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!’

Dynamism of Our Life in Christ

Throughout the 50 days of the Easter Season, we hear the accounts of the appearances of our Risen Lord to the Apostles and other disciples. In all of the accounts, there is a single message: By His Dying and Rising, Christ has gone ahead of us and, by His outpouring of the Holy Spirit, He meets us in the Church.He is our faithful companion along the pilgrimage of our passing earthly life and He waits to welcome us at our destination, our lasting heavenly home.

By His Rising from the Dead and Sending of the Holy Spirit, Christ fills the Church, fills us, with the dynamism of His own divine love. He did not permit the Apostles and disciples to cling to His glorious Body, when He appeared to them.Rather, He taught them that He must ascend to the right hand of the Father, to remain with them always and to be with all who would become His disciples in every time and place.

When our Lord had ascended to the right hand of the Father and sent forth the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and first disciples were filled with a remarkable enthusiasm and the energy.They indeed put aside the doubts and fears which assailed them during our Lord’s Passion and Death.By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they finally understood what our Lord meant when He said that He must rise from the dead.They understood that Christ had made them heirs of His divine life.

The Holy Spirit, dwelling within them, inspired them to live in Christ in a world which had rejected Him or did not even know His name.Filled with love of Christ, they desired to know ever more deeply the truth of the faith, which He teaches in the Church.They were faithful in prayer and worship, especially participation in the Holy Eucharist.They were obedient to the Apostles whom Christ had consecrated to be their shepherds.Under the pastoral guidance of the Apostles, they placed their gifts at the service of all, so that the love of Christ might reach all, without boundary.

New evangelization and stewardship

Celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we, like the first disciples, hear Christ’s call to meet Him in the Church.Hearing His call, we are filled with enthusiasm and energy to accompany our Lord as He continues His saving work in the world.Although the challenges of living in Christ today are formidable, as they certainly were formidable for the first disciples, the Holy Spirit helps us to put aside our doubts and fears. Through His sevenfold gift, the Holy Spirit leads us to a deeper knowledge of Christ.He inspires in us a more ardent love of Christ, especially through daily prayer and devotion, participation in Holy Mass, especially on Sunday, and regular Confession.Finally, He disciplines us to put our gifts at the service of all.

Stewardship, that is the wise and courageous use of our gifts to the glory of God and for the service of others, is a principal work of the Holy Spirit within us.Through our stewardship, the dynamism of the Resurrection manifests itself through committed participation in the works of the Church, in accord with the particular talents and means God gives us.Alive in Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we cannot do otherwise.When we are tempted to hoard or to squander our gifts, the Holy Spirit disciplines us to understand that, even as our final destiny is to be with Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom, so the destiny of our earthly goods is to help others to know Christ and His love of them.

Annual Catholic Appeal

Fittingly, the Annual Catholic Appeal, the premier expression of stewardship in the whole Archdiocese of St. Louis, takes place during the Easter Season, from April 22 to May 7.Through the Annual Catholic Appeal, the love of Christ is reaching countless individuals and families, as I am privileged to witness daily in my service as archbishop.Recently, I wrote to all of the faithful of the archdiocese, inviting everyone to participate in the Appeal which is truly the work of our Risen Lord meeting us in the Church, healing and strengthening His brothers and sisters, for whom He gives His life.In my letter, I recounted the story of three persons whom Christ has met in the Church, thanks to your participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal.The stories could be multiplied over and over again.What do the stories have in common?You, that is, your following of Christ by sharing your gifts for the good of all those in need.

This year, the goal of the Annual Catholic Appeal is $11.25 million.Every dollar of the Appeal is designated for the charitable, educational and missionary works of the Church, for example, the promotion of the respect owed to every human life; the care of the homeless and the immigrant, and the aid of those in difficulty of any kind; the Christian formation of our youth; the Catholic education of our children; the evangelization of those who do not yet know Christ; assistance to parishes with emergency needs; and the preparation of our future priests and the care of our priests who are infirm or retired.Through all of the works supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal, Christ meets us in the Church to serve brothers and sisters in need.

Invitation and gratitude

I invite every member of the faithful of the archdiocese to be part of the Annual Catholic Appeal.Our Risen Lord is calling you to meet Him in the Church and to join Him in His work of caring for every brother and sister.It is the sacrifice of each household of the archdiocese which makes possible all of the charitable, educational and missionary works of Christ in the Church.May the 2006 Annual Catholic Appeal be marked by the highest participation ever.

