Bishop Stika celebrates special Mass for second consecutive year as more East Tennessee Catholics receive sacrament
By Bill Brewer
Adults from around the Diocese of Knoxville gave testament May 1 to the fact it’s never too late to receive the sacrament of confirmation.
As the diocese focuses on changing the age for confirmation from high school teens to students in the fifth and sixth grades, Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated a Mass of Confirmation for adults, administering the sacrament to 46 women and men representing 14 parishes and a mission.
The confirmandi and their family and friends gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father David Boettner, rector of the cathedral.
Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral, was the master of ceremonies, and Father Richard Armstrong, assistant director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation, directed the confirmandi. Deacon Dan Alexander served as Deacon of the Word.
Bishop Stika has expressed his desire for all Catholics in the diocese to have the opportunity to receive the sacrament of confirmation. He doesn’t want to see anyone fall between the cracks.
The bishop last year celebrated the diocese’s first Mass of Confirmation for adults, where 54 people received the sacrament. He plans to hold the Mass annually.
During the Mass, Bishop Stika heard the confirmandi’s renewal of their baptismal vows before the laying on of hands over the entire group. He then anointed each of the adults individually.
Bishop Stika congratulated the confirmandi on receiving the sacrament and making such an important statement of faith.
“Normally, I’m used to confirming high school kids. You all look a little bit more mature. And it’s always been the tradition for confirmation that the bishop would ask questions of those being confirmed,” Bishop Stika said, alerting those being confirmed that he would be quizzing them.
“Imagine what it was like when Jesus ascended into heaven. … Remember what the angel said to the apostles and the disciples? Basically, it was like ‘quit standing around here; be about your business. Go baptize and teach about the faith,’” Bishop Stika said. “Just think of yourselves. Or all of us in this church today. Sometimes we have to make choices that are very difficult: the yeses and the nos, the right turn or the left turn, the decisions that have to be made. Jesus, knowing about humanity, about all of us – he knows what sometimes we go through trying to make choices.
Sometimes they are real easy to make. But other times choices are very difficult. We have to think and reflect and pray about them. Sometimes they have lifelong consequences.”
Drawing a comparison to Jesus’ message to the apostles and His message to Christians today, especially those who are newly confirmed, Bishop Stika said Jesus knew the apostles, knew that they were going to be afraid and confused and would even fight among themselves once He had ascended into heaven.
And Jesus made the apostles a promise, the bishop related.
“The promise that Jesus made was that I will never leave you by yourself,” he said, continuing the Acts account of the apostles and describing how the apostles were fearful of being on their own to spread the faith, away from the physical presence of Jesus. They didn’t know whether Roman soldiers or the chief priests and Sadducees were going to march them away and crucify them, too, because they were followers of Jesus.
But bursts of wind and tongues of flame appeared above the apostles, prompting them to become on fire for Jesus and to fan out across the world spreading the faith.
“What does that mean for all of you? Are you going to be strong in your faith? Two weeks ago I visited a friend who was dying, and I sat by his bedside for a week. I was very sad about that. Mother Teresa, who soon will be canonized a saint, said sometimes it’s hard to look at Jesus. That’s true, especially when we see the very difficult things that happen in our lives,” Bishop Stika said. “I have a question for you. How many of you are perfect? Raise your hand. When I meet with the RCIA folks I always tell them if you want to join the perfect Church, as soon as you join it you find it isn’t so perfect anymore.”
He pointed out that Jesus knows we aren’t perfect. He set about to send us something to help us on our journey of faith in life, “some kind of strength so that in those moments when we would rather just hide our face or run the other way, Jesus would say to us come and follow me. Pick up your cross or make my cross part of your cross.”
Bishop Stika said there will be times when it is difficult to be a follower of Jesus. “That is what we’re going to pray for.”
He told the confirmandi that that sacrament of confirmation is the conclusion of three sacraments: the first is baptism and the second is receiving Holy Communion.
“In another moment in your life, you did something pretty spectacular. You made a statement of faith when somebody said to you ‘the body of Christ’ or they said to you ‘the blood of Christ.’ What did you say? Amen, a word that means I believe. It’s a statement of faith,” the bishop said.
Soon after, Bishop Stika asked the confirmandi to make another statement of faith. He asked them if they believe in God, if they reject Satan, and if they believed in the forgiveness of sins, “what we pray so often in the Creed.” He then explained the meaning of the ancient prayer in the laying on of hands to invoke the Holy Spirit.
“Anytime we have a little opening in our heart, God fills it. When we least expect it, God fills that opening because God wants to be part of our life. God created us, but he wants that special relationship,” he said, adding that God has given us that wonderful gift of free choice, and that the last thing He wants of us is to be robotic in our approach to Him and life.
“He wants us to give ourselves to Him. He gives us that guidance so we can say ‘yes, Jesus, I love you with everything that I am.’ Anytime you give your heart to God, He’s going to be there. That is the assurance of Jesus himself. That is why He died for us on that cross, because He wants to have that relationship with us. And that is my prayer for all of you who are being honored and confirmed. Keep your relationship with God alive. Don’t just look at God when you’re in trouble,” the bishop told those being confirmed. “You’re going to be facing all kinds of choices and decisions. I pray that all of those choices and decisions will include the Holy Spirit, and that you know deep in your heart that God loves you, and He invites you to love Him and all your sisters and brothers.”
He told those not being confirmed that Jesus demands the same of them – to love, to respect, to care for one another, and to build His kingdom.
Bishop Stika initiated the Rite of Confirmation within Mass for adults in the Diocese of Knoxville in 2015. More than 50 adults from 16 diocesan parishes were confirmed at the cathedral. The confirmation is for baptized adult Catholics, not for RCIA catechumens or candidates, who are confirmed during the Easter Vigil Mass.
To identify the confirmandi, the diocesan Office of Christian Formation sent out notices to all parishes in the diocese asking whether there were any adult Catholics who have never been confirmed, Father Armstrong said.
Bishop Stika requires that candidates be parishioners in good standing, have an understanding of the sacrament of confirmation (be properly instructed), and be properly disposed and able to renew their baptismal promises.
“These are individuals who are baptized and have received first Communion. They are in good standing in their church, and they just haven’t been confirmed,” Father Armstrong said, adding that “for whatever reason they were never confirmed.”
He said the adult confirmation Mass will be held each year near Pentecost, so adults wanting to be confirmed at next year’s adult confirmation Mass should contact their pastors.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for candidates to receive the sacrament. Confirmation seals baptism and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is like a personal Pentecost,” Father Armstrong said.
For more information on adult confirmation, go to http://dioknox.org/offices-ministries/christian-formation/adult-confirmation-2/. ■