Tuesday, January 22, 2019

ANOTHER FAMILY TRAGEDY - THE THIRD IN NINE MONTHS


BROTHER-IN-LAW
Thomas Wooldridge

January 23, 1945 - January 15, 2019



We lost my sister last April to a brain tumor, my brother-in-law, Paul, to an infection of the aorta in December and my second brother-in-law to a sudden heart attack last week.

THOMAS WOOLDRIDGE FUNERAL HOMILY
Rev. Ronald Knott

“We accept good things from God; should we not accept bad things?”
Book of Job

We have had so many family funerals of late, I am running out of things to say! However, it seems that God always comes through especially if I stop long enough to listen and reflect. I am not the type to go running to see if I can find a good funeral homily in some book somewhere. I like to let God speak to me and give me a few insights that people might find helpful.

It occurred to me that there are two things we, as a family, can take away from the readings that came to me as I sat down to write this homily. First, we have been a very fortunate family overall. We have accepted many good things from God over the years. Now it is our turn to accept a few challenges. Second, we are a family of over-achievers and under-achievers all mixed in together. Regardless, of our accomplishments or lack of them, whether we have been highly visibly or almost invisible, God gives each of a full day’s pay of love no matter what!

First, we have been a very fortunate family overall. We have accepted many good things from God over the years. Now it is our turn to accept a few challenges. In a way, our family has been a bit like Job’s family. Job had life by the tail. Things were going well. His family was thriving. They were free of many of the ordinary problems that many people around them had to face: chronic illnesses, grinding poverty and disastrous losses. He had almost come to expect things to always be good the way they have always been!

For Job, things could not have been better. Then it started! First, his fine herd of 500 yoke of oxen and 5000 donkeys were stolen right out from under him. In the process, those who tended them were put to death by the sword. Second, a fireball from out of the sky came down and killed his 7,000 sheep - and the shepherds looking after them. Third, bandits made off with his 3,000 camels and killed the servants caring for them. As if that was not bad enough, a tornado hit the house where all his children were gathered, the roof fell in all of them were crushed to death! It gets worse! Poor Job comes down with boils all over his body, from head to feet!

Distressed to the point of a breakdown poor Job tore his cloak, cut off his hair and sat in ashes. His wife even suggested that he curse God and die. Job responded to her with these wise words, “We accept good things from God; should we not accept bad things?” The story ends with these words, “In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrong!”

When I was trying to think of an appropriate reading for this funeral. The story of Job came to mind. In many ways, Tom has been a Job-like character. His father died a tragic death when he was a young man. He, himself, had a tragic accident many years ago that had left him in tremendous back-pain and several surgeries that offered him little relief. His pain radiated out into his family who were at a loss as to how to help him.

In the last nine months, it seems the story of Job continues to unfold in our family. We lost Kaye to a brain tumor last April, Paul to an infection of the aorta in December and now Tom to an unexpected heart attack. As if all this isn’t bad enough, Randy Smith, Nancy’s husband is in the hospital even now.

In spite of all this, we have been a very fortunate family overall. Other families have had it much worse. We have accepted many good things from God over the years. Now it is our turn to accept a few challenges. During the trials that have come upon our family in the last nine months, I have heard the phrase “we are so thankful” many times over. Kaye was spared years of painful treatments and surgeries – and maybe extended nursing care. Paul was spared another round of excruciating pain and experimental surgeries. Tom had always said, that if he ever had a heart attack, he wanted the “big one.” He has been spared more chronic back pain that could have gotten much worse as he aged. I believe that the consensus of our family are the words of Job, “We accept good things from God; should we not accept bad things?”

Second, the gospel has another message for us as a family and for those of you here today to show your support! Some of us have lived our lives in the public eye – out there for all to see. Like the vineyard workers, some of us have lived our lives quietly, out of sight, simply doing our duty. In the gospel today, those who “worked in the heat of the day,” those who were most visible, assumed that they would be loved more by God. Those who “started at finishing time,” those who have barely been noticeable, assumed they would be loved less. This startling parable has a shocking conclusion. “Give them all a full day’s pay! I love them all without condition!”

There’s one thing I know for sure. I may have been in The Record every week for fifteen years, I may have been pastor of the Cathedral and I may have traveled all over the world leading priest retreats, but that does not mean that God loves me any more than people like Tom Wooldridge who have lived their lives pretty much in obscurity. As my family goes to God, one at a time, I am confident that God will say to us, one at a time, “Give them all a full day’s pay! I love them all without condition for I am generous.”

My friends, when it’s all said and done, it’s not what we do for God that counts, but what God does for us! Yes, it’s not what we do for God, but what God does for us!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"A GOD OF PLENTY"

           "Wedding at Cana" 

This sculpture group is at the entrance of the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas. I saw this marvelous display of sculptures when I led the Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas, priest retreat there a few years ago. 
                 




