Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

I write to thank you for your generous response to the 2006 Annual Catholic Appeal.Considering your generous response, I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)," dedicated to a reflection on "the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others." Our Holy Father reminds us that the fruit of our knowledge and love of God, especially through prayer and worship, that is, our drinking at the fountain of life, makes us, in turn, "a fountain from which ‘flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38)" for all our brothers and sisters. Our sharing of God’s gifts truly forms "rivers of living water" for those who are in most need.

Pope Benedict XVI, at the very beginning of his service as Vicar of Christ, has reminded us that the Church’s organized works of charity are inseparable from our teaching of the faith, and our daily prayer and our worship of God.Through our worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament, above all, our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, weexperience the lavish love of God for us and we accept the mission of loving one another with the same lavish love.

The Annual Catholic Appeal is a most important way in which all of us in the Archdiocese of St. Louis work together in providing for the charitable needs of others in our local communities.Your faithful and generous participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal reflects the vitality of the Church in our parishes.

Details of our response

The goal of this year’s appeal was $11,250,000, while the gifts pledged total $12,208,607.You have given almost a million dollars over the goal, in order that the Church may respond more fully to the ever greater needs of charity.

The generous surpassing of our goal is not the only significant advance we have made. As you may be aware, over the past 10 years or so, there has been, every year, a significant decrease in donors.As a special goal of the appeal which we have just concluded, our parishes worked to increase the participation of all of the faithful of the archdiocese and, thereby, to stop the decrease in the number of donors.Good progress was made.The decrease in the number of all donors was significantly less this year. The number of sponsors, endorsers and guarantors increased by 24.5 percent. The challenge which lies ahead for us is to increase the number of all donors.

So many of you renewed your pledge of last year. Others increased their gift.Many made a pledge for the first time. All of us together, no matter what our age or financial condition, have sacrificed from the substance of the gifts which God has given to us, in order to serve our brothers and sisters. All who have made a sacrifice share equally in the Church’s works of charity.

Our service of others

The story of the works of charity, which the Annual Catholic Appeal makes possible, is wonderful to recount. Space does not permit a full account, but I remind you of a few of the works of charity, which you support through the appeal.

Nearly $2 million goes directly to those in material need: the hungry, the homeless, the immigrants, the young mothers choosing life over abortion, the deaf, the poor in urban and rural areas, and those suffering from HIV. In truth, the Annual Catholic Appeal impacts tens of thousands of households in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, addressing all needs, both spiritual and material.

A total of more than $2.2 million goes to parishes for emergency needs and to support the families in the parishes who need tuition assistance so that their children may attend a Catholic school. In addition, it must be remembered that all parishioners benefit from the grants for the continuing education and formation of our priests and deacons, for the support of our retired priests, and for apostolic outreach, for example, the Respect Life Apostolate, programs of Natural Family Planning, the human rights apostolate, the Hispanic Apostolate and the apostolate on behalf of African-Americans at the St. Charles Lwanga Center in North St. Louis. Another $1.2 million supports our retired priests, while the apostolic outreach in the parishes is supported by more than $1 million in grants.

The youth in our high schools benefit from nearly $1.2 million in grants.An additional $2 million provides services and assistance to youth ministry, vocations programs, our seminarians, college campus ministries, special education programs, and other programs directed to the spiritual care of our children and young people.

The special gifts given through the Annual Catholic Appeal must also be remembered.Those who chose to request that the companies for which they work and or have retired match their gifts contributed an additional $500,000 for the support of educational programs in the archdiocese. In addition, estate gifts to the Perpetual Light Society amounted to more than $200,000.Through the Perpetual Light Society, we extend our gifts of charity beyond our lifetime.

Thanks to our leaders

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to our leaders in the 2006 Annual Catholic Appeal.I thank, in a special way, Jerry Kent, the general chairman, his wife Judy, and their children, Matthew and Rachel.Jerry gave tireless and most dynamic leadership, inspiring a generous response on the part of many. The entire appeal Council, made up of extraordinarily talented and devoted members of the faithful of the archdiocese, gave hours and hours of time, in order that every aspect of the appeal would be strong.

