Adults journey from East Tennessee and beyond to confirmation

More than 50 of varying ages throughout the Diocese of Knoxville are sealed with the Holy Spirit                   

By Bill Brewer

When 53 women and men joined Bishop Richard F. Stika at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Pentecost Sunday for the annual confirmation Mass, Francisca Adeniran likely traveled the farthest to receive the sacrament.

Yes, she drove up from Cleveland to attend the June 9 Mass, but the St. Thérèse of Lisieux parishioner’s journey to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit began halfway around the world.

Francisca Adeniran was excited about having her photo taken with Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali to send to her family in Africa.

Miss Adeniran is a resident of Nigeria who traveled to Cleveland a year ago to attend Lee University. Her world changed after scoring high enough on the SAT exam to qualify for an academic scholarship, which led to her rather rapid relocation to the United States.

Preparation for confirmation in her home parish had to be put on hold. But during her freshman year of college the desire to be confirmed kept tugging at her.

“I was taking confirmation classes back home,” Miss Adeniran said, referring to her native Africa. “Now, Mrs. (Brenda) Blevins takes me to church on Sundays and to choir practice. I have taken time off to read what it was all about and to help me determine if it (confirmation) was something I was ready to go through.”

Miss Adeniran met Ms. Blevins through another Nigeria native who attends St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As Miss Adeniran was tackling her freshman studies toward a pre-med degree in biological science, she decided to pursue confirmation.

Miss Adeniran shared that she discussed her wishes with her mother and grandfather, and they encouraged her to proceed if that was how she was feeling.

“My mom told me to go ahead. So, I followed my instinct. I felt like I was (ready) and decided to go ahead. There really wasn’t anything spiritually or personally stopping me, so I decided to go ahead. It wasn’t pressure from home. It just felt like it was the right thing to do,” she said.

Miss Adeniran took the name of St. Rita as her patron saint, protector, and guide.

“I took her name because of how she lived her life. I felt at peace with her. She pulled through struggles by trusting in God, and she was strong,” she said.

St. Rita wanted to enter a convent as a young girl but was instead placed in an arranged marriage at the age of 12. A tumultuous marriage resulted in her husband’s death at the hands of friends. Years spent praying for the forgiveness of her husband’s killers led young Margherita Lotti to offer that forgiveness and to call on her sons to do the same. Her sons died of a deadly illness.

Now a widow and childless, Rita turned to God for deliverance and after 18 years of marriage she felt called to religious life in the Augustinian convent. After quite a bit of persuading, she was accepted into the Augustinian convent at age 36.

Miss Adeniran’s surroundings and academic course load helped her identify with St. Rita.

Words delivered by Bishop Stika during the adult confirmation Mass also helped her identify with those who overcome obstacles at a young age to succeed. It was a message a young college student needed to hear so far from home.

“There’s one message I ask you to carry with you today as we celebrate Pentecost and confirmation. First of all, this comes from another Scripture, Genesis: we’re all created in the image and in the likeness of God. Right? We all know that. But the point I’m going to connect with that is — I know this for a fact: God never places before us situations, regardless of your age, for us to fail. Why would God want us to fail? If we’re created in His image and in His likeness, that His Son, Jesus, died for us. Why would He want us to fail?” Bishop Stika asked the confirmands. “God doesn’t want us to fail. He wants us to make a difference in the world in which we live. And that’s why we have Jesus. Jesus taught many things. It takes a while to understand sometimes. But His teachings are about life and faith. The promises of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we celebrate today.”

It’s a message that Bishop Stika likes to emphasize to all parishioners, but especially younger faithful.

And it resonated with Miss Adeniran, who found comfort and confidence in the bishop’s message from Scripture.

“The bishop saying God doesn’t want us to fail and things are not always going to be perfect, but God wants us to succeed was very important to me. Also, that the Holy Spirit will guide us and will always be with us was very important,” she said.

For an 18-year-old who is on her own more than 6,200 miles from home, the Holy Spirit’s influence through the bishop’s words let her know her decision to receive the sacrament of confirmation was the right one.

“I felt more assured in God’s plan for me. I felt more confident. God has got your back and it’s going to be fine no matter what challenges arise,” said Miss Adeniran, who has an uncle in Texas and an aunt in New Jersey. The rest of her family is in Nigeria.

Bishop Stika confirmed 53 adults June 9 during the adult confirmation Mass. Assisting was Father Arthur Torres Barona.

Bishop Stika began the confirmation Mass by prayerfully offering his best wishes as the confirmands complete their sacraments of initiation: baptism, the Eucharist, and confirmation.

