From the Pastor

April 1, 2020
Dear Friends,

 
T.S. Elliot famously began The Waste Land with the words: April is the cruelest month. Let us hope that this will not be quite the case for us this year in terms of this pandemic!
Centuries before Elliot, Geoffrey Chaucer began his Canterbury Tales with a slightly more encouraging image of April:
When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower
 
If anyone wants to join our volunteers to call and keep contact with our parishioners, please email our parish receptionist at nancybstrange15@gmail.com (or the icoffice@bellsouth.net address) or leave a message on her voice mail at the parish office 865-522-1508.
At Mass yesterday, the Old Testament reading (Numbers 21:4-9) was the account of plague of “saraph serpents” that afflicted the Israelites during their wandering in the desert. When the people asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf, “Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live ‘.” Moses did as he was instructed, mounting a bronze image on a pole, and healing came to the community. In John 3:14, Jesus identified the bronze image on the pole as a prophetic image of his own crucifixion and the salvation that would make possible. In the story, the infected Israelites were instructed to reorient their attention, to look not at themselves but at the bronze image. So too in this season of Christ’s passion, Jesus invites us to redirect our attention to him, specifically to Christ crucified, and to call on him with confidence for the healing we so desperately need.
At our parish leaders zoom meeting on Monday, a question was asked about the Paulist Fathers’ Hope for the Future Campaign, which was originally supposed to be starting this month. Needless to say, that will not be happening. All scheduled activities on the Campaign timeline have been cancelled, and the Campaign itself has been postponed for at least the next couple of months.
Speaking of things being postponed, our shipment of palms arrived yesterday. As with the Paulist Campaign and so many other things, it is hard to make plans when everything is inevitably in flux. But the plan at present is to bless the palms at Mass on Sunday morning – hopefully live on the parish Facebook page at 8:30 a.m. Then we will store them in a suitable place to keep them as fresh as possible, so that they can be distributed later when it becomes safe to do so.
As always, let us remember and pray for all the sick and those who care for them, and those public officials who are trying to provide leadership in this time of crisis. And we remember and pray for all who have died and those who mourn them.
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us!
Fr. Ron
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March 31, 2020
Dear Friends,
 
Well, the parish staff, pastoral council, and finance council had our on-line meeting yesterday.  It was a far-from-perfect  experience technologically, but we were able to hear and speak to one another, which is what matters. More importantly, we settled on a system to have volunteers call parishioners on the parish prayer list and others – both to keep in touch and to find out if there are any unmet needs in the community that the parish can assist with. If you know anyone you think should be on the list of those to be called, please call the parish office 865-522-1508 and leave a message with Nancy.
 
As of now, Immaculate Conception plans to broadcast Palm Sunday Mass on our parish Facebook page on April 5, at 8:30 a.m., the traditional hour for our first Sunday morning Mass. The early hour also means that, if we are unsuccessful  or if the quality is very poor, viewers will still have multiple other opportunities to watch Palm Sunday elsewhere during the day. If we are successful, we will attempt to continue broadcasting Sunday morning Mass on Easter and subsequent Sundays. A decision on Holy Thursday and Good Friday will be made at the beginning of next week, in light of our Palm Sunday experience. 
 
Also I am happy to announce that more parishioners have set up on-line giving since the cessation of public Masses in mid-March. Others have been sending in their envelopes through the mail. With all the difficulties everyone is experiencing right now, I am extremely grateful for this demonstration of concern and support for our parish, an encouraging sign going forward as we look ahead to the multiple challenges of rebuilding our parish and community life.
As always, let us remember and pray for all the sick and those who care for them, and those public officials who are trying to provide leadership in this time of crisis. And we remember and pray for all who have died and those who mourn them.
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us!
Fr. Ron
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March 30, 2020
Dear Friends,
 
We are now in the 5th Week of Lent. These last two weeks before Easter traditionally mark Lent’s final phase, as the Church focuses our attention more and more on the final events of Jesus’ earthly life – and why those events still matter for us today.  In the Preface used at Mass this week, the Church prays: through the saving Passion of your Son the whole world has received a heart to confess the infinite power of your majesty, since by the wondrous power of the Cross your judgment on the world is now revealed and the authority of Christ crucified.
 