Equally to be thanked are the pastors and lay leaders in our parishes, in which the appeal is made.The work of the appeal depends absolutely upon their leadership on the front lines. In the end, the appeal, if it is to work, must be brought to every member of the faithful in the archdiocese. It is our pastors, and lay leaders and volunteers who bring the message of the appeal to the parishioners.

Finally, I thank wholeheartedly Frank Cognata, director of the Archdiocesan Office of Stewardship, and Brian Niebrugge, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal, and their staffs.Their professional excellence coupled with their love of the Church guarantee the good organization and execution of the appeal, and provide so much practical help to those who are making the appeal in the parishes.

Conclusion

As we thank God for His blessing on the 2006 Annual Appeal, we rededicate ourselves to the works of His charity by planning for the 2007 appeal. We must be cognizant of the need to increase participation, so that all of us work together in bringing God’s love to others.Many families struggle to make ends meet, and our elderly are often living on a fixed income.At the same time, unemployment, serious illness and emotional distress burden many families. It is critical that all of us, in accord with the needs of the New Evangelization, set aside the distractions and the selfishness of a totally secularized culture and give ourselves to the selfless love of our neighbors in need. God is with us, and God is love.Growing in our communion with God, growing in holiness of life, we will be able to meet the many requests of the Church’s charity in our time.

At the conclusion of "Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict writes about the saints who became holy through the practice of extraordinary charity. In thanking you for your faithful and generous support of the Annual Catholic Appeal, I ask St. Louis of France, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne to intercede for you and for the intentions of the archdiocese. I invite you to get to know better their lives and the lives of your patron saints, asking them to pray for you, that you, too, may live a life of extraordinary charity.

Once again, thank you. God bless and reward you.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

From Aug.16 to 24 last, I led a missionary pilgrimage to the missions in Bolivia, in which priests of the archdiocese have served and are serving. The pilgrimage was as an important part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the archdiocesan Latin America Apostolate. Several priests and lay faithful of the archdiocese made the pilgrimage with me. A number of the priests who accompanied the pilgrimage had spent some years serving in the missions in Bolivia. Religious sisters from the archdiocese, especially Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who are currently on mission in Bolivia, joined us for the celebrations in the Archdiocese of La Paz, to which the first missionaries from the Archdiocese of St. Louis were sent by Archbishop Joseph Ritter in 1956 and in which our priests continue to be on mission.

It is important to note that the missionary work of our priests has, over the years, been accompanied and supported by the missionary work of religious sisters and lay volunteers, especially the Papal Volunteers to Latin America (PAVLA) in the first years. The history of the Latin America Apostolate of the archdiocese is a wonderful tribute to the distinct gift which each state in life and vocation contributes to the missionary apostolates of the Church.

Space does not permit me to recount all of the adventures which are part of any pilgrimage, especially a missionary pilgrimage, and which would be interesting to recount. I highlight only the principal spiritual and pastoral aspects of the pilgrimage.

The Parishes of Cristo Rey and Maria Reina

The missionary pilgrimage began in the Archdiocese of La Paz, specifically at the Parish of Maria Reina (Mary, Queen), in the City of La Paz. The parish was founded by the Archbishop of La Paz in 1966 and entrusted to the care of the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who just 10 years earlier had been the founding parish priests for the Parish of Cristo Rey (Christ the King). To be precise, once the priests of the archdiocese had established on firm foundations the Parish of Cristo Rey, the archbishop was able to place the pastoral care of the parish into the hands of native clergy, and to entrust the development of the new parish, the Parish of Maria Reina, into the hands of the St. Louis priests.

Our priests, currently Msgr. David Ratermann who was among the first group of three priests sent to La Paz by Archbishop Ritter; Father Patrick Hayden, the pastor; and Father Robert Menner, Father James Michler and Father Vincent Nyman, are happily and tirelessly caring for the Parish of Maria Reina. I can attest that they are most loved by the people of the parish and deeply esteemed by Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor, the archbishop of La Paz, and his clergy.

