Diocese holds Masses for legal, medical, first-responder, military communities

By Dan McWilliams

The Diocese of Knoxville once again recognized the importance of the legal, medical, law enforcement-first-responder, and military professions in East Tennessee by celebrating Masses for their members.

Members of the health-care professions were the focus of a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Oct. 14.

Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated the annual White Mass before an assembly that included many involved in the healing ministries.

“Today we celebrate a very special Mass,” the bishop said. “Last week I celebrated the Red Mass, which is for those involved in the legal community. Tomorrow I have the Blue Mass, which honors those involved in law enforcement, firefighting, EMTs, and those who serve our communities.

“We pray today for our sisters and brothers who are part of the healing ministry of the world and of the Church, that they may continue to do that with compassionate love as they do now.”

Cathedral rector Father David Boettner concelebrated the White Mass, and Deacon Walt Otey assist ed. Readings were proclaimed by Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, MD, medical director of the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, and Dr. Dana Martin, a Sacred Heart parishioner and orthodontist.

In his homily, the bishop spoke of suffering, and he recalled the life of former diocesan seminarian Jeff Emitt, who died of cancer before he completed his studies. In the midst of his sufferings, Mr. Emitt asked to see Bishop Stika.

“He said, ‘Bishop, I want you to know this.’ He said, ‘Some days I just feel miserable because of the chemo and the drugs and the pain. But I want you to know this: whenever I am feeling bad, or if I have to have chemo or a shot, I’m offering it up for you as the bishop.’ For two reasons, he said, ‘First of all, you need all the help you can get.’ I don’t know if that was good or not. But he said, ‘You took a chance on me by accepting me into the seminary.’ And then he died.”

A member of Mr. Emitt’s cancer support group wrote Bishop Stika and said he would offer his illness up for the bishop, and a third person from the group did likewise, the bishop said.

Bishop Richard F. Stika accepts the gifts for the White Mass Oct. 14 from health care professionals Marie Labbe (center) of St. Alphonsus Church, Diana Seaver (left) of All Saints Church, and Ruth Pavelchik of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade.

“We don’t like to suffer. But what I’ve learned from dealing with cancer patients and people who are near the end of their journey here on earth, they said combining their sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus gives that suffering a purpose,” Bishop Stika said. “It’s not like ‘God is striking me down’ or ‘I should be miserable,’ but it gives them a purpose. We all need a purpose in life.”

Healing was high on Jesus’ priorities whenever he came to a new place, the bishop said.

“When Jesus entered a town, where was the first place he went? White Castle? The temple? Not usually,” Bishop Stika said. “Usually when he entered a town or a village, the first thing Jesus did was to teach and to heal.”

Jesus invites us to be His healing presence, the bishop said.

“It’s one of the basic beliefs, to reach out to the sick: a work of mercy.” Bishop Stika said he prays for more than just those who are sick in the body.

“At Mass we pray for the sick. I always like to pray for the sick of the mind, of the body, and of the spirit, because there are people who have cancer and heart disease — and diabetes, like me — but there are other people who have great difficulty in life. Chemical reasons in the brain or they were confronted with something in their past, and they struggled, and so we pray for them. The mind and the spirit — there are some people who forgot about God, and they’re lost as well.”

Of those in the health-care world, the bishop said, “Let’s just give thanks to God for those people.”

“To all of you who are involved in health care, I just want to say thank you. So often it’s a thankless position because you’re dealing with ‘sick people.’ Let’s give thanks for those people who surround us in health care and in all these other positions in life, that make our days just a bit easier, just a bit better, so that we can accept.”

In his closing remarks, Bishop Stika told of a bishop who visited an ailing Pope John Paul II near the end of the Holy Father’s life and how the visiting bishop was saddened over the fact that it was likely the last time he would see the pontiff. The future saint then said to the visiting bishop, “Why, are you sick or something?”

“That’s a positive attitude,” Bishop Stika said.

Sister Mariana and Diana Seaver, a registered nurse with the Legacy Clinic, spoke of what the White Mass means to them.

“The White Mass is a special Mass for those in the healing professions, because it acknowledges our role in continuing the healing ministry of Jesus and grants us extra grace and strength to perform our works of mercy,” Sister Mariana said.

Mrs. Seaver called the White Mass “pretty special, because I think there are so many people out there who need our healing, not just physical but emotional — just that hug and bright smile. Sister Mariana brings that to us, and then it’s just wonderful. To be able to share that in the parish community and just to feel validated.”

Knoxville Police Department officers file in as part of the processional for the Blue Mass celebrated Oct. 15 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Police and sheriff’s officers, firefighters, and first responders took part.

Bishop Stika celebrated the Blue Mass at the cathedral on Oct. 15 for firefighters, police officers, and emergency first responders and praised them for their service to the community. Father Boettner concelebrated the Mass.

A Knoxville Police Department honor guard led the Mass processional, accompanied by a Knights of Columbus honor guard.

In his homily, Bishop Stika looked at the police officers in attendance and described a recent encounter he had with one of East Tennessee’s finest.

As he was driving to Chattanooga last Christmas Day to visit Monsignor George Schmidt, who was ill and who died Dec. 29 at the age of 72 after an extended illness, Bishop Stika said he noticed blue lights in his rear view mirror.

Smiling at the officers, including Chief David Rausch of the Knoxville Police Department, Chief James Akagi of the Oak Ridge Police Department, and Chief Stan Sharp of the Knoxville Fire Department, the bishop asked, “How often do you get a police escort?”

After the officer admonished Bishop Stika for a minor traffic infraction, the officer explained, “Reverend, if I give you a ticket today, it’s like giving Joseph a ticket on his way to Bethlehem.”

“I wanted to give him a hug,” Bishop Stika said as he praised the police officers, firefighters, and first responders for running toward danger when others are running away from it.

The bishop prayed for those in emergency services that they may always be safe and always be appreciated by the community.

Father Boettner celebrated a Veterans Mass for members of the military, active duty and retired, at the cathedral on Nov. 12 to commemorate Veterans Day.

Concelebrating the Mass was Father Joe Brando, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who served in the military for 21 years and was chief of chaplains for the Tennessee Army National Guard. In his homily, Father Boettner’s remarks centered on doing what is difficult and doing things that should be shared.

Military veterans in the diocese participated in the annual Veterans Mass Nov. 12 at Sacred Heart Cathedral that was celebrated by cathedral rector Father David Boettner and concelebrated by Father Joe Brando.

“Sometimes the hardest things we do are the ordinary things of every single day. And doing hard things isn’t something we do because we have no fear or no anxiety. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Doing hard things often is what we do in spite of fear and anxiety,” Father Boettner said.

“Being in the armed services is a wonderful calling, a wonderful thing that we honor today. But it’s not that we honor our people in the armed services because they have no fear. We honor them because they do what is difficult in spite of what is scary. They’re often placed in situations that are difficult, often placed in situations where they have to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others. Often, we forget about the sacrifices that they and their families make,” he added.

Father Boettner reminded the congregation that the United States still is engaged in wars around the world and often our lives go on as if nothing is happening.

“We need to stop and pause and remember that there are many people every single day who do what is difficult. They do it in spite of fear and anxiety. They do it at great personal cost, and they do it most often out of love, they do it because they care about their fellow countrymen, many of whom they will never meet and never know,” he added.

He praised veterans for leading by example, leading by courage to go into the world and show Christian fortitude.

Among the veterans attending the Mass were retired Army Maj. Dan McCabe and retired Coast Guard Capt. Walt Hanson. A Knights of Columbus honor guard, several of them veterans, led the military representatives into Mass.

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