Thank you for your support of the Annual Catholic Appeal in the past.Your sacrifices have brought the love of Christ to countless individuals.It has given them hope.It has led them to faith. My special thanks goes to all of the volunteers who invite fellow parishioners to participate in the Appeal, to the guest speakers who make the work of the Appeal better known, and to our good priests, true shepherds of the flock, leading us in the Christian witness of stewardship.

Finally, I thank Bishop Robert Hermann, vicar general for the Annual Catholic Appeal; Jerry Kent, the general chairman, and his good wife Judy, who give outstanding leadership in stewardship for the whole archdiocese; and all of the members of the Annual Catholic Appeal Council, who dedicate themselves most creatively and tirelessly to the work of the Appeal.

Please pray for God’s blessing upon the Annual Catholic Appeal.May the enthusiasm and energy, which are the gift of our Risen Lord to His disciples, lead us to serve others through the Annual Catholic Appeal.

The power of the Resurrection

Power in abandonment to Divine Mercy

The cry of our Lord as He was dying on the Cross expressed His abiding trust in God the Father’s mercy and love.His cry, taken from Psalm 23, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" expressed both the intensity of His suffering and, at the same time, His total abandonment in doing the will of the Father (Mark 15:34).The Roman centurion who witnessed our Lord’s cruel death on the Cross received, at that moment, the gift of faith, by which he declared: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39).The gift of faith opened the heart of the Roman centurion to recognize the divinity of our Lord in His death by the cruelest form of execution practiced at the time.

Good Friday was not the end of our Lord and of His work, as His enemies had hoped.It was, rather, the fulfillment of all that he had taught and done.On the Cross, our Lord accomplished fully the will of the Father.Notwithstanding the seeming destruction of His life and mission, our Lord, one with the Father in the Holy Spirit, abandoned Himself totally to Father’s mercy.Immediately after His death, the immeasurable mercy of the Father poured out, from the pierced Heart of Jesus, as healing and strength for all mankind.With His Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father, the "inexhaustible ocean of the Lord’s Mercy" never ceases to flow from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus (St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 631).

‘By His wounds you have been healed’

St. Faustina expresses, in a striking way, the truth that the power of the Resurrection flows from the pierced Heart of Jesus.She addressed the following words to our Lord Jesus:

"At the moment of Your death on the Cross, You bestowed upon us eternal life; allowing Your most holy side to be opened, You opened an inexhaustible spring of mercy for us, giving us Your dearest possession, the Blood and Water from Your Heart.Such is the omnipotence of Your mercy.From it all grace flows to us" (Diary, n. 1747).

The power of the Resurrection, the power which saves us from sin and everlasting death, has its source in the emptying of Christ’s life in death for love of us.The story of our Lord is without end, for He is alive for us in the Church and will return in glory on the Last Day to restore us and all creation to the Father for all eternity.

The popular idea of power is total control of one’s own life.We resent anyone, including God Himself, who tells us what to do.The ultimate goal in life is to be able to do always and only "what I want to do."Popular culture would have us believe that, if we gain enough personal security through the accumulation of wealth and the attainment of a comfortable style of life, then we will be happy.We are taught that hardship and suffering are meaningless and to be avoided, at all costs.Certain pleasures become addictions, as we seek over and over to find the power of lasting happiness in some passing reality.We fail to speak the truth, in the name of a supposed "correctness" of speech.We avoid the difficult work of knowing the truth and, therefore, do not do what is true.

Good Friday teaches us to be counter-cultural.From the Cross, our Lord invites us to be one with Him in abandoning ourselves to Divine Mercy and, thereby, to find our lasting joy and peace.He invites us to share in the power of the Resurrection by taking up, with Him, each day the Cross.St. Peter reminds us:

"He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.By His wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

Overcoming temptation

It is so easy to become discouraged before the challenge of living in Christ.We are tempted to discouragement by our own selfishness and by a world which cultivates a self-centered life.The forces opposing the new evangelization, our living of the Catholic faith with new enthusiasm and energy, are formidable and would be impossible to overcome, except for the Heart of Jesus, which never, not even for a moment, ceases to beat in all-merciful love of us.

Struggling with the temptation to discouragement, St. Faustina heard these words from our Lord:

"All temptations united together ought not disturb your interior peace, not even momentarily.Sensitiveness and discouragement are the fruits of self-love.You should not become discouraged, but strive to make My love reign in place of your self-love.Have confidence,
My child.Do not lose heart in coming for pardon, for I am always ready to forgive you.As often as you beg for it, you glorify My mercy" (Diary, n. 1488).

