Tuesday, July 16, 2024

WE ARE ALL CALLED, BUT OUR RESPONSES ARE DIFFERENT

 

A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go!”
Another disciple said, “Lord, I will follow you, but let me go first and bury my father.”
Matthew 8:18-22

My friends, each one of us is precious in God’s eyes. My one of us is special.  Each one of us is a unique expression of God’s love and creativity. In all the world there is no other person exactly like us. There never has been or never will be another person just like us!  Besides being special and unique, we are not here by accident. We were sent here for a purpose. We have a mission. We have something to do here that can be done by no one else. Our responsibility is to find out what our mission is and then carry it out with all our might.  Our purpose here is commonly called our “vocation” or “your call.”  Our most important task may have been in our younger years, but it may just be in the last days of our lives!

A few people enthusiastically “jump in head first” without counting the costs like the first would-be follower in today’s gospel and end up crashing and burning very quickly.  Some people hear God’s voice directly like Jeremiah, Peter and Andrew, James and John, seems to have done. More people hear their calls as “a hunch,” “a quiet knowing” or “a small still voice” that never seems to go away.  They just know in their guts. Other people hear God’s call through the invitation of others, those who say to them over and over again, “you’d make a good doctor,” “you’d be a great teacher,” “you’d make a good priest,” “you’ll make a great parent.” These voices just might be messengers from God himself!   

What if we listen for God’s call? What if we don’t?  God wants the best for us! If we do what he calls us to do, we will be ourselves, we will be what he created us to be. We will feel, and we will know, that we are in the right place. Our life’s work will fit who we are. When we follow our calls, we will be happy, not a “ha-ha” happy, but a deep-down satisfaction, in spite of challenges.

However, sometimes we know what we are supposed to do in life, but we don’t do it because we are scared of its demands, scared of what other people will think of us, scared of failure or scared of disappointing our parents, peers and friends and so we put it off “until our parents are dead” like the second of the would-be followers in today’s gospel.  We pay a price for not listening to God’s call.  We pay a price for pleasing others instead of becoming who we are. When people go against their call and do something else, their lives will seem to be out of sync, they will be frustrated, their hearts will not be in their jobs or professions. They will go through life with a low-grade depression, a restlessness that will follow them wherever they go and be filled with regret, anger and frustration that life somehow passed them by!

Everybody has a vocation, a call from God, to do something for him, to help him carry out some part of his work in the world. A call is not so much about what we want to do, but what God wants us to do! The famous Albert Schweitzer put it this way, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” The famous Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” 

Some of us are called to help God carry out his mission by being teachers, doctors, scientists and food producers. Others of us are called to be social workers, artists and scientists. Still others of us are called to help God carry out his mission by having children, by being a good husband or wife or by living the single life. Finally, some of us are called to be priests, sisters, brothers, deacons or full-time lay ministers.

Whatever our call, we are called to help God carry out his mission in the world in some way!  As St. Theresa put it, “Anyone who realizes that he or she is favored by God will have the courage necessary for doing great things!”  

 

 


Sunday, July 14, 2024

TAKE NO BAGGAGE! DON'T GET DISTRACTED! STICK TO THE SCRIPT!


Jesus summoned the twelve and began to send them out, instructing them
to keep it simple and to land in one place without moving around.
He also told them that if they are not welcomed, shake it off, move on
and keep delivering the message! 
Mark 6:7-13

What we have here are the “marching orders” for the first apostles and those of us who carry on their work. That work includes each and every one of us!  We were all commissioned at our baptisms to be "ambassadors" for Christ! These “missionary” instructions are as valid today as they were then, and just as demanding, too. What I think Jesus is saying to us here, in plain English, is this: (1) keep it simple (2) bloom where you are planted (3) expect some rejection (4) stay focused on what's truly important.

