ST. FRANCIS – Following the timeline established by the Synod Preparation Commission, parish councils and parish staffs used April and May to discuss Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s pastoral letter, “Who Do You Say That I Am?”
At St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners, the pastor and associate pastor respectively, Frs. Charles Schramm and Matthew Widder, shared it with the parish council. According to Fr. Schramm, the 14-member group welcomed it.
“It was like they were appreciating the opportunity to be asked questions that made them think about their own faith, their own relationship to Christ, as well as to talk about that openly with other people,” he said. “Just to focus on that alone without thinking about it in terms of a program or action or anything like that – it seemed they enjoyed talking about their own personal experience.”
The council allotted nearly an hour for the discussion of church as mystery – the first section of the letter – at its April meeting.
“We were both very touched and inspired by how people moved away from the institutional idea of church to the focal point of Christ at the core, and at the core is Christ’s command is to love. That was a very inspirational focus to be a part of that discussion with the people. It was very genuine,” Fr. Schramm said. “It was one of the first times we got to the purely faith level of reflection and discussion with the council without having to look at business or a purpose for which we were doing that.”
The priest said council members made the connection between church as mystery and the action in which the parish is engaged.
“They were quickly able to say, ‘Christ is at the core of it all.’ And that it is at the core of our faith to live out the message of love.
They saw that we were doing that here at St. Mary’s in many ways, not only in the care we extend to members of our own community, but we have a very strong outreach program for the poor and marginalized; we have four main outreach programs,” Fr. Schramm said.
Ready to evangelize
At St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa, Fr. James Kimla, pastor, facilitated a two-hour session about the pastoral for 30 members of the parish council and parish staff. Noting the parish’s experience with the Living Stones program and RENEW, Fr. Kimla, referencing a remark made by the parish’s child minister, Kathi Andreoni, said St. Joseph parishioners “like to discuss.”
Living Stones ad RENEW are Catholic programs that encourage spiritual growth, deepening faith, and putting faith into action.
“There was excitement growing from the opportunity to gather, instead of figuring out nuts and bolts or when should they fix the roof, discussing faith – discussing our faith and what it means to us,” Fr. Kimla said, adding he used the questions provided in the pastoral letter’s parish leadership reflection guide, as well as those surfaced during the discussion.
Fr. Kimla noted St. Joseph Parish is the proto type of The Evangelical Catholic, a program that originated as a four-year campus ministry program, and which he and the staff adapted to the parish for three to four years. With that foundation, he anticipated “the process of evangelization will come to the top” as a result of parishioners delving into the archbishop’s pastoral letter.
“It (Evangelical Catholic) has imbued many people with a genuine sense of evangelization as a necessity to witness to our faith in the world and in our daily lives. Underlying that is going to bring forth the emphasis on the evangelization of church as mystery, church as sacrament, church as communion,” he said. “And how we experience that, first of all with Jesus and each other, and then how do we reach out and include others.”
At Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa, Fr. John Burns, associate pastor, brought together the parish council and some of the parish’s leadership to discuss the pastoral letter.
“It was great. Everybody came from a different background with varying degrees of involvement in the parish and leadership and varying degrees of theological studies in that background,” he said, noting they had spent “a lot of time” talking about mystery and Vatican II. “We talked in particular about trying to understand Vatican II and what It means for us today, and what the church means when we say mystery, and what it means to understand the church as mystery.”
Fr. Burns said the group spent time discussing “Lumen Gentium” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”) and “who we are as church today.”
“There was a lot of exciting conversation about that whole theological reality of the church that we can grow to contemplate this mystery of who we are and what it is to be the Catholic Church, and as we do so we realize we’re never quite finished understanding ourselves, that we can never quite exhaust the mystery of who God is and what our relationship with him is and what it looks like,” he said.
Pastoral letter reflection sessions for parishioners will be held at parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during October and November.