Saturday, January 14, 2017



Father Ronald Knott
January 12, 2017



11:00 am - Mass Homily

“Clearing the Old Weeds: A Simple Way to Make a Great Confession”

Rev. Ronald Knott
January 12, 2017
A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity,
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, saying,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
Mark 1:40-45

President Clinton was forced by the press to “fess up” for his behavior with Monica Lewinsky. Before that, TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggert, who is known for criticizing the Catholic Church for our Sacrament of Confession openly wept and confessed his sins of adultery to the world - on television. Today, not a day goes by now that somebody is not confessing his or her sins to a twelve-step group, talk show audience, counselor or kiss-and-tell book writer. Indeed, the old saying “confession is good for the soul” seems to be true. There is a natural need for human beings to “unload” and “get things off their chests.”

The Jews have Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. On that day in ancient times, Jews pinned their sins to a goat and turned it loose into the desert, thus the term “scapegoat.”  Moslems have Ramadan, the holy season which “scorches out sins with good deeds.”  I’ve heard that native Americans had a tradition called the “Eater of Impurities,” whereby each member of the tribe was invited to sit down with a wise man before a high holyday and bring to mind some thought or action that they felt they must hide. After encouraging them not to be afraid, he would say, “now give me that thought” and it would be shared between them and the darkness in which it was held was dispelled.   

Confession may not only be good for the soul, it may even be good for the body. What the ancients knew is now being scientifically documented by people like James Pennebaker of Southern Methodist University. Baring your soul can not only calm your heart, research suggests it can lower blood pressure. In the laboratory, white blood cells of “confessing” participants proliferated. Six weeks later, their T-lymphocytes were still showing signs of stimulation. Other research revealed that distressed people tend to have weakened immune systems and that those who keep the pain to themselves are most likely to sicken. This research concluded that the health benefits of “confession” tend to be proportional to the seriousness of the matter “confessed.”  It even concluded that we “confess” most readily in dark or dimly lit settings and if the location is unique or unusual. Did we throw out those old confessionals too soon?

We Catholics have the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a place to unload one’s guilt and celebrate God’s unconditional forgiveness for whatever we have done or failed to do. It’s a time to “own up” and “let go.” It is a moving experience for both priest and penitent when it is celebrated with the right spirit. I have been moved to tears many times. When it is done under duration or without having one’s heart in the right place it’s real power is diminished dramatically. The regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation may have fallen on hard times, but it may still be our best kept secret, even among Catholics.

Why confess to anyone, much less a priest? The main reason is because our sins are not just personal, they are also communal. The priest, in confession, not only puts God’s forgiveness into human words, but as a representative of the community, he puts into words the forgiveness of the whole community. That beats having to go from person to person, asking for forgiveness. As St. Paul tells us, “Whenever one member suffers, the whole body suffers.”  We are not a collection of loners, we are a community called humankind. We are responsible to each other and for each other. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we not only hears the forgiving words of Jesus, but also the forgiving words of our brothers and sisters.

Why confess to anyone, much less a priest?  When Jesus appeared to his disciples in the locked room after he had risen from the dead, he told them “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you retain, they are retained.” The celebration of the forgiveness of sins has been celebrated by the church, ever since, in three major ways: in the sacrament of baptism sins are forgiven, in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick sins are forgiven and in the sacrament of reconciliation or confession, sins are forgiven. One of the most humbling roles of a priest is to lead the church in the celebration of these healing sacraments.

Even though the Sacrament of Confession has fallen on bad times, it is not because we have quit sinning. It is more due to the fact that we have lost our sense of sin. We ran off the road with a too strong message of guilt when I was a kid. Now we have run off the other side of the road with a message that there is nothing to be guilty about. St. John tells us that “if we say we never sin, we make Jesus a liar and his word finds no place in us.” We don’t come right out and deny that we have sinned, we just rename our sins so that they don’t sound as bad, and if they don’t sound as bad, we can more easily live with them.  People today don’t actually “steal” from work, they just “take a few things.” People today don’t “kill unborn babies,” they “terminate pregnancies.” People today don’t “commit adultery,” they merely “have an affair.” People don’t “cheat,” they merely “stretch the truth.” When the Watergate scandal broke in the Nixon administration, they did not “break the law,” it was called “misguided zeal.” Our State Department sent out a memo several years back saying that “assassinations,” in Central America should from then on be called “the unlawful deprivation of life.”  Euthanasia is “mercy killing” or “death with dignity.” Notice the use of the words “mercy” and “dignity.” Changing the names of sins by using euphemisms is a lot more popular than changing sinful behaviors.  A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague term for a harsh, blunt, or offensive one. And then if it is not really that bad, then what is there to confess?   