These marching orders have serious implications for those who carry on the work of the apostles as priests, yes, but they have serious implications also for those of you who carry on their work as parents, those who work in the world and citizens of this country. We may not learn these four things in the sequence given, or all at once, but sooner or later they will have to be learned. After 54 years of priesthood, I can say I have experienced all of them, and some of them several times over.

The first thing I had to learn was to “bloom where you are planted.” Just as some of the missionaries that Jesus “sent out” shopped around for the bigger and better deals, priests today can be very rigid about what they will, or will not accept, in an assignment.  When I was first ordained, I had my heart set on being an associate in a comfortable suburban parish so that, after living mostly in the country, I could finally enjoy the benefits of the big city. What I got was an assignment to the “home missions” of our diocese, three and a half hours away from here.  This first crisis of my priesthood took place just two weeks into priesthood.  When I heard where I was being sent, I pleaded, begged and cried to no avail. I finally had to accept the fact that I had to go, one way or another, willingly or unwillingly. In the car, on the way down there, I made one of the most important decisions of my priesthood: since I didn’t get what I wanted, I consciously decided to want what I got. My heart and mind opened and I decided to do everything in my power to “bloom where I was being planted.”  In final analysis, it turned out to be an incredible 10 years. I used to teach what I had learned from this experience to priests-to-be when I worked at St. Meinrad Seminary. I used to tell them that when it comes to assignments from the bishop, if you don't get what you want, you can always turn and make up your mind to want what you got! I tried to tell them that it was possible to "bloom where you are planted!"

"Bloom where you are planted" can apply to the rest of you as well - whether your life is focused mostly in the professional world, mostly in the work world or mostly in the home world. There are opportunities everywhere to "preach the gospel" by your actions, "using words if you have to" as St. Francis supposedly said.  You don't have to stand on street corners and preach, all you need to do is to just focus on being the best marriage partner you can be, the best parent you can be and the best professional or laborer you can be!   Yes, if you just "bloom right where you are planted" that will be enough! 

The second thing I had to learn was to “keep it simple.” In 1975, I was assigned two rural counties where I was expected to start two mission parishes where the Catholic Church had never been before. In all of history, I became the first resident Catholic priest to live in Wayne County, Kentucky. When I moved into the basement apartment of St. Peter Mission Church, all I had was an old bed, a bedside table, a tacky old yard-sale lamp, a warped green kitchen table with two matching chairs, a total of 6 parishioners and $70.00 in the parish bank account.  I remember lying in bed that first night recalling the words of today's gospel: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals” I kept asking myself that night: “What in the hell has just happened to me?” That night the challenge to “keep it simple” became a very stark reality for me! 

Since I could not do grand things in a situation like that, I was forced to look for simple ways to make an impression in the community. I remember deciding to pray for the other churches, one by one every week, until I had covered every church in Wayne County.  Each week, I would write a letter to the church pastors telling them we were praying for them and for the success of their ministry at the coming weekend Masses. One year, when I was able to get a semi-truck load of educational toys from PLAYSKOOL TOY COMPANY in Chicago through one of my seminary classmates, I divided them among the Sunday School classrooms in all the churches of Wayne County who would accept them. 

Because I had to "keep it simple," I came to believe that one of the most effective ways of making a difference in the world is to simply lead by example.  Practicing simple random acts of kindness is a simple and effective way to set a good example on how to behave in the world. People today are often surprised by simple acts of kindness. Benjamin Franklin once said, "The best sermon is a good example." Whether you are a priest or a parent, I believe that "setting an example" can be a much more effective way to "preach the gospel" than reading from a Bible on street corners, no matter how loud one gets! I like to think that my own personal "acts of kindness" have been just as effective as any of the words I might have used in a pulpit. 

As an "ambassador of Christ" in the world, the third thing I had to learn was to “expect rejection.”  One of the reasons I did not respond positively to the news of my first assignment to the "home missions" in the southern part of the state, where Catholics made up only one-tenth of one percent of the population, was the fact that anti-Catholicism was very much a reality down there at that time. I grew up very much fearing rejection.

