Catholic Identity:

Claiming the Tradition in Our Day


A Pastoral Letter to the Faithful of Southeastern Wisconsin

on the 150th Anniversary of the Founding

of the Diocese of Milwaukee (1843-1993)


By Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.


© Copyright 1992 by Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Table of Contents



Catholic Identity and a Changing World

Identifying Beliefs and Attitudes

Passing on the Faith





1. 1993-94 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the diocese of Milwaukee. As we celebrate that anniversary we ought to look back to the pioneering spirit and deep faith of those who established the Catholic Church in this region a century and a half ago. The best way of showing our gratitude to them is to try to live that faith fully today and to reflect on how we can pass it on to the next generation. This celebration can thus be a moment of grace for the whole diocese. During this year I would ask all of you in the Archdiocese to reflect with me on our Catholic identity at this specific moment of history.


2. While it is inevitable that we as a Church are constantly undergoing change, it is amazing how consistent in its major thrusts that identity has been. The purpose of this letter is not to be argumentative, especially not with our ecumenical partners in dialogue, nor with others who may not share the same religious values and emphases that create our Catholic identity. It is also not meant to be controversial within the Catholic community. Among the latter there are those who might feel that no change can ever take place in the Church; there are some who cry out for deeper and more radical change; there are also many who see the need, as did Vatican Council II, to maintain the best of the tradition but to bring it up to date in our own day. But before one can even enter into such a debate, it is necessary to outline the characteristics of that identity. A calm and meditative dialogue about the principal points of what makes us Catholics who we are will be of help to all of us during this anniversary year. I would hope it would increase our appreciation for our tradition and encourage us to live it more fully.


Catholic Identity and a Changing World


3. Down to the middle of this century we Catholics, as an immigrant Church in the U.S.A., felt a need to maintain our identity over against a predominantly Protestant culture. We did so by a fierce loyalty to our Church and by a strong sense of ethnic roots that bolstered and supported our faith tradition. In addition, we founded many societies within the parish or from our ethnic origins that continued to give us a sense of our identity. Although we know we cannot go back in time and totally recapture that spirit, we are proud of our heritage. It would be well for us, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of our diocese, to see how the Church here has changed over the years and what the specific challenges of our day are and how they differ from those of our ancestors. We know that those challenges involve living out the faith under new circumstances and of passing it on to a new generation. We will find it useful to reflect on some of the truths that have remained important to our Catholic identity and then outline how we might be able to do a better job of living and communicating that faith.


4. We cannot minimize the sacrifices that our ancestors made to maintain their Catholic faith when they came to this part of the world. They rapidly built neighborhood ethnic churches, but especially Catholic parish schools. Those schools were probably first among the many factors of importance for living and transmitting the faith in the history of our diocese. They provided a basic knowledge of the faith, a way of socialization into the Catholic community, and thus a means of establishing Catholic identity. We recall the strong prohibitions against sending Catholic children to public schools, our founders seeing in those schools bastions of Protestant culture. Moreover, there were rigorous Church laws discouraging the marriage of Catholics with Protestants; such marriages were seen as exceptions, dangerous to the preservation of the faith. Hence the seriousness of the promises on the part of both partners in such marriages to raise the children in the Catholic faith. In sum, the immigrant Church in Southeastern Wisconsin, regardless of the ethnic origins of the people, soon established strong neighborhood parishes with large churches and schools and a host of supportive practices. One should also mention the many organizations, such as the Christian Mothers, the Altar Society, the Holy Name Society, the Knights of Columbus, and many others, that aided the new immigrants to maintain and pass on their faith in a Protestant culture often openly hostile to Catholicism.


5. Today's situation is very different. Many of these supportive aids are gone. Public schools are no longer considered Protestant, but there is a growing concern about the value systems being taught in them and the growing secularization that seems to affect them and the whole U.S. culture. The ethnic roots in many cases have become tenuous and are no longer a faith support. For some of our youth, "gangs" have become the place of bonding and socialization. Many Catholics, too, have moved out of ethnic neighborhoods to suburbs where there is more pluralism in respect to ethnic mix and religious affiliation. For most, the neighborhood parish is no longer a center of social focus; at most it is a place of Sunday worship. Often, too, Catholics today search for the parish where they feel most at home, traveling several miles each Sunday to worship in the parish of their choice. In addition, Catholics tend now more and more to marry partners of other faith denominations, so that marriages between people of different faith traditions is common. The mobility of society permits young people to move away from home early and to marry into families totally unknown to their own family and relatives. The close ethnic and religious bonds that previously marked our Catholic immigrant society are in many cases and with but few exceptions diminished. Even before marriage, many young Catholics do not remain close to their families--living, studying, or working miles away from their parents, grandparents, and relatives.


