‘The priesthood of Jesus Christ: it’s not only carrying the cross, it’s carrying the Eucharist. And that is a beautiful thing’
By Bill Brewer
Bishop Richard F. Stika marked the 35th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Dec. 14, a date that is forever ingrained in his memory, just as it is with all priests.
And during noon Mass on Dec. 15 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bishop Stika flashed back to the 1980s as he recounted in his homily some of the images etched in his memory.
Bishop Stika was ordained a priest on Dec. 14, 1985, by Archbishop John L. May in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He concelebrated his ordination Mass that day, and then on Dec. 15, 1985, he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving.
Dec. 15 is a memorable date for Bishop Stika for another reason.
“Even though today (Dec. 15) is not the actual ordination date, it was yesterday, today is the anniversary of the Mass I celebrated for the second time. We often say it’s the first Mass. Actually the first Mass of a priest is when he concelebrates his ordination Mass. Today is the anniversary of my Mass of Thanksgiving. It’s also the day 12 years ago that Pope Benedict XVI apparently chose me to become bishop of Knoxville. A couple of days later I was informed of this, so it’s a special day,” Bishop Stika said in his homily.
“But the one moment ingrained in my mind, and I can see it today, is when I lifted the chalice, which I will lift today, and I said the Words of Consecration. I lifted that chalice up, and I looked in the first pew, my mom and dad were sitting there. My dad, who did not have any emotion for the most part, was very stoic. As I looked up, a waterfall of tears came out of his eyes. I don’t know if he was happy because he finally got rid of me, but I know it was the joy of seeing his youngest son, a priest. Ten months later he died from lung cancer. That image of my father, tears in his eyes, will forever be ingrained. Tears of joy,” he added.
Bishop Stika said just before his 35th anniversary he had dinner with some of his seminary classmates, and they reminisced, with one of his friends remarking that in 15 years they’ll be celebrating their 50th anniversary as priests.
“God willing, I will live for that. I think of the life of every priest, and you cannot deny the fact that the unique and special connection that constitutes the priesthood of Jesus Christ is what we celebrate here and now. All the sacraments are integral parts of the priesthood. You can’t pull them apart. The one we celebrate today is why we are instituted as priests, why our hands are consecrated. We take the bread and we take the wine in a cup, and we say the Words of Institution: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it. Take this, all of you, and drink from it. For this is my body, given for you.’ To act in the person of Christ, as another Christ in this person,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Stika remembered Cardinal John Joseph Carberry, who ordained him as a deacon; Archbishop John Lawrence May, who ordained him as a priest; and Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, who consecrated Bishop Stika to the episcopacy on March 19 at the Knoxville Convention Center. Bishop Stika also remembered Bishop Robert Joseph Shaheen, who Bishop Stika credited with being most responsible for showing him the joy of priesthood.
Bishop Stika asked for prayers for priests, especially for seminarians, that after 35 years in the priesthood they may be as fulfilled and happy as he has been.
“The priesthood of Jesus Christ: it’s not only carrying the cross, it’s carrying the Eucharist. And that is a beautiful thing,” the bishop said.
“If the Eucharist does not bring us joy as priests or deacons, or brothers and sisters in our Lord, Jesus Christ, then something is missing in the depths of who we are. With all that we are dealing with now, COVID, uncertainty, and all the political discourse, the one thing we have to turn to, and, God forbid, we never limit it again in a public way, is the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, the liturgy, this is My body, this is My blood, that which is so intimately connected to priesthood and to faith. That precious gift, the sacrifice of Jesus given for us,” the bishop said. “I’m grateful to almighty God along with my four classmates from St. Louis. The five of us have been together for all these years. At one time or another, all of us have been connected to the seminary. Some still are. I guess that shows the priesthood is something we’ve been able to live with and witness to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Stika recalled how entering the seminary was a process of elimination that didn’t go the way he expected.
“As I was praying over the Gospel we have for today (Dec. 15), I could really identify with it because when I entered the seminary in August of 1979, my whole idea was to stay in seminary for a year to prove to myself that I should not be a priest. Like that man in the Gospel today, his father wanted him to do something and he said no, but he did it anyway. I was like ‘Lord, I don’t want to be a priest. I want to get married and have 12 children. But I couldn’t find a wife who wanted to have 12 children. Here I am more than 35 years later,” he said, drawing laughs.
He told the noon Mass congregation that together they rejoice in the Lord, Jesus Christ, for once again they are nourished, they are fed by God’s Son, given for them.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Stika complimented the selection of hymns sung during the Mass, singling out one for special attention.
“I had to smile during the one song, ‘Jesus, Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom.’ It’s one of my favorites. I often chant it at the end of a holy hour or at the end of night prayer for myself. It’s also one of the three songs that I specified to be played as the deacons carry my body from the cathedral to the crypt next door. One is the St. Louis Cardinals theme song, the other is the Litany of the Saints, and finally ‘Jesus Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom,’” he said.
“So it’s kind of nice to hear it before I’m dead. It sounds pretty good in a cathedral. I’m grateful for that.”