More than 160 men assemble for daylong fellowship as bishop delivers address, answers questions
Bishop Richard F. Stika was the keynote speaker for some 165 participants at “A Diocesan Men’s Conference: A Dialogue With Our Shepherd” that was held Jan. 11 at All Saints Church.
The conference was presented by the All Saints Peter and Paul Society and by Sacred Heart Parish’s St. Joseph Society.
Bishop Stika addressed a variety of topics in three talks and a question-and-answer session.
Deceased St. Louis Cardinals baseball announcer Jack Buck late in life said he would ask God, “Why have you been so good to me?” the bishop said, then added that he could ask the same question himself now.
Bishop Stika also told the men at the conference, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are.”
God allowed him to survive bypass surgery, the bishop said.
Referencing the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken,” the bishop said, “sometimes we as men like to take the road that’s more worn because it’s not as difficult.”
“That’s the challenge of our faith—so many people would like the Church to be perfect,” he said. “When I talk to people who are first joining the Church, I ask them, ‘Are you looking to join the perfect Church?’ I said, ‘As soon as you join it, it’s no longer perfect.’ As soon as anyone joins the Church, myself included, it’s no longer perfect.”
Bishop Stika recalled the Knoxville press conference in 2009 announcing his arrival as bishop. When asked at that time what his guiding principle would be as bishop of Knoxville, he said, “to teach Jesus.”
The unforgivable sin, “as I see it, is pessimism,” Bishop Stika said.
“Pessimism gives away the sense of hope. Pessimism takes away the sense of the future. Pessimism takes away our sense of gratitude,” he said.
The bishop also shared stories of St. Louis Cardinals baseball great Stan Musial, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Pope Francis, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
On Pope Francis, “two of the words you hear a lot [from him] are joy and mercy,” the bishop said. The pope said that “goodness has a desire to spread,” the bishop quoted.
“I think we relate to the pope because we relate to him as we would relate to a brother or sister or somebody you’re sitting next to today. I think that’s the appeal of Pope Francis,” Bishop Stika said.
“The reason why I think Pope Francis is so appealing to people? He’s not changing dogma. . . . what he is saying is God is love, God is merciful, and this is my favorite line: he tells people if you’re a Catholic, if you’re a Christian, don’t be a sourpuss. That’s his word, not mine. . . . You know if we really believe in the faith and the gift of Jesus in our life, it’s redeeming and life-giving.”
The Church is “not something far away,” the bishop said.
“The Church is where we assemble together.”
On the liturgy, “the whole idea of Mass is not to be centering on us, but it’s to be directed at God … honoring the God who created us in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup,” Bishop Stika said.
Cardinal Dolan, referencing the conclave that elected Pope Francis, said the cardinals “didn’t elect a pope. Our vote only validated the person the Holy Spirit had chosen,” the bishop quoted.
Offering a lesson from Pope John Paul II, the bishop said that “if we’re joy-filled and faithful, we might not be perfect, but we’ll be holy.”
A young man once told John Paul during one of his visits to America, “Holy Father, you don’t realize the impact you’ve had on young people in America when you visited Denver,” then was devastated when the pope walked away without replying and began greeting other people, Bishop Stika said.
“Then John Paul stops, and he turns around and walks all the way back to the young man and puts his hand on his shoulder and said, ‘And you don’t realize the impact that all the young people had on the pope.’”
In the Q-and-A session, Bishop Stika fielded questions on the Common Core curriculum, bi-ritual faculties, and capital punishment, among many others. He was asked to give a financial snapshot of the diocese and asked what’s the biggest challenge for the Church in today’s society (“to be faithful to who we are as the Catholic Church,” he said).
On the Common Core curriculum, the bishop said that “in the Catholic Church, we don’t have to adopt it. We’re going to participate in what’s helpful to us. We’re not mandated to use any textbooks that we don’t want to use. . . . Sister Mary Marta [Abbott, RSM], who is our superintendent of education, is very vigilant about textbooks and such.
“I have to admit that one of the concerns is if there is an undue cultural influence in the publishing of books . . .it could be that all the publishing companies determine that ‘this is the only book we’re going to publish,’ so then it might be that the Catholic Church, like we’ve done in the past, will have to publish our own books. . . . But we’re not mandated to do what they tell us to do, as long as we’re doing that which is acceptable with math, science, and such.”