6. On the other hand, some Catholics are more recent immigrants and have the same ethnic concerns as earlier generations. We must find a way of welcoming them and of meeting their needs, without ignoring the new conditions in which the previous groups now find themselves. Such a need for ethnic bonding is also in evidence for our African American Catholic community. All these groups seek to find their Catholic identity without losing their ethnic traditions and becoming a part of the American melting pot.


7. It must also be stated that many long established Catholic societies tend now to have a membership that is aging and are experiencing difficulty in attracting new younger members. For most younger Catholics at least, these societies are no longer a means of Catholic socialization and identity.


8. The early immigrants were accompanied by native priests who spoke their language and by large numbers of religious women. The flowering of vocations, especially to the latter, was a decisive factor in building the Catholic identity, especially through the school system that supported it. The solid religious formation as provided in those schools by the sisters can no longer be counted on. Thus, the lack of vocations today to religious life has changed the focus of responsibility for maintaining this identity in the schools to the laity. The family structure, always an important factor in fostering this identity, now becomes even more central. This situation will not change in the near future. Although the Catholic school system is still very much a part of the Catholic presence in the U.S.A. and is being maintained with enormous struggle and sacrifice, its role of socializing young people into the Catholic community has not been, in most cases, carefully studied and taken advantage of. It cannot do so without a deeper analysis of the present moment and the new challenges that face our Catholic population. Moreover, neither the schools nor the religious education programs--the latter so needed for all those children not attending Catholic schools--have found yet the formula for both transmitting the faith, socializing the children, and preparing them for new roles of leadership in a pluralistic society.


9. The Catholic population during the period of immigration could be numbered for the most part among the blue-collar workers as skilled or unskilled laborers. Their members were strong participants in the trade unions and very desirous that their children should have a better standard of living than they enjoyed. In this, they participated fully in the "American dream." In so many ways that dream has been realized. Catholics took--and continue to take--advantage of the opportunities for higher education, and so many of the children of the older generations of immigrants moved into a more prosperous class. That upward mobility has not yet been fully true of the new immigrants, the Hispanics and Pacific Asians for example, but there are signs that it will also continue to be evident among many of these groups as a new generation succeeds. This trend toward higher education had as a result the integration of American Catholics into all sectors of the U.S. society--business, politics, the arts, education, the media, and the like. In effect, the Catholic population has gone from being "outsiders" in the U.S. culture to being "insiders," total participants, that is, on all levels.


10. While these events were taking place, one should also mention the changes that occurred within the Catholic Church itself, a new spirit that also affected its identity. The effects of Vatican Council II (1962-65) are also major factors in the story of U.S. Catholicism today. Just as the bonds of Catholic identity were being loosened when Catholics were entering fully into U.S. society, so, too, many of the external manifestations of Catholic identity and practice were being questioned or even abolished. Externals--such as abstinence from meat on Friday, fasting from midnight before the reception of Communion, women wearing hats or veils in Church, priests vested in cassocks and religious in habits--although not of the essence of Catholicism, were, nevertheless, important "badges" of identity for Catholics among the general U.S. population. The relinquishing of so many of them left a void at a crucial moment of transition.


11. Devotional practices--such as the rosary, stations of the cross, novenas to Mary in the months of May and October, devotions for the poor souls in November, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, First Fridays, and others--although important for Catholic identity, were, for the most part, abandoned. Attendance at Sunday Mass, always a clear indication of Catholic identity, also began to see a relaxation, with many attending Mass only monthly or rarely. The old Baltimore Catechism, memorized from start to finish by every Catholic of a previous generation, had provided a common basis of formulae for expressing the faith and a bond of unity throughout the land. After Vatican Council II it no longer was in use and, thus, we cannot rely on the younger generation of teachers to have this same basis.


12. Although the portrayal of the nature of the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. as extremely monolithic before Vatican Council II has been exaggerated, one can say that the authority of the clergy in matters of faith and morals was seldom if ever publicly called into question. The controversy over the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae and over the authoritative nature of its contents opened new questions for the American Catholic laity. Since many had obtained their higher education in more liberal Catholic and secular universities, they assumed a more informed and critical attitude toward Church pronouncements in matters of sexuality and social concerns. In doing so, they also mirrored a general attitude in American society during the Vietnam and Watergate periods that began to call all authority into question.