Later this week, the Church will commemorate the compassion of Mary who at the foot of the Cross totally identified herself with the sufferings of her Son for the sake of humanity. As the Covid-19 pandemic has inevitably completely taken over our lives and our attention, all the more should the image resonate with us of Mary’s identification with her son’s sufferings. For, in a sense, that is what we are all being called to do in a special way, to identify ourselves with the Christ suffering and dying in his people here and now.
 
I think the reality is finally, if belatedly, setting in – even in those parts of the country that are just beginning to experience the inevitable rise in infection rates – that this is a serious crisis and that it will be with us for quite a while. Since we cannot gather together and since we cannot visit one another, it is all that much more important that we use all other available means of remaining in contact with one another and of supporting one another. Some of us may be in a position to be of some assistance to others who feel particularly vulnerable and so may be afraid, for example, to go shopping. With maybe more time on our hands than we usually have, maybe we can use some of that time to call one another – again especially those who live alone and who may lack lots of relatives and friends to check up on them. 
Again, do not hesitate to contact the parish office and either me or Fr. Tim, if you are aware of anyone who you believe would benefit from a phone call or needs other assistance.
 
The parish staff, pastoral council, and finance council will conduct a zoom meeting today at noon.  We will consider what we are doing right now and what we could do better to be of service to our community. We will also look at the pressing pastoral and financial challenges that the parish will face as we try to go forward into a very uncertain future that will likely look very different from what any of us was expecting just a while ago.

Please say a prayer for us that I don’t bungle this technology, and that we can meet successfully!

 
Speaking of fancy technology, the first episode of Homebound – a new video series from our Paulist seminarians in Washington, DC, is available on the parish Facebook page (along with the Holy Father’s weekly Sunday Angelus from yesterday and other previous posts).
 
Meanwhile, speaking of an older technology, it seems that 25 years ago, the Vatican released a  list of 45 films that the Holy See found either spiritually significant, morally compelling, or artistically meritorious. Twenty-five years later, America Media has expanded the Vatican’s list with what it considers the most groundbreaking, impressive and beautiful films released since 1995. To read the article in America, go to: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2020/03/27/top-25-films-last-25-years?utm_source=Newsletters&utm_campaign=f20d9e6c97-ARTS_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_28&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0fe8ed70be-f20d9e6c97-58472889
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us!
 
Fr. Ron
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March 28, 2020

Dear Friends,

 
Well, we have made it to the and of another week. I hope everyone is well. I expect we still have a long way to go.
A member of our parish recently alerted me to the following verse: Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past (Isaiah 26:20).
 
If you missed yesterday’s Prayer Service from Saint Peter’s Square in Rome, the video can be found on the Holy See’s website at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2020/3/27/uniti-in-preghiera.html.
 
Pope Francis concluded his message with these words: Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).
 
Tomorrow is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Later today I will post my “Homily” and the “Universal Prayer” for this Sunday. I invite you to pray the Universal Prayer as if you were at Mass, thus uniting your personal prayers with those of our entire parish community.
Finally, I would like to share this important announcement from Catholic Charities:
 
The outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) is having a significant impact on people throughout East Tennessee. In addition to the medical concerns the disease is causing, there are also mental health concerns affecting persons who have contracted the disease or who have a loved one who has contracted it, as well as anyone whose life has been disrupted by the disease’s social and economic consequences. Catholic Charities of East Tennessee is currently offering remote, telehealth counseling to help address the mental health needs of people throughout our diocese. Our licensed counselors are providing counseling via videoconferencing using a secure web-based service. Telehealth counseling offers people throughout east Tennessee opportunity to receive counseling to address issues such as stress, loneliness, grief, relationship issues, spiritual concerns, and milder forms of anxiety and depression. Telehealth counseling through CCETN is available to adult individuals. Due to professional licensure requirements, our counselors can provide telehealth counseling only to people located in the state of Tennessee. Telehealth services are not appropriate for persons in a crisis or people who require more intensive or more frequent services than can be provided in this therapeutic format. Counseling appointments are available Mondays through Thursdays, with a limited number of evening appointments available. Session costs are based on a sliding scale fee structure that takes into account a client’s income. To participate in telehealth counseling, a client needs access to a computer or smartphone with internet connection. For more information or to request a first appointment, please contact our counselors at counseling@ccetn.org
 
If you know anyone who might benefit from using this service, please encourage him or her to do so!
 