The first day I went into a local “ministerial association” meeting, the host minister saw me, left the room abruptly and sent a note back to us by his secretary, which read, “I can no longer be part of this group, now that it has a Catholic in it. Please leave my church!” Thank God all the other ministers stood up with me and walked out. We went across the street to another church to finish our meeting! I was regularly preached about, by name, on the radio. One minister told his radio audience, “If you people had prayed harder, those Catholics would not have come!"  Even when I got my own radio program, I was thrown off the air while I was on vacation, because some local ministers showed up at the radio station to complain. I didn’t “shake off the dust” in the sense of leaving town, but I decided not to let those comments affect me. I simply refused to take them personally. I simply turned the other cheek and decided that I would "kill them with kindness" until I was accepted.  It worked! 

Many of you parents, who do the heroic work of raising children, have had to endure rejection from your own children, especially as they go through puberty! As Shakespeare said, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!" During that transition to adulthood, there may be times when your children call you every name in the book and quite speaking to you for weeks, but you remain steadfast, parenting as best you can as they work their way through the trials of growing up!  

The last thing I had to learn as an "ambassador for Christ" was “not to forget what is truly important.” Some priests think their main mission in ministry is to be the “town scold,” always looking for evil to condemn - "mousing for vermin" as one writer called it! Well, I have always believed differently. I believe that we actually see what we look for, so one day I decided to start writing a weekly column in The Record called "An Encouraging Word." Rather than always looking for evil to condemn, I tried to look for goodness to affirm in the ordinary people moving around me. I wrote that column every week for fifteen years. I wrote a total of 750 weekly columns in all! I always found some goodness to affirm because I was training myself to look for it!

I believe that the last thing our people need from us, when we go into their parishes, is always telling them what’s wrong with them. What they need from us is encouragement. In many cases, it is obvious to me that they already have more faith than I do. What they need, I believe, is God's encouragement, the encouragement of the “good news,” the good news of God’s universal and unconditional love for all people. If announcing the “good news" is not our passion, but instead being one of those who is always wallowing in that small world of nit-picking liturgical issues, always delivering complicated tedious theological lectures from the pulpit that nobody is interested in, then we are guilty of overlooking the great treasure in favor of focusing on the humble crock that holds it. In the priesthood and in family life, there is always so much to do that it is very easy to forget what is truly important. People today still crave hearing the “good news” and still respond to it enthusiastically when they hear it. When we remember the "good news" ourselves, and help others remember it, we will always be remembering what is truly important. 

My friends, all of us are "evangelists." All of us are "preachers of the good news." All of us are "ambassadors for Christ." We just carry that "good news" out to the world in a variety of ways. Some of us do it mainly with our words. Some of us do it mainly with our actions. Either way, we are all called "to keep it simple, to bloom where we are planted, to expect rejection and to remember what is truly important!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

EVEN THE THOUGHT OF THESE SCENES BREAKS MY HEART

 I am sure most of you know of Hurricane Beryl that ripped through the Caribbean Islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (where I made 12 trips as a volunteer Caribbean missionary) and caused damage as it made its way all the way up to Texas and beyond. 

While the damage in the islands of SVG goes far beyond this blog-post, completely destroying many homes and some churches, I want to focus mainly on two small churches on two islands where I had led an effort to provide several improvements. At least two churches were completely destroyed in the recent Hurricane Beyl and the other was destroyed in a volcano eruption on St. Vincent in 2021. Other destroyed or damaged churches, school roofs and homes we helped update are not included in this post.   

At least two churches, maybe three, were outfitted with red chairs that had come out of our Louisville Cathedral as part of a major renovation of  island churches: chairs, new ceiling fans, liturgical equipment and, in one case a new fence, gate and floor make-over.      