13. As Catholics entered all sectors of the U.S. society, they also began to absorb more and more of the tenets of what sociologists have come to call "American civil religion." That term embraces a whole series of assumptions, many of Protestant or secular origin--some good, some bad--that have been basic to the founding of our nation and its development. Catholics, in general, had not been intellectually prepared by their Church to discriminate among such tenets and discern those that were consonant with their own faith tradition and those that were not. Sometimes they confused liberty with license, the accumulation of wealth and money with success, religion with just private inspiration, and the like. The media in the U.S.A. is one of the prime disseminators of this "civil religion," but another variety of it is found in many religious denominations founded here in the U.S.A. In them political and religious causes can be quite intertwined. At times, too, those newly arrived into the predominantly Protestant or secular society seemed reluctant to bring their distinctly Catholic point of view to the discussion, still feeling inferior and well aware that they were newcomers.


14. The large number of marriages of mixed faiths, the increasing incidents of divorce and the instability of the family, the pressures that new circumstances and economic insecurity placed on family life and relationships especially with both parents working outside the home--all characteristic of the whole of U.S. society in the last decades--took their toll on the Catholic population and affected its identity as well. The present moment of history for Catholics in the U.S.A. and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in other words, is significantly different from that of the immigrant Church and will demand new and more specific structures and actions for living out the faith and especially for passing it on to the next generation.


15. One new characteristic of our age is the growth of feminism. The expanded role of women in society and Church is intensely debated by all. It has affected our sensitivities also to language in our liturgy, prayers, or sermons with the intent of avoiding any use of words that might imply an inferiority on the part of women or that seem to exclude them. The very historical nature of our faith in both the Old and New Testament is seen to come out of a culture much different from our own, one that did not have the same regard for the dignity, role, and rights of women, and that now seems to our age very paternalistic. Women themselves are often divided on how to interpret these new sensitivities as they seek to take their rightful place in Church life and ministry.


16. After this cursory listing of the changes in Church and world and the challenges that faced and will face the Catholics of our diocese, I would like to raise up now for reflection some of the main beliefs and attitudes that have made Catholicism what it is and have created our identity. Finally, I will list some positive suggestions for living out that faith and transmitting it under these new conditions. It is well for us to remember that other groups in the U.S.A. such as the Jewish community and many Protestant denominations, find themselves in similar circumstances. Thus, we can learn much from them and their struggles. Although we are grateful for our past history, we know that we cannot return to the means used by a by-gone age as an adequate aid in facing present challenges. Yet, we respect that past, see in it our roots, and are grateful for the way our ancestors transmitted the faith to us. We wish to remain true to our heritage, even if we know that the present situation will demand a shift of emphasis and of practice. It is also important to remember that no faith is lived in a vacuum and that there are many other pressures on our Catholic population that can affect our identity. One cannot avoid making reference to the differences between Catholicism and the evangelical fundamentalist movements on the rise in the U.S.A., or the New Age philosophies, the many sects, and even the secularizing tendencies found in our society. Often Catholics have not been well enough acquainted with their own tradition to see how it differs from these other tendencies and are not prepared to meet these challenges. We do not deny that faith is a free gift of God and cannot be gained by our own merits. On the other hand, we know that we must assume responsibility for witnessing to and living out that faith in the here and now and of passing it on to the next generation. We know that God will give us every grace to help us in that task.


Identifying Beliefs and Attitudes


17. It is not possible nor necessary to repeat all the essentials of our faith, but there are certain characteristics of Catholic identity that have been constant throughout the ages, that are most important today, and that must be brought again to the fore. They will permit us to see what we have in common with our Protestant friends and at the same time realize what still differentiates us. This, again, cannot be an exhaustive list of essentials but only a cursory listing of some major beliefs that have a strong influence on Catholic practice and identity. We hold in common with all Christians so many beliefs that are fundamental to our faith: a profession in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the inspiration of scriptures, and a host of other important and fundamental beliefs that will not be repeated here.


