Some of you might have heard your pastor make an announcement in your parish this weekend about the Bishop’s Appeal, the annual campaign of the Diocese of Knoxville to raise funds for diocesan-wide projects, missions, and charities. It is very easy to listen to the pitch for the Bishop’s Appeal and simply think “oh great, another plea for more money.” After all, many people give plenty of their time, talent, and treasure to their local parishes and to Catholic organizations that address community needs, such as the St. Vincent DePaul Society or the Knights of Columbus. Many people have come to East Tennessee from other dioceses in our country where similar diocesan fundraising campaigns are held every year, yet some of those dioceses remain struggling, short on funds, short on staff, short on vocations, and even in some cases short on active people. In those kinds of situations it can be all too easy to shrug off that note from the bishop or that call to donate a few extra bucks and wonder “what good is it doing, anyway.”
This isn’t said with any inappropriate bragging, because every diocese is different, but as I once wrote in a much earlier post here at Life At 25, if you came from somewhere else and live here in East Tennessee now, you are likely to find that things are much different here in the Diocese of Knoxville, and in some very good ways. Other dioceses are struggling to have enough priests to tend their flocks, and jobs that would normally be the job of the priest are sometimes given to others. Parishes have to cluster because they are sharing a pastor. That often means that those same parishes will share religious education staff and pool resources for the purposes of other important lay ministries. Those are doable things, of course, but not the most ideal situation. I once lived in another diocese where there was a beautiful seminary and plenty of what we might call “external resources” available, but there was a chronic shortage of priests, closing parishes, closing schools, but the demand for services from the Church never ceased.
In the Diocese of Knoxville, however, we have no real shortage of priests. The official numbers are that we have 54 active diocesan priests and 16 religious priests. We have 22 men in formation for the priesthood. We don’t have a great many Catholic schools, but those that we have in Knoxville and Chattanooga and Johnson City are growing, and the Diocese of Knoxville wants Catholic children and their parents who are active and engaged Catholics to have access to a Catholic education and not have to worry about whether they can afford it.
The men in seminary for the Diocese of Knoxville are there because they are discerning the call to priesthood, and whether they might be experiencing that call from the Holy Spirit in their life to minister as priests. Bishop Stika wants these men to be able to do that and not have to be concerned about whether they can afford it. We have 23 men in formation for the permanent diaconate in our diocese, including the writer of this blog post. I can share with you that in our class we have men from every conceivable social and socio-economic background. When we meet, candidates are responsible for our books and for our Friday evening meal, the diocese takes care of the rest, including our lodging and meals the rest of the weekend, and some of the finest biblical and theological instruction to be had in the Church today from some of the best instructors around the country, because the Bishop doesn’t want any one of us to feel as though we cannot answer God’s call because we can’t afford it.
Catholic Social Services of East Tennessee serves people who are in real and genuine need each and every day, including the hungry, the homeless, and pregnant women who are making the choice to give life to their children who need help. Now, the Diocese of Knoxville is operating the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic as a diocesan ministry, offering health care and hope to scores of East Tennessee’s rural poor who have no access to medical insurance or a regular doctor. Each year hundreds of people come into the Church through RCIA programs in our parishes, and thousands of young people are educated in the faith through our diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
These kinds of ministries are the call of the Church, but in today’s society they are not often done without cost. The Bishop’s Appeal is not merely about raising money, but about carrying on the work of the Body of Christ in East Tennessee. As God has blessed you, won’t you consider a generous response to the Bishop’s Appeal for us to be “Living the Eucharist” together in the years ahead?