By Dan McWilliams
Following the lead of Pope Francis in Rome, Bishop Richard F. Stika opened a Holy Door of Mercy at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The opening of holy doors around the diocese and around the world officially launched the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will last until Nov. 20, 2016. Pope Francis, who instituted the holy year, opened a Holy Door of Mercy at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome on Dec. 8.
Pilgrims will receive a plenary indulgence for passing through the Holy Door and going to confession. A plenary indulgence removes all of what is called “temporal punishment” because of sins that have already been forgiven.
Bishop Stika presided at the diocesan celebration, which began in the Chancery chapel and ended, after a procession uphill to the cathedral, with Mass at Sacred Heart.
“The challenge of Jesus is to know that when we see another person, we see someone created in the image and likeness of God,” the bishop said. “The invitation of the Church today and for these next months is to remind ourselves of that. In the gift of Divine Mercy, we’re reminded to trust in Jesus, as St. Faustina reminds us.
“As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta reminds us: Do something beautiful for God every day. And as St. Faustina reminds us: Do an act of mercy on a daily basis, so that not only do we say that we believe in Jesus and in the goodness of God, but actually by our actions we testify to that very fact.”
The bishop said, “We pray for the abundant gift of mercy upon us and the forgiveness of God, for we are all sinners, and we pray that we might always see in each other the presence of that same Jesus, who reminds us to be his face, to be his voice, to be his hands, and to be his feet, but especially to be the heart of Jesus: a heart of mercy and a heart of forgiveness.”
In the Chancery portion of the service, diocesan communications director Jim Wogan read from the papal bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which states that
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. … Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. …
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
The gathering at the Chancery then processed to the cathedral, singing psalms along the way. “This is the Lord’s gate. Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness,” the bishop declared at the cathedral.
At the beginning of Mass, Bishop Stika blessed the water used to sprinkle the assembly.
“Bless this water,” he prayed, “and grant that we, your faithful, sprinkled from this purified font, may receive the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from all evil, and the grace of your protection. In your mercy, O Lord, give us a spring of living water, springing up to eternal life, so that — free from every danger — we might come to you with pure hearts through Christ, Our Lord.”
In his homily, the bishop said, “Pope Francis has given us a tremendous gift this year.
“Beginning today, he opened the Holy Year door in Rome. He entered that door, reserved every 25 years for the opening. He’s given us an extraordinary gift: the gift of mercy. Not a mercy that comes from him, but it’s a mercy that comes from God through Jesus.”
Bishop Stika asked the faithful, “What are you going to do with the year?
“Are there people you have wronged? Seek their forgiveness, as God has forgiven you. Or are there people who have wronged you? Say, ‘you are forgiven,’ as God has said to you, ‘you can be forgiven.’ Don’t let this year go to waste.”
In a world “of violence and terrorism, of judgment and prejudice, more and more we’re becoming separate from each other,” the bishop said.
“We’re in the texting world and in the e-mail world, and our interpersonal skills are evaporating because it’s much easier to text or e-mail.
“But isn’t it good to look eyeball to eyeball with another person, because you don’t see God in the text. You see the words of Motorola or AT&T. But when you look into the eyes of another person, you see someone created in the image and in the likeness of God. ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner’ should be your prayer. ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ shall be your statement of faith. And in a spirit of gratitude, the gift of joy should come to us, as Francis reminds us, for God gives us this year of mercy and grace.”
Cathedral Rector Father David Boettner announced that confessions would be available after Mass and that exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the cathedral during the Year of Mercy, with confession available during adoration in the Year of Mercy.
In his concluding remarks, the bishop gave everyone a “prayer for every day during the holy year: Be not afraid to do something beautiful for God, an act of mercy every day. If you do that, then you’re going to have a good year.”
Four churches in the diocese have been designated with Holy Doors: the cathedral, the Church of Divine Mercy in West Knoxville, the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, and St. Mary Church in Johnson City.
Concelebrating Mass with Bishop Stika were Cardinal Justin Rigali, Father Boettner, and Father Arthur Torres Barona. Monsignor Xavier Mankel was in choir, and Father Joe Reed served as master of ceremonies.
Deacons Sean Smith, Dan Alexander, and Joel Livingston assisted.
Bishop Stika lifted the veil on the Jubilee of Mercy in the diocese on Dec. 6 as he celebrated Mass at the Church of Divine Mercy, where he introduced the special year established by Pope Francis.
Bishop Stika, assisted by Father Hoan Dinh, opened the Holy Doors at Divine Mercy, where the Vietnamese Catholic community there walked in a procession around the Divine Mercy campus to mark the occasion.