Bishop Stika presides at 13th Chrism Mass serving as the shepherd of the Church in East Tennessee
By Dan McWilliams
Bishop Richard F. Stika has celebrated a baker’s dozen Chrism Masses, and in the latest one March 30 he thanked his brother priests numerous times for their service to East Tennessee Catholics.
“This is my 13th Chrism Mass that I am honored to be able to celebrate as bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville and the Catholic Church of East Tennessee,” Bishop Stika said at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. “It is a joy to celebrate with my brother priests and deacons but especially my brother priests, as we celebrate this Mass at which we together will consecrate the chrism and bless the oils, as we make a commitment both as priests and as a bishop to the people of God who we are so privileged to serve.”
Concelebrating the Chrism Mass were cathedral rector and vicar general Father David Boettner; Monsignor Pat Garrity, episcopal vicar for priests; and diocesan deans Father Mike Nolan of the Chattanooga Deanery, Father Brent Shelton of the Cumberland Mountain Deanery, Father Michael Cummins of the Five Rivers Deanery, and Father Peter Iorio of the Smoky Mountain Deanery.
More than 50 priests overall were present in the pews, and more than 15 deacons and women religious attended.
Deacon Sean Smith was deacon of the Word, and Deacon Fredy Vargas was deacon of the Eucharist. Deacons Hicks Armor and Walt Otey were masters of ceremonies.
Bishop Stika began his homily by greeting priests and others at home who were watching the Chrism Mass via livestream or a later broadcast.
The bishop also recognized the diocese’s senior active priest, Monsignor Bob Hofstetter, who was ordained in 1954, and the two youngest priests: 2020 ordinands Father Zach Griffith and Father Alex Hernandez.
But there was one priest in the pews who was even a newer ordinand: Father Kenneth Wandera of the Glenmary Home Missioners. He was ordained a priest in Cincinnati on March 20 by Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding. Father Wandera serves at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Erwin.
Monsignor Hofstetter this year ceded his traditional role in the procession of oils in the Chrism Mass to Monsignor Garrity, who will celebrate his 45th anniversary in the priesthood in May.
“This is a dramatic moment for the Church, because for 12 years now, Monsignor Bob along with the youngest priest has always brought up the chrism,” Bishop Stika said. “But now this year he has relinquished his term to Monsignor Garrity, who has posted it all over Facebook.”
Bishop Stika recognized Cardinal Justin Rigali, who will soon celebrate his 60th anniversary in the priesthood. His Eminence was unable to attend the Chrism Mass but did lend a chalice he has used for 60 years to Bishop Stika for the liturgy.
The bishop mused, “especially as I look at Holy Week and Easter season and going into Pentecost: what Apostle would I have followed?
“Peter? Yeah, sometimes I deny Jesus. James and John? Looking for the right place to sit. Having a mom stick up for them, for me, even though she’s in heaven, God willing. Judas? Perhaps, I don’t know. I hope not. Or all the other Apostles. Who do we, as members of the presbyterate of the Diocese of Knoxville, the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, who do we look like? Who do we act like? Also, would I have been one of the Apostles way back when who would have had to try to change the mind of Jesus not to go to Jerusalem?
“Jesus gave those hints of what was going to happen. Then he also gave hints to the Apostles. To Peter he said, ‘They will take you in a place where you do not want to go.’ Just like the Apostles, we [priests], too, can fall into those patterns in our own lives, because we participate as another Christ, in the person of Christ, in the person of Jesus, especially when we hold the bread and wine and as we do the other sacraments.”
The bishop asked whether priests in their thoughts might skip forward to the resurrection and bypass the crucifixion.
“In our relationship with Jesus, do we often try to forget about Golgotha?” he asked “And we would like to skip over all that which we celebrate in Holy Week and go right to the resurrection. Would we have wanted to hang around on that mountain at the Transfiguration, when everything was glorious and beautiful and shiny and peaceful? Or would we have been like Peter, who just wanted to stick around and pitch a tent and stay?”
Bishop Stika again returned to Father Wandera.
“Father Kenn, just a week ago, his hands were anointed with the holy chrism, and he begins his journey of priesthood, of being a public person, a sacramental person, a person who will be called upon at any moment, at any time, to represent Jesus sacramentally, to represent Jesus in healing and in forgiveness, with assurance, with offering the sacrifice but also being the sacrifice himself,” he said. “To be a priest in these years, especially when we minister to people who are so divided and so confused and fearful, as we are called to that ministry, just like Jesus, we can add on to the weight of our shoulders the difficulties of the people we are privileged to serve.”
The bishop reminded the priests that “many of our seminarians are here today.”
“They’re discerning and thinking and reflecting, and they see you and your lives, lives of commitment, as do the people of God in your parishes and places where you serve. They’re looking for the priesthood of Jesus Christ. And if we ever think it’s easy, then we’re skipping the Passion and death of Jesus.
“We are called to be like the man who helped Jesus bear His cross. And we are also called to bear the crosses of others and the cross of ourselves—all of us are. And our crosses are different, and they have different weight at certain times. Sometimes they are easy to bear, because we do know that the people of God who are represented here and watching us— we know they pray for us and how kind they are to us and how forgiving they are to us.”
The Chrism Mass is also a time to “celebrate that special bond as brothers in the presbyterate—different ages, different experiences, different assignments, different reasons at different moments of why we gather together this day as priests of this diocese, these many years now, since ’88,” Bishop Stika said.
“The question that you and I and all of us have to ask ourselves is, ‘How do we support each other?’ How do we strengthen each other in our own vocations, to reach out to a brother in need?”
The bishop referred to the commitments he and his brother priests would soon make to each other, after the homily.
“When we make those commitments, we also then ask the people of God to pray for us, as one, united, and following Jesus, and to be a priest of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Stika said. “For all the people who are here and who are watching, I also thank you. In a couple days we’ll receive 186 people, give or take, into the diocese. Every year we are so blessed. But this year of the pandemic, there were people who volunteered to share the faith with others, but also the people of God have witnessed to others about the extraordinary gift of the Catholic Church, as confused as people might make it.
“But the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist and the sacraments, but especially the summit, as the [Second Vatican] Council reminds us, of the Eucharist. There’s a reason that people seek our community, and it’s because the people of God, all of us, witness intentionally to our faith and our trust in the God who has created us, who gave us His Son, and who hopefully continually are inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
In making their commitments to Bishop Stika, the priests “resolved to . . . renew the promises you once made,” “to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him,” and “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist . . . following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls.”
Bishop Stika then addressed the faithful in the assembly, asking them to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly on them and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ,” and he asked the assembly to “pray also for me, that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher, and the Servant of all.”
The procession of the oils followed, and the bishop blessed the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens. He mixed the balsam and the oil to form the sacred chrism, used in baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and the dedication of churches. Bishop Stika then breathed over the chrism, praying that the Holy Spirit be present in it.
In his closing remarks, with it being the Year of St. Joseph, the bishop led the priests in a prayer of St. Joseph.
He encouraged priests and seminarians to look to the example of Blessed Stanley Rother, a relic of whom is in the cathedral. Blessed Stanley is a martyr of the Church but one who was once dismissed from seminary because he couldn’t learn Latin, the bishop said.
The bishop, adding a plea for the faithful to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination, also asked for prayers for the canonization of Father Patrick Ryan of Chattanooga.
“To my brothers, I just say thank you,” Bishop Stika said. “Thanks for what you do, my brother deacons, but especially my brother priests, who we celebrate this day.”