18. The Catholic Church is a creedal Church. Through the course of time we found that the needs of preaching, teaching, and defending the faith forced us to the gradual formulation of a series of statements that embodied the basic beliefs we inherited. We should not minimize the importance of a correct formulation of the faith and the need for every Catholic to be aware of those truths. Good practice follows correct belief and so there must be a concern on the part of all that Catholic belief be correctly stated and transmitted. Passing on memorized sentences, however, will not of itself guarantee the transmission of a living faith. For faith is a whole way of life and not just the repetition of verbal formulae. It is also important that distinctions be made between the essentials of the faith, such as the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, and what still is less certain or the accidentals, such as purgatory, limbo, or apparitions. On the other hand, one should not minimize the importance even of the latter since often they help to hold the whole vision together and are necessary consequences of a major belief. So, for example, the rosary is not essential to the Catholic faith, yet it is a way of integrating Marian devotion to the whole mystery of salvation and a venerable and well-tested practice. Receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday is not essential to the faith, but it is a visible sign of one's commitment to constant conversion, the acknowledgment of one's need for salvation, and a sign of membership in a community dedicated to these values. Statues are not essential to the expression of our faith, but they attest to our constant belief in the communion of saints. Many more examples could be cited.


19. The Catholic concept of God tries to keep two aspects in balance. Our God is a God of love and very near to us; as such, God is a part of our lives and the happenings of this earth. But God is also the all-powerful and ineffable before whom we stand always in awe. This bonding in our relationship with God and the mixture of both the familiar and the remote, fostering a sense of deep reverence, runs through all Catholic belief and practice. It produced lofty Gothic cathedrals and warm Raffaello Madonnas, Gregorian Chant and Mozart's Ave Verum.


20. We Catholics view the idea of Church in a very special way. We see the Church as a privileged instrument in the building of God's Kingdom, as a means of continuing the mission of Jesus Christ. The concept of the Universal Church, close to our concept of the word Catholic itself, means that we never lose sight of this larger or universal dimension, even when we are very immersed in our local Church life. Our concept of Church is embedded in our view of how God relates to this world and to us human beings. Without denying that God can communicate directly with individuals, we see that the normal way of such interaction is through the mediation of the Church. That the giving of grace can be mediated through human instruments is a part of our belief and wonderment. Church is not just the occasion of grace but also the means. We Catholics are often perceived by others, thus, as having a love/hate relationship to our Church. We do not hesitate to call her Mother, but we seem sometimes to want to declare our independence as well. Most of all, we accept internal criticism of her as coming from within the family, but defend her when that criticism comes from the outside. We want to be totally a part of her life and regret that we cannot make her witness better. Every hurt to her we sense deeply. She is home to us.


21. The privileged moments or instruments of grace that are a part of Church for us are both Word and Sacrament. The Catholic tradition does not separate these two aspects of worship nor relegate the inspiration of the Word to private or personal revelation. We do not separate the Word of God from the living faith community, the Church, nor from its living tradition. At this new moment of history we are privileged to rediscover the importance of God's Word in our lives and in the life of the Church. We no longer can see ourselves or our identity as separate from the importance of that Word. Thus we see that we have much in common in this regard with so many of our Protestant friends. In this respect our identity is not sought over against their beliefs and practices. We are delighted we have so much in common with them. We do not hesitate, however, to bring to the interpretation of that Word of God all the tools of modern research, so that we can better understand it in its original context, as well as see its application and importance to our own day. We are never fundamentalists but see the Scriptures as a part of a living tradition, as a part of the Church.


22. We are also proud of our sacramental heritage, so important for our Catholic identity. Because all sacraments tie us into the historical events of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge ourselves as a historically oriented Church, one that keeps always in remembrance those salvific events and that at the same time looks forward in hope to the return of the Lord Jesus. The Risen Lord's promise that He would remain with us through the action of the Holy Spirit permeates our prayer and actions. The sacramental signs and symbols that fill our worship and life help us to focus on the fullness of Christ's presence in our midst and in the world around us. These signs unite us to Christ and to each other in his fullness. Our approach to the world and its events becomes "sacramental," we see God's presence through the Holy Spirit working among us and in the world.


23. For these reasons all the sacraments, but especially the celebration of the Eucharist, have been so central to our Catholic identity. In the Eucharist, in particular, everything that characterizes our identity is in evidence: the proclamation of God's Word, the remembrance of the salvific events of the life of Jesus Christ, the universalism or openness of God's love for all, our relationship to all those living and also to those who have gone before us, and then the waiting for the Lord's coming in fullness. We also are convinced that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is really present under the appearances of bread and wine and for that reason the historical events surrounding his sacrifice on Calvary and his resurrection are also present to us as he intercedes for us at the throne of his Father. That real presence means that we have a special veneration for the sacred species, including those not consumed during the Eucharist itself. In fact, historians of our tradition tell us that the barometer of our faith during our history as a Church has been the care extended to the sacred species after the Eucharistic celebration.


