Mass held for women and men religious
By Bill Brewer
Women and men religious serving in the Diocese of Knoxville, who were recognized Feb. 4 at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Richard F. Stika, filled the front pews of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City.
Among those represented at the Mass were Alexian Brothers, Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, Glenmary Home Missioners, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., Apostles of Jesus, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and Dominican Sisters, as well as lay communities Secular Carmelites and Institute of the Holy Family.
Those are just some of the religious communities serving the diocese. Bishop Stika, who has encouraged religious communities to live and work in the diocese, has seen the number of orders serving in the diocese grow substantially.
Currently there are more than 50 men and women serving in more than 15 orders within the diocese.
Bishop Stika began his homily by pointing to the religious sisters and brothers in attendance and then explaining, tongue in cheek, that they are the ones who never give at Mass during the collection.
Bishop Stika’s one-liner knowingly belied the contributions those who have entered religious life make on a daily basis in the diocese. Bishop Stika’s dedication to the consecrated life and those in it never wavers, demonstrated by his closeness to the various orders serving under him … and the fact they laugh heartily at the zingers he tosses their way.
The bishop frequently acknowledges those serving in religious life, often saying they reflect Jesus Christ in our community, and he did so during the Mass by thanking the religious consecrated men and women in the diocese for their vocation and service to the diocese.
“You can talk about characteristics of becoming a religious sister, or a religious brother, or a deacon, but eventually it becomes something that is deep down, the very essence of who you are, in your heart and in your soul, and in your very being. It’s just like when two people fall in love. It’s the same thing. It’s something intrinsic in the depths of the person,” Bishop Stika said.
He said discerning a religious life is akin to an engagement between two people or individuals trying to find the right university for their academic pursuits.
“In religious life, the same thing happens. They look at that particular community or vocation and they analyze it and they pray about it and reflect on it. The heads of their communities do the same thing. They prod and they ask questions and they watch carefully,” he noted.
The bishop also recognized those whose vocations involve marriage or single life, saying their dedication in answering Jesus Christ’s call to follow God also is to be admired.
“The same Jesus who called you who are married or part of the single life to your vocation, to your lifestyle, that same Jesus calls them to be of particular service to the Church as well. One of the questions I used to always get when I was doing vocation work for the Archdiocese of St. Louis was ‘how do you know if you have a vocation?’ Is it like a lightning bolt? Maybe, but usually not,” he said. “A vocation to be called forth. There is one thing that all of us share in common. All of us are called to a vocation of following Jesus, who invites us to a greater awareness of God being present in our lives.”
Whether we are called to a life in religious service or to a married or single life, if we believe in God and follow closely the teachings of Jesus Christ, then we all share in the joy of a life consecrated, the bishop said.
“Remember, it’s because of Jesus. Jesus is the reason for our existence. He allows us to know the Father and be touched by the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Stika said. “Just as the religious consecrated men and women felt that call from Jesus to do something with their lives, we give thanks to almighty God for the lives we have. All of us, if we are quiet enough and if we listen, God will invite us moment to moment of every day to be a part of His plan.”
Bishop Stika noted that as parishioners take part in Easter by celebrating the risen Christ, and as we welcome those who are coming into the Church at Easter Vigil, it is important that all of us reflect God’s presence in our lives every day.
“We as Christians, we as Catholics, we as those people who follow Jesus, are called to be like those in the Gospel, to be a light, not necessarily to say loudly ‘Look at me, I’m a believer.’ Some people do that. But what is a stronger way to say that? Living a life of faithfulness; living your life as a reflection of Jesus; living your life as the hands, the feet, the face and the smile of Jesus; living our lives as followers of Jesus, living examples of faith,” Bishop Stika said.