More than six months of prayer, discussion, writing, editing, and rewriting has resulted in Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s first pastoral letter. The title, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” is the question Jesus asked of his apostles at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:15).

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki delivers the homily during a Jan. 31 Mass celebrating Mount Mary College's 100th anniversary. The archbishop has written his first pastoral letter, "Who Do You Say That I Am?" (below) which 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)In the prologue, the archbishop writes, “For several reasons, the time is right for us to consider the nature and identity of the Catholic Church in itself, especially as we prepare for the possibility of an archdiocesan synod. We are observing the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, mindful of the church’s great commission from Christ: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19).”

In addition, the archbishop notes, it is a time “to plumb the depths of the Second Vatican Council’s authoritative documents.”

He quotes then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Mass opening the 2005 conclave where he said that “there are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty,” Archbishop Listecki writes, “Christians must continue to assert their rightful place in society, resisting those who would bleach culture free of any and all religious color.”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)

Church as mystery

The crux of the more than 8,500-word document focuses upon the church as mystery, sacrament and communion.

Noting that “Lumen Gentium” (Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”) saw the church as “first and foremost a mystery,” and that “Gaudium et Spes” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light,” the archbishop writes, “Although a mystery transcends human knowledge, it is not meaningless. To meditate on a mystery is to enter ever deepening realms of meaning. It is not a puzzle to be solved, but a deeper truth into which one may enter by way of silence, contemplation and humility.”

Noting that “Lumen Gentium” compares the church to “the mystery of the incarnate Word,” Archbishop Listecki writes, “The church is a concrete reality that must be encountered on her own terms, rather than as an abstraction that could all too easily be manipulated to meet one’s personal preferences and opinions.”

Church as sacrament

Again referencing “Lumen Gentium,” the archbishop notes the “longstanding concept of the church herself being understood as a ‘sacrament.’”
“The Latin word for sacramentum, which translates the Greek word mysterion, is rendered in English as ‘mystery and sacrament,’ or as ‘hidden reality.’ The church is a mystery because she is a sacrament,” Archbishop Listecki writes.

The archbishop writes that when people lose sight of the “mystery that creates and sustains the life of the church,” they resort to human standards that are inadequate in measuring it.

“This is the challenge the church faces whenever she is in dialogue with those who approach her only as a secular or political institution, without the benefit of faith,” he writes.

Catholic identity, one of Archbishop Listecki’s priorities – along with evangelization and stewardship – for the archdiocese, is highlighted.

“…we must insist on proposing a more nuanced understanding of the church’s complex identity,” he writes. “Even in the wake of scandal, and especially in the midst of having to defend religious liberty and freedom of conscience, we cannot allow the church or the Christian experience to be defined by others or subjected to reductive descriptions.”

Church as communion

Referring to Christ’s prayer that all may be one, Archbishop Listecki writes, “… the unity, or communion, for which Christ so earnestly strove is not, strictly speaking, a worldly phenomenon. The church’s unity does not come from the world. On the basis of the world’s own efforts it is impossible. In fact, as we can all see, human efforts are tainted by original sin and so they often lead to disunion and conflict. Authentic spiritual union – the sort of communion – that characterizes the church of Christ, can only come from the Father, through the Son, sustained by the Holy Spirit.”

He writes that the church’s communion is not merely a community.

“It can neither be fully explained nor understood by merely human modes of analysis. Its bonds are spiritual, originating in the Trinity, finding its most proximate actualization in the Holy Spirit’s pouring forth faith, hope and love into the hearts of all the baptized,” the archbishop writes.

He instructs the faithful to recognize communion as a gift from God.

“Ecclesial communion is not merely a matter of harmony or agreement; it is a spiritual reality that is the fruit of God’s initiative achieved by virtue of the paschal mystery,” the archbishop writes.

Looking through a ‘theological lens’

In concluding the pastoral, Archbishop Listecki reiterates the priorities he established for the archdiocese when he became archbishop: Catholic identity (“Who we are”), evangelization (“What we do”) and stewardship (“How we do it”).

He writes, “As we contemplate the possibility of an archdiocesan synod, it is our hope that this pastoral letter will serve as a theological lens through which the life and ministries of the archdiocese will be viewed. We will do so understanding that the church is rooted in a mystery that is leading us to lives of personal holiness, mindful that the church could not carry on or fulfill her obligations without acknowledging and embracing the mystery that is at the heart of her existence.”