The high point of the missionary pilgrimage was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Cristo Rey Parish on the morning of Aug. 20 and the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the foundation of Maria Reina Parish in the afternoon of the same day. Both celebrations were centered in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which was proceeded by a procession. At Cristo Rey, there was program of celebration, immediately following the Mass, which included repeated expressions of deepest gratitude to the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for their participation in the development of what today is a most vibrant parish. The program at Maria Reina Parish was held on the Friday evening before, with both Archbishop Abastoflor and myself present. Also, on the Saturday evening before the Sunday celebration, the parishioners of Maria Reina Parish serenaded our Blessed Mother with song and their native dance.

Regarding the Parish of Maria Reina, I was struck by both the tremendous material poverty of the faithful and by their abundant spiritual riches. The parish has over 40,000 parishioners and covers a large territory. The faithful are also served at chapels located nearer to their homes. There is need for the establishment of two more chapels, at least. Most of the parishioners do not enjoy the gift of salaried work but work hard to provide basic human needs for their homes. At the same time, they have a profound faith in God, and love of our Lord and our Blessed Mother. For that reason, too, they have a great love for their priests, priests of the archdiocese, who serve them in the person of Christ.

Parish of St. James the Greater at Calamarca

On the Saturday before the Sunday celebration, our pilgrimage took us to the Altiplano, the plain above the mountain on which the City of La Paz is built, to visit the Parish of St. James the Greater, in which our priests have been and are also serving. Calamarca is part of the Territorial Prelature of Corocoro, the designation of a portion of the Church near a large urban see and under the care of a bishop. The parish church is a magnificent structure built by the Native American people during the first years of evangelization, centuries ago. Remarkably beautiful paintings of angels adorn the church. By way of an aside, Archbishop Abastoflor gave me a statue of an angel, inspired by the paintings at Calamarca, at the conclusion of the Mass at Maria Reina Parish. The angel is a symbol of the unity of our archdioceses in the mission of Christ, a sign of God’s constant blessing and protection of the people of La Paz.

Bishop Toribio Ticona of Corocoro received the pilgrimage most warmly. We were blessed to participate in the Holy Mass, at which he was the principal celebrant. At Calamarca, the faithful celebrated the Mass with beautiful music and with the greatest solemnity. Many of them wore their festive native dress. Bishop Ticona thanked me so much for the assistance of our priests. He told me that he has over 10 parishes without a resident pastor and begged me to send some priests to help him full-time.

At Corocoro, I was once again struck by the material poverty and the profound spiritual wealth of the parishioners. Located in the high plain above the mountain, the late afternoon and evening in Calamarca are very cold, as I experienced. The people do not have anything resembling central heating and, therefore, suffer with the cold. At the same time, they manifest the deepest joy in their Christian faith.

Riberalta

Finally, our missionary pilgrimage took us also to the Apostolic Vicariate of the Pando, the seat of which is in the City of Riberalta. Bishop Luis Morgan Casey, a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, is the pastor of the Pando. Bishop Casey gave us the warmest possible welcome and provided for us a wonderful visit to his people who live in the rain forest of Bolivia. All of us were especially impressed by the fine cathedral and other churches, Catholic schools and retreat center which have been built under Bishop Casey’s direction.

Bishop Casey is full of love for Christ and His holy people, and is tireless in serving the Church. Maryknoll Sisters and a Franciscan Sister who has joined them assist Bishop Casey in carrying out his daily responsibilities and helped him very much in caring for us.

Our time in Riberalta concluded with a festive celebration of the Mass on the evening of Aug. 22. Once again, the faithful presented a program of song and dance to express their gratitude for the service of Bishop Casey and for our visit. The program was especially rich in variety and in the depth of love expressed by the people. At the conclusion, Bishop Casey provided me with a wood-inlay image of the cathedral, which will be a treasured part of the Archive of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.