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.
March 27, 2020

Dear Friends:

 
In the ancient Church, today was the day for the Third Scrutiny of those preparing for Baptism. So let us especially keep our catechumens and candidates in prayer today. Regarding the ancient Lenten liturgy for today, the 20th-century liturgical scholar Pius Parsch wrote: “According to liturgical thinking the catechumens and penitents who come to life spiritually at Easter, indeed the whole paschal Church experiencing holy springtime and celebrating the joyous resurrection of its members, now repeat and fulfill the miracle at Bethany,” that is, the raising of Lazarus, which will be the subject of this coming Sunday’s Gospel. Parsch’s words remind us to trust the risen Lord to raise us to beyond whatever confines us at present to a fuller life in his kingdom. “Jesus is now living and working in his Church according to the spirit and meaning of the Gospel,” Parsch continued. “If we put ourselves in the place of the biblical persons, our reading and reflecting upon the gospel will become more fruitful.”
 
Remember that today is the day to join Pope Francis in prayer from the steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica at 1:00 p.m. (See attached picture.) The event will include readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and it will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et Orbi Blessing, with the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence for all those who listen to it live through the various forms of communication. (This Blessing “To the City and to the World” is normally only given on Christmas and Easter.) This will be broadcast live from the Vatican, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Rome time (1:00 p.m. EDT). “In Pope Francis’ words, We want to respond to the virus pandemic with the universality of prayer.”
 
Meanwhile, if you go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPSeWLEDTx4&t=13s you can watch a short introduction to to a new video series “Homebound,” being produced by our Paulist seminarians.  
 
As we approach another weekend, separated and again unable to gather for Mass, the Church is being forced to experience what I am calling a new kind of “eucharistic fast” – a fast not for the Eucharist but from the Eucharist. It is jarring to our contemporary sacramental sensibilities routinely to celebrate Mass and communicate alone as I must now do. I am reminded of something Thomas Merton wrote in his Journal, on February 11, 1950“I feel as if my Communion were somehow less perfect when I cannot turn and give the Body of Christ to one of my brothers also.” 
 
In referring to it as “somehow less perfect,” Merton was obviously not speaking theologically but experientially, as if in 1950 he were already able to anticipate our contemporary sacramental sensibility, which involves no theological change but reflects an extraordinary experiential change from most of the Church’s history when few if any received Communion to today’s widespread expectation of almost universal routine reception of Communion. Hence the widespread dismay that suddenly so many are not able to receive Communion. And, like so much about this unprecedented situation in which we hav unexpectedly found ourselves, we simply have no way of guessing what the long-term consequences of this experience will be for each of us individually, for the future of parish life. and indeed for the future of the entire Church.
As I did last week, I will post a “Homily” for the 5th Sunday of Lent and also the “Universal Prayer.” Whether or not you read the homily, I invite you to pray the Universal Prayer as if you were at Mass, thus uniting your personal prayers with those of our entire parish community.
 
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.
March 26, 2020
Dear Friends,
First of all, thank you all for the many birthday greetings I have received these past few days! My Paulist brothers even bought me a cake!
For most of the week, I have been offering Mass privately at a side altar in the church and then exposing the Blessed Sacrament and opening the church for a daily hour of private prayer from noon to 1:00 p.m. The number of people who have been visiting the church during this hour seems to be increasing daily. So we look forward to continuing this, at least as long as circumstances permit.

Please remember, if you come to the church to pray during the week, to sit at some distance from others and to sanitize your hands when you arrive and when you leave.

