During my days of vacation I certainly have missed all of you very much and, thank God, I have never failed to keep all of you and your loved ones in my daily prayers, in particular those who might be ill or alone, troubled, or in special need of prayer.
The first leg of my vacation was spent in Rome, and it was a most enjoyable working-vacation, of sorts. It was a "working" vacation because of the presence of six of our seminarians, though to be with them on vacation is just perfect, because it is a joy rather than work in the non-vacation sense.
Greg Ihm and David Carrano, both of whom are studying in Rome, were of course there, as well as Chad Droessler and John Putzer, who are studying in Louvain, Belgium, and two of our transitional deacons, who will be ordained priests this spring, Brian Dulli and Lance Schneider, who are studying in Chicago.
What an absolute joy it was to experience, with them, the faith of the Eternal City and especially the presence of our Holy Father. Together we were able to be present for the Vespers service in thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the year 2007, which took place on the evening of December 31. We were also able to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the World Day of Prayer for Peace at our Holy Father's Mass on January 1, and then to be with him once more at his weekly audience on Wednesday, Jan. 2.
Beyond that, we shared a number of meals together and also had some individual meetings. On New Year's Day, Greg Ihm served the Holy Father's Mass, and I was there like a proud father, representing all of you. Greg's reverence and competence in serving the Mass were exceptional.
Priestly unity with the bishop and pope
The bonding that needs to take place between a bishop and his priests can be challenging at times, but it is rendered so much easier and more available when opportunities like our being together in Rome - especially with the Holy Father - arise. Deacons Schneider and Dulli are very much focused on their priestly ordination in the spring and some of the things they might need, and I was certainly joining them in that important focus, but with the others we were simply enjoying the faith and beauty of Rome, consecrated by the blood of the Apostle-Martyrs Peter and Paul.
We were able to pray together at the tomb of St. Peter, at the "confessio" which is at the center of St. Peter's Archbasilica, and at the tombs of the popes - including, of course, the tomb of Pope John Paul the Great. The prayer and the fraternity that we shared were surely the greatest Christmas gift with which the Lord blessed me during this past Christmas season.
Please keep all of our seminarians in your prayers throughout the new year, asking especially that they persevere in their commitment to serve the Lord and you, to grow in holiness as they come to know Jesus Christ more and more, and that their bond deepens as sons with their father, with the bishop, which makes the ministry of Christ in a diocese truly a ministry of unity, peace, joy, and fraternal love.
Experiencing the Universal Church
The second point of which I would make mention is our experience together in Rome of how our Holy Father relates to the whole Church. Because the Holy Father is the Bishop of Rome, he is the Pope of the Universal Church, and he exercises immediate and ordinary jurisdiction in every diocese of the world, including the Diocese of Madison. As I have said before, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, as the Successor of Peter, is more embedded in this Diocese of Madison than I am, because it is my communion with him that enables me to fulfill my call to be the Bishop of Madison. If I were in any way, shape, or form apart from Pope Benedict, I would not be the successor of the apostles for the Diocese of Madison, whom I am called to be.
All of us experience the Universal Church in the first place through our local parish. In the Diocese of Madison we are served by good priests and we grow in the holiness to which Jesus Christ calls us day-by-day, through their ministry. But there is always a temptation to see the Church almost as limited to our local parish experience; this is a temptation into which all of us can fall, and it is a temptation which is revealed when people say such things as, "why do we need a cathedral?"
Importance of the cathedral-church
The cathedral is the place, the visible sign, of the bishop's union with our Holy Father and the union of our Holy Father with all Catholics in the diocese, the union which, in fact, makes all of us Catholic. Because we are a Church of sacraments, signs, and symbols, cathedrals should be every bit as much a part of our experience - though not on a daily basis - as is our parish life. We need a cathedral because as much as we can and should love our parish family, we can never forget the rest of the Universal Church on earth, let alone the angels and saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory, which are part of our communion. In order to experience this wider Church, the Holy Spirit in our own Catholic history has given us cathedral-churches as the privileged place for this experience of Church beyond our own parish family. We need this experience precisely because we need to be Catholic, that is united with our Holy Father in a Church that is truly Universal.
It is hard for many to grasp this dimension of universality, and so it is hard for some to understand why we really need a cathedral. I am grateful to the Lord that the six seminarians with whom I spent time in Rome have deepened their experience of universal communion through the bishop, unworthy though I am, with our Holy Father, and I rejoice that some day they will be effective witnesses to all of God's people here in the Diocese of Madison of this universal communion.
For now, during this year which is dedicated by our Holy Father to St. Paul, please let us all pray to Saints Peter and Paul that we might grow in a sense of Church beyond the parish family as truly a universal communion. This is truly a grace for which we should beg the Lord. He will surely give us this grace and then, in due time, we will not only fulfill the responsibility that all of us in the Diocese of Madison share for providing a cathedral-church for the future, but we will also take up this responsibility with energy and enthusiasm, urged on by none other than the grace of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for reading this and God bless each one of you. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
Offices and mailing address: Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison, WI 53719
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