THE TRAGIC LOSS
of our
OLD CATHEDRAL CHAIRS, NEW FANS, NEW ROOFS AND MANY OTHER IMPROVEMENTS


#1

PRE-HURRICANE BERYL 

Immaculate Conception Church on Mayreau Island is part of a three-island parish cluster called Holy Family Parish. The other two churches are Our Lady of the Assumption on Canouan Island and St. Joseph Church on Union Island. 

Notice the large ceiling fans that we installed inside that church! 

 
Easter Vigil 2022 with visitors and Bishop Gerard County.


THE POST-HURRICANE BERYL DESTRUCTION


ACTUAL DESCRIPTION OF BEING CAUGHT IN HURRICANE BERYL

MORE IMPROVEMENTS LOST
New entrance, right before the new tall wrought-iron gates were installed. 
New fence to keep roaming goats out of the parish gardens. 
Thank God, none of these people, of the 50 who took refuge in the church during the hurricane, were killed! 
Parish kids with their Easter Baskets that we sent down. They are holding a sign that says "Thank You Father Ron" meant for all who donated and helped send things down to them. 


THE OTHER TWO CHURCHES OF THE THREE-ISLAND HOLY FAMILY PARISH
The Our Lady of the Assumption on Canouan Island with Cathedral chairs was not destroyed. Both sides of the altar have Cathedral chairs. 
The St. Joseph Church and Rectory on Union Island with some Cathedral chairs and our new ceiling fans with lights was totally destroyed. Photo of that destruction is not available at this time. The new roof and other improvements on the St. Joseph Retreat House, up the hill from the church, suffered severe damage.  
Our new roof on St. Joseph Retreat House being  installed a few years ago was totally ripped off by Hurricane Beryl. 

 
#2
PRE-VOLCANO
Our Lady Star of the Sea Church On Saint Vincent Island - Top Floor 
(Episcopal Church - Bottom Floor)


Tim Toms, part of a group from Louisville who made a trip down to the islands and who helped with this project and others, standing in front (above) and sitting in the newly renovated church (this photo) - pre-volcano. 

                 
Notice the new ceiling fans, Stations the the Cross and Statuary and refinished floor. 


POST-VOLCANO 
You can see the very bottom tip of the crucifix (above) in the yellow wall opening in the center of this picture. 
18 inches of volcanic ash on the roof crushed the new ceiling fans, the Cathedral's old red chairs and most of the liturgical furnishings as it fell in from the weight. It's all crushed under that volcanic ash!


MOTHER TERESA'S "ANYWAY" POEM

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

         Inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta.

 



I thought I had "retired" from work in the Caribbean Missions, but this hurricane breaks my heart. It destroyed much of our work. I feel I have to do something "anyway." If this moves you to help in "anyway," you can send a check made out to ST. BARTHOLOMEW CHURCH - SVG MISSION FUND and I will see that it is deposited in their account at a local TRUIST BANK. I still have some of their deposit slips.  Don't make checks out to me, just send them to me for deposit:

Rev. Ronald Knott
1271 Parkway Gardens Court
Louisville, KY 40217


Tuesday, July 9, 2024

THRIVING IN A WORLD OF PARADOX


Given to the Bishop and Priests of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa
2016
Rev. J. Ronald Knott


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I put on this Roman collar, it occurred to me that it has been the source of both joy and pain. At one of the receptions following my ordination, an angry young woman confronted me in front of a circle of friends. “How long did you go to school for that,” she hissed, pointing to my collar. When I answered her, “twenty years counting grade school,” she responded, “My God, you could have been something!” I suppose she meant a doctor or lawyer, but obviously she could not imagine anyone in their right mind choosing priesthood! As a very young priest, I was kicked out of a ministerial association meeting being held in a local church, down in the southern part of the state, when I showed up in it for my first meeting. The host minister left the room when I entered and sent a note back in by his secretary that read, “I can no longer in conscience be part of this group now that it has a Catholic in it! Please leave my church!” During the worst days of the sexual abuse scandal, I caught myself, one day, putting my hand over it at a stop light here in Louisville. It takes a lot of courage to wear a Roman collar these days, so I ask you to lay aside any prejudices or already arrived at conclusions and keep an open mind.

