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!’


On this coming Wednesday, Feb. 21, we, together with the Church throughout the world, will begin the observance of the Season of Lent.On Ash Wednesday, we receive blessed ashes on our forehead as a sign of the prayer and penance which are the heart of our Lenten observance.The blessed ashes remind us that the earthly realities to which we cling so tightly and anxiously are passing and invite us to fix our eyes on our Lord Jesus Christ, on our life in Him, which is eternal.

In his Lenten Message for this year, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to live the Season of Lent "as a ‘Eucharistic’ time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed." Our Holy Father invites us to find the pattern of our Lenten observance in our participation in the Holy Mass,
identifying ourselves with Christ in the mystery of His Suffering and Dying.Christ pours out His life for our eternal salvation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that we, in turn, nourished by the heavenly Bread of His true Body and Blood will pour out our lives in love of our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.

During Lent, in a special way, we are asked to look upon the Body of Christ Who was crucified and died because of our sins and to recognize the pre-eminent sign of God’s unceasing love of us, that is, the pierced Heart of Jesus, opened to receive us all with deepest love.Our Holy Father has asked us to reflect, throughout the Lenten Season, on the text from the Gospel according to St. John: "They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced" (John 19:37).The text from the Prophet Zechariah points to the profound meaning of the action of the Roman soldier who, when Christ had died upon the Cross, pierced His Heart with a spear.Christ, after giving His very last energies for our salvation, permitted the Roman soldier to pierce His Heart.His open Heart, from which flowed the water and blood of His life, has, by His Resurrection, become the fountain, from which we receive His life, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, cleansing us of our sins and filling us with divine love.

The Divine Heart and the Christian heart

Our Lenten observance uncovers for us, once again, the unfathomable love of God for us. The Holy Father expresses the truth of God’s love, received and shared through Lenten prayer and penance, with these words: "On the Cross, it is God Himself Who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us."The glorious pierced Heart of Jesus remains always open to receive us, even when we have wandered far from Him and permitted our heart to become cold and hardened through sin.Our Lord permitted His Heart to be pierced so that He might pour out His life, to the very last ounce, for love of us.He waits patiently for our response of love.In the words of our Holy Father, "Christ ‘draws me to Himself’ in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love."

Our Lenten prayer and penance is, therefore, in no way, a kind of withdrawal from the world and from others.It is not a question of some kind of strictly private activity in our relationship with God.No, by its very nature, it draws us outward to Christ, to a fuller participation in His Eucharistic sacrifice, and, in Christ and through the Holy Eucharist, to all our brothers and sisters.When our hearts rest in the pierced Heart of Jesus, they are purified of all selfishness and set on fire with love of others. With reference to our Lenten theme, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the fruit of the union of our heart with the Heart of Jesus: "Contemplating ‘Him whom they have pierced’ moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people."Our Lenten prayer and penance, if it is true, becomes a source of great blessing for all suffer and long for a sign of God’s merciful love in their lives.

Prayer and penance lead to almsgiving

In responding to our Lord’s call to enter with Him into the desert of Lenten prayer and penance, I urge you to make the Holy Eucharist the center of your observance. Participation in daily Mass, an act of spiritual Communion on the days when you are unable to participate in Mass, a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in of one of our many churches and chapels with continuous or extended periods of Eucharistic exposition, and participation in the Archdiocesan Lay Eucharistic Conference, presented by Father Benedict Groeschel, on Saturday, March 24, at Saint Raymond’s Cathedral are all excellent ways to live Lent as "a ‘Eucharistic’ time."

Closely connected to the union of our hearts with the Heart of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the regular confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.Through the Sacrament of Penance, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the grace of peace, which dispose us to place our hearts more fully into the Heart of Jesus.The penance or act of satisfaction, assigned to us by the priest in Confession, is the premier form of our Lenten penance, drawing us to Christ and, in Christ, to our neighbor. If you would like a concise and practical help in preparing for the Sacrament of Penance, I recommend to you the pamphlet, "A Primer for Confession with an Examination of Conscience," by Father Frederick L. Miller, available from the Faith Guild of the St. Martin de Porres Lay Community at New Hope, KY. 40052 (call [270] 325-3061).

