Special liturgies at the cathedral honor first responders and members of the medical profession
By Dan McWilliams
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Masses for first responders and for members of the health-care profession in recent weeks at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Blue Mass on Oct. 2 honored police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders. Cathedral rector Father David Boettner, associate pastor Father Martin Gladysz, and Father Charlie Donahue, CSP, concelebrated. Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey and Deacon Walt Otey assisted.
The first reading was proclaimed by Knoxville Police Department Chief Paul Noel, a cathedral parishioner, and the second reading by Gerard Jabaley. Gifts were brought forward by Chief Noel and KPD Capt. Brian Evans.
Father Donahue is a chaplain for the KPD. Father Gladysz and Deacon Murphy-Racey are chaplains for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Father Boettner is a former chaplain for the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office.
Several members of the medical profession attended the White Mass on Oct. 16. Concelebrating were Father Gladysz, whose birthday fell on that day, and cathedral associate pastor Father Jhon Mario Garcia. Deacon Otey assisted.
Dr. Mallory Trevino was the first reader, and Dr. Jennifer Hamm proclaimed the second reading. Gifts were brought forward by Dr. Angela Meyer, Dr. Michelle Brewer, and Dr. Mark Viehmann.
At the Blue Mass, Bishop Stika in his opening remarks called the liturgy a time to “honor in gratitude and pray for first responders. We also pray for all those who protect our community in a variety of different ways whose lives have been taken unjustly, those who have given service and have died.”
In his homily, the bishop recalled a tragic time from earlier in his priesthood.
“When I was in St. Louis, I was a police chaplain for a number of years. I still have my badge,” he said. “The saddest moment: I anointed two police officers who were killed in the line of duty, and I saw the tremendous affection and love that exists between people in that line of work, whether it’s firefighters, ambulance, or police officers.
“Would you like to run into a burning building as on 9/11, remember that? Or walk between two houses in darkness, knowing that in that dark place there might be somebody with a gun aimed right at you, but you know what you’re doing is correct? How about those EMT folks who are working in Florida right now [in the wake of Hurricane Ian]? You see a person, and you know there’s water and there might be downed power lines, but you risk your life to help that person. You see time and time and time again people who do this. I think, because they’re not always the most well-paid, but I think it’s a vocation. The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin ‘to call.’”
Bishop Stika also remembered an encounter with a police officer on Christmas Day after he was pulled over for speeding several years ago on a trip from Gatlinburg to Chattanooga.
“I’m always respectful because I know what their job entails. He takes my driver’s license and comes back and says, ‘Hey, Reverend, I can’t give you a ticket today.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Giving you a ticket today on Christmas would be like giving Joseph a ticket on his way to Bethlehem.’ He didn’t even give me a warning,” the bishop said.
The bishop reiterated his gratitude for first responders.
“Today we just give thanks to God for people who have heard His voice and know what they’re getting in to in our community who protect us,” he said. “They said yes to often a thankless job, a dangerous job, and yet—I’ve seen it time and time again—when someone saves a life, when someone protects the community, when someone views 9/11 when they were all running into the building when others were running out, I thank God, and so should all of us.
“We welcome all those involved in law enforcement. We pray for their safety. We pray in thanksgiving for what they do, and we pray that others might follow in their footsteps because they help us. They protect us, and sometimes they have to remind us that there are reasons for laws and regulations. They’re not restrictions; they’re for our safety. So, God, we pray for all those involved in the community who make our lives just a little bit better, we pray in thanksgiving for them all.”
Bishop Stika mentioned the members of the clergy who serve as chaplains.
“Pray for them, that they might always be a symbol of God in the midst of sometimes very difficult situations,” he said.
In his closing remarks, the bishop thanked “all those involved in law enforcement and protecting our community, firefighters and just that broad range of people who exist, who live, and who have not hardened their hearts but they have listened to the call of the Lord.”
Chief Noel, who has been KPD chief for several months, said afterward that having a Blue Mass was “really so great.”
“Coming from New Orleans, which is a very large Catholic community, it’s great to see the Catholic community here recognize the first responders,” he said. “This is a very difficult job, especially challenging in today’s environment, so it’s great to see not only Sacred Heart but the whole Sacred Heart community come together to pray for the first responders because their job is so challenging.”
The chief said “it’s truly amazing” being a parishioner of the cathedral.
“Father David and the entire group here have been very, very generous and open to me, especially coming from a very large Catholic community—my parish in New Orleans was within walking distance from my house,” he said. “Going to an area where it’s a much smaller Catholic community, I was a little concerned, but the group here has been amazing. Father David and the whole parish have been so open and welcoming. I’m just so lucky to be here.”
Bishop Stika said after Mass that “so often we take people for granted who ensure that our lives are safe and protected, whether it’s law enforcement, a firefighter, ambulance, or EMT. We try to focus on those first responders. We see it now in Florida where there’s so much devastation and so many people go out of their way. I think it’s good to express gratitude but also to pray for protection for them.”
The Blue Mass fell on an appropriate feast day for the occasion, the bishop said.
“Today was good because it’s the feast of the Guardian Angels,” he said.
Bishop Stika said it was nice having the KPD chief as a parishioner of the cathedral.
“He’s young. He’s got a young family. It’s always nice, whether he was not here or if he was a Protestant or whatever, he’s a very, very nice guy, and he’s got great talents,” he said.
The bishop again recalled the two fallen St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers.
“We pray especially for those in law enforcement. I anointed two officers. Their names are ingrained in my memory, Nick Sloan and Bob Stanze, so we pray for safety,” he said. “Bob, his wife was pregnant with twins. He never saw his children. Nick Sloan had a 1-year-old son. Their names and the image of anointing them at their death are ingrained in me.”
At the White Mass, Bishop Stika said in his opening remarks that the liturgy honors all those involved in the health-care profession.
“We honor them, and we pray for them with an act of gratitude and thanksgiving,” he said.
In his homily, the bishop said the White Mass “is just one way that the Church, that all of us can just say thanks to God with a spirit of gratitude for people who use their talents to touch the lives of others. People involved in health care and people who participate in that health care by being the patients or the people who come to them have a unique relationship, because one is in need and the other fulfills that need.”
Bishop Stika talked about the power of prayer.
“There was a study I think in Time magazine or Newsweek about prayer, about people who are prayed for and how it how made a difference in their life,” he said. “When a person says to you, ‘Will you pray for me’ or ‘Pray for this intention?’ and you say yes, that’s a contract. Someone has requested from you to pray before God Himself, and you say yes.
“People came to Jesus in His life, and there was a profound question that was laid before His feet: ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ And the one prayer that Jesus Himself composed, the Our Father, which is a very inclusive prayer—it kind of elevates everything to God, our needs and desires, seeking protection.”
The bishop also spoke of the prayers he makes during a liturgy.
“Even at Mass, when I do the opening prayer or the closing prayer or the prayer before the preface, how does it end? ‘And we ask all of these prayers through Christ, our Lord,’” he said. “Because our prayers are rather imperfect because we’re imperfect, right? But there’s some transformation that occurs at Mass or when we pray in Jesus’ name or through Christ our Lord because then our imperfect prayers become the prayers of Christ Himself.
“Prayer is that powerful gift that allows us to have a normal conversation with God. . . . Never give up, for God does listen to what we ask. Sometimes it’s a yes, sometimes it’s a no, or sometimes it’s just ‘later on,’ when you’re ready to get that answer to the prayer that you have made.”
Afterward, Dr. Hamm, a parishioner at the cathedral, said the White Mass “means a great deal, just to know that we’ve got prayers supporting us in what we do every day.”