To use an imperfect example: I have had very sensitive discussions with some people; I realized that if I brought up a certain subject they would walk out. The fact that they walked out was not intended by me; they choose the action.
We speak of God as all knowing, all powerful and all good. It is important to understand that we, as persons, are not all knowing, all powerful and all good. Therefore, we must realize that when we speak of God, we can only do so within a relationship of creature to creator. Our own understanding will always be limited. If we were to understand the very nature of God in completeness, then we would be God’s equal and we are not his equal.
What is revealed to us is that God loves us. This is a radical concept. From the first stories of creation God sets human beings apart from the rest of creation. In creating man God breathed into his nostrils and made him like himself. The spirit of God is in each one of us. Theologically, we refer to this as the Imago Dei (the image of God).
As our Creator and Father, God wanted us to share in the goodness of his creation. Through our freedom to do good, we continue to reflect God’s love for us and we are free, through our own free will, to love Him.
The ultimate reflection of human freedom is seen in the person of Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, whose free obedience to the will of the Father overcomes the separation created by the sin of our first parents. His crucifixion is seen as the ultimate love act. True love can only be expressed in freedom. God desires us to be free, not only to shape our destiny, but also to freely choose to love him. We worship a God whose Divine providence gave us the freedom to love.
2. If everything happens for a reason, and people enter into eternal life when God has planned, then where does prayer come into play?
This seems to be the question of personal free will in reverse. The first aspect of this question presumes that we are all entering into eternal life. It is very typical of our age that we presume our eternal reward as opposed to the possibility of eternal damnation. Yet, when we reflect on the prayers said at Mass or on many of the popular prayers used in private devotion, we find that part of our prayer is to avoid eternal damnation. It’s a frightening thought to be severed from God’s love for all eternity. “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy.” This prayer is said after each decade of the rosary.
When we pray, we pray for our needs and those of our brothers and sisters and the world. However, it is always in the context of acceptance of God’s will. If God merely granted what we desire, then God would not be free. We would become the puppet masters of God.
A priest friend of mine told me the story of a young Cuban teacher who said that the political officers in Castro’s Cuba would come into a classroom filled with young children. The political officer would use this tactic to destroy the faith of the youth. They would ask the children, “Do you want ice cream?” They all would yell, “Yes, yes!!!” Then he would say, “Let’s pray and ask God for ice cream.” When no ice cream would come, he would say, “Let’s pray harder, perhaps God is not listening.” Again when no ice cream would appear, he would say, “Perhaps there is no God. Now, let’s ask Fidel for ice cream,” and the kids would ask President Fidel aloud for ice cream and, of course, ice cream would be presented, since it was waiting behind the door. Everyone would cheer that what God could not give, their communist leader could produce.
I imagine that we are all appalled at the manipulation of these young children. However, often in our sense, the sense of prayer, is that we ask God and he must give us what we ask for. People of faith know that prayer is always contextualized by conformity to God’s will. He is God and we are not.
We begin by admitting that we are not God’s equal. The great saints often realized that they were used as instruments of God’s activity in the world. Being God’s instrument is not always pleasant. At times it means hardships, physical suffering or even death. In our modern times Catholics continue to suffer for the faith. I encourage you to read “Left to Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza, a book about discovering God amid the Rwandan Holocaust. This woman lost everyone who was dear to her. Mother, father, brothers and friends were savagely killed. She hid from her genocidal pursuers, suffered personal indignities. Yet through it all she found God was with her in life, suffering and death.
Her prayers through all of her trials deepen her relationship with God. Ilibagiza will be giving a presentation at our Women for Christ Conference Jan. 29 at the Washington County Fairgrounds, 3000 Highway PV, West Bend, and I encourage you to come and listen to this woman, who truly understands the nature of prayer and conforming to God’s will. When you pray, remember, “Thy will be done.”
3. What’s the most unusual place you’ve been to in any of the 10 counties that comprise the Archdiocese of Milwaukee?
I have just finished my first year in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I can’t say that I’ve been to any unusual places. I haven’t had the time for the unusual. I am still working on the usual. However, I have been to a few places worth visiting. The Catholic Church, in addition to its faith, has provided what I consider eye candy for the world, visually beautiful and sacred places.
Holy Hill, The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill, 1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus, offers to all pilgrims an oasis from the craziness of the world. I celebrated the Stations of the Cross last Good Friday with hundreds of people participating in the ceremony. There is a peace that one experiences at Holy Hill. As you approach Holy Hill from the road, it is God’s home on the mount. It’s reminiscent of the prophets who ascended the mountains to encounter God. Holy Hill’s shrine chapel is beautiful and one cannot escape the Carmelite influence.