I can think of nothing better to recommend to you for a “prayer day” than seriously preparing for an honest celebration of this sacrament of reconciliation. Take some time to prepare. Pray over it. Dump all the guilt and grudges in your life. Bag it all up and dump it at the feet of Jesus. Pin it on the “Scapegoat,” Jesus Himself. He will gladly take it from you. Like the Indian medicine man I talked about before, he invites you to “give it to a priest” and “let him assure you of God’s forgiveness” as you “let it go.” You will feel great.

One of the best confessions I have ever heard was from an elderly man many, many years ago. He was about to die but managed to talk his son into bringing him to church for his last confession. He was convinced he would go to hell if he didn’t because he was carrying a secret sin from many years  that he was unable to share with a priest. He was convinced she would go to hell if he didn’t confess it and all the “bad communions” he had made ever since.  He struggled to get his walker into the confessional. He also struggled to get up enough courage to say the words. I helped him out. I told him he did not have to say the words. I would guess until I got to it and all he had to do was say “yes” when I got to it. I guessed it in about three of four guesses. I didn’t talk about it or discuss it. I just gave him absolution. He said to me on his way out, “Father, I have never had anyone talk that nice to me!”

He left and literally died in about a week. His daughter called to tell me, saying, “I don’t know what my father told you and I don’t know what you told him, but he came out of that confession grinning from ear-to-ear, saying “OK! I am ready to die!”

If there is anyone of you who is carrying some deep dark secret sin that you have been carrying, unable to confess, this is your lucky day. Come to me and simply say, “I have some old sins that I would like forgiveness for, but I can’t talk about them.” I will pause for a few seconds, pray quietly as you call it to mind. I will then give you absolution without discussion. I believe it is the right thing to do under these circumstances.

I am available for confessions from, from 1:00 till 2:00.  We will then finish with a conference at 2:30 in the chapel.     

12:00 pm - Lunch

1:00-2:00 pm – Opportunity for Individual Confessions



2:30 pm - Prayer Day Conference

“Planting a New Garden: Building A Renewed Spiritual Life in Your Senior Years”

Rev. Ronald Knott
January 12, 2017

“No longer do I believe because of someone else’s word.
  I have heard for myself and now I believe.”
John 4:4-42

After seventeen years of service, I retired from Bellarmine University last June. What I tried to do there is to encourage young adults to choose God, not because their parents have told them to, not because other people have said they should, but because they have gotten to know God personally and want to know more about God.  I tried to encourage them to choose, on their own, to be a serious disciple of Jesus.  I couldn’t give them the gift of faith, only God can do that, but I thought I might be of help, simply by sharing what I know about the scriptures and from walking the spiritual path myself for the last 73 years. I challenged them to say, like the people of Samaria said to the woman at the well, “No longer do I believe because of someone else’s word.  I have heard for myself and now I believe.”

In this wonderful story, after one of his many hot walking trip around Galilee, Jesus runs into a woman, while looking for a drink of water at the communal cistern. Even though it was illegal for a man to speak to a woman in public, even his wife and daughters, Jesus breaks the rules and engages this woman in a conversation, a conversation that leads to her conversion.

As the story unfolds, the whole town comes to believe in Jesus, at first because of her story, but later because of their own experience - after engaging Jesus in a conversation themselves. “No longer do we believe because of your word. We have heard for ourselves and have come to believe on our own.”

Let me confess something to you. Most of my priestly life I have felt guilty about my spiritual life. I always felt I was trying to fit into a spiritual life designed for others, but one that didn’t fit me. It was like wearing the wrong size shoes. As a priest, it got worse. It was always a battle between time for my prayer life and time for my ministry.

As a seminarian formed by Sulpician priests and Benedictine priests for twelve years, then a diocesan priest for almost thirty-seven years, and finally back in a Benedictine-run seminary as a diocesan-priest staff member for ten years, I had the advantage of seeing “diocesan priest spirituality” from both sides: how it’s taught in the seminary and how it’s lived in the real world of a diocesan priest. 

Additionally, as a vocation director for seven years, I can say that the spiritual formation of seminarians today is excellent, but because it is derivative of charisms not necessarily our own, I can say from experience that it does not often translate well after ordination. (1) There is great emphasis, for example, on more and more communal prayer and group activities, when overnight most of us will be praying alone and living alone for the rest of their lives. 68% of all American priests now live alone and number is growing. (2) They are taught personal spirituality, but not necessarily how to be spiritual leaders and teachers of spirituality. As such, with ordination they become “designated” leaders, but not necessarily “real” leaders.    