Visiting Riberalta and enjoying Bishop Casey’s company, I was filled with deepest gratitude for his priestly life devoted to the missions. The whole archdiocese must rejoice to have one of our priests serve so generously and well in the missions.

Receiving More Than We Have Given

In my words at the various celebrations, I repeatedly told the faithful present that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has received countless blessings through our communion with the Church in Bolivia in carrying out the mission of Christ. It is true that we have received more than we have given, which is saying a lot. The faithful of St. Louis have given themselves and their goods most generously in service of the Church in Bolivia. God’s response to our outpouring has been even more generous still in the love and prayers of the faithful of Bolivia, and the grace of being one with them in Christ’s saving work.

'Be not afraid!'

Prayer and Action

The Holy Father, in his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)," declares: "It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable works."The prayer of the Christian "does not claim to be able to change God’s plans or correct what He has foreseen."Prayer rather is communion with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.When he prays, the Christian "seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Holy Spirit to him and his work." Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that communion with God in prayer and the correlative "abandonment to His will" strengthens us against the temptation to blame God for the sufferings of man.The Holy Father wisely observes: "When people claim to build a case against God in defense of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?" (n. 37).

Job, in the Old Testament, understandably cried out to God in his profound loss and suffering.He cried out not to blame God but to ask why seemingly God did not come to his help (Job 23:1-7).The Holy Father reminds us of the cry of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He died on the Cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).Our prayer to God in our suffering is like the plea of Christ.It is an expression of our faith in God’s Providence, even though we do not understand why He permits certain things to happen or does not prevent other things from happening.For the Christian, our plea to God in suffering "is not meant to challenge God, or to suggest that error, weakness or indifference can be found in Him." It is rather an act of faith in His love, "even when His silence remains incomprehensible" (n. 38).

Faith, hope and charity

Pope Benedict XVI concludes the second part of the encyclical letter by reflecting upon the unity of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.The practice of hope draws upon the practice of two other virtues, patience and humility. Hope is expressed in the patience "which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure."Hope is also expressed in the virtue of humility "which accepts God’s mystery and trusts Him even at times of darkness."

Faith teaches us the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation.It teaches us that God the Son has become man, in order to suffer and die for us, thereby freeing us from sin and everlasting death.Faith teaches us the truth that God is love.Faith gives us the reason for our hope, so that we do not give way to impatience or to doubt."Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love."

Love, finally, "is the light — and in the end, the only light — that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working."The Holy Father recalls that our practice of the virtue of love has its foundation in the truth that we are made in the image and likeness of God.Pope Benedict XVI repeats again that the whole purpose of the encyclical letter is to invite us to practice Christian love and in this way "to cause the light of God to enter into the world" (n. 39).

Example of the saints

The conclusion of the encyclical letter is a reflection upon the lives of the saints who practiced the virtue of Christian charity in an heroic manner.When meditating on Christian charity, St. Martin of Tours immediately comes to mind."At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus Himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak."

The Holy Father then reminds us of the sterling example of charity found in the monastic communities, from the first beginnings.The monk who seeks to contemplate the Face of Christ is led to practice the love of God by serving His neighbor.The monastic rule places a strong emphasis on "hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries."From the monastic communities and, then, the mendicant communities (the Franciscans and Dominicans, for instance), there developed a host of religious communities of men and women devoted to the care of those in need.Regarding the saints, the Holy Father declares: "The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love" (n. 40).

Our Blessed Mother is the most outstanding example of Christian charity for us.Since the Virgin Mary’s will is conformed perfectly to the will of God, she loves as God loves.The Holy Father points to a number of the details regarding Mary’s life, recorded in the Gospels, which all unveil her preeminent charity."We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel.We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus.We see it in the humility with which she receded into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus’ true hour (John 2:4; 13:1)" (n. 41).