Living Lent as a "Eucharistic" time strengthens us to live always in Christ, in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Lent is an excellent time to prepare your home for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as a sign that you belong completely to Christ, at all times and in every place.Lent is also a good time to become part of the Apostleship of Prayer by making the Morning Offering each day, and to begin the observance of the First Friday of the month.Information regarding the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is available through the archdiocesan Office of Sacred Worship.

Two other devotions, which are, by nature, Eucharistic, also help us to live Lent in deepest union of heart with Christ.The daily praying of the Rosary, meditating, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, upon the mysteries of our salvation in Jesus Christ, is both an excellent preparation for Eucharistic worship and, at the same time, a proven means of drawing upon the grace of Eucharistic communion throughout the day. The praying of the Stations of the Cross, in a similar way, helps us to recognize more clearly the great Mystery of Faith, which is the Holy Eucharist, and to enter more deeply into the mystery of our life in Christ.

Finally, as Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us so strikingly in his Lenten Message, our prayer and penance bear their fruit in acts of selfless love toward our neighbor, especially those who suffer in any way.Our suffering brothers and sisters are in our families, in our parishes, in our local communities and in our world.May our prayer, our looking upon Him Whom we have pierced, help us to look with love upon every suffering brother and sister, especially those whom our culture hides from our eyes.May our penance free us to be ever more generous in giving of our time, our personal gifts and our treasures, so that all men may know the mercy and love of God in their lives.

May God grant to you and your home an abundance of strong Lenten grace!

‘Be not afraid!’


Sunday, Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is the World Day of the Sick. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is a most appropriate time for us to devote ourselves to prayer for our brothers and sisters who suffer illness and to those who care for them. At Lourdes, our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, inviting her to drink the water from a miraculous spring for strength and to bath in it for healing. She encouraged Bernadette to pray the Rosary, meditating upon the mysteries of Christ’s life in which we share. Above all, she drew Bernadette to the Holy Eucharist, the Heavenly Food and Medicine that sustains and heals us all along the way of our earthly pilgrimage, and on our final journey from this life to the life which is to come.

This year’s celebration of World Day of the Sick for the universal Church will take place in Seoul, Korea.The international celebration includes gatherings, presentations and the celebration of the Holy Mass, in which the sick and their families, and health care personnel, especially from Korea, will take part.

In the archdiocese, I will celebrate the Solemn Mass for the Sick and Health Care Professionals at the Cathedral Basilica at 10 a.m. on Feb. 11.The Knights and Dames of Malta, who are dedicated in a particular way to bringing the sick on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, are helping in the organization of the archdiocesan celebration of the World Day of the Sick. I offer you a heartfelt invitation to participate in the archdiocesan celebration at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Message of His Holiness

Each year, our Holy Father issues a message for the World Day of the Sick.In a world which sees illness in a totally negative light, seeking to keep the ill from our sight and avoiding conversation about illness, it is important that the Shepherd of the Universal Church draw our attention to the true meaning of illness and our fundamental mission of caring for the sick.

In his message for this year, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, notwithstanding the many advances in the health sciences, many continue to suffer serious, even incurable, illnesses, and many are living in conditions which seriously compromise their health and in which they lack access to needed medicine and medical care.The Holy Father reminds us of the particular care of the Church for those who suffer from incurable illnesses, of her concern that the conditions which cause disease be corrected, and of her commitment to "policies which create conditions where human beings can bear even incurable illnesses and death in a dignified manner."

Pope Benedict offers a special word of understanding and encouragement to "those who work daily to ensure that the incurably and terminally ill, together with their families, receive adequate and loving care."He reminds us of the particular care of the Church for the sick and suffering: "Through her individual members and institutions, she continues to stand alongside the suffering and to attend the dying, striving to preserve their dignity at these significant moments of human existence."