24. Because we believe in mediated grace and the Church as an instrument of salvation, we also see the Church as a community that reconciles, strengthens, and heals, reconciling through Baptism, strengthening in Confirmation, reconciling and strengthening in the Eucharist, reconciling in the sacrament of Reconciliation, healing, strengthening, and reconciling in the Sacrament of the Sick. Marriage is also a sacrament to us and we see the love between spouses as a sign of Christ's love for the Church. Those who are empowered through the sacrament of Holy Orders minister in a special way as representing Christ the Head. We believe at these moments of the conferring of a sacrament more is present than just the material act that is visible. We never cease to marvel at God's way of working with us and of being present to us and do not limit that presence to just these sacramental acts, even though they hold a special place in our lives and in our identity. We know God is present in others, in events, in our joys and sorrows.


26. To understand Catholic identity it is also necessary to see how strong the concept of the communion of saints is in our belief and daily lives. Those who preceded us are very much alive in our midst. This can distinguish us from many Protestant denominations. Just as we pray for each other here on earth, we continue to pray for and to people after they die. That bond also permits us to see in Mary and the saints those who are close to God and thus able to intercede for us. At the Eucharist we call forth those bonds with the living members of the Church and with those who have gone before us. Such bonds are also expressed in our relationship to the saints and the tradition of taking a saint's name at baptism and confirmation. Although we never deny that the source of our salvation is Jesus Christ alone, we continue to keep alive our intimate relationship with the other members of the communion of saints and see us bound together in so many ways. Such bonding remains important to us. Perhaps no other belief affects Catholic practice and identity in the concrete as much as this one.


26. In the Catholic tradition there is also a balance between the personal and the communal. Our faith is very personal in that it touches the life and ultimately the salvation of the individual person. But it is not private and individualistic. Special gifts or charisms are meant to build up the whole community. Although our tradition does not deny that God can communicate directly to the individual, we see such moments as rare. This both/and position is not always easy to maintain but it is the source of our concern for others, our concept of Church, as well as our social involvement. We see the importance of belonging to a community of believers and are proud to be called a people of God. Although the Catholic Church admits the possibility of private revelations and visions, it is most cautious about recognizing their validity and even more so about seeming to impose their contents on the members of the Church.


27. Within our concept of Church as communion, we also have a specific concept of authority as a service of unity. We take seriously the mandate of binding and loosing given to Peter by Jesus in Matthew's gospel and to all the apostles in John's gospel. These mandates we believe are connected to how we continue to do God's Will on earth, how we continue to respond to God's Holy Spirit, in our own day, as the apostolic ministry is continued through the Pope and bishops. This hierarchy or authority structure for us is a way of assuring peace and unity in the Church and of maintaining orthodoxy of belief. We accept the Petrine office as that of the chief servant of that unity and orthodoxy. We accept that one cannot be a member of the Church without being united to Peter. We accept the Pope's teaching authority and that of the bishops as Christ's way of guaranteeing that he would be with the Church always and protect it from error in faith. At times for some this obedience may be a burden, especially when the demands are heavy and people see the tragic weaknesses, shortcomings and misuses of authority, but we accept this role of a teaching authority for the sake of unity and as a part of the guarantee of God's infallible guidance of the Church. We know, too, that all the members of the Church and Church structures themselves, because of this human dimension, are in constant need of conversion. We Catholics also have a strong fear of new divisions. We do not want our unity to dissolve into relativism in belief, because we have seen in our history how very divisive and corrosive a denial or lack of concern for truth can be and how difficult it is to regain unity once lost.


28. The Catholic Church also has a special relationship to this world. Since the Kingdom of God is lived out on this earth in the here and now, the Church takes a positive attitude to what happens in this world and is actively engaged in fostering human development. Salvation is not a nirvana or a withdrawal from this world. Out of this conviction the Church has developed a whole set of teachings on social issues that goes under the title of Catholic social teaching. Social concerns is not extraneous to the faith but the way it is lived out concretely in society. They are the proof that one has understood the precept of love of neighbor and love of God. Especially in the last one hundred years the Church has been active in refining its teaching in that regard, emphasizing the rights of the individual but also the need to see the values of the whole community or the common good. Again it has tried to keep a both/and position, balancing the good of the individual and that of the community as such.


