The presence of Jesus in our midst

Priests, deacons, religious, faithful gather together at Chrism Mass for Holy Week celebration

By Dan McWilliams

The priests, deacons, religious, and faithful from throughout the diocese who filled Sacred Heart Cathedral, the holy oils, the banners from every parish, the music—all combined to make the Chrism Mass on March 22 a very special one for Bishop Richard F. Stika.

“I don’t know about you, but there are certain times that I feel the presence of Jesus in our midst,” the bishop told those filling nearly every seat in the cathedral, “and I felt it tonight, especially during the Communion song, but I really felt Jesus present in our midst, that same Jesus who has invited us to celebrate tonight and to be free of the chains of sin.”

During the Mass the bishop blessed the holy oils used throughout the diocese during the Church year, and he heard the priests’ annual renewal of their commitment to the priesthood.

The bishop was the principal celebrant of the annual liturgy. Concelebrants included Cardinal Justin Rigali, cathedral rector Father David Boettner, and the four deans of the diocese: Father Charlie Burton, Father Ronald Franco, CSP, Father Peter Iorio, and Monsignor Patrick Garrity.

Bishop Richard F. Stika addresses the men and women religious at the Chrism Mass on March 22 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“As we celebrate the Mass of the holy Chrism, we celebrate a number of things,” Bishop Stika said in his homily. “First of all, we celebrate the Diocese of Knoxville. This is one of my favorite Masses where we gather together, and we do so proudly and in a Christian sense. . . . We celebrate diocese, not parish but diocese. The local church: the beautiful Catholic Church of East Tennessee.

“We celebrate the priesthood of Jesus Christ. With this and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper later on thisweek, we celebrate all these individuals from different places around the world, around the United States, men who have received the call of Jesus Christ to ‘come and follow me. I will make you fishers of men’ and women. We celebrate with the deacons. We look forward to the ordination of the deacons in June, another 23 or so, in this cathedral. So we celebrate ministry in a very particular way.”

Bishop Stika also mentioned another hallmark of a Chrism Mass.

“Then we have the blessing of the oils,” he said. “The oil for the sick, for we all know people in our diocese, in our parishes, in our families, who are in need of that precious gift of healing in life, in mind and body and spirit; the oil of catechumens, as we prepare to welcome new members into the Church this Holy Saturday but also through the course of the whole year; . . . and then the holy Chrism, consecrated oil, which we use for the ordination of a priest.

“All these things come together in this night as we celebrate the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst and the gift of faith that is so special and so life-giving.”

The bishop also expressed gratitude “to my brother priests.”

Diocesan priests and deacons process into the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Chrism Mass. During the annual Mass, the priests renew their vows before the bishop.

“I wish to say in the name of all the people of God of this diocese in East Tennessee, thank you for all the things that people know about but also all those moments maybe in a hospital or a parking lot or in a phone call in which you brought Jesus to another person,” he said. “All those people that we know about and those people whose lives you touched by your preaching and your smile and your acts of kindness, to be another Christ, acting in the person of Jesus Christ, for those that you might see on your journey of life and faith.”

Bishop Stika spotlighted vicar general Monsignor Xavier Mankel and Cardinal Rigali, both ordained priests in 1961, as well as Deacon Adam Royal, the Chrism Mass’ deacon of the Word who will be ordained a priest later this year.

“For some, priests a long time, we celebrate with Monsignor Mankel this year and Cardinal Rigali 55 years of priesthood,” the bishop said. “We celebrate others: 15 years and 20 years. We celebrate one who is preparing for his first year. We celebrate priesthood.”

At last year’s Chrism Mass, the bishop talked about the then recently deceased Monsignor Philip Thoni, who served the dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville for more than 65 years.

“Last year I mentioned Monsignor Thoni, for he just had passed into the eternal kingdom just weeks before,” Bishop Stika said. “I was so privileged last year at the ordination of four deacons to use Monsignor’s chalice, and I plan to use the same chalice again this year to honor Monsignor, who faithfully gave to the Church and never thought of retirement and was always faithful with his own type of personality and his own sense of humor and his own commitment to be willing to serve the Church wherever he might be called to serve.”

Bishop Stika singled out two priests in his Chrism Mass audience: Father P.J. McGinnity and Father Joe Brando.

“I’m mindful of the fact today, as we celebrate as a presbyterate, of Father P.J. McGinnity, the pastor of St. Joe’s in Madisonville, a missionary, a true son of Ireland,” the bishop said. “Now he’s not the one who dresses up like a leprechaun. We all know who that is: Father [Michael] Woods.