The Holy Father directs a special word of encouragement to those who are suffering from incurable diseases.He invites the ill to unite their sufferings of the Passion and Death of Christ. He recalls to all of our minds the truth that our sufferings, united to those of Christ, bring untold graces to individuals and the whole Church.He assures the sick that the Church, through "her priests and pastoral workers," desires to make "Christ’s own loving mercy" present for them.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI urges the whole Church, and especially those dedicated to health care, "to continue, with the help of Mary, Salus Infirmorum, to bear effective witness to the loving concern of God our Father."He asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to comfort those who are afflicted and to sustain those who care for them.

Indulgences for the World Day of the Sick

To confirm all that he has written in his Message, the Holy Father grants indulgences to those who celebrate World Day of the Sick.The plenary indulgence is granted "to the faithful who, under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Holy Father), and with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin," participate in World Day of the Sick in Seoul or, in the archdiocese, participate in the Mass for the Sick and Health Care Professionals at the cathedral basilica on Feb. 11.

The plenary indulgence may also be obtained by those who assist the sick and cannot take part in the celebration, if, on World Day of the Sick, "they generously provide, at least for a few hours, their charitable assistance to the sick as if they were tending to Christ the Lord Himself, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin, and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the conditions required for obtaining the plenary indulgence."

Those who, because of sickness or advanced years, are unable to participate in the celebration of the World Day of the Sick may obtain the plenary indulgence if, "with soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the conditions required, they spiritually participate together with the Holy Father" in the observance, praying for the sick and offering "through the Virgin Mary, ‘Health of the Sick,’ their physical and spiritual sufferings to God."

Finally, partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, between Feb. 9 and 11 contritely and devoutly pray to our all-merciful Lord for the sick, especially those who are suffering incurable and terminal disease.


United with our Lord, the Good Shepherd, in His steadfast and loving care of the sick, and in the offering of His suffering for the cure of body and soul, let us all observe, as we are able, the World Day of the Sick. On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, may God bless, in a special way, all who suffer serious illness and all who care for the gravely ill.

‘Be not afraid!’

Catholic Schools Week

We have been celebrating Catholic Schools Week, our annual time to reflect on the treasured gift of our Catholic schools and to recommit ourselves to the apostolate of the Catholic school in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.We have special reason to give thanks to God because of the extraordinary number of our Catholic schools, both archdiocesan and parish schools, and schools sponsored by communities of consecrated religious or associations of the faithful. We also have special reason to recommit ourselves to the Catholic schools, which are a treasured inheritance requiring our constant and generous care and support.

Before reflecting briefly about the Catholic schools, I want to say how deeply impressed I have been and continue to be by the strong commitment of parents in the archdiocese to provide a Catholic-school education for their children from preschool through high school, and even at the level of university studies. I know of the tremendous sacrifices parents make over many years so that their children may be enrolled in a Catholic school.As archbishop, I am responsible to see that the name "Catholic" is used only by schools which are, in fact, Catholic in identity. I am deeply conscious of the sacred trust that I have with parents who have the natural right to expect that a school which is called Catholic is truly Catholic in identity.

Catholic or complete education

The special gift of the Catholic school to its students is a complete education.The Catholic school not only imparts knowledge to students and develops their skills, like all good schools do, but it does so in the context of their daily relationship with God.All growth in knowledge and skills in the Catholic school is seen in the context of faith in God who is the source of all that we are and have.

Not only is the faith taught in the Catholic school, but the faith is celebrated by prayers, devotions and, above all, the regular celebration of the Holy Mass and regular opportunities for the students to go to Confession.Prayer and the Sacred Liturgy are at the heart of the life of the Catholic school.

Finally, we look at the faith which is taught is lived in the Catholic school.The teaching of the Catholic faith would be empty if the life of the school did not exemplify and foster the Christian virtues. The Catholic school is a "school of Christ," for the faculty and students, and all who are part of the school are one in Christ and strive to imitate Christ more and more in the daily activities of the school.

