I have arrived in Nashville. I have no place to live, I have no priests and no money, but here I begin.
Thus were the similar words written in the diary of the late Bishop Richard Pius Miles, OP, his first night as the first bishop of the Diocese of Nashville in 1838, following the establishment of the diocese by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837.
At that time, the diocese covered the entire state of Tennessee before the Diocese of Memphis, which covers the western third of the state, was established in 1971, and the Diocese of Knoxville, which covers the eastern third of the state, was established in 1988.
But it was those words that officially brought the Diocese of Nashville to where it is today as Bishop J. Mark Spalding, joined by dozens of priests and deacons of the diocese, celebrated a special Mass in honor of its 185th anniversary Thursday, July 28, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
At the start of his homily, Bishop Spalding listed the names of the bishops throughout the history of the diocese before quoting those paraphrased words written by Bishop Miles.
“From that moment to this, people have gathered in Word and in Sacrament and celebrated the presence of Christ and shared that presence with others,” Bishop Spalding said. “The bishops, they’re important persons and leaders in our Church, but as we gather here this evening, we are mindful as well of all those pastors, associates, all those deacons, the religious.
“And just as we have priests and deacons and religious, we’ve also had lay leadership and lay faithful in the pews that have made sure the Church grew and prospered,” he continued. “This Mass, in a special way, we have it as an intention for all those who have gone before us who lived the faith, who loved the faith and passed it on.
“Tonight, do yourself a favor and give yourself a grace by just pondering those dear ones God has blessed you with in your life, who’ve made you who you are, especially in your faith journey,” Bishop Spalding advised. “As we gather here … we’re symbolic of the whole diocese this night. You symbolize everyone that has gone before us.”
Now, as the 200th anniversary of the Diocese of Nashville approaches, marking its next major milestone, Bishop Spalding said we must always continue to be “mindful of the tradition and the legacy we’ve received.”
“If you read the history of this diocese, it’s full of many blessings of people gathering more and more and building the little churches and the big ones, starting in storefronts and even barns to celebrate Mass. These are some of the biggest parishes now, and our parishes are only growing bigger, so we need to be wide open and praying that God watches over us as we go into this future. But the future is going to require work, effort, invitation, challenge, compassion,” Bishop Spalding said. “As we go into this future, in many ways, we need to recognize Christ and share him with others. Profoundly, people in our day, as in the days before us, need to know Christ in Word, in the proclamation and in the teaching of the Church. They need to know Christ in the sacraments of the Church, but most especially in the gift of the Eucharist; the body, blood, soul, and divinity given to us.
“What a wonderful miracle that we should be sharing with everyone we meet. Come with us on this great journey, this pilgrimage from this city on earth to the heavenly Jerusalem,” he said. “There is no greater thing that you and I can be a part of in this Church and for its future than to share Christ with others, to tell others you love them, you care for them and that you are a believer.
“If they want to have the fullness of life, they must come to know Christ, and they will know Christ wonderfully and powerfully in the Roman Catholic Church. I pray that you and I will be brave enough to continue that because when we take part in that, hear this well, ‘The Life You Save May Be your Own,’” Bishop Spalding said, quoting the title of a short story by Catholic author Flannery O’Connor.
“Let us continue with this beautiful celebration. Let us remember those who have gone before us. Let us thank God for the blessings we have now and understand that God has been with us in the good times and in the challenging ones,” he concluded. “God has made a promise through his Son and the gift of the Spirit that he will be with us on our way from here to heaven, and we have to take as many others with us as we can. We thank God for where we are and we ask God to lead us into our future, mindful of the gifts of his Son, mindful of the gifts of the Spirit.”
During the Mass, Bishop Spalding included touches of the former leaders of the diocese, using the crozier and donning the pectoral cross that belonged to Bishop Thomas Sebastian Byrne, the fifth bishop of Nashville, who was responsible for the building of the Cathedral. Additionally, the chalice that was used during the Liturgy of the Eucharist belonged to Bishop Miles, which he noted was bent due to it being kept in a saddle bag while he traveled across the state.
“Think of Bishop Miles going all over the state with a horse and that beautiful chalice, and he offered up Mass then as we did just now and we unite ourselves,” Bishop Spalding said. “We united ourselves throughout space and time with the angels and the saints, and they gather with us every time we celebrate Mass.
“Almighty God, I thank you as the bishop of the Diocese of Nashville for all of us gathered here. Be with us now and always as you have been, and we thank you for all the leaders you have given us,” he prayed. “Bishop Miles, Bishop Whelan, Bishop Feehan, Bishop Rademacher, Bishop Byrne, … Bishop Smith, Bishop Adrian, Bishop Durick, Bishop Niedergeses, Bishop Kmiec, Bishop Choby, and me, your unworthy servant.”