“Father P.J. McGinnity, who now in his 70s has decided he wants to return home to his sisters and to his family and to be of service to the Church in Ireland, the ‘auld sod,’ the Green Island, the Emerald Isle. So I just want to publicly say to Father P.J., who has been a priest for 25 years, thank you for your service. You remind me of Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way.

“Another priest I’d like to recognize is Father Joe Brando, who never says no, even as he battles cancer. Joe, I want to say thank you to you, because we all know what cancer can do to a person, with the treatments and the challenges and wondering what tomorrow’s going to bring, and yet you never say no to [chancellor] Deacon Sean [Smith] when he says, ‘Can you help us?’”

The two fathers are “an example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ: selfless, not selfish,” the bishop said.

“These two priests just remind us of the eternal commitment that we make to be of service to all those people [seated] behind you, God’s people,” Bishop Stika said, “who are looking to you to be reconciled as sinners, who are looking to you to be baptized and anointed, and to be married and to be buried. They are looking to you so that they might put out their hand or their tongue, when they hear those wonderful words, ‘the body of Christ’ and the ‘blood of Christ,’ so that they might be nourished in their moments of pain and suffering and joy and challenge, so that they might know that when they see you they do see another Christ, that they see Jesus present in their midst through the sacramental life that you extend to them.

Bishop Richard F. Stika breathes on the sacred Chrism during the blessing of the oils at the Chrism Mass March 22. Bishop Stika also blessed the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens. The oils are administered by the bishop or priests to anoint the sick, to anoint those being baptized, and to anoint those being confirmed or being ordained into the priesthood, or to dedicate churches and altars. The Chrism Mass was held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“Let us never be fearful, let us never be forgetful, that the people of God need you until your dying day. . . . People are looking to you not to give up, to be nourished in your prayer and in your eucharistic sacrifice, so that they might know that they can trust you and believe in you, even at times when you might not trust yourself or you might not believe in yourself.”

The bishop also addressed the many religious in the assembly.

“To the consecrated men and women, you represent Christ to us in a particular way, by education, by health care, by being a friendly face through Catholic Charities or whatever ministry that you might do,” he said. “You, too, are true missionaries, for you come from different places, and yet you come to this beautiful Diocese of Knoxville in East Tennessee because Jesus has invited you again to come and to follow. We are indeed enriched by all of you, the different charisms of your communities, because you represent Jesus in our midst.”

Bishop Stika didn’t omit the many faithful gathered at Sacred Heart from his remarks.

“And how about the rest of you folks? . . . All of us together, we’re called to be different people in different situations in this Church,” he said. “Each and every one of us is called to build his kingdom, to be intentional in our discipleship, and that takes a risk. That takes ourselves as who we are as the people of God to be a living invitation of Jesus to everyone, not because we’re strong but because we’re weak, because God takes the weak and he makes them strong. . . . It is indeed a big challenge, for we live in a fragile world, and it’s filled with fragile people. . . .

“What I do know is this: the world needs God. The world needs Jesus and his message.”

After his homily, the bishop heard the priests’ renewal of their commitment to the priesthood. The priests promised to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him” and “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist.”

The bishop also asked the assembly to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon them and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to him, who is the source of salvation.”

Bishop Stika further asked the assembly to “pray also for me, that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness and that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher, and the Servant of all.”

For the blessing of the oils, the balsam for the Chrism was brought forward by Monsignor Bob Hofstetter, the diocese’s senior priest, who is pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Newport.

The oil of catechumens was presented by Betsy Simonis, Christa Bailey, and Rhea Ennist of Sacred Heart Parish. The oil of the sick was brought forward by Judy Schmidt, Lin Helsel, and Gloria Risko, volunteers with the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic. The oil for the Chrism was presented by Father Scott Russell, the most recently ordained priest of the diocese, who is an associate at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga.

The gifts were presented by Brittany Koepke, Nancy Reichen, and Emily Booker, the Chancery office’s newest employees.

The bishop said that “we have a lot to rejoice over.”

“We see the saints that we honor in this local Church of East Tennessee. We see the Catholics, the people who are coming into the Church, way over 200 this year alone. We see the activity in our parishes and in our missions. We see the Church growing through the Home Campaign. We see the Church growing in so many ways. . . . Whatever it is, we rejoice with God to God this evening and hopefully are grateful to the depths of our hearts, knowing that he has allowed us to be his instruments of peace.” ■


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