Catholic school and the new evangelization

The Catholic school in our time faces a tremendous challenge from the culture that surrounds us.While the Catholic school imparts the knowledge of God’s plan for us and for our world, and inculcates deep respect for God’s law, the culture tells children and young people that everything is relative to what they think and to what pleases them.While the Catholic school teaches selfless love, the culture leads students to be self-centered and to view life from the sole perspective of personal pleasure and gain.

The culture is pervasive.Administration, faculty, students and all who are part of the Catholic school must, therefore, cultivate a disciplined spiritual life, a life of prayer, devotion and spiritual reading and meditation, which finds its culmination in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Regular Confession is also essential if we are to have the wisdom and courage to meet the challenge of Catholic education in our time.

This year, the Office of Catholic Education has been assisting administrators and teachers to be formed in the new evangelization which the situation of our culture demands.What better place than the Catholic school to foster the new enthusiasm and the new energy which are needed to teach, celebrate and live our Catholic faith in our time.The Catholic school seeks to inspire in students the deep appreciation of the Catholic faith, which will lead them to live their faith, as if for the first time, imitating the first disciples of our Lord and the first missionaries to the archdiocese.

Please keep in your prayers our Catholic schools.Please pray that they will be outstanding instruments of the new evangelization.


Feb. 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or, as it is popularly called, Candlemas. Forty days after Christmas, the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with her saintly husband Joseph, brought the Child Jesus to the temple, in fulfillment of the Law of Moses.The Presentation, however, was much more than an act of obedience to the Mosaic law; it was the meeting of the Lord with His people, the Church, represented by Simeon and Anna.In the Eastern Church, in fact, the Presentation is called the Feast of the Meeting.

Christ, after His birth, comes to meet us in the Temple which He purifies in preparation for His sacrifice on Calvary and its perpetuation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.When Simeon received the Christ Child into his arms, he declared Him to be the Light of the Nations.The candle is a fundamental symbol of our Lord, who is indeed our light, the light for all mankind, guiding us to eternal life. On the Feast of the Presentation, the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are blessed. Candles for devotional use in the home also are blessed.

Vocation to the consecrated life

Candlemas is the day on which the Church honors, in a special way, those called to the consecrated life: consecrated virgins, hermits, monks, contemplative religious, apostolic religious and members of secular institutes. The vocation to the consecrated life, which is so rich in its forms, is a wonderful manifestation of the light of Christ in the world for the salvation of all mankind.Those called to the consecrated life strive to follow Christ more closely and are, as a result, a source of inspiration and strength for those called to the married life, the dedicated single life or the priesthood. In consecrated persons, we all see the purity and generosity of Christ’s love of us and are inspired to be more pure and generous in the love we are called to give to one another in our respective vocations.

In recent decades, there has been a decline in the number of those who have responded to the vocation to the consecrated life.In the present time, however, there is a new flowering of response to the vocation among our young people.Let us pray for all whom God is calling to the consecrated life so that they will respond with an undivided heart, giving themselves totally to Christ for love of Him and all of us in the Church.By their response to the consecrated life, the light of Christ will shine forth in them to guide us all on the way of eternal salvation.

‘Be not afraid!’


On this past Sunday, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the holy Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as part of the National Prayer Vigil for Life on Sunday night and to participate in the March for Life on Jan. 22.Many faithful, especially young people, of the archdiocese also made the journey to our nation’s capital for the March for Life.Monday marked the 34th anniversary of the deplorable decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States in the cases Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, which legalized procured abortion in our nation at every stage of the development of the infant in the womb.

Although we have been battling for 34 years for the reversal of those decisions of the Supreme Court, and although we now face yet another and horrible development in the culture of death with the work to guarantee to researchers the right to clone human life for the purpose of destroying it to harvest embryonic stem cells, the March for Life gave me many causes for renewed hope.The March for Life showed, in a variety of ways, the new enthusiasm and new energy needed in the teaching and living of the Gospel of Life.

Strong witness of youth

One of the greatest signs of hope is the strong witness of youth to the inviolable dignity of innocent human life.

