Bishop J. Mark Spalding said he’s filled with a sense of awe every time he processes up the aisle at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
“It’s due to the beauty of this cathedral, which we’re blessed by. You know it, I know it. It was here before we came along. Those who have gone before us have given us a great legacy, and we get to pray here together, to be in the awe of Christ,” Bishop Spalding said. “Every time, processing up with voices lifted, and we gather around this wonderful and beautiful altar, it’s a sense of awe that fills me. And every time I get to that chair and turn around and look at you, there before me, in so many ways, is the face of Christ, an awesome face to take in every time.”
That sense of awe was no different as he looked out to see the more than 500 priests, deacons, religious, and laity looking back at him as they gathered to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his episcopal ordination and installation as the 12th bishop of Nashville on Thursday, Feb. 2.
The celebration began with the Candlemas in honor of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the blessing of the candles that lit up the church.
“There is no way I was going to miss this,” said Larry Sorce, a parishioner of the Cathedral. “I’ve been a Catholic for my entire life, which is almost 78 years, so I think I’m probably going to stick with it. But I’ve been in lots of parishes around the country, and Bishop Spalding impressed me from the get-go.
“The first time I saw his pastoral style, his way, it was just very engaging,” he said.
“This is such a special Mass celebrated by a very holy man. We are so blessed to be here,” added Ronalda Smith, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake in Hendersonville. “I think Bishop Spalding is doing a remarkable job as bishop. You can feel his positive energy and love for his people. We need more of that in the world today.”
Joseph DiPaolo, who came with his girlfriend, Lindsey Stone, who are both parishioners of the Cathedral, said knowing that both Bishop Spalding’s anniversary and the Feast of the Presentation overlapped was beautiful.
“I love Bishop Spalding,” DiPaolo said. “I’ve been in the diocese at Cathedral ever since he took over. Knowing full well that this was the Presentation of the Lord, a feast that already means a lot to me, and considering it was also the bishop’s anniversary, I just wanted to be here to celebrate with him.”
As Bishop Spalding began his homily, he reiterated what he told the people at his installation Mass.
“We must pray to God to ever increase the love of Jesus in our hearts because if we’re going to be Church, if we’re going to truly live in the way that Christ wants us to live, then our love for him must increase,” he said.
He said the phrase “love of Jesus” means two things. First, the love of the person of Jesus Christ.
“As we come here and hear the scriptures, celebrate the sacraments, and rejoice in the gift of one another as believers in the Lord, we experience in a profound way, the presence of Christ in the minister that stands before you: the priest that offers up gifts and asks the Holy Spirit to come down upon them, and they become for us the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus,” the bishop continued. “We want to grow in the love of that person that God sent among us to show us how to speak, how to act, how to live.”
That leads to the second meaning of the phrase, he said.
“The love of Jesus is the kind of love he had and that kind of love that the Lord had for others is wonderful. We love him, the more it grows, the more our heart grows. The more our heart grows, the more we love others,” Bishop Spalding continued. “We’re put on this earth to go out from ourselves. If there’s anything that causes anxiety and darkness and difficulty in the world right now, it’s that people keep turning in on themselves and it crushes them.
“Their anxieties go up, their depressions, their difficulties but know, if we ask God, ‘Ever increase in my heart the love of Jesus, and I know Christ and I know that I’m called to serve others, to go out to others, to live with and for others, then my life is fulfilled.’”
Then, referring to the Gospel reading from Luke, and the story of Simeon and Anna, he continued.
“On this night, we are thankful, thankful for God sending us the gift of his son and Jesus showing us the way. He was the great promise that we heard in the scriptures, and it was fulfilled in him,” Bishop Spalding said. “Simeon and Anna were waiting, and once they experienced him, they knew their life would be full, and they knew in some ways it would be complete with Christ in their lives, and we as well understand that, so we must keep sharing it with others.
“We must keep our prayer before us that the promised one is the promised one for me as well as for all human salvation and that promised one that I experience in the Church, I want other people to know about in word and in sacrament in this community as we come together,” the bishop said, “because when you come together in the Church, your heart expands and ever increases in the love of Jesus Christ.”
During the homily, Bishop Spalding also reflected on his last five years as the bishop of Nashville.
“I’ve seen mountaintops and valleys. I’ve experienced many blessings and some difficulties,” Bishop Spalding said. “And yet, in all of it, in all those times in which I prayed, ‘Thank you God for these great blessings,’ or ‘Help me God in this moment,’ I asked God, ‘Help me love more.’
“We have to make that our prayer in our Church, one we pray every day, and we won’t stop praying that prayer of Jesus, ‘I want to love like you,’ until we see his face,” he continued. “We have our ups and our downs, and we have our own challenges that we live within our own lives, within our own families, our own work, our own schools, our own parishes. We still have work to do in building the kingdom in which Jesus lived and died for, but if we can just share with people and pray to God, ‘Increase the love of Jesus in my heart,’ watch what good things happen after that.”
Bishop Spalding said he is thankful to God for the people that have surrounded him the last five years and noted how he prays for them every day.
“I thank God for these priests,” Bishop Spalding said. “I pray for them every single morning and night. ‘God watch over them, God take care of them. … Be with him, guide him, watch over him.’ I’m very blessed by the priests that serve here in this diocese, and you know that as much as I do.”
“I thank God for these deacons … and their wives,” the bishop continued. “I thank you for the service of which you render around the altar and the service of charity you render around hospitals and prisons and visiting homes and all those other things that you do, and I appreciate your wives that share you with me and the Church and your parishes in which you serve.”
He said he also prays and thanks God for the consecrated religious and seminarians of the diocese.
To the consecrated religious, he said, “you give great witness in the Church, you show Christ to others, and we can never thank God enough for your presence among us. May the love of Jesus ever increase in your hearts as well.”
To the seminarians, he said, “I pray for our seminarians every day, ‘God increase their heart, help them discern your will for them, and if it be so, allow them to say, ‘Yes’ to being a priest in service to the Diocese of Nashville.’ I pray that every day. I want you to make that your prayer as well,” he told the congregation.
Bishop Spalding said he prays and thanks God for the leadership both in the diocese and at each individual parish.
“As a bishop, I love the people I work with here. I love them,” he said of diocesan employees. “They’re gifted, they’re smart. … They’re good, wise women and men who want the best for the Church in the name of Jesus Christ, so I pray for them every day.
“I pray for the leadership in every one of the parishes here that we keep discerning and bring people together, that we understand that we should be unified in Christ, and there are so many blessings,” the bishop continued. “This Church is so diverse, and yes, there are certain wounds and troubles and trials in every parish, but I always pray that the parish leadership and the parish as a whole… will all be brought together as one.”
“Then, simply, I end with, ‘God I pray for everybody in the whole diocese. Be with them.’”
To close out the homily, he directed his words to his family watching via livestream on social media, noting his thankfulness for them and his prayers for them as well.
“Family and friends, good to see you all. I’m doing OK,” he said. “They’re taking care of me, and you know, that’s all family wants to know.”
“The first house of formation is the family home, and I’m thankful for that first home of formation that I had,” Bishop Spalding said. “I’ve been blessed in a great home of formation in which Jesus was the center of our life. Faith was important, and we lived, and we loved it, and we still do, and that love, this night in a special way, is in my heart. The love of Jesus is in my heart.”
To view the full Mass, visit the Diocese of Nashville Facebook page.