Our continued enthusiasm and energy in the daily conversion of our personal life and in the transformation of our world come from the Divine Mercy which heals and strengthens us, as often as we seek pardon and peace in prayer and the sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist and Penance.

Abandonment and the Holy Eucharist

Through the Holy Eucharist, our Lord Jesus unites us to Himself in the mystery of His suffering and offers us the most perfect sign of the Father’s mercy and love.At the Last Supper, our Lord anticipated the lasting fruit of His suffering and dying, giving the Apostles the gift of His glorious Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.He also consecrated the Apostles and, through them, their successors, to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice without cease in the whole world.He provided for the pouring out of His life for us in every time and place, until His return on the Last Day.

May our celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus draw us ever close to Him.May we discover ever more, especially in the Holy Eucharist, the power of His Death, the outpouring of life, which is the victory of eternal life.

‘Be not afraid!’

Lenten Prayer and Almsgiving

Christ’s journey into the desert to pray and fast, at the beginning of His public ministry, was a striking sign of His divine love which would find its full expression in His death on Calvary.Lenten prayer and fasting, in imitation of Christ, purifies and deepens our love of God and of one another.Our poor and sinful hearts, placed into the Heart of Jesus through the discipline of Lent, love as Jesus loves.

Almsgiving is the traditional term we use to describe the works of charity, which are integral to our Lenten penance.When, by prayer and fasting, we see more clearly how God has entrusted material goods to us, as His stewards, then our hearts are inspired to give from our substance in love of our neighbor, especially the neighbor who is in most need.The teaching in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the measure of our almsgiving (Luke 10:25-37).

Our hearts, having drawn closer to our Lord Jesus in prayer and having been purified of wrong desires and attachments through fasting, are filled with generosity in making sacrifices for the good of our neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord teaches us not to seek recognition of our charity, as if it were something extraordinary.Using hyperbole, he tells us: "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:3-4). Only God knows truly the love with which we sacrifice of ourselves for others, and that is, as our Lord teaches us, our reward.

Almsgiving and consumerism

Our prayer and fasting encounter strong resistance from the consumerism which marks our culture. While they teach us that material goods are for us to use in works of charity, consumerism deceives us into believing that material goods exist for our enjoyment alone, even to our dissipation and corruption.

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus presents the truth about the material goods which are ours and the temptation to see them as ours, when, in truth, they are God’s gifts for our use in doing His work (Luke 16:19-31).The Rich Man was blessed with many material goods which he lavishly used for his own enjoyment, while he left Lazarus outside his gate without food and clothing.The dogs showed more feeling for Lazarus than did the Rich Man.

The Rich Man, drugged, in a certain way, by his selfishly disordered use of God’s gifts, lost sight of his final destiny and the destiny of the goods with which he was blessed.The Parable underlines how profoundly deceptive consumerism is.When the Rich Man begs Abraham to go to warn his brothers, lest they come to the same end as he, Abraham responds: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

The mystery of Christ’s Dying and Rising, in fact, teaches us about our life and its final destiny with God. The Paschal Mystery teaches us the truth about all materials goods and their true destiny in works of Divine Charity.

Sufficiency and abundance

Lenten penance opens our hearts to see what temporal goods we need for our own welfare and the abundance which God has given us, in order that we may be His co-workers in caring for others.Lenten almsgiving trains us to practice good stewardship of God’s many gifts, so that they provide for our needs and for the needs of our brothers and sisters.Through our observance of Lent, we learn to distinguish what is sufficient for us and what is abundant for the sake of others.

On this past Sunday, April 2, the parish priests and those who assist them in the Annual Catholic Appeal gathered with me at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral to pray, to share a meal and to learn more about the works of charity made possible by the Annual Catholic Appeal.Several individuals gave testimony to the profound difference which the generosity of donors to the Appeal has made in their lives.They gave witness to many concrete works of charity, to which God calls us and for which God blesses us with abundant gifts.

When St. Paul called the Corinthians to sacrifice from their substance in order to come to the aid of the poor Christians at Jerusalem, he taught them:

"The point is this: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

May our Lenten observance lead us to thank God for his abundant gifts, supplying our needs and equipping us to attend to the needs of others.

Law of almsgiving and the new evangelization

In order that we understand the essential place of almsgiving in our lives, the fifth precept of the Church is: "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2043).The charity which fills our hearts when we pray and fast unites us to the Church in all of her good works.