 
On March 19, the Apostolic Penitentiary granted a Plenary Indulgence to those faithful who, with a spirit detached from any sin and with the will to fulfill the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions), as soon as possible, “offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic adoration, or reading the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself.”
Yesterday, I celebrated Mass at the main altar – broadcast, courtesy of Saint Joseph School, via the live-stream internet on the Saint Joseph School Facebook page, which I then shared to the Immaculate Conception Parish Facebook page.If you have access to Facebook, you should be able to access it still on either of those pages This was intended as an experiment to test our capability to live-stream at least some services. As you have all heard me say by now, I am not naturally good at this technology. So I need plenty of help. Also I must admit I found it somewhat awkward. it is one thing to celebrate Mass alone on behalf of the community. I is quite another thing (psychologically at least) to celebrate Mass alone but as if one were facing a congregation! Anyway, we will keep working at this and do what we reasonably can.
Of course, whether or not Immaculate Conception is able to broadcast any of Holy Week, the Cathedral will certainly be broadcasting the Bishop’s Holy Week services live on the diocesan website. The schedule has already been published, and I will reprint it beforehand here and on our parish website and FB page for your benefit. 
The Immaculate Conception Parish Office is officially closed, but members of the parish staff are at work, whether there or at home, and can most easily be reached at present via their email addresses, which are available on the cover of the parish bulletin, which appears on the parish website (icknoxville.org).
Finally, “The Secretariat of State of the Holy See has requested that all local Churches be informed that all members of the faithful and other Christians are invited to participate in the special prayer of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, taking place in Saint Peter’s Square this Friday, March 27. The Apostolic Nunciature further conveys that during this Statio Orbis, which will be streamed live on the website of Vatican News at 1 p.m. (EDT), the Holy Father will grant to all participants the Plenary Indulgence before imparting the Urbi et Orbi Blessing.”
Fr. Ron
March 25, 2020
Dear Friends,
The Diocesan Chancery has been officially closed since yesterday, but diocesan staff members and ministry directors will maintain a regular work schedule and can be contacted via their email addresses which are available on the Diocese of Knoxville website. Similarly, the Immaculate Conception parish office is closed, but members of the parish staff are at work, whether there or at home, and can most easily be reached at present via their email addresses, which are available on the cover of the parish bulletin, which appears on the parish website. 
Yesterday the parish staff had our first-ever on-line zoom meeting. There was some awkwardness with the technology at first, but we eventually got ti to work. With that hurdle past, I hope to schedule an on-line meeting of the staff with the pastoral and finance councils sometime early next week.
Today the Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord. I plan to pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary after my Mass today. If you are able, please join me in reciting that Litany, wherever you may be. 
Today was supposed to be the day for Immaculate Conception to host our annual ecumenical Lenten service, followed immediately by the traditional Lenten lunch lovingly prepared by the Immaculate Conception Women’s Group. This has always been a wonderful occasion, an opportunity offered by this Lenten season to spend time in prayer and fellowship with some of the other Christian church communities based in the downtown area. Obviously, none of that will be happening this year. Even so, today might be a good day to remember and pray for our non-Catholic Christian neighbors in the downtown area and elsewhere.
As always, since we cannot visit one another, I encourage everyone to make every effort to remain in contact by other means, especially with those who are alone or may have particular needs at this time.
Again, if you know anyone who you believe might benefit from a phone call from me or Fr. Tim, please let one of us know.
Finally, today is also my 72nd birthday. In an Address to the International Congress, “The Richness of Many Years of Life,” last January, Pope Francis said, Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others…. Granting old age, God the Father gives us time to deepen our knowledge of Him, our intimacy with Him, to enter even more into His heart and surrender ourselves to Him.
The Paulist Prayer Book contains the following prayer by the late Paulist Fr. Edward Peters:
I am an oldster!
I’ve found it hard to accept, Lord,
I guess because I did not understand
what it means to be an oldster.
This much is easy to understand:
I had a youngster’s idea
of what it means to be old.
I always thought of it
as happening to someone else.
Now it’s gradually coming home to me
that I have entered a new station in life.
Help me, O Lord, to understand better
what has happened to me.
What new obligations have I assumed?
How should I deal with the new situations
in which I find myself?
I have been used to thinking of old age
as a time of declining powers;
but now it is coming home to me
that it also brings new opportunities
and new influence.
I thank you, Lord, for promoting me
to this new station in life.
Help me to fill it well.
In the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.
Fr. Ron
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March 24, 2020
Dear Friends,
This morning, the parish staff will have its first on-line staff meeting via zoom. If that succeeds, I plan to set up such a meeting with the pastoral and finance councils as well, in order to start strategizing about how to to sustain parish life through this crisis and how to keep parish life viable in the very difficult future which will follow when this has finally passed.
As I observed yesterday, it is increasingly obvious that this crisis will take a terrible toll on all of our institutions (as well as on all of us individually). The challenge will be how we respond and what resources – cultural, social, political, and religious – we will still have with which to respond in genuine solidarity with one another.
Tomorrow, nine months before Christmas, the Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord, recalling the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary (recorded in Luke 1:26-38). As on Christmas, the Church invites us to contemplate the great mystery of the Incarnation, commemorating history’s most amazing moment when the Word of God became one of us. The Church ritualizes this at Mass by a genuflection during the Creed. (Of course, those of us above a certain age can recall when we always genuflected at that point during the Creed!) Like other ritual bodily gestures, genuflecting during the Creed enfleshes our faith, challenging us to own what we profess with our entire selves, not just as an intellectual abstraction. 
An enfleshed faith is, of course, very much what we need at this terrible time. For this year the Annunciation occurs in a crisis when all of ordinary life’s rhythms – sacred as well as secular – have been completely disrupted by a global pandemic that more and more feels like an impending apocalypse.