It was at Cana in Galilee that Jesus
 began the signs that revealed his glory.
John 2:11

Jesus came to this world to teach us, by performing a series of "signs" or delivering "messages" about what heaven is going to be like!  There will be many more as we follow his life this liturgical year, but today we read about the first of those "signs" or "messages."    

Now, you would think the first "sign" or "message" that he would want to deliver, right out of the gate, would be something more practical, like healing the physically, emotionally or spiritually sick. There were certainly plenty of them to go around! You would think that his first "sign" would be something practical like feeding those who were hungry. There were certainly plenty of them to go around!  Instead of multiplying loaves of bread to feed the hungry first or curing a few hundred lepers first or even healing a bunch of mentally disturbed people first, he went to a wedding reception and delivered a truck load of wine - somewhere between 120-180 gallons, in fact! What kind of "sign" or "message" is that?

If you line up the details of this reading, surely Jesus wanted to make a statement about abundance.  His first "sign" or "message" seems to say that, in the kingdom of heaven, there will be plenty.  In a culture where people routinely lived on the edge of starvation and want, for Jesus to make this wedding reception event his first "sign" or "message" was quite powerful.  A wedding is about fertility, new life, continuation, happiness and possibility.

Every detail symbolizes plenty and abundance.  Not only were the bride and groom's family there, along with their relatives and neighbors, but also Jesus, his disciples and even his mother!  Not only were the water jars now full of wine, we are told they were full to the brim!  This wedding was not a single day affair. Jewish weddings went on for a week, so this 120 -180 gallon infusion of extra wine toward the end of the week, didn't even count what the family had purchased in the first place and had already been consumed!  Not only was this new wine added to what was already supplied, this new wine was actually much better than what was served first, unlike most weddings when they pulled out the cheap stuff after people were pretty well two-sheets to the wind and wouldn't know any better!

This multiplication of wine was the first "sign" or "message" that Jesus performed to teach us about the kingdom that God has in store for us. The rabbis at the time of Jesus had a saying, "Without wine, there is no joy." So this "sign" or "message" wasn't as much about a wedding or wine as it was a "sign" or "message" about the joy that awaits us in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, "I have come to bring you life - life to the full - life full to the brim - a joy that is not stingily divvied out in thimbles, but "pressed down. shaken together and poured into our laps."  Saint Paul talked about it this way, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even dawned on human beings the great things God has in store for those who love him." 

Jesus did not teach, as some assume, that this kingdom awaits us in the afterlife. Jesus taught us that we are already in his kingdom. He wants us to start tasting it now, even though it will not come to its fullness until we enter heaven.  Think about it! We are partially in heaven already! All we have to do is have the eyes to see it!  Jesus said as much before he performed this first "sign" or "message."  In fact, these were the first words out of his mouth when he began his public ministry! "Metanoiete! Change the way you see so that you see that the kingdom of God is at  hand, right there in front of you!! Indeed, it is within you!

The kingdom is already here? To that Jesus said, "Yes it is! If you have the right eyes you can see that it has already begun! It is subtle, like yeast working in a batch of dough, but it is here! The "signs" that I perform - healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those who are bound up - are "signs" that the kingdom is building. The "signs" that my followers, as they spread around the world in the years to come, will perform will be "even greater" because there will be millions of my followers "healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those bound up."  Then someday, in the great by-and-by, there will be no sickness, no hunger and no imprisonment of any kind!

One of the "signs" of the kingdom today is the work of (1) Catholic Relief Services, carrying on the ministry of Jesus, delivering medicine, food and aid to desperate places. It should make us all proud that one of the most respected, most efficient and most trusted relief agency is Catholic Relief Services.  (2) Another “sign” is the daily feeding of street people downstairs, something that has been going on in this place for over 150 years! (3) Still another smaller “sign” is my own little “Catholic Second Wind Guild” Caribbean charity fund and my personal volunteering down in the poor, small country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Through the donations and volunteering of disciples like us, the kingdom of God is shown forth, and will be shown forth, until there is no need for it when the kingdom comes to perfection in the world to come!  Then on that day, there will be no earthquakes, no disease, no hunger, no thirst and no crying! On that day, when our lives will be "filled to the brim," there will be plenty for everybody! Until then, let's do what we can to help the suffering experience a little taste of heaven, right now! 
   