Example and intercession

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the saints are with God and continue to work in Him."In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them."Again, it is the Blessed Virgin Mary who best manifests the truth that the saints, in the words of St. Thrse of Lisieux, spend their heaven in doing good on earth.Our Lord Jesus gave His Mother to us as our Mother, the Mother of the Church, and she never ceases to look after us and to plead for the graces which we need before the Throne of God.In the words of our Lord, she drank from the fountain of God’s love and, from her, flow "rivers of living water" for those who thirst.She is an example of Christian love, interceding constantly for us, her spiritual sons and daughters, that we may draw drink from the fountain of God’s love, especially in the Holy Eucharist, and thereby becomes fountains of living water in the world.

The Holy Father concludes his first encyclical letter by entrusting the Church and her charitable work to the Mother of God:

"Holy Mary, Mother of God,

you have given the world its true light,

Jesus, your Son — the Son of God.

You abandoned yourself completely

to God’s call

and thus became a wellspring

of the goodness which flows forth from Him.

Show us Jesus.Lead us to Him.

Teach us to know and love Him,

so that we too can become

capable of true love

and be fountains of living water

in the midst of a thirsting world" (n. 42).

‘Be not afraid!’

Working with other organizations

In carrying out the Church’s works of charity, Catholics should be disposed "to work with other organizations in serving various forms of need."If another organization specializes in a particular form of care, good stewardship leads the Church to cooperate with the other organization in bringing Christ’s love to all.

The fundamental condition of the collaboration is respect for the specific nature of Christian service of neighbor.Catholics working together with others always imitate Christ, giving not just their time or their goods in service to their neighbor but giving their very self.Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)," quotes St. Paul’s famous "Hymn to Charity" (1 Corinthians 13:1-13), calling it "the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service."Regarding the "Hymn to Charity," the Holy Father goes on to declare: "(I)t sums up all the reflections on love which I have offered throughout this encyclical letter" (n. 34).

The Catholic charitable worker first meets Christ, especially in the Holy Eucharist, and then, through his charitable works, brings Christ’s love to his neighbor.The works themselves will fail to meet the needs of his brothers and sisters if they are not done with the love of Christ.The Holy Father wisely observes: "My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift" (n. 34).

If I simply do something for another, without giving of myself, then I fail to recognize the other as a brother or sister, treating the other as an object and, therefore, as the Holy Father observes, subjecting him to humiliation in the very act of trying to help him.

Humility

Christlike service of others strengthens in us the practice of the virtue of humility.In other words, we do not look upon the one served from some superior position.Christ is our example, freeing us from sin and everlasting death by suffering death in the condition of a common criminal.Christ never ceases to love us in the same way, offering His very life for us, no matter how grievously we have sinned.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, giving ourselves in loving service to others who are in need, we ourselves receive help.God gives us the grace to be of service to our brothers and sisters in most need.Our charitable service is not a matter of our "merit or achievement."The Holy Father recalls the strong teaching of our Lord that, when we have done all that God asks of us, we should say: "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10).He comments: "We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so" (n. 35).

The realization that all I do is a gift of God’s grace also helps me to avoid discouragement when the needs of the other are great and my ability to respond seems so limited.It helps me to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that I am the one who saves the world.In humility, I recognize that everything that I am and have, that everything absolutely comes from God and will return to Him at the end of time.After I have done all that I can, which the charity of Christ constantly urges me to do (2 Corinthians 5:14), I recognize that everything remains in the hands of God, and I, therefore, turn everything over to Him, with confidence in His Providence. "In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord" (n. 35).

Temptation to ideology or inertia

Before "the immensity of others’ needs," we can be tempted to think that we will solve all of their difficulties.This is the temptation to ideology.We also can be tempted to think that we really cannot do anything to help.This is the temptation to inertia.Both the temptation to ideology and the temptation to inertia frequently beset those dedicated to the Church’s works of charity.