29. The Church does not take a negative attitude toward this world but a positive one, because God was incarnated in this world and because it is here where the Kingdom of God is to be realized. Nor does the Church see itself as possessing the fullness of that Kingdom over against all the rest. Thus, it does not identify any group with the Kingdom of Satan. It does not divide everything into secular and sacred spheres, as if the Christian lived in a dualistic world, although at times with difficulty, the Church has tried to absorb into its life and ministry all the truths that it has found in the world. For this reason, the Church has always been interested in art, architecture, music, literature, history, and more recently the physical and the human sciences. The Church sees all aspects of life and this world as having a new destiny in the light of the Incarnation. Thus, the Catholic attitude towards this world tends to be positive.


30. Vatican Council II (1962-65) has decisively affected Catholic identity in our day and age. Scholars note the following as salient points of renewed emphasis that characterized that Council's presentation of Catholic doctrine and practice: an updating of the Church to the needs of the twentieth century ("aggiornamento"), an accent on constant reformability in the life and structures of the Church itself, a renewed awakening to the social mission of the Church, an appreciation of the value of regional and local manifestations of the Church leading to a greater degree of inculturation, a renewed attention to the Word of God--especially in its liturgical context, an emphasis on collegiality within the Church, an affirmation of the value of religious freedom for all, an appreciation of the increased and active role of the laity, a strong and vibrant ecumenical thrust, and a positive assessment of dialogue with other religions (see Avery R. Dulles, S.J., The Reshaping of Catholicism, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, pp. 19-33). Our present identity consists in working out together the implications of these focuses for our personal and communal lives. We are finding that several of these accents challenge us deeply here in the U.S.A. and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as we seek to renew our tradition in the light of that Council. I would cite in particular the importance of the role of the laity and the renewal of collegial structures within the Church.


31. Another area where this both/and tradition is important is that of prayer. Communal prayer, especially the Liturgy, is vital to our faith, but at the same time we have never neglected personal prayer and the contemplative dimension of our lives. This balance between the communal and personal in prayer is one of the finest aspects of our tradition. A renewal of the contemplative aspects of our tradition is usually accompanied by a deepening of the communal dimension as well. We can rightly be proud of that contemplative tradition that corresponds also to the needs of the human person. Where these two aspects are not developed--namely, the communal or liturgical and the contemplative--we have seen in our tradition that people can often place too much emphasis on external rubrics or on apparitions and private phenomena that can lead to aberrations in the faith.


32. We Catholics have always professed a moral code that flows directly from and expresses our faith convictions. We know that it requires discipline and asceticism, but we Catholics never forget that we belong also to a reconciling and forgiving Church. That moral code involves many values, but in our day we Catholics are known for our special concern for the dignity of every person on this earth. Thus, Catholic identity has a great respect for life: concern and advocacy for the child in the womb, for all the sick, for the homeless, for those in our society who are marginalized, for the abused, and for the elderly form a part of Catholic attitudes and values. It has dictated our positions with regard to war and capital punishment. For us Catholics the primacy of conscience, rightly formed, has always been central for moral decision making. Some in our society have perceived us at times as being narrow in our moral code, because we have shown a natural tendency to move slowly in accepting modem trends with regard to sexual morality.


33. We are also a Church that evangelizes. We did not use that word in the past, but the reality was present. We felt a need to share our faith convictions with others. We took seriously the mandate of Jesus in the gospel to go and teach all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Trinity. At times in our history our treatment of non-believers was not laudable, but we have grown in our respect for religious liberty and for the sacredness of the individual conscience. In spreading the faith we have been generous in supplying personnel and money to the missions in other parts of the world.


Passing on the Faith


34. It is people who pass on values to the next generation. For the faith to be transmitted there is need of witnesses who live that faith and show by their attitudes and actions what the contents of their faith is all about. The faith must be lived out at home, at work, at leisure. Perhaps such action is not easy in our day because of the many pressures working against the values inherent in the faith and the constant assaults on one's values by the media. To witness effectively it is also important that one have strong support groups and cultivate associations with people who share the same values and attitudes.


35. Faith is not lived or transmitted in a vacuum. It also requires cultural forms if it is to be "incarnated" and made a part of daily life. These cultural manifestations are especially visible at the pivotal moments of life: births, deaths, weddings, periods of transition, birthdays, anniversaries, sicknesses, and the like. They are a part of family life and of life in a faith community. They are marked by special music, stories, dance, art, and foods. For people of faith these manifestations usually use symbols that recount stories important for the history of the Church, both local and universal. Rituals, because of the shared values they express, have always been very important for maintaining and transmitting the faith.