“This is an important moment in your life,” Bishop Stika said. “This is a great joy, especially on Pentecost, when we really celebrate the beginnings of the Church when the promise of Jesus came upon the apostles, Mary, and whoever else was there. There was the Holy Spirit. They were in that Upper Room, frightened beyond understanding that someone was going to knock on the door, take them away, and crucify them like Jesus.

“They were a Good News bunch. They relied on Jesus so much, and then He was back from the dead and with them for a while, and then poof, He goes back to heaven. Can you imagine their emotions? The sense of trust they placed in Jesus, and then it was like, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ They forgot about the fact that Jesus had been making promises to them about this mysterious thing, the paraclete. They didn’t know what that was. I’m sure they trusted Jesus at various levels. But they still didn’t know what that meant. And then it came to them.

“You know what I often think of the proof of the Holy Spirit. You’re here today, 2,000-plus years later, despite all the world’s occurrences all through the centuries. There’s an old adage that the Church will survive despite the best efforts of people within the Church to destroy it. That still continues,” Bishop Stika said.

Bishop Stika highlighted the parts of the Mass, especially the consecration when the priest invokes the Holy Spirit upon the eucharistic bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer as the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

The bishop reassured the confirmands that anytime we open our heart to God, He is there for us and will never abandon us, and He always listens to each of us, even when we think God is not listening at all.

Bishop Stika emphasized how appropriate it was to celebrate the confirmation on Pentecost Sunday as each confirmand was sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And he asked them to renew their baptismal promises.

Bishop Stika reminded the confirmands that we live in a very sophisticated world, which has diminished the presence of Satan and evil. But there is evidence everywhere of the presence of Satan and evil, noting that just recently he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. He also pointed to the drug cartels that are active around the world. Those show that evil does exist.

He urged the confirmands to develop a relationship with the saint whose name they took at confirmation and to seek his or her guidance.

The bishop confided to the confirmands that he has three saints who he prays to regularly since his confirmation: St. John, who his grandfather is named for, and St. Joseph, who he has a special devotion to, and St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost faith and other lost things.

“As we invoke the Holy Spirit, maybe you’re going to feel different today. Maybe you’re going to feel different tomorrow. All I know is you’ve opened your hearts to God, to Jesus, the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Following Mass when you go out those doors, you will have been touched by the Holy Spirit. I pray that you will keep your relationship with God and honor Him, day by day, moment by moment, and that you know Jesus died for your sins and that through His Holy Spirit you might know in the depths of your heart that God wants you to be the reflection of His son, Jesus and Jesus’ heart, His mind, His face, His feet, but especially the sacred heart of Jesus.”

Bishop Stika greets confirmands and confirmands-inwaiting along with their families following the adult confirmation Mass.

Following Mass, Bishop Stika explained that the Diocese of Knoxville began celebrating adult confirmation Masses several years ago after situations repeatedly arose, such as in marriage preparation, where individuals were not confirmed and could not take part in the sacrament of holy matrimony.

“It reminded us that they should be baptized, confirmed, and have had their first holy Communion. It provides an opportunity, and it’s usually on Pentecost, to offer the sacrament in a particular way,” Bishop Stika said, noting that he is pleased with the numbers of adults being confirmed. “This provides an opportunity to celebrate the sacrament with those who have not yet received it.”

Father Richard Armstrong, assistant director of Christian Formation for the diocese who presented the confirmands to Bishop Stika, said the 53 adults confirmed were from 22 parishes throughout the diocese. Bishop Stika and Father Armstrong believe it’s critical for every parishioner in the Diocese of Knoxville to have access to the sacraments.

“The majority of our adult confirmation candidates grew up outside of our diocese. They missed confirmation when they were younger for a variety of reasons. We are very happy to provide the opportunity for them to receive this important but often neglected sacrament. Lowering the age of confirmation in the Diocese of Knoxville will help us ensure that our own faithful receive this sacrament,” Father Armstrong said.

Father Armstrong emphasized that as one of the sacraments of initiation, each Catholic should be confirmed in addition to being baptized and receiving first holy Communion to be fully initiated in the Catholic Church.

“Ideally, these three sacraments should be received prior to adolescence, and this is what we have done in the Diocese of Knoxville. The sacrament of confirmation seals the grace of baptism, giving the recipient an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Through this gift of the Holy Spirit, each Christian is conformed more completely to Christ, giving him or her the grace to live the Christian life more fully and faithfully,” he said.

“Today, the grace of confirmation is needed well before adulthood. The current challenges facing our youth are immense. Without God’s help and strength, our youth will not be able to navigate and overcome the temptations they face. The same is true for adults. None of us can live as genuine disciples without God’s help. We should take advantage of every sacramental grace, every help, that we can receive,” he added.

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