The bishop received bi-ritual faculties after his priestly ordination to celebrate Mass in the Maronite Church, the Catholic Church of Lebanon.
Talking about capital punishment brought to Bishop Stika’s mind Pope John Paul II’s involvement in a capital case in Missouri during the pope’s 1999 visit to St. Louis.
“When John Paul came to St. Louis, two weeks prior the Missouri Supreme Court set a day of execution [for Darrell Mease] for the day the pope was going to arrive in St. Louis,” the bishop recalled. “Then the pope got involved. . . . The Cardinal Secretary of State asked if the governor would commute the sentence, so the governor said he would think about it.”
During a prayer service attended by the governor, “as the pope walked by Gov. [Mel] Carnahan, he put his hand on the governor’s arm and he said, ‘Mercy for [Darrell Mease].’ And the governor within a couple of days commuted the sentence,” Bishop Stika said.
“[The governor] said, ‘I remember watching the pope on TV forgive the man who tried to kill him. When I saw him I saw a holy man. When he said, “Mercy for [Mease],” I could not say no.’ And he took a lot of political flak for it because Missouri is a very pro-capital punishment state. But he did it, and the guy’s in prison forever, which I think is actually probably worse—that’s my own opinion,” the bishop said.
Regarding the financial state of the diocese, the bishop said “when I came five years ago, we were really limited as to what we could do.”
“The Annual Stewardship Appeal raised between $925,000 and $950,000 . . . but it wasn’t allowing us to grow where we needed to grow. . . . We took a chance and we changed it around one year and changed it around a little bit more the other year, but as a result of that now we’ve been able to bring parish assessments down. . . . I would say our diocese is very stable and in good financial health because of Deacon David [Lucheon] and the Finance Council that advises me.”
Financially, “we’re fine,” Bishop Stika said.
“We can always do better,” he said. “The Bishop’s Appeal this year will hit $2 million because we’ve implemented new things, but it allows us to do things that we weren’t able to do before. . . . Again, goodness wants to spread, and so wherever I go I always thank people for being generous to all the different collections as well as the Bishop’s Appeal.”
One conference participant asked the bishop what occupation he might have if he weren’t a man of the cloth. The bishop joked that he would probably own White Castle restaurants, whose burgers are his favorite food, then said that law enforcement might have been his chosen path.
“I have a brother who’s a cop,” he said. “I was the chaplain for the police department in St. Louis. Probably among the saddest moments in my life, in three different situations, I anointed a dying police officer and was involved with the family and the police department when they died. . . . I have great admiration for the police and people in law enforcement in general.”
Surprised at not being asked about the new building plans for Sacred Heart Cathedral, the bishop took time out of the Q-and-A to address that topic.
“Sacred Heart Cathedral as a parish doesn’t have something like this [All Saints’ parish hall],” Bishop Stika said. “They have a gym, they have a cafeteria, and they have the Shea Room, and yet we as a diocese ask them for assistance when we want to gather as a family. They’re outgrowing their own parish church.”
Feasibility studies are being conducted on a new cathedral, and its final design and cost are still question marks.
“What I’m hoping is that we’ll build this, and 100 years from now people will say that church has served well,” Bishop Stika said. “I want to build a church that’s magnificent, that’s historic, that’s practical, that will hold up, but not be ostentatious. But I don’t want to say, ‘Let’s build a barn.’ I want to build something that’s magnificent, but ‘magnificent’ is a subjective word.”
The bishop was asked, “How does such a normal everyman’s man become a bishop, and how does it feel to go from being Rick to a bishop?”
“Every day it amazes me,” he said. “My parents … never lived to see me be a monsignor or work for the archbishop. They would be totally amazed that I am a bishop. . . . The only time we saw the cardinal in St. Louis or the bishop was at confirmation or on TV. And here I am running around with the funny hat and I’m on TV and telling you all stories about popes and being at the White House. They would just be amazed about that.”
The bishop’s friends still call him “Rick,” he said.
“In my first parish assignment, the kids called me ‘Frick’—Fr. Rick.”
Another question of the bishop was, how many times a day do you pray.
“I think every moment of every day,” he said.