The conference was presented by the All Saints Peter and Paul Society and by Sacred Heart Parish’s St. Joseph Society.
The bishop 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 that “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.’”
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 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, capital punishment, and the health-care mandate, 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,” he said).
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.
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.