Saturday, January 19, 2019

PRIEST RETREATS FOR 2019

I'VE LED WELL OVER 100 OF THEM AND GROWING IN NINE COUNTRIES





Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska
April 30-May 1

Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota
June 10-13

Diocese of Belleville, Illinois
September 9-11

Diocese of Pembroke, Ontario, Canada
October 21-24

Thursday, January 17, 2019

GOOD NEWS FOR THIS AGING MISSIONARY

   


   
FINALLY, 
A LESS STRESSFUL WAY TO GET THERE

Beginning December 22, 2018, American Airlines started a direct weekly flight from Miami to Saint Vincent. This means I can get from Louisville to Saint Vincent with one stop in Miami! No more sitting and waiting in multiple airports for multiple connecting flights. 

It is going to make my volunteer trips much easier and my trips down there go faster. I could not be happier about this new turn of events. I love working down there, but the trips were putting more and more stress on my old body. 


   

Because of this great news, I have booked trip #12. 
March 30, 2019. 


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I MAY BE OVERDOING THE INDEPENDENCE THING

HAVE I BECOME I DANGEROUSLY INDEPENDENT? 


Recently, I had a pretty bad case of the flu. Living alone created a few problems for me when it came to transportation, food and a realistic sense of how sick I was. I actually put myself in a very dangerous situation by trying to "do it myself." As a result, two of my very close friends who continuously offer their help, let me have it for my "rigid independence." 

A couple of years ago, I was hospitalized with a blood clot. I drove myself to the emergency room, was admitted for three days and drove myself home. I only told one person, not even my family. I didn't want to bother anybody. 


This latest bout of flu, and the problems that went with it, has caused me to reflect on the fact that, at 75, I may be overly attached to my rigid independence. It may be time to rethink the whole thing. 

Why is it so difficult for some people to allow themselves to be helped? If there was a spectrum on which one end was total independence and the other was complete dependence, where would you say you fall? Ideally, it would be somewhere in the middle or fluidly moving back and forth along the spectrum as circumstances required. But many people get stuck at the independence end of the spectrum and only rarely dare to ask for assistance. That's me! 
We are all influenced by societal beliefs about independence and dependence. However, those of us who are rigidly independent may need to look more closely at our personal experiences as dependent children in order to uncover our deep resistance to accepting help from others. (See below - "I remember.....")
Independence is a healthy and important aspect of human development. It’s also supported by many popular beliefs:
  • Independence is freedom. You’re free to think for yourself, make your own choices, and do what you want without anyone stopping you.
  • Independence is powerful. You have the power to take care of yourself without having to rely on anyone else.
  • Independence is safety. It’s safer to rely on yourself than on people who could prove unreliable or untrustworthy. 
  • Independence is respected. Independence is venerated in movies and books. The iconic hero is the lone wolf: strong, silent, and alone.
All of these beliefs contain truth, but not the whole truth.
Rigidly independent people may be free to do what they want, but they have to do it alone. Healthy relationships require that we sometimes give up control. By relying only on themselves, rigidly independent people actually limit their lives. They cannot accomplish large tasks that require the assistance of others.  Rigidly independent people also limit their own emotional and intellectual growth by resisting the knowledge and input of others.
While taking care of yourself does increase your safety, your safety increases even more when you have a network of friends, family, and public services that you can rely on in times of need. The rigidly independent sometimes endanger themselves by being unwilling to accept assistance. Think of the elderly person who refuses to accept a caregiver and then accidentally burns the house down; the teen who drives drunk because he or she is unwilling to call a parent for help; or the woman who is too proud of her independence to ask a friend to walk her to her car late at night.
People respect independence, but not when it’s unyielding. People respect those who respect them back. Rigid independence devalues the contributions of others; it implies that they have nothing to offer you; and it disrespects their skills, wisdom and generosity.
However, even those who are aware of the benefits of letting go of their rigid independence may find themselves unable to do so. For these people, this may be the time to examine their own negative views and possible past experiences with dependency. A person who experienced shame, danger, or betrayal as a child may not have the ability as an adult to find safe, trustworthy people to rely on.

I remember the day when my life of rigid independence started. It was like the Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind moment, when she returns home to her beloved plantation, Tara, after the burning of Atlanta. Walking amid the ruins, she says, “As God is my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” I promised myself that day that I would find a way out of the madness of my life at home if it killed me and never allow myself be put in such a dependent situation again. 


I am coming to realize, with the help of friends, that its time to re-evaluate that decision and maybe moderate it a bit. 

We were all completely dependent on others when we were small children—and may need to be again as we age or become disabled. But even if we don’t require physical assistance, the fact is people still need each other. There’s no shame in it. Find safe people and let go of rigid independence … because we all need a little help sometimes.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD




MY OWN BAPTISM

I was born at home April 28, 1944, having been delivered by my country midwife grandmother. 
I danger of death, my grandmother baptized me right there in the bed where I was born. 