All the more reason, therefore, to invoke the intercession of the woman at the center of the Annunciation scene, Mary, Mother of God, to help us find our way. For centuries in times of trouble, Popes and the people of the local Church of Rome have called upon Mary, Mother of God, for safety. Hence the special place in Roman piety occupied by the ancient image (photo) of Mary, entitled Saluls Populi Romani, presently venerated in the Capella Paolina in the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

This is the image Isaac Hecker stopped to pray in front of, after his expulsion from the Redemptorists in 1857. This is the image Pope Francis visited after his election in 2013 to entrust his pontificate to Mary – and has regularly revisited before and after papal journeys. More recently, in response the the COVID-19 pandemic, he went on pilgrimage through the empty streets of Rome to venerated the Salus Populi Romani image at Saint Mary Major, a simple but so very powerful symbolic gesture that highlighted the perennial relevance of the incarnation – God with us!
I plan to pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary after my Mass tomorrow. If you are able, please join me in reciting that Litany, wherever you may be. And don’t forget the Pope’s request that we all pause to recite the Our Father at noon tomorrow! 
As always, since we cannot visit one another, let us make every effort to remain in contact by other means, especially with those who are alone or may have particular needs at this time.
Again, if you know anyone who you believe might benefit from a phone call from me or Fr. Tim, please let one of us know.
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.
Fr. Ron
PRAYER OF POPE FRANCIS TO MARY, HEALTH OF THE SICK:
O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that you will provide, so that,
as you did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the Father’s will
and to do what Jesus tells us:
He who took our sufferings upon Himself, and bore our sorrows to bring us,
through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection. Amen.
We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas – we who are put to the test – and deliver us from every danger,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
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March 23, 2020
Dear Friends,
“O God, who renew the world through mysteries beyond all telling, grant, we pray, that your Church may be guided by your eternal design and not be deprived of your help in this present age” (Collect for today, Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent). 

Beginning today, Immaculate Conception Church will be open, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, from noon to 1:00 p.m., for personal private prayer. 

 
Depending on how that goes, I will reassess this arrangement and maintain or alter that schedule for future weeks as circumstances suggest. 
 

Please remember, if you come to the church to pray during the week, to sit at some distance from others and to sanitize your hands when you arrive and when you leave.

On March 19, the Apostolic Penitentiary granted a Plenary Indulgence to those faithful who, with a spirit detached from any sin and with the will to fulfill the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions), as soon as possible, “offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic adoration, or reading the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and eternal salvation for those whom the Lord has called to Himself.”
 
Looking ahead, Pope Francis has also asked all to recite the Lord’s Prayer together at noon on Wednesday, March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation). On Friday, March 27, at 6:00 p.m. Rome (1:00 p.m. EST), he will lead a moment of prayer in the empty Saint Peter’s Square, at the end of which he will impart an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi Blessing.
 
It is already obvious that this crisis will take a terrible toll on all of our institutions. The challenge will be how we respond and what resources – cultural, social, political, and religious – we will still have with which to respond in genuine solidarity with one another.
 
In the ancient Church, Wednesday and Friday of this week were the days when the Second and Third Scrutinies of the Elect were celebrated. So let us also remember and pray for our catechumens and candidates this week as they journey to Baptism and Full Communion under these unusual circumstances.  Let us remember and pray for all whose lives have been disrupted by the shutting down of workplaces, schools, etc. And, most of all, let us remember and pray for those who are sick and those who are caring for them, and for those who have died. 
 
Finally, since we cannot visit one another, let us make every effort to remain in contact by other means, especially with those who are alone or may have particular needs at this time.
 
Again, if you know anyone who you believe might benefit from a phone call from me or Fr. Tim, please let one of us know.
Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.
 
Fr. Ron           
View my current homily at https://icknoxville.org/pastors-homily/