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He Dwells Among Us

April 12, 2009

A celebration of faith
It’s up to us, God’s people, ‘to be the face of Jesus to all we meet.’

By Bishop Richard F. Stika
Bishop of Knoxville, TN

What an exciting few weeks it has been! I am still processing the spectacular event that occurred in our diocese on March 19. Now, some may believe that it was a celebration of my ordination and installation as the Roman Catholic bishop of Knoxville. Well, it was. But even more than that, it was a celebration of the people of the Diocese of Knoxville. We celebrated the precious gift of faith!

We celebrated talents given to us by God: to organize and to plan, to sing and to chant, to proclaim and to live what we are and who we are as Christians and Catholics in East Tennessee. It was much more about you than me. And so now it is about us, God’s people, to be the face of Jesus to all we meet. Thanks to all who planned and implemented, to those who donated and to those who prayed. But most of all, thanks be to God!

So far I have enjoyed celebrating confirmation with the parish communities of All Saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Holy Ghost, Immaculate Conception, and St. Augustine. I’ve visited three deaneries, dropped by for a visit at Notre Dame High School and Knoxville Catholic High School, and I’ve had meetings galore. That’s just in the first weeks—and I love it!

One question that is continually posed to me is: “Do you feel at home?” Without a second to pause, my answer from the heart is “Yes! Thanks to you and your warm hospitality.”

Some people have asked my thoughts on the recent invitation of the University of Notre Dame to the president of the United States to serve as a commencement speaker. I can understand how important it is for a university to invite a sitting president, especially one who is young and charismatic, with a beautiful family. His election as the first African-American president is a testimony to the movement of our nation to get beyond judging a person by the color of one’s skin as opposed to one’s character. There are many qualities of the president that I admire. That being said, however, there are other facts to weigh.

As a Catholic, I am embarrassed by this gesture of the University of Notre Dame. It is fine to honor an individual because of his accomplishments, but can one seriously believe that it is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus to honor someone who is so powerful and influential that innocent and pure human life is in danger of death? It might be simplistic, but so often when I am confronted by moral decisions, I reflect on “what would Jesus do.” For the life of me, I cannot explain how anyone can justify the horrible destruction of human life.

The president’s approach to abortion rights, embryonic-stem-cell research, and other issues is not in keeping with the teachings of our Catholic faith. It seems that the University of Notre Dame has abandoned its Catholic identity in this matter. I feel that it is embarrassing and shameful.

Finally, as we prepare for Holy Week, I am ever mindful of the special nature of this week. From the celebration of Palm Sunday through the Mass of the Holy Chrism to the holiest of nights, when we proclaim to all the world that Christ is our Light, we celebrate with gratitude the gift of Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will open your hearts to the Lord in these days as well as open your hearts to those who join our community of faith at the Easter Vigil.

May God bless you—and remember to pray: “Jesus, we trust in you!”

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