To avoid both temptations, ideology which leads us "into an arrogant contempt for man," or inertia which leads us into "a resignation which would prevent us from being guided by love in the service of others," we must cultivate our "living relationship with Christ" through prayer.The world may see the time which charitable workers spend in prayer as a waste of time or as a dulling of the commitment to those in need.But communion with Christ in prayer is essential to the fruitfulness of the time we spend in work.We must pray, if our work is to express the love of Christ.Pope Benedict XVI recalls the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who insisted "that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service" (n. 36).

‘Be not afraid!’

Witness, not proselytism

Thus far, in his description of the identity of the charitable activity of the Church in his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)," Pope Benedict XVI has indicated two characteristics: 1) "the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations" (n. 31a); and 2) independence from "parties and ideologies" (n. 31b).The third mark of the charitable activity of the Church is a witness of love, which does not have other ends in view.Pope Benedict XVI makes it clear that charity cannot be exercised for the purpose of proselytism, that is, for the purpose of bringing those served into the Church. He observes: "Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends."

At the same time, the charitable work of the Church must give strong witness to Christ Who is its source and strength. The Holy Father recalls that often the greatest suffering we encounter in our fellow men is the "very absence of God" in their lives. The "pure and generous love" of the Church is "the best witness to God."We do not "impose the Church’s faith on others."Pope Benedict XVI, however, observes that the "Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak."

Since the source of the Christian’s love is God, God is at work in his charitable activity. The Holy Father asks that the Church’s charitable organizations "reinforce this awareness in their members, so that by their activity — as well as their words, their silence, their example — they may be credible witnesses to Christ" (n. 31c).

Responsibility for the Church’s charitable activity

Our Holy Father next addresses the question: Who is responsible for the Church’s charitable activity? He responds that "the true subject of the various Catholic organizations that carry out a ministry of charity is the Church herself — at all levels, from the parishes, through the particular churches, to the universal Church." Because the Church herself is the ultimate responsible subject, Pope Paul VI established a special office answerable to the pope, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, "as the agency of the Holy See responsible for orienting and coordinating the organizations and charitable activities promoted by the Catholic Church" (n. 32).

Pope Benedict XVI then reminds bishops that they, as successors of the Apostles, have "the primary responsibility" at the level of the particular Church, which, for us, usually means a diocese or archdiocese.

Referring to the passage in the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the manner of life of the early Christian community at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-44), our Holy Father describes the Church’s charitable work: "(T)oday as in the past, the Church as God’s family must be a place where help is given and received, and at the same time, a place where people are also prepared to serve those outside her confines who are in need of help."

During the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop, the principal consecrator asks the candidate for episcopal ordination several questions before proceeding to the ordination.These questions refer to all of the principal responsibilities of the bishop.Regarding charitable activity, the bishop "promises expressly to be, in the Lord’s name, welcoming and merciful to the poor and to all those in need of consolation and assistance" (n. 32).

In the Code of Canon Law, it is indicated that the bishop must direct all of the forms of the apostolate, respecting always the integrity of each form (can. 394).The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops describes the responsibility of charity on the level of the universal Church and the particular Church or diocese. It underlines the truth that "the exercise of charity is an action of the Church as such." It further clarifies that the exercise of charity has been of the essence of the mission of the Church "from the very beginning" (no. 32).

Personnel

Referring to what he had written about the characteristics of the Church’s charitable works, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the qualities of the personnel who carry out the Church’s charitable works. They "must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world, but rather should be guided by the faith which works through love (cf. Galatians 5:6)." In other words, the personnel must be Christ-centered in their daily living. Christ the King must truly reign in their hearts; they must have placed their hearts in the Heart of Jesus, in order to draw from Christ His love of all.
Pope Benedict XVI proposes a kind of motto, taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, for the Church’s charitable workers: "(T)he love of Christ urges us on" (2 Corinthians 5:14).

It is the love of Christ which leads us to love the Church, desiring that the Church bring the love of Christ from her altars of sacrifice and tabernacles to those in need. "The personnel of every Catholic charitable organization want to work with the Church and therefore with the bishop, so that the love of God can spread throughout the world" (n. 33). The love of Christ in the hearts of the Church’s charitable workers inspires and strengthens them to what is good for everyone involved. The bishop is the spiritual father who leads his flock to bring the love of Christ to every home and to everyone. The universal love of Christ is mirrored in the love of the Christian, which is without boundaries or limits.

