When I was installed as the new archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, part of the ceremony in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist involved my being walked over to the chair (cathedra) and seated in the chair wearing my miter and holding my crozier.
This part of the ceremony was an official acknowledgment of my responsibility as Shepherd of the Archdiocese. The chair, the sign of the bishop’s teaching office and pastoral power, is also a sign of the unity of believers in the faith.
Official pronouncements which affect the entire archdiocese often take place at the chair. The focal point of the chair, the seat of pastoral power, emphasizes the importance of the declaration to the life of the entire church of southeastern Wisconsin. Many may think of the majestic symbol of the throne, but the chair is much more magisterial.
For the bishop, it is much more the teaching chair that is reminiscent of the seat that Jesus occupied when teaching in the synagogue. When speaking from the chair, a bishop is exercising his teaching authority.
This last Sunday, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I exercised my teaching authority as archbishop by declaring my acceptance of the work of the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod at the cathedral chair.
I then proceeded to the altar to sign the synodal decree and to have it witnessed by the archdiocesan chancellor, Barbara Anne Cusack. This was a defining moment in the history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In their selection of issues and various priorities, synod delegates have given us a blueprint to move forward as a church fulfilling the mission entrusted to us by Christ.
Following a blueprint takes time and effort in order to build what is envisioned.
The synod was the most significant activity in which we have engaged as a community of believers in the almost five years of my tenure as archbishop. In the 39-year history of my priesthood, I have rarely encountered the energy generated on the weekend of Pentecost last June 6-8.
Certainly the long hours of organization and group process contributed to the success. However, I believe it was that element of the Holy Spirit that people of faith will readily acknowledge when something greater is experienced.
It was those hours of prayers offered in the recitation of the Archdiocesan Synodal prayer or in the petitions spoken aloud at Sunday Mass and, of course, the personal prayers offered by many who love and support the archdiocese. There was definitely something special about this gathering.
This is an opportunity for all of us to grow in our faith, to become “intentional disciples” proclaiming and deepening the message of Jesus.
Over the last three months, I have prayed, reviewed, reflected and discussed the works of the synod. I am so proud of the delegates and observers who shared their insights. They were so well prepared to make contributions and the synod results reflected their level of engagement.
In the months ahead, we will establish an Archdiocesan Synodal Implementation Commission (ASIC) whose responsibility it will be to make recommendations for implementation.
For ASIC to fulfill the mandate of the synod, its work must include every aspect of the archdiocese. Therefore the offices of the archdiocese, parishes, religious communities, schools, religious institutions, Catholic health care facilities, and individuals will be included in all recommendations.
I have asked Randy Nohl to assume the role as director of Synod Implementation. Randy and Rich Harter, director of the Office of Evangelization, were significant leaders of the Archdiocesan Synod process. I expect the commission will hold us accountable and assess levels of participation.
I have been asked what will be the measure of the success of the synod.
First, I already consider the synod to be a success by the generation of energy and enthusiasm which I still experience even months after the final Mass. If anyone doubted the love the people of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have for the church, that question has been answered by the delegates and participants in the 2014 Synod.
Second, it is obvious we are concerned with evangelization, assisting people to be on fire with their faith and sharing that faith with others. Imagine if we increase the levels of participation in our parishes and institutions even fractionally, we will experience a stronger and more vibrant church.
Third, it is a shared vision that we want to pass on to the next generation a church that continues the rich history of faith of the Catholic Church in southeastern Wisconsin. Following the blueprint of issues and priorities established by the synod delegates will allow us to grow as a church.
The great cathedrals of the world built during the Middle Ages were started by many craftsmen and laborers who never saw the completion of the church that they were building. Yet these edifices inspire the faithful to this very day. Their faith in God and knowing they were doing his work motivated them.
In 10 years I will not be the Archbishop of Milwaukee, but I am convinced we are doing God’s work. We have a blueprint for building the church in the hearts of our faithful and they will represent the church and inspire people by their lives of holiness for the generations to come. Let us begin our work.