36. Because Catholics live in such a pluralistic society today, they must remain very close to the Church if they are to understand, live, and pass on the faith tradition. Regular participation in the Eucharist became an obligation laid down by the Church so that Catholics could fulfill their duty of worshipping God. In addition to that reason, Catholics now need participation at Sunday Eucharist more than ever in order to be a part of the living Church, to grow in their faith, and to pass it on to the next generation. Participation in parish liturgies is also an effective sign of identity. To maintain one's identity today one needs identification with the whole community. The parish must, thus, be a welcoming and challenging place for spiritual renewal and growth. Even though these qualities are never totally present there, the parish can help to maintain one's identification with the tradition. In that setting the Catholic also becomes acquainted with the traditional symbols of the faith, with the attitudes and beliefs of Catholics, and with the on-going struggles of the community to remain faithful to the teaching of the gospel. The Catholic is also made alert to the negative temptations and ideas in society that one, as a citizen of this country and a part of the whole American culture, must struggle with. The Catholic must maintain a critical but loving attitude toward the Church and the individual parish. For these reasons, in times of cultural change and upheaval and in those circumstances such as our own where Catholics are a major factor in all aspects of society, participation at Sunday Mass is even more necessary than when Catholics were a minority living in their ethnic neighborhoods.


37. The primary locus for transmitting the faith, however, remains the family. It is here that the child first hears about God and becomes socialized into the faith and its cultural expressions. It is especially important that all in the family share that responsibility. Of particular weight in transmitting the faith today can be the role of grandparents and relatives, the extended family. It is a shame if the child does not become accustomed to those signs that traditionally marked every Catholic home: crucifixes, family bibles, pictures of Our Lady and Jesus, pieces of palms, rosaries, Catholic literature, and other cultural manifestations. These signs are especially important when they form a part of anniversaries and the celebration of pivotal moments of life. The handing on of baptismal robes, rosaries as gifts for first communion, bibles for Confirmation, sick-call sets at marriage and the like, are important parts of Catholic socialization. It is a shame that so often today one cannot find objects of this sort that show a certain artistic value. Often they are maudlin and sentimental. It is good to see the increase of Byzantine ikons in such household settings.


38. Catholic schools and religious education programs still remain primary instruments of Catholic socialization. They must inculcate knowledge of the faith, how that faith interacts with all knowledge, an appreciation for the values of the Catholic tradition and the opportunity to appropriate them correctly in a lifestyle faithful to that tradition, a sense of belonging to the Catholic community, a love for the Church with all its positive divine and human resources and despite its negative human weaknesses, an appreciation for the Catholic attitudes to this world--all the factors, that is, that fall under the word socialization. In fact, more than ever before in the history of our Church in the U.S.A., the schools today are absolutely necessary to fill this function. It is not just a question of learning facts about the faith, but also how that faith interacts with all knowledge about the human person and this world. Needless to say, this task requires of the administrators and teachers a deep faith commitment. They must see this passing on of the faith as a vocation and calling on their part. It is in the schools that one imperceptibly acquires a sense of the Catholic ethos. So often one finds that many young Catholics, whenever they leave active participation in the Church during their college years, are rejecting, not the substance of their faith, but some less significant accidentals or even aberrations that they have identified with Catholicism.


39. Religious education programs for all age levels are necessary if our people are to continue to probe our faith and relate it to everyday life. Neither the school nor the religious education program is a substitute for the home. They can only enhance what is being communicated in the family and by themselves are not sufficient. Because of time constraints, these programs must restrict themselves to the essentials. They place a heavy burden on the catechists who must do so much in so little time. So many of the characteristics of the Catholic schools must also be found in these programs.


40. Catholics must make their own certain concepts and attitudes that will be necessary for these means to succeed. First of all, they must recognize that the schools and the religious education programs are a "public trust," that is, they are the responsibility of all members of the Church, just as the public school system is the responsibility of all in society. Catholics cannot cease to contribute after they no longer have children in these programs. Secondly, they must continue to grow themselves in the understanding of their faith. The need for adult education in the faith cannot be emphasized strongly enough. Thirdly, they will have to continue to form new associations, or bondings, with others who can be a strong faith support to them. These smaller faith support groups were emphasized by the Archdiocesan Synod in 1987 and are most necessary in a pluralistic society such as our own.