In meeting the challenge of the new evangelization, of living our Catholic faith with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first disciples, may our Lenten discipline of almsgiving help us to transform the consumerism of our time into gratitude for God’s gifts and devotion to His works of charity.Let us imitate the example of the first disciples who distributed their possessions and goods "to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:45).

‘Be not afraid!’

Lenten prayer and fasting

Christ entered into the desert for 40 days to pray and fast.So, too, the heart of our Lenten observance is prayer and fasting.We may ask what connection prayer has with fasting.In fact, the two are inseparable.

The closer we draw to our Lord Jesus in prayer, the more His life becomes the measure of our daily living. When the light of Christ shines within our souls, we naturally restrain our use of material goods so that our every action may reflect our communion with Christ in prayer.In other words, once our poor and sinful heart has been placed, by the work of God’s grace, into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our heart desires to be purified of any disordered affection or attachment.Purification of the heart comes through fasting. The person who is praying with a sincere heart is necessarily also fasting.His or her heart, united to the Heart of Jesus, will not have it otherwise.

Our Lord Jesus was perfectly one in mind and heart with God the Father.His journey into the desert to pray and fast expressed His perfect communion with the Father, as He was beginning His public ministry. We desire to be one in mind and heart with God the Father, in Christ, but we are aware of affections and attachments which keep us from loving God with all our heart. Conscious of the poverty and sinfulness of our hearts, we have heard Christ’s call to be perfect in love as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).For us, the Lenten journey of prayer and fasting expresses the communion which we have already with God the Father, while it helps us to grow in communion with the Father by the purification of our hearts.By fasting, in particular, we address anything in our heart which we have kept from Christ, from the light of His perfect love.

Fasting and purification

While prayer uncovers for us our sinfulness, fasting purifies us of the affections and attachments which lead us to sin.Sometimes we are too attached to material things like food, drink, money or our other possessions in all their variety.They are good in themselves, but, when we fail to master their use for the sake of loving God and our neighbor, they become the occasion of sin for us. We, therefore, need to restrain our use of the goods which we, in fact, are abusing because of our disordered attraction or attachment to them.Fasting centers around our use of food, but it disciplines us for the restrained use of every good so that we may have fuller communion with God and with one another.

Our fasting also leads us to consider excessive or wrong attachments to immaterial things like thoughts, hurt feelings and sentiments of affection.They may be good in themselves, but, when we fail to discipline them for the sake of love of God and neighbor, they become the occasion of sin for us.For example, an attachment to a hurt feeling because of an offense committed against us can lead us to the serious sin of hatred and the refusal of forgiveness.

Some thoughts and affections may be disordered in themselves, for example, the thought of stealing something desirable that is not ours.Fasting disciplines our mind and heart, so that we may purify ourselves of disordered thoughts and desires and of the exaggerated attachment to certain thoughts and sentiments.

Law of fasting

In order that we understand the essential need of fasting in our lives, the Church prescribes a minimum discipline for our Lenten fast.The minimum is intended to lead us to a program of regular fasting in our lives to be purified in our love.Recall that the fourth precept of the Church: "You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2043).Fasting is an integral part of our life in Christ.It is centered in a fundamental good which we use daily, food, but it is meant to lead us to consider our use of all God’s good gifts, with purity of mind and heart, in love of God and each other.

We distinguish fasting — eating less food than we usually do — from abstinence — abstaining from meat in our eating. But both are part of our Lenten fast.We are obliged to fast, that is, to eat only one full meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.We abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.By these minimum acts of fasting,
the Church forms in us a habit of fasting, which keeps us alert to our use of all God’s gifts at all times.

Fasting and the new evangelization

Christ fortified Himself for His public ministry by prayer and fasting.During Lent, we imitate Him by fortifying ourselves for the work of the new evangelization by prayer and fasting.The challenges to Christian living in our time are great.They can only be met with the help of God’s grace, which He showers upon us when we turn to Him in prayer and seek to love to Him more perfectly by fasting.

As we enter the last weeks of Lent and prepare for the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, I ask you to look again at your practice of fasting, especially as it expresses your life of prayer.May your practice of fasting and abstinence, as prescribed by the Church’s discipline, dispose you to purify your heart daily for a more perfect love of God and your neighbor.

‘Be not afraid!’