At the Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which holds several thousand faithful, was packed to the limit with mostly youth and young adults.There was not a empty space in the basilica.Many young people had traveled all night to arrive on time for the Mass.They slept Sunday night in a sleeping bag in the crypt of the basilica or in other places of reception, they marched on Monday, and then they boarded their buses to return home.The joy, the enthusiasm and the energy of the youth witnessing to the inviolability of innocent human life is one of the greatest signs of hope for the eventual overturning of the decisions in Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton.

On Monday morning, after Holy Mass and before the march, the marchers from Missouri were able to meet with members of the Congress from our state.One of the speakers asked how many present were born after Jan. 22, 1973.The speaker reflected upon the great appreciation which these young people should have for their parents’ commitment to life, for their parents, unlike the parents of us who were born before 1973, had access to procured abortion on demand.Children and young people who have been born in the time since Jan. 22, 1973, give a particularly powerful witness to the inviolable dignity of every innocent human life, from the moment of its inception to the moment of natural death.

The participation of many priests and seminarians

At the Mass for the National Prayer Vigil and throughout the march, I met so many priests and seminarians.If you were blessed to view the Mass on Eternal Word Television Network, you saw the long procession of priests and seminarians.Several priests from our archdiocese, several Benedictine monks from St. Louis Abbey and most of the seminarians from our Kenrick-Glennon Seminary participated in the Vigil Mass and the March for Life.

On Monday morning, at 7 a.m., I celebrated Mass at Holy Rosary Church for the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to prepare us all for the march.The Church was filled to capacity.It was especially moving to have so many of our seminarians present, including our three seminarians who are studying philosophy at The Catholic University of America.The seminarians, in a special way, are great teachers of the new enthusiasm and the new energy needed to teach and live the Gospel of Life in our time.

So often, the faithful who have been personally involved with or affected by an abortion tell me about the irreplaceable role of the priest in helping them to accept God’s forgiveness, which alone can heal them of the deep wounds caused by abortion.The progress of the Respect Life Apostolate depends on good and generous priests who as true shepherds of the flock will teach the Gospel of Life clearly, in its integrity and without compromise, in our society which is so confused and misguided regarding the dignity of human life.As shepherds, they also must be thoroughly imbued with the compassion of Christ, that they may invite those who are suffering from the profound guilt of having cooperated in an abortion to come to know God’s forgiveness.The presence of so many priests and seminarians at the March for Life was indeed a great sign of hope.

Silent no more

Finally, perhaps the most moving sign of hope for the restoration of the respect for the dignity of all human life in our nation is the growing number of men and women who have been involved in procuring an abortion and now are witnessing publicly to the almost unbearable suffering which abortion has brought into their lives and to the liberation from the heavy burden of their deep guilt through the Church’s ministry, especially the Sacrament of Penance.Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, two ministries in the Church which serve directly those who have sinned by procuring an abortion, have accomplished untold good in helping God’s mercy and peace reach souls who have suffered for years with the anguishing guilt which comes from participation in an abortion.

A number of individuals and couples, carrying signs which read "I regret my abortion" took part in the March for Life.At the conclusion of the march, on the steps of the Supreme Court, they gave witness to the truth about abortion and about God’s forgiveness and healing in their lives.I was especially proud of a couple from our archdiocese who courageously gave witness to the work of God’s grace in their lives, bringing them to seek and receive His forgiveness.


There were many other inspirations to hope that I witnessed through the March for Life, for instance, the presence of Eduardo Verastegui, star of the award-winning pro-life film, "Bella." Let us thank God for the many signs which give us hope in the Respect Life Apostolate.May these wonderful signs of hope inspire in us new enthusiasm and new energy in carrying out the apostolate of respect for all human life, from the moment of inception to the moment of death, without exception and without compromise.

I close by thanking Molly Corcoran Kertz, director of the Respect Life Apostolate, and her staff, and of all the parish coordinators of the Respect Life Apostolate.May God fill you with hope as you serve Him in our tiniest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters.

‘Be not afraid!’


