Bishop Stika ‘sends forth’ diocese’s newest members during Sending of the Neophytes Mass
By Bill Brewer
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Pentecost on June 4 by recognizing the 227 catechumens and candidates baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil.
Bishop Stika celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and presided at the Sending of the Neophytes ceremony, where those who joined the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Knoxville — after participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — were formally sent into the community to live their faith through their parishes in full communion with the Church.
There were 64 catechumens and 163 candidates who joined the Church in East Tennessee at Easter.
Many of the candidates and catechumens who joined the Church represented the diocese’s parishes and missions at the Mass.
Bishop Stika began the Mass by recognizing two people of faith who recently passed away: Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville and Mark Grissom of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Cleveland. Mr. Grissom was in the RCIA program and was to join the Church at the Easter Vigil, but died before taking part in the Easter Vigil Mass. Mr. Grissom was a popular radio and TV personality in the Cleveland area.
“He had baptism by desire,” Bishop Stika said of Mr. Grissom. Bishop Stika congratulated the diocese’s newest members on their faith formation and gave them a warm welcome from the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, all 51 parishes and missions, and all the diocesan institutions.
He called them a “spectacular class of new Catholics” who have a special place in East Tennessee Church history. They are the last RCIA class to enter the Church from the present Sacred Heart Cathedral. The 2018 class will come into the Church from the new cathedral.
The bishop noted the significance of sending the neophytes on Pentecost, pointing out that Pentecost is significant because it marked Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the faithful following his crucifixion and ascension into heaven. At Pentecost, Jesus inspired the apostles and other believers to go forth and build His church.
Bishop Stika told them that the word Mass means to be sent forth, which describes the neophytes.
He shared words of wisdom with those who were newly baptized, new in receiving the holy Eucharist, and newly confirmed.
“Faith is being missioned, to be sent forth. And God knows that in the world in which we live, there is a lot of brokenness,” he said. “There is a lot of need to hear the words of Jesus.”
Bishop Stika said one of his main messages during confirmation season is that God does not want anyone to fail. “He wants us to succeed. He wants us to spread the message. He wants us to value the message. He wants us to know Jesus, because you can’t teach Jesus unless you know Jesus. That is why being open to the Holy Spirit can transform us,” Bishop Stika said, noting that teaching the world about Jesus is now the neophytes’ mission.
He asked them how they will let themselves be instruments of God to help a world that is broken; how will they use the gifts God has given them to spread God’s message; and how courageous will they be in their new faith.
“Are you willing to help me help build this Church in the Diocese of Knoxville? … The constant question for you is when you leave this earth, will you leave it a better place, just as Bishop Choby did?” Bishop Stika said. “God is now giving you the chance.”
Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation, called the neophytes parish by parish to receive a welcome from Bishop Stika, who presented each with a rosary.
The Mass and ceremony of Sending the Neophytes (or “Missioning the Neophytes”) takes place at the end of the Easter season. On the first Sunday of Lent, those who intend to receive the sacraments of initiation or enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, are sent by their parish to the Rite of Election.
After the Easter Vigil and during the seven weeks of the Easter season, the neophytes enter the period of mystagogy, a time of opening the sacramental mysteries to a deeper level.
Finally, at the end of the Easter season, the neophytes come to the cathedral for Mass celebrated by the bishop, who sends the neophytes back to their parishes to continue their journey of faith, continual conversion, and participation in parish life and ministry, especially in evangelization.
“I am grateful to God for allowing me to be a small part of the conversion process of our catechumens and candidates. It’s a tremendous privilege to be a part of this work of grace; many of these people are following Jesus and entering the Catholic Church at great personal cost. We have to be grateful that grace is so powerful and that the truth is so compelling,” Sister Anna Marie said, noting that the Rite of Election marks the period of intense preparation before the Easter Vigil, coinciding with the first Sunday of Lent.
“Lent is a time of purification and conversion, especially for catechumens and candidates. To be with them at the beginning of Lent and then be reunited with them on Pentecost Sunday, ‘on the other side,’ so to speak, was really a moment of joy,” she said.
When asked if the 227 catechumens and candidates entering the Church is a healthy sign of the Church’s growth in East Tennessee, Sister Anna Marie quoted Luke 13:23.
“This question reminds me of when someone asked the Lord if the number saved would be few. Of course, we are very glad to welcome so many people. But I can’t forget that Jesus responds by saying, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’ All I can say is that, thanks be to God, He has called these people into His Church; may it please Him to keep them there, and us as well. May we all strive to enter by the narrow gate,” she said.