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!’


As citizens of Missouri, we find ourselves in the midst of an unimaginably severe moral crisis. On this coming Nov. 7, the citizens of our state will decide whether the constitution of our state should guarantee the right to generate human life artificially in order to destroy it at its very beginning, at the embryonic stage of its development.In short, we, the citizens of Missouri, are being asked to advance the culture of death in our state so that our tiniest brothers and sisters will no longer enjoy the protection of the law but will be made legally the subjects, the slaves, of those who wish to manipulate and destroy their lives for the sake of supposed scientific and technological progress on the way to the cure of certain dread diseases and the treatment of certain severe injuries.

A moral disaster in the making

The passage of Amendment 2 would be a moral disaster for our state.What is more, it would be a moral disaster for our nation.If Amendment 2 succeeds in the State of Missouri, which has the reputation of being pro-life, then the proponents of human cloning and the destruction of embryonic human life will surely be emboldened to undertake the same deadly initiative in other states of our nation.

Surely, the citizens of our state do not support government which denies the right to life, the most fundamental right, to a whole class of human beings, in order to advance the projects of a few. Rather, as truly pro-life, we citizens of Missouri must insist that our government serve the good of all, the common good, without exception or boundary.With Abraham Lincoln, who fought bravely in the battle to overcome another form of slavery in our nation, we must resolve that our nation, "under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" (Gettysburg Address). Lincoln fought to abolish the enslavement of fellow human beings who, because of the color of their skin, were used to advance the economic well-being of a few.Let us fight to prevent the enslavement of fellow human beings who, because of their size, are proposed for use in the advancement of the well-being of a few.

The shepherd’s care

As shepherd of the entire flock of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I have in my heart, in a most particular way, those who are innocent and absolutely defenseless.These tiniest, these youngest, of human lives are in my pastoral care.They are depending upon me to speak for them and to defend them, in every way possible, from the imminent threat to their lives.

They are also depending upon you, their brothers and sisters, to give them a voice and strength, which they have not yet developed for themselves but will develop, if they are only permitted to live.They are counting upon you and me to give them a voice and strength against the powerful forces which want to take away their most fundamental human right, the right to life.As your shepherd, I write to you today and will be writing to you in the next weeks, in order that you will do God’s will for the sake of the defense of human life in our state by voting "no" to Amendment 2 on this coming Nov. 7.

The responsibility is ours directly

In the battle to transform the culture of death in our nation into a civilization of divine love, that is a nation in which love extends to every brother and sister without limit or boundary, we often find it difficult to be heard.Our nation’s highest court, for instance, in the decisions Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, handed down on Jan. 22, 1973, made procured abortion legal, for all intents and purposes, up to the moment of birth.In fact, the argumentation of these decisions has been used to justify the patent act of killing violently a baby at the moment of bringing the baby into the world, an abhorrent procedure which is antiseptically called "partial-birth abortion."

For more than 30 years now, we have been working to reverse these decisions of the Supreme Court, without success thus far.We will continue to fight for the right to life of our unborn brothers and sisters, calling our courts to be once again courts of justice for all, without the exclusion of the unborn.

In the present initiative of the agents of the culture of death, we ourselves will decide whether the initiative succeeds or not.We must, therefore, carefully and thoroughly inform ourselves in the matter and, then, exercise our civic duty to vote.By voting, we will be able to act directly in the defense of human life.By failing to vote, we will fail to act to safeguard and protect the most innocent and defenseless among us, whom Amendment 2 places under attack.This is a time when the duty to vote is most serious.When our vote determines the safeguarding of human lives, it is a sacred duty. In the present situation, we can do something to advance the respect for human life. Let us not fail to be there for our brothers and sisters who are depending upon us.

‘Be not afraid!’ Stewardship Awareness Sunday


On this coming Sunday, Sept. 17, we will celebrate Christian stewardship and rededicate ourselves as good stewards of God’s many gifts to us.Why celebrate Stewardship Awareness Sunday? Because stewardship is our way of life as Christians. Stewardship is the way of daily taking up the Cross with our Lord Jesus and giving ourselves in self-sacrificing love to God and to our neighbor.