I am a Catholic priest, yes, and very happy being one for over 46 years now. In fact, I am happier today than I was when I started. Let me be clear about one thing, however! That is not an accident. I decided, even before I was ordained, to commit to becoming happier and happier at this as the years rolled by. I decided that if I were going to be a priest, I was going to do all I could to be a happy, effective priest or I was going to get out.  I am still working my program. 

I am a Catholic priest, yes, and very happy being one for over 46 years, but that is not all I am. I like to put it this way. I am consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and unapologetically ecumenical and interfaith in my approach to life. I have always resonated with this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” This, too, could be a personal belief. I have heard it said that heroism can be redefined for our age as the ability to tolerate paradox, to embrace seemingly opposing forces without rejecting one or the other just for the sheer relief of it, and to understand that life is the game played between two paradoxical goalposts: winning is good and so is losing; freedom is good and so is authority; having and giving; action and passivity; sex and celibacy; income and outgo; courage and fear. Both are true. They may sit on opposite sides of the table, but underneath it their legs are entwined. (Gregg Levoy in "Callings")

I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from a Catholic seminary and doctorate from a Presbyterian Seminary. My spiritual adviser in the last Catholic seminary I attended was a Disciple of Christ minister. As a Catholic seminarian, I worked as a campground minister in Crater Lake National Park for the United Church of Christ. I was a major part of founding two interfaith organizations: an interfaith campus ministry program at Somerset Community College called IF and the Cathedral Heritage Foundation (now called the Center for Interfaith Relations) when I was pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption on Fifth Street. I have attended a bar mitzvah at The Temple, prayed at the mosque on River Road and meditated at a Quaker meeting in Berea. I have taken students of various faith traditions (and none at all) on five trips to the ecumenical monastery in Taize, France. That unique monastery is made up mostly of Protestant monks and only a few Catholic and Orthodox members.) I have close friends who are agnostic and atheist. I am comfortable relating to millionaires and street people – often in the same day. I have preached in Baptist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches. I have been honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. I admire people as diverse as Rev. Kevin Cosby, Christy Brown, Muhammad Ali, the husband and wife Rabbis Raport at The Temple, Catherine Spalding, Jerry Abramson, The Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. My ideas attracted a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation to study and address the issues facing priests in their first five years of ministry. Part of the grant enabled me to start a program to help international priests acclimate to American culture. They now make up 30% of all of us. As a result, I have been able to meet and interact with hundreds of these men from over twenty countries. I know people from all over the world and interact with them almost every week. I am proud that I can do all that, be a firmly committed Catholic and be at the top of my game as an effective priest at 72 years of age. I do it because I work at it. 

I love having all this variety in my life. I have always believed that those who agree with us bring us comfort, but those who disagree with us bring us growth. All this variety in life has expanded my mind. I have a high tolerance for different perspectives, but I have no tolerance for bigots, meanness, cruelty, laziness and whining. Whiny priests, especially, get on my nerves! As I tell my fellow priests and their bishops when I have spoken to them in a hundred dioceses in nine countries over the last several years: “If you are happy, speak up! If you are not happy, find a way to get happy! If you can’t find a way to get happy, then do the rest of us a favor and shut up!” (You have to blunt with priests to get their attention.) I haven’t been shot yet so I will probably keep doing it! 

I am proud of my happiness level today, yes, but I want to repeat – it is not an accident! I made a commitment many years ago, with God’s help, to be where I am today. I believe with all my heart that “change is inevitable, growth intentional.” 

One of the quotes that guides me in all this is one from George Bernard Shaw. "This is the true joy in life...the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

I was born at home, on April 28, 1944, in a very small, very rural town, along the Ohio an hour down-river from Louisville, in Meade County. Almost dead on arrival, I was delivered by my country midwife grandmother. As a result, I have been fighting for life from day one! 

