I was a military chaplain for a number of years at the former Fort Sheridan, home to the United States Fourth Army, and I can attest to the fact that I would lose from 30 percent to 40 percent of my congregation every year due to transfers. By the time I finished my third year, I had a completely new community.
In our personal lives, Father Time has a sneaky way of putting those years on us with a few extra inches around the waist, extracting a few strands of hair from our heads, and changing our color schemes. What used to be brown is now definitely gray. Psychologists and sociologists have written tomes on the aspect of change or transition in our life experiences. The early writing of the ancient philosophers argued about whether life is in constant flux or somehow fixed.
When we pause at that moment of the New Year, we acknowledge another year has passed. What is it that races through our memories? Is it loved ones that have passed on, missed opportunities, a sense of hope? One need only take out an old family album, especially popular with the children who are often times saying, Mom, Dad were you really that little?
I would offer that people of faith whisper a prayer of gratitude. For there is a constant in the lives of the faithful, and that constant is God. In him, we have an abiding trust that he is with us during the most trying times and the most joyful moments of our lives.
When I received the call from the Apostolic Nuncio that Pope Benedict XVI had made his decision and that I was to be the next archbishop of Milwaukee, I knew that my life would be radically changed.
I was scheduled to ordain a young man to the priesthood a week later; of course, only the nuncio and I knew the fact that I had been named Archbishop of Milwaukee, because it was under a papal secret until the Holy See announced the appointment. As I clasped the young man’s hand and asked if he promised me and my successors obedience, I personally realized it would be some other bishop of La Crosse who would witness the work of this young priest in serving the church. However, as I demanded obedience from my priest, so it is that the church demands obedience from her bishops. It was in response to this demand that my acceptance was given. Although feelings of inadequacy filled my mind, I heard the constant mantra of the late, great John Paul II, “Be not afraid.”
A sense of peace came over me. I knew that I would not be alone in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, for it is replete with men and women whose lives have built this local church. The priests, religious, deacons, parish directors and lay ecclesial ministers, serve the communities in union with the bishop and the universal church. The lives of the faithful daily reflect a community of believers who make a difference in our parishes and the society.
The archdiocese and I are blessed to have two auxiliary bishops, Bishop William P. Callahan, who skillfully administered the archdiocese with the heart of a loving pastor in absence of an archbishop, and Bishop Richard J. Sklba, whose intelligence and experience assist our faithful. They are true treasures of the archdiocesan community. They have made me feel welcomed and have assured me of their support. It is nice to know that I am not alone. Their statement alone gives me a sense of confidence in approaching this new challenge.
So, now we are into a new year and as your new archbishop, I embrace the transition and make one resolution – that together, we do our best to grow in holiness. Happy New Year. See you at Mass!