Lenten Prayer and Devotions

Prayer, the heart of our Lenten observance, includes the devotional life. By the devotional life, I mean the customary ways in which we deepen our knowledge and love of Christ, above all, as He gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. The devotional life takes on a special significance in carrying out the work of the new evangelization, to which our Lenten observance is directed.

The new evangelization is the teaching and living of our Catholic faith in a culture which is totally secularized or, to use the term of Pope Paul VI, "dechristianized." It is teaching and living our faith, as if for the first time, as the first Christians and the first missionaries to our continent taught and lived the faith among those who had never heard of Christ or His Church. Our culture can no longer be considered Christian because it does not recognize the essential role of religious faith in civic life and no longer respects the natural moral law.

The devotional life reminds us of the daily demands of our life in Christ, while we live in a culture which denies Christ and is even hostile to His teaching. The devotional life focuses our minds and hearts on Christ’s dwelling with us, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Two devotions, very closely connected to each other, keep us attentive to our Lord Jesus and to the mystery of the outpouring of His life for our salvation on Calvary and in the Holy Eucharist.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Rooted in the Holy Scriptures and practiced in a variety of ways throughout the Christian centuries, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us that our Lord Jesus never ceases to pour out upon us the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit from His glorious Pierced Heart. The devotion was fostered and strengthened, in a wonderful way, through the apparitions of our Lord Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century.

The essence of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is our response to the piercing of the Heart of Jesus on Calvary. The pierced Heart of Jesus is a permanent invitation for us to place our sinful and poor hearts into the Sacred Heart. The devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to lift up our hearts to our Lord Jesus throughout the day, overcoming, with the help of His grace, the temptation to sin and finding in Him the strength to love as He loves.

The practice of enthroning the image of the Sacred Heart in our homes and places of work reminds us to draw grace from the glorious Heart of Jesus throughout the day.The enthroned image of the Sacred Heart becomes the center of our home and our work, the place which recalls to mind that our Lord Jesus alone is the King of our hearts.

The Season of Lent is a wonderful time for individuals and families to prepare for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is fittingly celebrated during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, on Easter Sunday, or during the Octave of Easter. If you desire more information about the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home or place of work, I urge you to obtain a copy of "The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," published by the Archdiocese.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy

Pope John Paul the Great strongly promoted the devotion to the Divine Mercy, which our Lord gave us through St. Faustina Kowalska in the last century.In a time when so many had grown forgetful of God and, therefore, had despaired of His mercy and love, our Lord Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, urging us to place our complete trust in Him.

St. Faustina taught us to pray, especially at the hour of our Lord’s Passion and Death, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, returning us to the source of our salvation in Jesus Christ and our share with Him in the work of salvation.She also taught us to observe the Novena, beginning on Good Friday, to prepare for the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. The devotion to the Divine Mercy, like the devotion to the Sacred Heart, helps us to keep our minds and hearts focused on the mystery of our Redemption.

If you are not familiar with the devotion to the Divine Mercy, I urge you to use the weeks of our Lenten observance to begin praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily.I also encourage you to observe the Novena of Divine Mercy.

Devotion to our Lord and His Passion

Both the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the devotion to the Divine Mercy are privileged ways of coming to know more fully our Lord’s love for us and express more fully our love for Him in return.Both devotions keep us in communion with our Lord in His Suffering and Dying, so that we unite our suffering and dying with Him, as an act of total love of God and neighbor.

These two devotions are privileged means to enter more sincerely into the Passion of our Lord, taking up, with Him, the Cross, pouring out, with Him, mercy and love which knows no boundaries. May your Lenten observance be the occasion for you to grow in devoted love of our Lord, of His Passion and His Dying, especially through devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy.

‘Be not afraid’

Lenten prayer and the Holy Eucharist

The new evangelization, for which our Lenten observance renews and strengthens us, is, first of all, a work of prayer.Prayer draws us to Christ, to His pierced Heart, from which we, in turn, draw the inspiration and courage to live in Christ in a culture which has grown forgetful of Him or has never known Him.Without prayer, our work of the new evangelization will utterly fail, for we cannot bring Christ to others if we are not first in loving communication with Him in prayer and, above all, through participation in the Holy Eucharist.It is through prayer that we, first, draw others to Christ and assist them to know and love Him.

Lenten prayer teaches us to center all our prayer in the Holy Eucharist, through which we are truly united with Christ in His suffering and dying.Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we come to know Christ most perfectly and have the fullest communion possible with Him on this earth.In the Holy Eucharist, Christ manifests to us, in the most wonderful way imaginable, the immeasurable love of God the Father for us. As Pope John Paul the Great reminded us, the Holy Eucharist makes one the Sacred Triduum of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, and our time.

