ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
Many of us will only go to doctors when we have something that is bothering us. Perhaps they embrace the adage “if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it”. However, conscientious doctors will send notices to remind us that we need to have our yearly checkups to evaluate the state of our physical well-being. Are there any indications of perspective problems? Are all the indicators moving in the right direction? Should we pay attention to some aspects of our life choices? How do the tests taken today compare to the ones last year? In all these instances, the professionals are being proactive.
On Nov. 28, we as an Archdiocese will celebrate the close of our 175th year of existence. At the same time, on Jan. 1, 2020, I will celebrate my 10-year anniversary as the 11th archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. During this past year, I have had the pleasure of discussing the history of the archdiocese with Fr. Steven Avella on my Relevant Radio show. It is simply amazing the accomplishments of the Catholic Church and the contributions made to the development of the city of Milwaukee and the state, especially in Southeastern Wisconsin. It has been eye-opening to discover the significance of the episcopal leadership in establishing programs for the common good. Many of us tend to be nostalgic, thinking of the past as those “good old days.” We idealize the best of the past without evaluating the sacrifices made by so many to construct the communities and programs that we take for granted today. I would offer that my assessment is that they did what they did because they were believers. They were people of faith who believed that this was the Church instituted by Christ who called us to live our lives in commitment to brothers and sisters who existed then and would exist in the future. Here we are today the beneficiaries of their charity and we are challenged to carry on this legacy.
It’s important that we do a checkup evaluating where we are currently and our vision for the future. When I was named the Archbishop of Milwaukee, I established three priorities: Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship. I joked that I will consider it a success when I mention that I established three priorities and watch lips move in the audience mouthing the three priorities, Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship.
The great western philosopher Socrates stated that one should know thy self. I offer to you that we can never know fully who we are apart from the person of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Identity is enmeshed in the Catholic Church. Why? Because Jesus established the Church to lead us to salvation. Salvation is our ultimate goal and fulfillment of our happiness. He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us on our pilgrim journey through life. The Church is indefectible; it will last forever unchanged in leading us to salvation. In preparation for the Synod, we analyzed the nature of the Church in a work entitled “Who do you say that I Am.” We find Jesus at the heart of Church; we are his body. The teachings of the Church unite us to our Identity. At the closing Mass of our 175th anniversary, we will initiate the Order of Catechist. This will be an archdiocesan order designating individuals within our community who will, through their office, promote the understanding of Church teachings. The more we know about the teachings of the Church the greater our sense of “Identity.”
I have asked myself this question: how many persons have I brought to Jesus and His Church? Sadly to say, it has been but a few. Yet, this is our mandate from the Gospel. An important presentation, “Maintenance to Mission,” was made at the celebration of the first anniversary of the Synod: “The Return to the Upper Room.” For too long, we have been in a maintenance mode, filling organizational positions, scheduling services and balancing budgets, our attention mainly devoted to maintaining our communities. We have given little consideration to Evangelization, the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and calling for converts to the faith as well as personal conversion in our lives. In the archdiocese, we have initiated a program empowering college missionaries who encounter students on their campuses challenging them to live their faith. Evangelization was a theme taken up by the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. It called for an Evangelization summit inviting all the parishes of the archdiocese to share their best practices. The Hispanic Pastoral Plan, the Black Catholic Plan and the efforts of the Asian ministerial outreach informs us of the diversity of the archdiocese and the need to provide for the needs of all or risk losing our faithful.
Stewardship is a reminder of the cost of discipleship. Sacrifices have been made in the past and they need to be made again by us. We must evaluate our contribution of Time, Treasure and Talent. I know that “tithing” is always mentioned but just imagine what type of Church we would be if just 5 percent of our income was given weekly to the Church by its members. We have continued to live as a Church through the largess of a minority of our members, which has supported the majority. We need to support the Church and make it a charitable priority. “Where your heart is there your treasure will be.” Devoting time and talent to serving Christ in and through His Church, is necessary to build the Church. We have provided momentum for parishes through “Amazing Parish,” assisting our leadership to strengthen and build the community. Part of our treasure is the seminary, which produces quality servants for Christ and His Church. Over the last 10 years, our seminary and vocational environment has grown through the effort of dedicated clergy and lay faithful. The training of lay ministerial leaderships assures that a wealth of talents will be available for our future.
In examining the Church of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at this 175th year of existence and the 10th year of my episcopacy, I can state with surety that we have moved the needle. The Body of Christ is alive and well but we have much work ahead. We need to deepen our understanding of who we are, Catholic Identity. We need to share our faith and call our brothers and sisters to conversion, expanding the members and work of the Church, Evangelization, and we need to challenge ourselves to make the sacrifices necessary to fulfill our vision, Stewardship.