The theme of this year’s celebration is taken from a passage in the Letter of St. James, which addresses the fundamental nature of stewardship in the Christian life.Some Christians were arguing that it is only faith that matters, that makes us just, while others were arguing that it is only our works which make us just in the eyes of God.

St. James, a true shepherd of the flock, taught the faithful that faith and works are inseparable, that belief in our Lord Jesus Christ means following Him, doing His work in the world.At the same time, our works, done in Christ, are a manifestation of our faith.He wrote to the faithful: "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?Can his faith save him?"He then gives an example which shows the absurdity of claiming that faith alone makes us just, and concludes: "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.But some will say: ‘You have faith and I have works.’Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith" (James 2:14, 17-18).

Stewardship, putting our gifts at the service of God and our neighbor, is the natural manifestation of our faith.In the words of the theme for our annual observance of Stewardship Awareness Sunday, our works demonstrate our faith.Practicing stewardship, we place our complete trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him without reserve.

Good news of stewardship in the archdiocese

Stewardship Awareness Sunday gives us the occasion to reflect on the many wonderful manifestations of Christian faith through good stewardship in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.Visiting our parishes for the celebrations of anniversaries, the Sacrament of Confirmation, dedications and blessings, and other sacred rites, I am struck by the vitality of the faith of our people.What strikes me?The care and devotion with which the parishioners prepare and take part in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, their obvious attitude of prayer; their respect for and cooperation with their parish priests, their fidelity and generosity in providing Catholic education for children, young people, adults and those who coming to the faith; and their charitable and missionary works to bring the love of God to those in most need. These are a just a few of the signs of the good stewardship of God’s gifts, which I observe in our parishes.

The collaboration of parishioners and of all the faithful of the archdiocese in providing a most impressive number of Catholic elementary, middle and high schools is a striking demonstration of faith.The daily service of parents and pastors, administrators and teachers, staff and volunteers in providing a truly Catholic education for our children and young people is Catholic faith in action.

The many works of Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul conferences throughout the archdiocese also express our deep faith in our Lord Jesus and our commitment to bring His love to all our brothers and sisters.The archdiocese is blessed with a particularly rich program of charitable works, a heritage which we celebrate and to which we recommit ourselves today.

I cannot fail to mention the most generous response to the Annual Catholic Appeal.Through the Appeal, all of the faithful of the archdiocese participate in the Church’s charitable, educational and missionary works.The Appeal also supports parishes and other institutions which are struggling and urgently need the support of their brothers and sisters in the archdiocese.

The call to do more

Stewardship, by its very nature, is never a matter of congratulating ourselves on our good works and becoming complacent.Living in Christ, being co-workers with Christ, means a daily conversion of life to Him.Each day, through our prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, we are inspired to give ourselves more to God and neighbor.Each day, we are invited to put our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to have confidence that He will supply us all that we need to be His good stewards.At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, the magna charta of our Christian life, our Lord Jesus exhorts us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).The perfection to which our Lord refers is the divine love which is without measure and without cease.

As we celebrate Stewardship Awareness Sunday, let us all ask how we can become even better stewards of God’s gifts.How can I better prepare myself for participation in Sunday Mass and for the regular confession of my sins?How can I make my daily prayers and devotions a true raising of my heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?How can I organize my time to give God my best in daily prayer and devotion?

How can I, by my attitudes and words and actions, be a source of inspiration and strength to my family members and fellow parishioners?How can I use the talents which God has given me in serving my parish and archdiocese?

How can I be faithful in giving the "first fruits" of my material goods, the tithe of my belongings, to God and His people?How can I give more from "my substance" and not just from "what I have left over"?How can I remember the Church and her works of charity in my last will and testament?

Let us thank God for the wonderful stewardship of His faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.Let us pray to God that we may grow ever more perfect in our stewardship of His gifts.Jesus, meek and humble of heart.Make our hearts like unto Thine.

‘Be not afraid!’


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.


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!’


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.


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.


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).

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