About 30 men and women receive the sacrament for the first time as Bishop Stika presides
By Gabrielle Nolan
On June 5, the feast of Pentecost Sunday, close to 30 adults from around the Diocese of Knoxville were confirmed in an afternoon Mass celebrated by Bishop Richard F. Stika at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“Welcome to the cathedral, especially on this most blessed day, this most holy day that we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost itself, the beginnings of the Church,” Bishop Stika said. “I’m privileged and honored to be with all of you, to be confirmed this day with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
The bishop began his homily by asking the confirmandi to stand before the congregation.
“People from your parish, or pastors, have given their recommendation that you’re ready to receive this special sacrament,” he said. “And so, in the name of the family and friends that gather with you, and in the name of the whole Diocese of Knoxville and the Church Universal, I just offer to you my gratitude for coming to this moment in your faith life.”
“Don’t you think, folks, we should say thanks?” the bishop asked, causing a round of applause from the congregation.
The bishop focused on an important number in his homily: 1,989.
“Now, if you say 1989, it doesn’t seem a long time ago, even though some of you might be just little kids in 1989? I was only a priest four years,” the bishop said. “But if I say 1,989, it seems a little bit longer, doesn’t it? You see, 1,989 years ago Jesus died, was raised from the dead by his Father.”
“And for God, who had no beginning, who has no end, it’s a blip in the history of the world . . . 1,989,” he continued. “Today, the Church throughout the world, from Pope Francis in Rome to maybe a military chaplain at some place scattered in the world celebrating the Eucharist on the hood of a Jeep, to somebody in Siberia . . . throughout the world, in every nook and cranny of the world, priests and bishops and cardinals and a pope have celebrated this day, of what happened 1,989 years ago on this day.”
Bishop Stika mentioned the importance of the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus and how their witness grew the Church.
“The Apostles, the first followers of Jesus, they were in a room probably scared beyond belief,” he said. “They attached themselves to this carpenter’s son, to this rabbi, to this healer. They attached themselves, and they followed him, they listened to him, and they witnessed all the miracles of Jesus.”
“So, they were in the room, 1,989 years ago, maybe today around 50 days after the resurrection,” the bishop continued. “And then something powerful happened, as well as something very simple. It says in the Scriptures, wind came into that room. Tradition tells us it was probably that same room that they gathered together for the Passover, the Last Supper.”
“Tongues of fire appeared over their heads, and they left that room; and 1,989 years later we’re here today in this church of Sacred Heart Cathedral, as beautiful as it is, because of what happened as the birth of the Church began,” he said.
Bishop Stika admitted that sometimes understanding the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be confusing.
“The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us get through that confusion, of that challenge of life, because God knows we are confused,” he said. “Those gifts of the Holy Spirit remind us that Jesus knew and knows the human condition. He knows that we live lives filled with confusion and temptation and wonderment, and what it’s like to walk into the darkness of the future, not knowing where the invitation of Jesus might lead. And that’s why Jesus promised the Apostles he would send the Paraclete.”
The bishop reminded the confirmandi that the Holy Spirit is always present to them.
“When you were baptized, you received the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Anytime we go to Mass or celebrate sacraments, the Holy Spirit is present because where God is, there are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the gift that is given to you today completes something that began at your baptism, when someone simply poured water over your head and said, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’”
“And another time in your life in faith, when someone presented you to the Eucharist, the great sacrament of the Church, the greatest sacrament. When Jesus said, ‘This is my body, this is my blood, given for you,’ you made a statement of faith at the same time,” the bishop continued.
“You said, ‘Amen,’ a Greek word that means ‘I believe.’ A statement of faith, and today that which are called the sacraments of initiation—baptism, Eucharist, confirmation—is complete,” he said. “But your life goes on because every moment of every day God will invite you, you and me, to live our faith—not to say we are Christians or we are believers or we are Catholic, but to actually witness to others. You know that old thing: practice what you preach.”
Bishop Stika concluded his homily with some advice for the confirmandi for when they returned to their homes after Mass.
“I pray that you always involve the Holy Spirit in all decisions,” he said. “And if you do that, I can guarantee this: if God is a part of your decisions, you might not be the richest. You’re still going to have challenges and problems and difficulties, but you will gain a gift that we call heaven.”
The rite of confirmation followed the homily.
Bishop Stika led the confirmandi in the renewal of their baptismal promises, asking the following questions:
- Do you reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises?
- Do you believe in God, the Father, the almighty, the creator of heaven and of earth?
- Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, who rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
- Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who came upon the Apostles at Pentecost and today in this cathedral is given to you sacramentally in confirmation?
- Do you believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Asking God the Father to pour out the Holy Spirit, Bishop Stika chanted over the confirmandi and the congregation with his hands raised.
He prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Afterwards, each of the confirmandi processed forward, with his or her sponsor behind, to the bishop for the laying on of hands and the anointing with chrism oil.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Stika jokingly asked, “So did anyone see any things of fire above your heads?”
“I think for Christians, it’s more in the heart,” he said. “Don’t forget, God needs you to help build His kingdom to bring peace and to teach your children and your brothers and sisters and your neighbors that God loves them and to share that faith with others. That’s the work of an apostle; that’s the work of a disciple, of one who believes in Jesus.”
The bishop blessed items and took pictures with the confirmandi after the Mass ended.
Gilbert Hernandez, a parishioner from St. Alphonsus in Crossville, said the Mass “was beautiful.”
After marrying a Catholic and converting to the faith many years ago, Mr. Hernandez said, “Now it was the time for the confirmation.”
Mr. Hernandez chose St. Paul as his confirmation patron, someone he said he can relate to.
“He was lost, [and] then he was found,” Mr. Hernandez said. “He was persecuting the Christians and then obviously, when he was in that persecution, the Lord called him and he was blinded. Then after that he became a believer, and he worked very hard going to all different countries and continents preaching the word of the Lord, especially to the Gentiles. So that’s why I picked him. I kind of relate to him a little bit.”
For Maria Atencio, a parishioner from Holy Ghost in Knoxville, she couldn’t pick between two of her favorite saints.
“My two saints are St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Mary Magdalene,” she said. “They both have been there for me since my conversion or . . . reconversion. They both have helped me out a lot since then.”
“I couldn’t pick between them,” Ms. Atencio said while laughing. “They’re both very great saints who love much and just receive God in such a beautiful way.”
Ms. Atencio noted she has “been waiting for this (sacrament) for a while.”
“I come from Venezuela, and I wasn’t able to do it with my school in my country,” she explained. “So it’s beautiful to come back to my Church and to finally be able to receive the Holy Spirit in this special way.”
Rocco Iacovelli, a parishioner from St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland, thought the Mass was “wonderful,” and he was “very moved.”
“It was really an honor,” Mr. Iacovelli said, noting the apostolic succession of the bishop. “It was an honor to have a descendant of the Apostles give me a sacrament.”
Mr. Iacovelli chose St. Anthony of Padua as his patron, partly because Anthony is his middle name but also because he enjoys learning about mystics.
“I’m into the mystical saints,” he said. “But probably [Anthony’s] evangelism and his work with St. Francis of Assisi and his miracles just impressed me. Now I’m going to get to know him better.”
Every year, Bishop Stika confirms adults from around the diocese at a special Mass at the cathedral. Adults 18 and older who have not received the sacrament of confirmation, but have received the sacraments of baptism, first Holy Communion, and reconciliation, can receive the sacrament at this Mass.
For more information, those interested should contact their parish office.