fathers and mothers, inviting all present to "honor the vocation of matrimony and the dignity of family life." He declared: "Let us always appreciate that it is in families that vocations are given life."

To the seminarians, our Holy Father offered words of great affection and encouragement. He urged the seminarians "to deepen (their) friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd," talking "heart to heart with Him."

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI urged all of the youth to consider God’s call in their lives, reminding them that the Church offers them "the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord." In particular, he assured them that, nourishing themselves "by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy," they will discover the particular vocation to which God is calling them..


There are so many other important aspects of Pope Benedict’s apostolic journey about which I have been unable to reflect. I think, for example, of his ecumenical and interreligious meetings, especially with the representatives of the Jewish community, who were beginning the celebration of Passover. I think, too, of his meeting with young people with disabilities, and of his prayer at Ground Zero. His homilies during the Masses at Washington Nationals Stadium and Yankee Stadium provide an important meditation for all of us. I hope that the poor and limited reflection which I have offered will lead to your own reflection on the historic apostolic journey of Pope Benedict XVI to our nation and to the United Nations, and on his message of Christian hope.

Finally, let us all thank God, Who kept Pope Benedict safe and strong throughout his journey in our midst. Let us thank God, too, for the favorable weather which accompanied Pope Benedict throughout his days with us. Finally, let us thank God for the great sign of His fatherly love of us in our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

'Be not afraid!’


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

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

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

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

Life of faith in the first Christian community

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

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

Professing the faith through stewardship

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

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

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

The saints, our teachers in stewardship

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

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

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

Annual Catholic Appeal

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

‘Be not afraid!’


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

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

Response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

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

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

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

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

Conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism

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

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

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

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

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

Necessity of Baptism for eternal salvation

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

'Be not afraid!’


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

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

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

Province of St. Louis

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

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

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

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

The ordination itself

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

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

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

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

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

Parts of the ordination rite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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