‘Be not afraid!’ 'God is Love' — XII

Charity and charitable works

Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)," comments on the different organizations that seek to meet "various human needs."He observes that they have their origin in the natural law, written upon every human heart, which teaches us the love of neighbor.He, likewise, notes that Christianity itself is an inspiration of such works, for it "constantly revives and acts out this imperative" of the natural law, "so often profoundly obscured in the course of time."He recalls his earlier reference to the "reform of paganism attempted by the Emperor Julian the Apostate," which was inspired by the Christian faith that Julian had erroneously and sadly abandoned (n. 31; cf. n. 24).

Having called to mind the Church’s inspiration of charitable works carried out by men of good will, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the importance of the Church’s fidelity to her mission of charity in all of its Christlike purity and generosity.Accordingly, he discusses the identity of "the Church’s charitable activity" vis-a-vis other forms of social assistance.

Simple response to immediate needs
The Holy Father first characterizes the Church’s charitable activity as "the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc."He makes explicit reference to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). His words clearly evoke our Lord’s teaching on the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

The work of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, or Caritas International, is directed to providing the Christian response to man’s immediate needs.Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, or Caritas, address the needs of our brothers and sisters at every level of Church life: the diocese, the dioceses within a nation, and the universal Church (n. 31a).

The Holy Father notes that those who serve in the Church’s charitable works must be "professionally competent: They should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care."While proper preparation for the Church’s charitable work is essential, it is not sufficient.The Holy Father reminds us that our brothers and sisters need, in addition to "technically proper care," the "heartfelt concern" of the charitable worker.When competent care is given with "heartfelt concern," persons in need experience "the richness of their humanity."

Pope Benedict XVI’s words remind me of the insistence of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta that the "poorest of the poor" need to be loved one person at a time.I recall, in particular, her account of the Christian love shown to a man left to die in the street.Before his death, the man said to Mother Teresa, "I have lived all my life like an animal on the streets, but now I am going to die like an angel!" (Navin Chawla, Mother Teresa, Rockport, Mass.: Element, p. 172.)The dying man had indeed discovered the "richness of (his) humanity," made in the image of God and redeemed by the Blood of Christ.
Formation of the heart

In order that the professionally competent worker exercise true Christian charity, he must have received, in the words of the Holy Father, "formation of the heart."In other words, the worker must unite his heart to the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, from which the love of God for all men flows unceasingly.Lifting up his heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the charitable worker will be inspired and strengthened with divine love of those whom he serves.

The result of the formation of heart in the Heart of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI observes, is that "love of neighbor will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6)" (n.3la).

Free of partisan and ideological involvement
The Church’s charitable work is at the service of God alone, in Jesus Christ.It can never submit itself to the service of any partisan program or ideological scheme.
Pope Benedict XVI discusses, in particular, Marxist ideology.He describes the Marxist "theory of impoverishment," which holds that, "in a situation of unjust power," the exercise of charity only makes it possible for the unjust political or social structure to survive.Charity, in the Marxist view, is, therefore, "rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo."

The Holy Father responds to Marxist ideology and other "various versions of a philosophy of progress" with two observations.First, we cannot claim "to make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now." In other words, we cannot leave our brothers and sisters in need because of an ideology of a better future for humanity.

Second, the Holy Father reminds us that we "contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and whenever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programs" (n. 31b).

Echoing the teaching of our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000)," Pope Benedict XVI declares that the pastoral program of the Christian is Christ Himself, the program of "a heart which sees.""This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly."

The charitable activity of the Church, when it is exercised "as a communitarian initiative," must also be clearly marked by "planning, foresight and cooperation with other similar institutions." For the Christian, nevertheless, the work will always have its source in the Heart of Jesus, "a heart which sees."(n. 31b).

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