For many years I have initiated the ritual of installing a new pastor by noting that “the new arrival of anyone is a new beginning for everyone!” Again and again I went on to explain that each new arrival in life, whether into a family or a classroom or a working environment or a neighborhood, inevitably brings new experiences, new skills and talents, new relationships, new questions, new opportunities.
We might even say that a new spiritual DNA suddenly is present in the genetic mix of a community. That certainly is the case, as I often point out, when a new pastor is appointed to a parish community.
This is preeminently true with the appointment of a new archbishop.
Each person brings his shoes and sometimes explicitly points out that only he or she can walk in their own shoes. No one can walk in anyone else’s shoes, certainly not in those of a predecessor. With all fondness for the past, this historic moment is a new beginning for everyone.
The theology of episcopacy in our Catholic tradition begins with Christ himself, as everything should.
A bishop, therefore, is a living icon of Christ our Shepherd. One should peer into the bishop’s limited and even flawed humanity and somehow be able to see a bit of a window into that final reality we call heaven; that is why every authentic icon is pictured against a background of gold. Rooted into that reality of the living paschal mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, a bishop is called to make the transforming mystery active and visible to each generation and in each successive age.
The person of the bishop in his diocese is the converging and unifying link of all parish communities with each other and with Christ. We are, after all, a communion of communions, and the bishop is called to be the bond of unity with Christ and with each other! It is a great heartache when a bishop becomes the occasion for division not of God.
A bishop proclaims the Gospel of God to successive generations, and in light of the command of that Gospel to use the resources of his community to care for the needy at all levels. Prophets and consecrated religious in any given Catholic community may point out new groups of needy and serve them generously, but the bishop is summoned to coordinate a response in the name of all.
A bishop brings us together, with all our diverse gifts, for the full celebration of the Eucharist.
A bishop helps make the qualities of apostolicity (vertical relationships across the centuries) and catholicity (horizontal around the entire world at any given time) to the church.
In our American culture of the separation of church and state, a bishop is called to preside over countless corporate boards for the parishes and ministries of the diocese. People don’t always understand the burden paid by a bishop for the blessings of our system of separation. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki suddenly joins hundreds of legal and civil boards in southeastern Wisconsin. We ought to be grateful for this often hidden area of service to the works of the Gospel.
In particular, Archbishop Listecki brings to us a renewed sense of the blessings and challenges of rural life. Although reared in Chicago, he learned a whole new perspective during his years in La Crosse. Life is not easy for farm families these days, especially with the challenges of agribusiness. He will be able to bring new unity in this area of life across the state of Wisconsin in ways not experienced for generations.
As one who has earned doctorates in civil and canon law, Archbishop Listecki brings an appreciation for the legitimate role of law in society, civil and ecclesiastical … not one of mere legalism, but rather a viewpoint which respects protection of rights and due process for all.
Last Saturday we welcomed our new archbishop, and began the process of preparing for his formal installation in January. After discussion with a much relieved Bishop Callahan and the archdiocesan staff, Archbishop Listecki chose to visit that same afternoon a few retired priests at St. Camillus as well as the communities of cloistered Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi who labored so devotedly over the years to serve Saint John’s School for the Deaf, St. Coletta’s School for Special Needs and the seminary communities.
Just as Bishop Michael Heiss once left the rectorate of our Saint Francis Seminary to become bishop of La Crosse (A.D. 1868) and returned 12 years later to become a coadjutor archbishop of Milwaukee, we now welcome someone from the western edges of Wisconsin to serve us as shepherd. It will be a wonderful learning curve for all of us.
May God who began a good work in us bring it to fulfillment!