The most courageous thing I did as a young man was to leave that small town in 1958 and come up here to Louisville to go the old St. Thomas Seminary out on Brownsboro Road. I knew I wanted to be a priest in the second grade and never changed my mind after that. The problem was that I could not get adults to take me seriously. My parents neither encouraged or discouraged me. They thought I was going through a phase and that I would outgrow it in time. My pastor refused to fill out the papers for me to go to the seminary until I begged. He relented after predicting I’d be home before Christmas. I was only fourteen. Even as I was leaving that little town, a couple of adults made bets in front of others that I would not finish my first year. I was almost thrown out of the seminary in my second year of high school. The Rector called me a “hopeless case” to my face and threatened to send me home. He relented only after I cried for a second-chance. His last words to me five years later, in front of the whole class, were: “Knott, you have been a ball and chain around my leg for six years!” My experience of the St. Thomas Seminary approach to seminary formation was, “We know you are a fatally flawed human being and we will eventually prove it!” 

I next went to the Benedictine run St. Meinrad Seminary over in Indiana just north of Tell City. My experience of the St. Meinrad approach to seminary formation was, “We know you have gifts and talents and we will keep digging till we find them and help you make them grow!” When I arrived there in 1964, their approach scared me even more than the St. Thomas Seminary approach because I thought if they were to dig, they would find out that I didn’t have any talents! I responded by trying to become invisible. 

Their approach obviously began to seep into my subconscious because the most courageous thing I did as a seminarian during those years was to stand up to my own cowardice. I grew up believing that "life is something that happens to you and all you can do about it is to accept it.” As a result, I arrived at St. Meinrad Seminary, twenty years old, extremely bashful, backward and scared of life. However, one day on a fire-escape, during a smoke break, I blurted out a decision I had made somewhere in the very depths of my soul to a friend of mine from Indianapolis. “Pat, I am so damned tired of being bashful, backward and scared that I am going to do something about it, even if it kills me!” 

On that fire escape that day, I decided to take charge of my own happiness and quit blaming other people for the way I experienced life. Realizing there was no recue party out looking for me, I decided to quit waiting to be rescued. I decided, to paraphrase the words of George Bernard Shaw, “to be a force of nature, rather than a feverish little clod of grievances and ailments, always complaining that the world will not get together and make me happy.” I decided to quit playing the blame game and make myself happy, no matter what pastoral assignment I got, no matter who the bishop was, no matter what ideological direction the church or country took! I started with baby steps and moved deliberately and courageously toward bigger and bigger steps. The rest is history. I have been working my program ever since and I am still working it today! I plan to keep working it till God calls me home! Thanks to that "fire escape decision" I am still making the decision daily to live deliberately, consciously and on purpose. I have soared beyond my wildest imaginations! Because of that “fire escape” decision, I went from being too bashful to read in front of my classmates to being an international public speaker! I have been the featured speaker in over 100 week-long programs in 9 countries. Because of time, I have so far turned down speaking engagements in Singapore, India, Tonga and Nigeria. Because of that “fire escape” decision, I have gone from crippling self-doubt to being honored as a recognized leader in my profession. 

I have learned that indeed change is inevitable, but growth intentional. The opposite of intentional growth is “spiritual suicide.” I would define “spiritual suicide” as the result of always saying “no” to opportunities to change, to grow and to learn. I have learned that to live deliberately, consciously and on purpose, one has to stand up to one’s own laziness and cowardice and make a passionate commitment to personal and vocational excellence – to who one is and what one does! We have to stand up to those discounting voices inside our own heads, as well as those coming out of the mouths of the people around us. 

I also believe that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I believe with all my heart that when we really commit to personal and professional growth, God shows up to help. W. H. Murray, in one of my all-time favorite and useful quotes, says this: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” 

The latest manifestation is the decision to take charge of my own retirement rather than leave it up to my diocese to take care of it for me. Actually I have been taking charge of my retirement since ordination. For one thing, I wanted to own my own home by the time I retired so I started saving for it back in 1970. That is only one of many of my goals set years ago that have been met! 

