And in the process, Cardinal Dolan would help make history in the diocese by leading Mass with Cardinals Justin Rigali and William Levada, the first time three cardinals have together celebrated Mass at any Diocese of Knoxville church. They were together with Bishop Richard F. Stika as part of the groundbreaking festivities for the new Sacred Heart Cathedral.
It was the second time in two years that Cardinal Dolan has led a talk for diocesan faithful. He was a featured speaker in September 2013 at the Eucharistic Congress in Sevier County at the invitation of Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali.
Cardinal Dolan was inspired then by the vitality of the diocese, marked by the celebration of the diocese’s 25th anniversary, and he welcomed the opportunity to make a repeat visit April 18-19.
“You have chosen this theme, Following Jesus, which I find very moving,” the cardinal said. “Now, we have three stunning examples of people who followed Jesus and who could give us some cues about following Jesus. Those people are St. John Paul II, our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, who just turned 88, and now our Holy Father, Pope Francis.”
Cardinal Dolan delivered his remarks at All Saints Church just prior to celebrating Mass with Cardinals Rigali and Levada and Bishop Stika. The Diocese of Knoxville asked Cardinal Dolan and Catholic lay evangelist Curtis Martin to lead the Following Jesus Conference. Mr. Martin spoke to parishioners earlier in the day on April 18 at Knoxville Catholic High School.
The present and former popes illustrate the very essence of Jesus Christ in their individual strengths, according to the cardinal.
“To follow Jesus takes soul, takes mind, and takes heart, so we have to have Jesus – that’s the soul. We have to know Jesus, and we have to love Jesus. Our last three popes have taught us that in an extraordinarily effective way. St. John Paul II has taught us about soul; Benedict XVI has taught us about the mind; and Pope Francis teaches us about the heart,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan recalled that in 1979 U.S. President Jimmy Carter welcomed St. John Paul to the White House shortly after he was elected pope. President Carter called Pope John Paul the “soul of the world.” And renowned Protestant evangelist Billy Graham in 1978 praised the pope as the “providential prescription for humanity’s exhausted soul.”
The cardinal then described a conversation he had with a Jewish rabbi in the last year of Pope John Paul II’s life when the rabbi friend was leading a group of Jews to Rome to see the pope.
“Someone said, ‘But John Paul is weak; he is frail; he is dying. Why are you going?’ Rabbi Rosenthal said, ‘We’re not going to see his body. We’re going to see his soul,’” Cardinal Dolan recalled.
Cardinal Dolan said those examples showed the pope’s goal, his mission.
“What he would place as his No. 1 priority was the recovery of the primacy of the spiritual. Oozing from John Paul II was a belief in the words of Jesus, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God,’ and everything else will fall into place. Take care of the soul and everything else will work out. Only in God is my soul at rest,” Cardinal Dolan said. “In a world that was exhausted, in a Church that seemed to be listless at that time, we needed that revival of the soul.”
He described St. John Paul II as indefatigable in reminding the faithful of their human dignity and the sanctity of human life.
Cardinal Dolan then turned his attention to Pope Benedict XVI.“What about Pope Benedict? If John Paul is the soul, I reckon Pope Benedict reminds us of the brain – the mind, the brain, the intellect, reason. Benedict, brilliant theologian that he is, was able to remind the world again of the ancient Catholic insight that reason and faith are not enemies at all, but they’re the best of friends,” the cardinal said.
“And isn’t that ever timely in the world of new atheism, where a secular culture on steroids attempts to reduce belief to a private hobby at best, or a silly, oppressive superstition at worst. And with Benedict, how blessed we were to revive the intellectual wattage of the Church,” Cardinal Dolan said.
The pope accomplished that by “affirmative orthodoxy,” emphasizing the positive in everything that is good, decent, and ennobling in human nature to offset the stereotype that the Church is a “nay-saying nag that says no to everything that is fun and liberating,” according to Cardinal Dolan, adding that “the Church is one big, fat Yes!”
Pope Benedict also reminded Catholic faithful and the world of the mortal danger of relativism, the cardinal said. “Remember, he called it ‘the dictatorship of relativism,’ where there is no objective good or evil, where the only deciding normative factor is what I want, or what is convenient for me, or what I perceive to be true.”
Cardinal Dolan then offered Pope Francis as the heart of the Church.
He said when the new pope first took the name Francis, there were early hints that he would lead with his heart, such as reaching out to two cardinals in wheelchairs and going out on a balcony and publicly acknowledging the thousands of people standing in the rain in St. Peter’s Square quickly after his election – simple acts of charity.
“As John Paul to restore the soul of the Church; as Benedict to restore the intellectual wattage of the Church, Francis will want to restore the warmth and the tenderness, the love, the heart of the Church,” Cardinal Dolan said.
“My brothers and sisters in Knoxville, he (Pope Francis) is an extraordinarily shrewd pastor in knowing how critical it is to restore the heart of the Church because you know better than I do that this is our major pastoral problem today,” he added.
Cardinal Dolan pointed out that the popes, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, cared about the soul, mind and heart of the Church and its people in an equal way, but they led with their strengths.
“All three popes had them all in spades – soul, head and heart,” he concluded. “My brothers and sisters, thank God for the popes because they help us follow Jesus.”