In the Holy Eucharist, Christ not only manifests the love of God the Father but also gives us the gift of Divine Love.It is the gift of God’s love poured forth into our hearts which inspires and fortifies us to bring all our brothers and sisters to Christ and to the salvation which He alone has won for us.

Through our Lenten prayer, we discipline and train ourselves to live in the company of Christ throughout each day.Our Lenten prayer, in other words, forms us in a way of living which is a faithful expression of our encounter with Christ and our communion with Him in the Holy Eucharist.

Stations of the Cross

The Stations or Way of the Cross is a fundamental Lenten prayer.Through the praying of the Stations, we accompany our Lord along the way of His cruel Passion and Death.As we meditate briefly at each of the stops or stations along the way to Calvary, we ponder what it meant for our Lord Jesus to take our human flesh, to suffer and to die for love of us.The Stations of the Cross open up for us, in a most concrete manner, the immensity of God’s love for us.It is helpful to recall that this venerable Lenten prayer has its origin in the pilgrimage of Christians to Jerusalem, in order to walk, in prayer, the very way by which our Lord won our salvation.Since many Christians are unable to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Church developed the Way of the Cross over the centuries so that all Christians can mystically make pilgrimage to the places of our Lord’s suffering and dying.

Praying the Stations means identifying ourselves with Christ in His suffering and dying.As we stop to pray at each station, we see the reflection of our own life in Christ.The Way of the Cross is our way of life, our way to eternal life.In a particular way, this most venerated prayer of the Church helps us to understand and embrace the mystery of suffering in our lives, as our Lord Jesus embraced the mystery of His Passion and Death.Meditating on the individual station, we pray that we may follow Christ by pouring out our lives in selfless love of God and of our neighbor.

I urge you to take part in the public praying of the Way of the Cross in your parish during Lent. A plenary indulgence is granted to those who participate in this public devotion, under the usual conditions.Also, when possible, make a visit to your parish church to walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord, using one of the many excellent booklets for praying the Stations or simply speaking to our Lord in your words.When you are unable to pray the Stations in church, it is also possible to pray them at home, using the images of the stations in your book of prayers.

The Holy Rosary

The Rosary is another fundamental form of Lenten prayer.When we pray the Rosary, we go to the side of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Blessed Mother, to contemplate with her the mysteries of our salvation.The repeated praying of the Hail Mary focuses our attention on the great mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, that is, the sending of God the Son in our human flesh to suffer and die for our salvation, to which all of the mysteries point and in which they all find their fulfillment.

When we pray through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, she always leads us to her Divine Son, to a more perfect knowledge of Him and to a more faithful love and service of Him.When we pray the Rosary, we are like the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana, who go to the Mother of Jesus to seek help in their need.She, in response, sends us to Jesus with the confident instruction: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).In our Lenten praying of the Rosary, we, with Mary, go to Jesus and He tells us: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).

The praying of the Rosary prepares us to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for it opens our minds and hearts in wonder before the mystery of Christ’s life poured out for us in the Holy Mass.The devotion of the Rosary disposes us to "active participation" in the Holy Mass.At the same time, the Rosary helps us to bring forth faithfully the fruit of our communion with our Lord throughout the minutes and hours of our daily living.Meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, we return throughout the day to the great mystery of our life in Christ, thanks to His Death on Calvary, which He unfailingly makes present for us in the offering of the Holy Mass: "This is My Body, which will be given up for you ...This is the cup of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant.It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven" (Roman Missal).

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving

The praying of the Stations of the Cross and of the Holy Rosary inspires our Lenten fasting, the discipline of our use of food and other material goods, in accord with our identity in Christ. Our Lenten prayer helps us to avoid the temptation to fast as a merely external observance without the deeply interiorly desire to become more Christlike, to radiate His love in the world.

These premier Lenten prayers also are the inspiration of our almsgiving.Contemplating the way of our Lord’s Passion and Death, and all the mysteries which find their fulfillment in His suffering and dying, we are led to acts of selfless love.Our Lenten prayer, if it is sincere, leads us to sacrifice ourselves, to give from our very substance to help our brothers and sisters in most need.

Next week, I will continue my reflection on Lenten prayer by reflecting upon the devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Divine Mercy.

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