When I retired two years ago, I knew one thing for sure. I did not want to look at retirement as a time to lay back, relax and start dying. I was not interested in playing golf every day, puttering around the yard or hanging out at the local McDonald’s with other old men who gossip till noon every day on free coffee! I wanted a Dylan Thomas kind of retirement. The poet Dylan Thomas said this: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” In the words of Shauna Niequist, “I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. I want my every day to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift!”

I want retirement to be about “re-inventing myself.” I want to keep on living deliberately, consciously and on purpose. I do not want to continue hanging on to the stuff that I have always done – but just turning down the dial a bit. I want to keep serving in a new way with a renewed passion. I want to pick and choose what I want to do, but I still want to do! I want to be personally interested and interesting. I want to burn out, not rust out! Yes, I want to live what’s left of my life, deliberately, consciously and on purpose – just as I made up my mind to do, that day on the fire escape, back in college. 

So far, I am as busy as ever, but I have the luxury now of saying “yes” or saying “no.” I haven’t even waited around to be asked if I want to do this or that! I created my own plan and an organization to carry it out. I still write a weekly column for our diocesan paper. The Record, because I still enjoy it after fourteen years of doing it weekly. I am committed into 2018 to lead priests retreats in the United States, Canada and a few other countries because I am still being invited, because it is extremely interesting and because I can make some good money doing it to fund my new organization for retired people like myself. I am now volunteering down in the Caribbean, most especially the poor country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, off the coast of Venezuela. I have made four trips already and I have two more on the calendar this fall. 

My new organization is called the Catholic Second Wind Guild. Even though it has the word “Catholic” in the name because we need to be connected to some structure and organization down there, it is open to people of all faiths. or no faith at all, because we serve the poor and struggling regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of it. Remember, I consider myself as “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic, but also unapologetically ecumenical and interfaith.” 

“Second wind” is a phenomenon in distance running whereby an athlete who is too out of breath and too tired to continue, suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance. 

Traditionally, a “guild” was a group of professional artisans and craftsmen engaged in the same occupation who would associate themselves together for protection, mutual aid and service. These guilds performed other services for their members as well as the community at large.

Fundamentally, Second Wind is different from those typical volunteer organizations who take youth to places like that to paint and fix up individual homes. It is more of a clearing house for teams of retired professionals who want to use their talent, connections and resources to strengthen the lives of people down there by strengthening existing service organizations by targeting specific projects. (Volunteering in a warm climate in the winter doesn’t hurt either.) The first team of retired professionals is gradually coming together for a possible trip down in September. Our first project is to renovate the pastoral center in Kingstown so that it will be a comfortable and clean place out of which these teams of retired professionals can operate. So far we have three professional couples, one single and myself. I am still looking for professionals from the corporate world of kitchen equipment and furniture to complete the team. If any of you would like to learn more, or have any connections along these lines, please contact me. 

What I have tried to say today is this, change is inevitable, but growth has to be intentional. There are a lot of things we can’t control, but there are still a lot of things we can. We can be one of those people who believe that life is something that happens to them or we can be one of those people who is a “force of nature,” as Shaw called them. We can be one of those people who choose to live deliberately, consciously and on purpose – not only when we are young and starting out, but also when we go into retirement. Even in sickness and times of great loss, we can still choose our response to life’s challenges. One of my heroes, Victor Frankl who survived the Nazi prison system, noted this basic truth. “The last of the human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s response to any given situation.” In retirement, I choose to keep serving other people over pampering myself. 

I don’t know how I got invited today or why, but I am honored to be here. However, I don’t believe it is an accident that I am here today. It is serendipitous that your purpose of bringing together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and to advance goodwill and peace around the world dovetails with my mission in retirement. Your mottoes of "Service above self" and "One profits most who serves best" resonates deep within my own heart. Thank you!