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!'

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).

‘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).


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).

‘Be not afraid!’


It is my hope that, by the time you receive this issue of the Review, everyone in the archdiocese will again have electrical power in their homes and parishes.Be assured that you have been very much in my prayers during the time of the fierce storm on this past July 19 and July 21, with the resulting destruction and loss of electricity to so many homes, parishes and institutions.I commend all of those who have so patiently and generously worked to relieve the hardship of our brothers and sisters, especially the elderly and the residents in health care centers.

I interrupt briefly my reflection upon Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est" to write to you about a number of timely matters.Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has asked us to observe a day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East. We also are observing Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.Lastly, I want to inform you of the activities of our seminarians during the summer months.

Prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI called upon all Catholics to observe this past Sunday, July 23, as a day of prayer and penance for peace in the Middle East.Because of the loss of electrical power, beginning on the evening of July 19, I only received the Holy Father’s request on July 21. Although I sent a letter to all of the pastors on July 21, asking them to invite parishioners to join Catholics around the world in praying and doing penance for the intention of peace in the Middle East, I suspect that many pastors were unable to receive the letter because of impeded means of communication.

I ask you to continue to offer daily prayer and to do penance for the intention of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, who are suffering so much in these days.Please keep in your prayers, in a special way, the pastor and parishioners of St. Raymond Cathedral, who were in Lebanon and the relatives of all of our Lebanese brothers and sisters in the archdiocese.With our Holy Father, let us be especially close in prayer to the "defenseless civilian population, unjustly involved in a conflict of which they are only victims: both those in Galilee who are forced to live in shelters, and the great multitudes of Lebanese who, once again, are seeing their country destroyed and have been forced to abandon everything to seek refuge elsewhere" (Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday Angelus Address, July, 23, 2006).

With our Holy Father, let us pray that the leaders of the nations involved will declare an immediate cease fire, will allow the free passage of humanitarian relief and will begin immediately negotiations of peace.May the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the many titles with which she is honored in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, intercede for peace in the Middle East.

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

July 23 to July 29 has been designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. It is a time for all of us and, especially, those called by God to the married life to reflect upon the responsibility to plan for the procreation and education of children who are the "crowning glory" of the love of husband and wife in marriage (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, [On the Church in the Modern World], Dec. 7, 1965, no. 48a). Through natural family planning, husband and wife cooperate with God in the procreation and education of their offspring. They remain always disposed to receive the gift of life, while they seek to conceive and give birth to a child, and space the birth of their children, to provide for them, in the best way possible.

The observance of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week gives me the occasion to thank K. Diane Daly, coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, and all who work with her in helping couples who are experiencing difficulty in conceiving a child and couples who want to give birth to and educate their children, in accord with God’s plan for marriage and the family. Introductory courses on natural family planning are offered throughout the archdiocese.Diane Whitely facilitates the archdiocesan Infertility Discussion Group at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. A course on natural family planning is also offered online through the Pope Paul VI Institute for Catechetical and Pastoral Studies.The Humanae Vitae Association offers solidarity and ongoing education to couples who practice natural family planning.

For more information regarding the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, located at the Cardinal Rigali Center, the telephone number is (314) 792-7199.The website address is

Our seminarians

During the summer months, our seminarians, in addition to taking some needed time of vacation with their families, have also been continuing their preparation for priestly ordination.First of all, almost all of the seminarians, collegians and theologians, assisted with the Kenrick-Glennon Days and Christ Power Retreats, both of which are geared to helping young men to hear the call to the priesthood.

Following the vocation camps at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, the men who are entering the first year of theology are spending some weeks living in a parish rectory.The majority of their time is spent in getting to know the history of the archdiocese, in visiting the historic places of the archdiocese, and in learning about the many archdiocesan institutions, offices and agencies.On Fridays and Sundays, they are helping the pastors of the parishes by visiting the sick and assisting with the Sunday celebrations of the Holy Mass.

The men who have completed their first year of theology have been taking part in a two-month course of spiritual theology and formation, offered by the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha. For that reason, they were unable to assist with the vocation camps. The purpose of their course is to deepen their own spiritual life, in accord with the priestly vocation, and to prepare them better to be spiritual directors for others.

The seminarians who have completed their second year of theology are spending five weeks in Mexico City to study the Spanish language and Mexican culture. Their program of study is directed to preparing them for the pastoral care of the growing Hispanic population in the archdiocese.

The three seminarians who completed their third year of theological studies were ordained to the diaconate and are serving as deacons in parishes of the archdiocese. Their service as deacons in our parishes is an important part of their final preparation for ordination to the priesthood, God willing, on May 26, 2007.