Another gem was discovered by my priest classmates, who during my installation visited the chapel of the School Sisters of St. Francis. The St. Joseph Chapel is absolutely gorgeous. The artwork rivals some of the most beautiful chapels in Italy. I have had the privilege of celebrating Mass there a few times and every time I marveled at the focus and attention toward the glories of heaven, which is the ultimate promise made to all who live the faith. It’s amazing how beauty can elevate our spirits.
St. Josaphat Basilica, 2333 S. Sixth St., Milwaukee, is a true treasure. Its history begins with stones from Chicago’s old post office transported for the building of the church. When you enter the basilica, you are captured by the breath taking magnificence of the artwork, stain glass windows and statues. It forces one to feel the grandeur of God’s creation. This beautiful church was restored through the great efforts of former Auxiliary Bishop William P. Callahan, the Franciscan community and many patrons. They believed that the beauty of St. Josaphat for decades would raise the consciousness of God presence and call people to live their faith. It is a tribute to Franciscan spirituality, using the talents of art and architecture, to point to God’s presence in the world.
When I was appointed pastor of Saint Ignatius Parish on the north side of Chicago, the Jesuit pastor that I was replacing took me into the church and said “Jerry, you will never question the fact that you are celebrating in a church; this is a sacred place.” He was right.
I had the same feeling when concelebrating Mass at the Gesu in Milwaukee. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (for the greater glory of God) the Gesu was built to reflect that motto. There is little doubt about the great intellectual contribution made by the Society of Jesus. But Jesuit churches and chapels contribute to the beauty that reflects their dedication to the truth. I also celebrated Mass for the Knights of Malta at the Joan of Arc chapel on the Marquette campus. A sense of holiness is manifest in its age and simplicity.
We are so fortunate to be in an archdiocese that possesses such beautiful treasures, all giving a unique perspective of God’s presence. But the fullness of the beauty can only be truly experienced through the eyes of faith. So attend a Mass or prayer service at one of the beautiful places meant to reflect God’s presence. The Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus. It is this presence that ultimately makes all of our churches and chapels beautiful.
4. What do you do each day to “stay in shape” physically, mentally and spiritually?
My day always begins with prayer. I like to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the first thing in the morning, that is, when I do not have Mass to celebrate during the day. It sets the tone and allows me to focus my attention on the readings. It’s interesting to hear what Scriptural message is offered and how it applies to life. Of course, the Eucharist is the opportunity for communion with the real presence of Christ. I am amazed at the number of Catholics who attend daily Mass and how this action assists them in living their commitment to their faith.
I am asked to pray for the intentions of various family members, friends and lay faithful of the archdiocese. I take that obligation seriously and I set time aside in the morning to pray for those intentions. The Liturgy of the Hours is the obligation of all the ordained. It is the prayer for the church. The office of readings is selected to offer insights spiritually and theologically. I have to admit that I’ve borrowed a number of those insights in the preparation for homilies.
As a child, I can never forget Mother so the rosary is a wonderful devotional, which I will say at different times during the day. If I have a long trip it’s the rosary which is my companion. I also enjoy books on tape (unabridged only). It helps to pass the time and allows me to learn something or to enjoy a good author. A good spiritual book challenges my thinking; a recent book that I finished was Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.” He has a wonderful popular style.
Another book that I would recommend is Cardinal Francis George’s “The Difference God Makes.” he is a wonderful teacher and his analysis is always welcomed.
Those who have read my biography know that I participated in sports and was a member of the United States military (USAR) for 23 years. Obviously there was an emphasis on being physically fit. I try to exercise every day, mostly in the morning, for at least 30 minutes. I am an old basketball player – emphasis on “old.” When you participate in sports you quickly realize the value of fitness and understand how a competition could easily be lost by fatigue.
As archbishop I am involved in many long days demanding my attention. I need to be physically present. This means I need to be in shape. You don’t want the archbishop falling asleep during a conference. I am blessed to have a number of friends from different disciplines, both in the religious and secular fields. They keep me abreast of current intellectual developments and are a great source of engaging conversation. The key is establishing a routine that feeds you in a consistent manner.
5. If your calendar was cleared for an entire day to do whatever you wanted – no obligations – how would you spend your day?
This is an interesting question. I would probably do priestly activities, as boring as that might sound. It has to do with my vocation. I am always a priest. I point out to many people that when you’re married and later have a family you are always husband/wife or father/mother 24/7. This isn’t a burden because you love the person to whom you are committed. You would never want to be separated from them.
The true sense of a vocation is that it is your life. It is who you are. I love being a priest. I love the church. I love Jesus. So on a totally free day, I would celebrate Mass, pray, visit friends and talk about my favorite subject – our Catholic faith and the church.
I have worn many different hats in my life. I was teacher, coach, chaplain, lawyer, dean but they were all exercised through my priesthood. I have many interests and I like to do everything that everyone else likes to do – movies, books, concerts, plays, etc. But I am always a priest, even in my dreams. I can’t separate my priesthood from my person and I wouldn’t want to. If I’m free let’s have a cup of coffee and talk about it.