From staff reports
Diocese of Knoxville faithful entered the holiest of Christian seasons on March 2 by receiving the sign of the cross during Ash Wednesday Masses.
Diocesan priests welcomed full churches as adults and students enthusiastically took part in the liturgy to begin Lent.
Ashes were plentiful as were the number of Catholics receiving them on their foreheads.
Bishop Richard F. Stika was greeted by an large congregation as he celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at noon at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In his homily, Bishop Stika emphasized that all are sinners weighed down by the sins we carry.
Jesus bore the weight of the cross for our sins.
“Why are you here today? It’s not a Sunday or a Saturday, it’s not a holy day of obligation, we’re not giving away free fish at the fish fry. Why are you here today? You know, I think there’s something about Ash Wednesday that uncovers something from our very person that maybe we don’t even like to talk about during the rest of the year… that we’re sinners,” the bishop said.
“Just think, what is your cross? What do you bear with you today that you would actually give to God?” the bishop asked.
He emphasized forgiveness that Jesus offers to all through the sacrament of reconciliation.
“We’re all sinners, we all carry those things in our life that we’re not happy with or we wish we could profoundly change. And so the Church, in her wisdom, has given us this great retreat, this great moment in which we just say to ourselves that we are sinners, that we make decisions that are not always perfect, that we don’t always treat people with love and kindness and charity, and we judge others,” Bishop Stika said.
The bishop urged parishioners to pray for peace during this Lenten season as Pope Francis has requested, especially for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
“Perhaps when we put the sign of the cross on your forehead today, that’s your cross that you bear. Is it a cross that you deserve, yes or no? Is it a cross that bears weight on your shoulders? Or is it a cross, just like Jesus bore that cross that will take you to the resurrection, to Easter, to a beautiful and joy-filled life centered on God? What’s going to be our choice?” Bishop Stika asked. “Don’t lightly take this season of Lent. More than chocolate or those easy things. And don’t think of it as giving up, rather think of it as giving to God. That hope for conversion and purification and to be able to recognize God present in our world. Give it as a gift to God.”
At St. John XXIII University Parish on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus, students filled the church on Ash Wednesday, participating in Mass and standing in line to receive their ashes before heading off to class. A similar scene unfolded at Knoxville Catholic High School, where students took part in Ash Wednesday Mass.
Lent will continue until Holy Thursday on April 14, at which time preparation begins for Easter on April 17. The chrism Mass celebrated by Bishop Stika at the cathedral is set for Tuesday, April 12, at 7 p.m.