Herald of Hope

There is an anointing, which takes place right after the baptism of a child. The priest prays this prayer: God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body sharing everlasting life. Amen. Then the priest anoints the child on the crown of the head.

Christ’s three-fold role of priest, prophet and king is shared with all members of his body, the Church. We usually can handle the priestly and kingly roles, because we understand the role of king as one of service to his people and the priestly role as one of sacrifice offering one’s life for their brothers and sisters; however, the prophetic role is challenging.

The prophetic role is often misunderstood in our modern society. We equate the prophet with prophecy and as one who foretells the future, a prognosticator. The emphasis of the biblical prophet is one who calls the community to their responsibility before God, to the covenant. The communities’ relationship with God has either been rejected or neglected. Whether it was Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah or the others, the prophetic task was to bring the community back to God. This was no simple task. Even the prophetic role of John the Baptizer was to bring people to the rightful relationship with God as fulfilled through His Son Jesus Christ.

The community does not want to be challenged and the prophet often proclaimed the message at their own peril; many suffered injuries and even death. But, it was necessary because God was charging them with this responsibility, and they needed to fulfill their mission. In his proclamation, the prophet pointed out that breaking the covenant, the relationship with God, has its own consequences. Often, their predictions were a statement of those consequences. Turn your back on God and you open the doors to evil. A community lost its strength and trust in God and, in its weakness, was conquered by its enemies and its people placed in exile.

Our prophetic role today has much to do with “Evangelization.” The three priorities that I have constantly held forth during my 11 years as archbishop are Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship. Catholic Identity is who we are, Evangelization is what we do, and Stewardship is how we do it.

We have now been dealing with the pandemic for almost a year. In that time, we have experienced a change in every part of our lives — work, social interactions, family and even worship. We have been separated from one another and have even been separated from the public worship with our God. For a period, our churches did not have Sunday worship and then only a limited number of parishioners could attend. The strange thing about adjusted behavior is that it can often prove to be the new norm. Even before the pandemic, many in the Church lamented that only 25 to 30 percent of those who identify themselves as Catholic attended Mass on Sunday. Many treated Sunday as just another day of the week. There was nothing set aside for God, and the family was lost in routine. The pandemic has just added to the loss of Sunday’s uniqueness.

Every crisis presents its own challenges. We cannot direct the challenges, but we can direct our responses. It was right in the middle of the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which lasted for more than five and a half years, that I called for a Synod. Some thought that it was foolish to do this during our personal struggles. We should wait and conduct the Synod from a position of strength. However, I knew that we as a community needed to reaffirm our commitment to Christ and His Church. It is easy to profess our loyalty in good times but much more difficult when we must stand in the face of skepticism and rejection. The Synod proved to be a prophetic moment in our recent history. It empowered the faithful and boldly proclaimed our commitment to Christ and His Church, building on the great spiritual foundation of those racial and ethnic communities that lived the faith against the social and culture prejudices they experienced. The prophetic voice of the Synod (2014) established priorities, which would direct our archdiocese into the next decade. One of those priorities was to move from maintenance to “mission.” Pope Francis himself has called us to be a missionary Church.

The pandemic presents us with a challenge. We need to hear the prophetic voice calling us to return to worship but with a deeper appreciation of what Sunday means, and the ability to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic celebration. We must recapture Sunday as that special day set aside for God and the recognition of his presence in our personal renewal and in our family relationships.

Evangelization goes hand in hand with the “prophetic” because it calls us to witness to our responsibility before God. We evangelize on three levels: to those who do not know Christ and His Church, to those who are lax or dormant in their faith and we evangelize ourselves to grow deeper in our relationship and commitment to Christ and His Church. Our call to recapture Sunday is a prophetic statement to our secularized society to remember our roots, founded in a God who is Creator and the warning that societies who ignore God will risk suffering consequences. It is a call to brothers and sisters who have marginalized God in their lives and the need for them to return to Christ and His Church for their personal good and the good of those that they love. Our relationship with God is the ultimate purpose of life. And, we need to understand the importance of deepening our sense and presence of God, to grow in His love. It is our joy and our strength.

On March 3, the Archdiocese has asked some of our gifted preachers to be prophetic voices calling the community to their responsibility to understand Sunday as that special day reserved for worship and their attention to our relationship through the Eucharist in living the sign of faith in our society. Each Deanery (there are 11 deaneries; some will have two because of distance) in the archdiocese has selected a parish to host an evening of prayer that will reflect on the prophetic mission of the importance of Sunday. In addition, there will be a presentation in our Hispanic, Black and Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. Join us, if possible, at the parish site near you (see www.archmil.org), via live-streaming, or later on when presentations are posted on the archdiocesan website as this Lenten journey leads us to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These prophetic voices will be joined together in prayer to reaffirm our commitment to Christ, our understanding of Sunday and to fulfill our prophetic role to trust in God and trust in his word.