From Aug. 7-9 I will be on a pilgrimage with our seminarians to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at La Crosse, Wis., located in the diocese in which I grew up and which I served as priest and bishop before coming to our archdiocese in January 2004.It will be a time for us all to pray for the grace of perseverance in the response to God’s call, and to pray for all those whom God is calling to the priesthood in our archdiocese. It also pleases me that I will be able to show the seminarians a bit of the place from which I came to serve the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Please pray for the men who will be entering Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in September as first-year collegians, pre-theologians (men with college degrees or college studies already completed but who need additional courses in philosophy) and first-year theologians. God willing, the archdiocese will admit more than 20 new seminarians in September.Let us show our gratitude to God by praying for them, encouraging them and supporting them.

‘Be not afraid!’

Proper responsibility of the lay faithful

The Church contributes to the just ordering of society, the work of politics, by calling the reasoning of politicians to a greater purity and by inspiring works of justice, according to the demands of ethics.The duty of the State is direct.The duty of the Church is indirect, that is, the duty to foster the right reasoning by which the State will fulfill its responsibility.

The lay faithful have the proper responsibility to participate in the native political activity of the State for the sake of the common good.Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)" recalls the teaching in Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Christifideles laici (On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World)," which underlines the moral responsibility of the laity for "the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good" (Christifideles laici, n. 42, quoted in n. 29b).The Catholic faith has always taught patriotism as a fundamental virtue, by which the faithful assume their proper part in the safeguarding and promoting of justice in society.

Organized charitable activity

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the same charity which "must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful" must also inspire "their political activity," which, indeed, is a form of "social charity" (n. 29b). The Church’s works of charity, for example, Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Conferences, are, however, proper to her.The Church carries out the works of charity as her "direct responsibility."As earlier noted, the Church has rightly understood, from her first days of existence, that the faithful must organize the works of charity.

In this regard, the Holy Father reminds us that "there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice man needs, and will always need, love" (n. 29c).

Struggle for justice and love

Pope Benedict XVI fittingly interrupts his discussion of the Church’s charitable works to consider "the overall situation of the struggle for justice and love in the world of today" (n. 30a).He observes, first of all, how the ever developing means of social communications have made us immediately aware of the needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.The communications media make us aware that, notwithstanding all of the technological progress of our time, there is great poverty, "material and spiritual," in our world.

I think of how Blessed Teresa of Calcutta observed that the greatest poverty in the world today is the spiritual poverty found in the West, which fears human life and regularly commits the gravest moral evils in violation of the dignity of human life.She observed:

"Today there are many countries which permit abortion, sterilization and other means for avoiding or destroying life from its very inception.This is a clear sign that such countries are the poorest among the poor, since they do not have the courage to accept even one more life" (Luch Gjergji, Mother Teresa: Her Life, Her Works, Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991, p. 67).

Her speech at the reception of the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1979, is an extraordinary commentary on the poverty of our world today, to which Mother Teresa responded with Christlike love.

Quoting the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity," the Holy Father reminds us that the progress in the means of communication means that our charitable works "can and should embrace all people and all needs" (n. 30b).The Holy Father also comments that globalization has made possible the provision of help to those in need throughout the world.He mentions, in particular, "modern systems of distributing food and clothing, and of providing housing and care" (n. 30c).He reminds us of the work of the State and of organizations in fostering a sense of global solidarity.

Cooperation of Church and State

Globalization has inspired cooperative works of the agencies of the Church and of the State in addressing social needs.The Holy Father points out that Church agencies, "with their transparent operation and their faithfulness to the duty of witnessing to love," add a particular quality to cooperative works, favoring the expression of charity.

Commenting on the work of charitable and philanthropic organizations and the work of many volunteers in providing service to those in need, Pope Benedict XVI expresses his gratitude to all who participate in charitable activities.

Ecumenical cooperation in works of charity

The Holy Father recognizes, in a special way, the charitable works of the other churches and ecclesial communities.He notes, in particular, how the works of the churches and ecclesial communities often make it "possible to establish a fruitful link between evangelization and works of charity."For the Christian carrying out works of charity, it is most natural to communicate the source of his charitable works in God, in the faithful and enduring love of God the Father for us in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict XVI takes the occasion of the encyclical letter to renew what our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II had declared, namely, the Catholic Church’s disposition "to cooperate with the charitable agencies of these churches and ecclesial communities, since we all have the same fundamental motivation and look toward the same goal: a true humanism, which acknowledges that man is made in the image of God and wants to help him to live in a way consonant with that dignity."

Pope John Paul II had appealed to all Christians, asking them "to speak with a united voice," to promote the common good, especially the respect for the inviolable dignity of the "the poor, the lowly and the defenseless" (n. 30e).Pope Benedict XVI expresses his "satisfaction that this appeal has found a wide resonance in numerous initiatives throughout the world" (n. 30e).

Certainly, the Archdiocese of St. Louis readily works with the other churches and ecclesial communities in addressing the needs of our brothers and sisters.The collaboration of the archdiocese is always predicated on the respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent and defenseless human life.The Church cannot join in any initiative which does not respect fully the dignity of every human life, from its inception to its natural death.

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