Even though it’s winter, Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin should prepare for a heat wave – a faith-based heat wave, ignited by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and his first pastoral letter, “Who Do You Say I Am?” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki's first pastoral letter, "Who Do You Say That I Am?"  was made available to pastors Feb. 6. It will be released to parish staffs in March, and made available to the entire Catholic community in fall. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)based on the words Jesus addressed to his apostles at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:15).

In an interview with your Catholic Herald Feb. 15, Archbishop Listecki said an impetus for the letter, made available to pastors Feb. 6, was to instill in the Catholic community the same fervor that religious men and women and laity demonstrated in the earliest days of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a faith that moved them to build churches, schools, hospitals and orphanages.

“This was all based upon a tremendous confidence and trust in Christ and his church,” the archbishop said of that work. “They were not wealthy, but they were committed to the mission. It was because of deep faith that they were able to do this.”

Archbishop Listecki noted it was faith, more so than sociological or psychological phenomena, that drove the archdiocese’s earliest members. He wants that to drive today’s Catholics.

“We need to recapture that fire. The fire in the belly has gone down to an ember,” he said. “My hope with the pastoral is that the fire gets ignited again.”

Emphasis on Catholic identity

Since becoming archbishop of Milwaukee in January 2010, Archbishop Listecki has stressed three priorities for the archdiocese: Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship. The emphasis on identity is evident in the pastoral letter.

“Modern society is trying to bleach us from the beautiful colors of our religious commitment and other religious commitments. This is a tragedy,” he said. “This is something we, as religious people, should challenge – not allow our Catholicism to be watered down or to be bleached, to be turned into nothing, by society.”

In the pastoral, he wrote, “…we cannot allow the church or Christian experience to be defined by others or subjected to reductive descriptions.” In the interview he said that is where he and those who assisted in the drafting of the pastoral began their discussions.

“That is why we’ve taken that topic, ‘Who do you say I am?’ because everybody seems to be telling us who we are. You can go down the grocery list of various people’s causes, even the nation’s,” Archbishop Listecki said. “But we’re defined by the very fact that we have an answer: ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Messiah, who has given us the church, and who has vested the church with the Holy Spirit.’ This is what defines us.”

He continued, “We boldly proclaim our commitment to Jesus; we boldly proclaim Jesus – not only the person of Jesus, but Jesus within the church; that’s the radical aspect of it – Jesus within the church. That’s why we’re committed to this church.”

Again emphasizing Catholic identity, the archbishop said he does not accept the contention of those who say that churches are “all the same.”

“They’re not all the same,” he said, emphasizing “not.” “So we’re saying, ‘The truths of this church are tied directly to its institution by Jesus Christ who has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can proclaim him (Jesus) in the world.”

Where it is leading

 “Who Do You Say I Am?” has been written to motivate action.

“The whole idea of the pastoral is for us to do something collectively. It is designed to empower the priests, pastors, religious, DREs, parish directors, to participate in the role the bishop has to teach,” Archbishop Listecki said. “The three roles the bishop has are carried out in local parish community by the pastor – sanctifier, administrator and teacher. We do a really good job as the sanctifier and administrator, but this is one we’re going to do together. We’re going to teach together.”

The archbishop termed the pastoral a “jumpstart” that he hopes all members of the Catholic community will read, but it doesn’t end there.

“We see the pastoral as a beginning. The whole idea is to deepen your understanding of mystery, to deepen your understanding of sacrament, to deepen your understanding of communion,” he said.

Beyond the writing of the pastoral, having it read by the faithful and taught in the parishes, more could occur.

“I wrote this pastoral letter for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; this is where we are; this is what we need to address,” Archbishop Listecki said. “I did so with an eye toward the possibility of an archdiocesan synod.”