41. Because our tradition is one where faith also leads to action, we Catholics must continue to be concerned about the needs of society. Our involvement in social needs is also a way of living out and transmitting the faith. Working with others of like values strengthens our own. These actions will take two directions, working for justice for the underprivileged and providing immediate works of charity for those in need. One cannot forget as well the duty we have to bring our faith into our workplace. The example of Catholics in all walks of life will do much to help others, especially younger Catholics, understand the faith and its demands.


42. As a part of Catholic socialization it is also necessary that Catholics have a better understanding of the history of their Church. Such knowledge helps keep in perspective the present situation and avoids repeating the flaws of the past. History also helps to create a sense of belonging and of ownership. One often hears in Catholic circles that one should "sentire cum ecclesia," "be of the same mind as the Church." History helps one to understand that mind or ethos. Every diocese and every parish has its history too. Knowledge of that history is helpful to explain our roots and the present situation as well.


43. Our identification today as Catholics is not done in opposition to Protestantism and Judaism, because we recognize so much that we have in common and rejoice in that fact. Clarifying our own identity, however, is helpful for the ecumenical dialogue that has been so important since Vatican Council II. In this way we contribute to that dialogue and bring to it the best of our tradition. At the same time we do not then exaggerate what are minor differences but place our dialogue on the basis of essentials. It also permits us to join with all such groups in prayer and in those human concerns programs that will result in a better society.


44. The new moment places a special challenge before Catholic societies and institutions. For them the principle of "sentire cum ecclesia" is most important. The Church's concerns must be their concerns. They too must have a knowledge of the history of the Church and of their role in it. It is difficult to see how those who place themselves outside of this concern can be effective purveyors of the faith and helpful in transmitting it to the next generation. This need for a solid Catholic laity in our school and health care system at all levels is most necessary. Attempts today at making such societies and institutions more integrated into parish life and more related to the larger diocesan concerns are helpful steps in the right direction.


45. Because Catholics today are very much a part of the American mainstream, it is necessary that they learn how to discern in our culture that which is good from that which is bad. Whether it be in the area of media, T.V., radio, movies, or literature, Catholics must be able to see whether what is proposed fits into or clashes with our tradition. These moments are not easy nor are simple answers always at hand. For this to be effective, it is mportant that opportunities are available for Catholics to engage the Catholic tradition in such reflections. We do not have many such serious organizations in the parishes where, in an atmosphere of prayer, reflection, and absolute openness, the Catholic laity can engage the scriptures and the Catholic tradition about those issues so important to their lives as people of faith and as U.S. citizens. Although Catholics are a part of the U.S. mainstream, we have not yet had a major influence on public means of communication. We cannot expect the secular press to do this reflecting for us, since so often they tend to describe the Catholic ethos through non-historical stereotypes. Sometimes this can be done through Catholic newspapers and magazines, provided that their scope goes beyond that of trying to agitate constantly the Catholic community by contrasting in their pages the extreme points of view, many of which opinions on both sides often have little to do with Catholic tradition.




46. One of the main reasons why Pope John XXIII called Vatican Council II was to bring the Church up-to-date. He used the term "aggiornamento." But up-dating is often very painful, especially if one is full of fear that the substance might change. The more conservative voices in the Church remind us that not all up-dating is truly such but can be also a distortion of the tradition. Only when we understand the Church's tradition and its history deeply are we able to make such judgments. More liberal voices become impatient that the Church does not respond quickly enough to the needs of the times. They are eager to move ahead. Although it is painful in the Church at times because of the lack of dialogue between these groups, they are both necessary for growth. The conservative voices force the more liberal to examine deeply the roots of a practice before changing it. The more liberal voices keep the Church from becoming stagnant and force it to be constantly re-examining its positions and the grounds for them. Such a dialogue must always be held in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, guided by a will to respond to the Holy Spirit, if it is to be fruitful. I hope that during this year we will be able to sustain just such a dialogue on the the nature of Catholic identity and not alienate those on either side of the spectrum.


47. As in the past, I hope that this document will be discussed by all in the Archdiocese, that abundant feedback will be forthcoming and that we can then write a much better second and final draft before the end of our anniversary year. More than anything else, however, it is my personal hope as bishop that we will all take advantage of this discussion about Catholic idnetity to re-enforce our own involvement in Church life, to strengthen our own faith commitment, to be a part of the search for means to assist in passing on the faith we have inherited, and to cast some light on this very illusive but important Catholic heritage that comes out of our deep faith and our tradition.


48. May the process itself be a source of blessings to all of you. May God be with you!


Most Reverend Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.

Archbishop of Milwaukee


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

October 22, 1992