Friday and Saturday were the big days here in the Diocese of Knoxville, as our long-awaited 25th Anniversary Eucharistic Congress finally came to fruition, and what a special Christ-filled weekend it truly was. Over and over again, our speakers mentioned how hospitable everyone was, and it is certainly true. The Congress was well-organized and went off better than anyone could have imagined in their wildest dreams. Most importantly, Jesus was there with us. On Friday evening Nicole and I attended the youth Mass and we were able to catch Bishop Stika’s evening chat with Cardinal Rigali.
As I sat and listened to the Cardinal share his experiences of over five decades of service to the universal Church and his personal experience with six Popes (Blessed John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis), I couldn’t help but think “I’d love to sit down and break bread with this holy man, because there is so much more wisdom for him to share than he can in 90 minutes.”
This Eucharistic Congress was such a blessing that I do not believe that I will be able to do it justice with a single post, and probably won’t be able to do it justice at all with multiple posts, yet I think that more than one post about the experience of this very special event is going to be the best way to try and encapsulate just a little of the precious spiritual atmosphere that was to be found there. Many (I think most) of my brother Aspirants were there, and I saw a lot of people that I know or who I have had the honor or the pleasure of becoming acquainted with during my years in East Tennessee. I also know that I had a number of friends and acquaintances throughout the diocese (including Father Christian Mathis, Father Michael Cummins, and Frank Weathers) who were there but I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to you and I had hoped to. If you were at the Congress, you know that the Sevierville Events Center was quite literally bursting at the seams.
I owe many of you in that massive crowd an apology because there was more than one time in the course of the weekend that I became frustrated while trying to make my way through the crowd. I had my walker with me as evidenced in this picture that Scott Maentz snapped, unbeknownst to me, of Nicole and I making our way to the convention center Saturday morning. I did my very best never to let that frustration show, so why am I mentioning it? Because I was so happy to see so many people there to celebrate what God has done for us, it was surely a sin to be frustrated with the crowd at any juncture!
We began things on Saturday morning with Morning Prayer (Lauds) that had beautiful sung hymnody and psalmody and Bishop Stika beginning with the incipit. I have been to some very fine public celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours before, including more than one with sung psalmody and canticles in a monastic setting, but I do not think I have ever visibly seen or heard that many people celebrate the Divine Office at one time with voices raised in song to Almighty God, and it was positively glorious. It gave a whole new meaning to “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” (cf. Ps. 98:4)
Dr. Scott Hahn led things off with a talk on the Eucharist that centered in part on his own conversion story and how he and his wife Kimberly came to discover and appreciate the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. We also got our first taste of a theme that would turn out to be recurring throughout the day, the Eucharist as Sacrifice, sacred meal, and Real Presence
Fortunately for those of you who couldn’t be there, I was told that there is a possibility that some of the talks may be found on EWTN in the near future. Nicole was able to get a couple of Dr. Hahn’s books signed, The Lamb’s Supper and Signs of Life.
If you’d like a few highlights, look in the right hand corner of this post for a video from Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey of Friday’s events. Deacon Patrick was to be seen everywhere with his camera during the course of the weekend, and we’ll post his second video in our next post.
In my next Life At 25 post, I’ll discuss the talks by Father Robert Barron, Eucharistic Adoration with Cardinal Rigali, and the keynote address by Cardinal Dolan. Among the other things I’ll discuss in the next post on the Eucharistic Congress will be what it felt like to be in an environment of such spiritual unity.