This past Jan. 14, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for the intention of the young men and women of the archdiocese.I prayed that they may know their vocation in life and respond to God’s call with an undivided heart.The Mass was offered, in a particular way, for the young men whom God is calling to the priesthood, and for the young men and women whom God is calling to the consecrated life.

St. Gianna, wife, mother and physician, is an inspiration for our young people in responding to their vocation. What is more, she will intercede for them, so that they will unite themselves to our Lord, above all, in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, doing whatever He asks of them (John 2:5).

Vocation and prayer

Our vocation in life, whether it be to marriage, the dedicated single state, the consecrated life or the priesthood, is a call from Christ to give ourselves, with Him, in faithful and selfless love of God and neighbor.We know our vocation, therefore, through prayer, asking God the Father what His special plan is for us and seeking the grace from Him to do His will in all things.

St. Gianna is an outstanding example of someone who came to know her vocation through prayer, especially through participation in Mass each day, daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the daily recitation of the Rosary.Her parents formed her in the habits of daily Mass, prayer and devotion.She also was helped very much by the priests and religious Sisters whom she came to know in the parishes to which her family belonged over the years, and in the schools in which she received her education.

Vocation and suffering

Uniting ourselves to Christ, above all, in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, we understand that our vocation is, in essence, the pouring out of our life in selfless love.In other words, our vocation requires the acceptance of many sufferings, if we are to be truly faithful and generous in following Christ.St. Gianna practiced a life of generous self-giving, especially through her involvement in Catholic Action, a lay spiritual movement which helps its members to follow Christ by the threefold way of prayer, action and sacrifice.

At the end of her life, St. Gianna offered her life in death, to save the life of the infant in her womb.When she was urged to save her life by a surgical procedure which would have destroyed her unborn child, she responded that nothing could justify taking the life of the child.At the same time, she embraced the suffering of her approaching death with serenity, seeing her suffering as a true share in Christ’s Passion and Death.

Vocation and trust in Divine Providence

At the Baptism of our Lord, the voice of God the Father was heard, declaring: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).In other words, our Lord Jesus Christ was perfectly united in will with the Father, accepting fully His vocation and mission of Savior.Our Lord trusted in the Father’s promise of salvation through His suffering and death.During the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord Jesus prayed to the Father: ‘(N)ot my will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42), and, as He died upon the cross, He prayed to the Father: "Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit" (Luke 23:46).

In coming to know our vocation in life and in helping others to know their vocation, it is essential to develop a humble trust in God’s providence.All that we are and have is God’s gift to us in love. Humbly recognizing that truth, we then trust that God will provide all that we need to do His will and will bring us through our suffering to an ever greater love of Him and one another.

St. Gianna was taught trust in Divine Providence by her parents. She practiced it to an heroic degree as wife, mother and physician. Trust in God’s never-failing love permitted her to enjoy deeply the beauties of nature, to respect the dignity of every brother and sister, to embrace the hardships of daily life in the family with generous joy, to practice medicine by caring for the patient as a child of God, and to give up her life for her last child, trusting that her other three children would receive the love which she so desired to give them.

When she was dying, St. Gianna was heard praying repeatedly the words: "Jesus, I love you!" Indeed, St. Gianna loved Jesus, doing God’s will with trust in His promise of salvation.

Daily prayer for vocations

The special Mass which I celebrated on Jan. 14 fulfilled in the most outstanding manner possible the duty to pray daily for those who are called to the priesthood and consecrated life, the duty which all of us as members of the Body of Christ are called to fulfill.The young people whom Christ is calling to the priesthood and consecrated life depend upon our prayers that they may hear God’s call and respond perseveringly.

Let us all pray each day that our young men and women will come to know their vocation through prayer and will embrace the sufferings which responding to their vocation inevitably entails.Let us pray that they, like St. Gianna, will trust in God’s providence, doing His will with confidence that He will provide for them in all things.

‘Be not afraid!’


On this past Jan. 1 and 2, I had the great privilege to visit the holy places of St. Gianna, wife and mother and physician, who, on Easter Saturday of 1962, at her home in Mesero, in Northern Italy, offered her life to save the life of her infant daughter in the womb. The newest parish of the St. Louis Archdiocese, St. Gianna Parish in the St. Charles Deanery, has been given St. Gianna as its patron.