BAPTISMS I HAVE PERFORMED

I have no idea how many baptisms I have performed, as a deacon and as a priest, in the parishes I have served in the last fifty years. 

December, two years ago, I had the pleasure of baptizing seven babies in the Cathedral in the Diocese of Kingstown down in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at Sunday Mass.





THE BAPTISM OF DANIKA SUE MATTINGLY
December 28, 2028
Norton Children's Hospital


This Christmas, I had the privilege of doing something I did many times when I was pastor of our Cathedral and was a chaplain on call at Children's Hospital. I got to baptize many premature babies in the neonatal unit. This year I was called on again. 

  



This is her father, Mark. Little Danika's mother, Priscilla, had to stay with their little boy at Ronald McDonald House. Mark is a nephew of my brother-in-law, Paul, who died right before Christmas. Mark and Priscilla are from outside Hardinsburg in Breckenridge County. 




Homily for Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
Luke 3

I don't actually know how many people I have baptized over the last 50 years, but I do know that there have been several hundred for sure! Every once in a while, one of them will show up here in this very church, reminding me just how old I am getting! Are any of you here today? If so, raise your hand!

The pouring of, or immersion in, water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the essence of the baptismal ritual. Every time you enter a Catholic Church, from then on, you are invited to dip your hand into baptismal water and cross yourself to remind you that you are forever an adopted child of God and to remind you of your mission to the world.  Just as God's voice from heaven said to Jesus "You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," at  your baptism the Church said to you, "Your are, from this day forward, God's adopted son or daughter, in whom He is well pleased."  After the water is poured over you, the priest or deacon anoints you on the top of the head with chrism - the oil used in the Bible to anoint priests, prophets and kings - and says that you and Christ are bound together, from now on and forever!

Just as Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of his ministry of love and service to the world, as his adopted children and heirs, our baptisms marked the beginning of our commission to carry on that ministry of love and service to the world until he returns in glory.  Our baptisms, not just ordinations, are initiations into ministry.  In a certain sense, we all become priests at baptism, all off us were given some share of Christ's ministry to the world.

After a lifetime of being his ambassadors, representing Christ in the world, when we have drawn our last breath and have been prepared for burial, our family and friends will bring our bodies back into the church one last time. Our baptisms and our funerals are two bookends to our lives. Just as was done at our baptism, the priest will meet your casket at the door, sprinkle it with baptismal water and dress your casket in a white pall reminiscent of that little white dress they put on you at your baptism so many years before.  This moment at the door of the church is especially poignant for me on those occasions when I can remember baptizing the deceased many years before, as I have actually done on occasion.

Today is the day we remember the baptism of Jesus, the day he officially began his public ministry. Today is also one of those days when we are asked to remember our own baptisms, the day we were officially charged with carrying on his ministry. In a few minutes, we will again renew our profession of faith in the Trinity and repeat again the vows that made for us our baptisms and vows we confirmed at our Confirmations - vows to be a force for good in the world.  To seal the deal on this renewal, I will sprinkle you again with the water used for baptisms to remind you once again that you are indeed a child of God, with whom he is well pleased!
  
Young people! In the next several years, many of you will get married and have children. One of the things I try to do in here is to help you start getting ready for that - help you  to make remote preparation to become serious marriage partners and parents - so that you will be ready when that time comes!  To do that, you need to be serious spiritual seekers now!   Now is the time to begin preparing yourselves for marriage and parenting. That is why renewing your own baptismal vows is so important!

Since this is the week we pray for vocations in general - vocations to carry on some part of Christ's ministry - hopefully some of you will search your hearts to see if God is calling you to lead others to holiness as a priest, deacon or religious brother or sister - to assist and support those who have been called to marriage and parenting and to bring the gospel to those who do not believe or whose faith is in crisis!   If you are called to ministry, respond like Isaiah, "Here I am, Lord, send me! I will hold your people in my heart," rather than try to run from it like Jonah! 

If you are called to marriage and parenting, decide today that you will break that cycle of going through a showy Catholic wedding with no intention of practicing that Catholic faith afterwards that is so common these days! Decide today that you will break that cycle of demanding the baptisms of your children with no intention of bringing those children up in the practice of the faith that is all too common today! Nemo dat quod non habet. If you don't have it yourself, you cannot give it! If you are not a serious disciple yourself, going into it, there is no way you can be a serious partner in a Christian marriage, no way can you be a serious Christian parent, no way can you answer a call to ministry!  

Repeating the vows of your baptism and sprinkling you with the water of baptism today is just a hollow ritual if there is no intention in the heart  to renew your commitment to be a serious follow of Christ! Decide today to be who you really are - a child of God, with whom he is well pleased!