In visiting the places made holy by the heroic Christian life of St. Gianna, I had the even greater privilege of meeting her husband, Pietro; the daughter whose life she saved, Gianna Emanuela; her other living daughter, Laura; her brother, Father Giuseppe Beretta, a retired priest of the Diocese of Bergamo in Italy; and her sister, Sister M. Virginia, a Canossian Sister.I also met other relatives and friends of St. Gianna.When I visited with Pietro, her husband, he presented me with a first-class relic of St. Gianna to be placed in the altar of the church of St. Gianna Parish when it is consecrated.

Those with whom I visited repeatedly spoke of St. Gianna’s extraordinary humility, her trust in Divine Providence and her generous love toward all. One of her classmates told me that she always knew that St. Gianna was an extraordinary person, although Gianna never drew attention to herself but rather acted very humbly and generously with everyone.

It was clear to all who knew Gianna that the heart of her holiness of life was a great love of the Holy Eucharist, manifested in a devotion to daily Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and a closeness to the Blessed Virgin Mary, expressed by her daily praying of the rosary.

I learned that her parents educated St. Gianna, from her earliest days, to love the Holy Eucharist and to call upon the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially by praying the rosary.As her sister, Sister M. Virginia, somewhat humorously commented: "It is all the fault of our parents that Gianna became a saint."

St. Gianna and vocation

One of the essential signs of St. Gianna’s holiness of life was her response to her vocation.When she was 15, she made a three-day retreat with Father Michael Avedano, SJ, who focused his conferences on cooperation with God’s grace in the circumstances of everyday life. From that time, St. Gianna devoted herself to doing God’s will in all things.As she entered into her adult years, she naturally pondered, most of all, how God wanted her to give herself totally to Him and to her neighbor through her vocation.

After she had finished medical school, she thought that God was calling her to join her brother, Father Alberto Baretta, OFM Cap, a physician and missionary who was founding a hospital in Graja, located in the southern Amazon region of Brazil. Her spiritual director and her bishop, however, were convinced that God was calling her to form a marriage and family, in imitation of her saintly parents. They did not believe that God was calling her to be a missionary because her health would not support the intense heat of Graja.

Although she was greatly disappointed at having to abandon the idea of a missionary vocation, she gave herself, heart and soul, to the vocation to the married life. God brought Pietro Molla and her together on the occasion of the dinner following the First Mass of Thanksgiving of Father Lino Garavaglia, native son of Pietro’s home parish at Mesero, in which Gianna was practicing medicine.From that meeting, their love of each other grew ever stronger.They were united by Christ in marriage on Sept. 24, 1955.The purity and generosity of their love is documented in the love letters of St. Gianna to Pietro, which were published in English in 2002 under the title, "Love Letters to My Husband" (Boston: Pauline Books and Media).

Vocation Sunday

On this coming Sunday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m., I will celebrate a Mass for vocations at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, praying for our young people that will know the will of God for them and respond to it with a completely generous heart, following the example of St. Gianna.The Mass will be offered, in a special way, for those called to the priesthood and consecrated life.

In praying for them, those who participate in the Mass will also imitate St. Gianna, who prayed that one of her children would be called to serve the Church as a priest or consecrated religious.

I invite you to participate in the Mass on Jan. 14 at the cathedral basilica.As we recall, in these days, the manifestation of the vocation and mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan, let us all pray that our young people will know their vocation in life and find their deepest joy in doing all that God asks of them.

Following the Mass, there will be a reception in Boland Hall, next door to the cathedral basilica, during which those considering the vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life will be able to visit with priests and consecrated persons.

Please pray that God will bless our archdiocese with many young men who will hear the call to the priesthood, and with many young men and women who will hear the call to the consecrated life.Please pray, too, for the young men and women who are responding to God’s call and are presently doing seminary studies or are in the novitiate of a religious community.

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