Most writers on the subject of the spirituality of diocesan priests agree on two things: (1) the diocesan priest’s spirituality is eclectic, an amalgam of quasi-monastic Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan spiritualities often filtered through Sulpician and Irish approaches to the spiritual life (2) the diocesan priest continues to search for a spirituality properly his own.

Even today, especially when I worked with seminarians, as well as ordained priests, I hear that many struggle with a spirituality that works for them. It was common to hear seasoned pastors tell me, “By the time I finish all my pastoral duties, I don’t have time for a prayer life.” It was common to hear newly ordained priests tell me, “By the time I finish my Holy Hour, my Chaplet of Divine Mercy, my Rosary, my Stations of the Cross and my Breviary, I don’t have time for ministry.” New priests today tend to run off one side of the road while older priests run of the other.

A few years ago, I had a big “breakthrough” in my spiritual life.  My “spiritual life” became “my” spiritual life. It released me from guilt.  It started with these words from Pope John Paul II. “There is an intimate bond, a deep unity, between the priest’s spiritual life and the exercise of his three-fold ministry of word, sacrament and spiritual leadership.” Pastores Dabo Vobis III,26.  I finally learned that, for me,  preparing to preach is a spiritual practice for me, preparing to celebrate the Sacraments with people is a spiritual practice for me and leading people spiritually is a spiritual practice for me. I also learned the same thing from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1534) that says “If priesthood contributes to personal holiness it is through service of others that it does so.”

No longer do I believe because of someone else’s word.
  I have heard for myself and now I believe.”

What about you? I suspect some of you have been in the same predicament as me – trying to force yourself to fit into someone else’s spirituality and feeling guilty all the time that it doesn’t feel comfortable to you.  Well, let’s talk about that for a bit and see what you can do about it. If I didn’t believe you can teach old dogs new tricks, I would have agreed to do this prayer day to begin with!

I believe that developing one’s prayer life is a lot like trying on shoes. To make it fit comfortably, you don’t file your foot down to fit the shoe, you stretch and shape the shoe to fit your foot!

One of the good things about the Catholic Church is that it has a huge shoe store with all sizes, shapes and designs. We have many pious practices and prayer styles  - anything from meditation, Lectio Divina, spiritual journaling, novenas, the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, candle lighting, memorized prayers, printed prayer cards, Anointing of the Sick, the Liturgy of the Hours,  pilgrimages, Mass, Holy Hours, Reconciliation, chaplets, hymn singing and the veneration of relics to name a few. Some of on that list appeal to me more than others. Some do not appeal to me at all – and I don’t feel guilty about it at all! I don’t need to feel guilty that every shoe in the store doesn’t fit me!  I like slippers more than boots. I can wear sandals sometimes, but I have a priest friend in California who won’t wear anything but sandals. I don’t see the point of high heels, even though I know a woman who has nearly 100 pairs of them. Almost every shoe I own is black, but I know people who wear nothing but brown shoes. Some of you can wear shoes off the rack and some of you need orthopedic shoes.  Like shoes, one-size does not fit all when it comes to a personal spiritual life.

Sometimes, we need to re-evaluate our spiritual lives. What worked when I was on the seminary staff does not work for me as a retired priest. What worked for you as a married woman may not work as well for you as a window. What worked when you could hear and see well may not work when hearing aids don’t work for you or you have macular degeneration.  You may have a friend who loves the rosary, but you can’t get in to it, while you love journaling and your friend has no interest in writing their own prayers.
We have the word “catholic” in our name for a reason. “Catholic” means “universal.” Priests, if they are to be pastor all this diversity, must realize that different approaches and strategies will be required for their various parishioners. As St. Gregory Nazianzus said, and St. Gregory the Great repeated, "One and the same exhortation does not suit all" and "according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers to be fashioned."  Again, one size does not fit all. 

Sisters and brothers, maybe this can be a good opportunity to re-evaluate your spiritual lives. What worked in the past may not be working well these days. God knows that you have had to adapt in so many ways when you left your home to come here, just as I have had to do when I “retired.” If your spiritual life is working, stick with it! If it isn’t, it might be time to re-asses and even time to try something new.

(1)   If you think you would like to start journaling and maybe even writing your own prayers and thoughts, let me know and I can fix you up with a journal and suggestions about journaling.  What you write might even inspire your family long after you are gone.
(2)   If you would like to read prayers, let me know and I can fix you up with a prayer book with lots of traditional Catholic prayers.
(3)   If you would like to start saying the rosary again and you don’t have one or forgot how, I am sure we can help you secure a rosary and a little book with directions.
(4)   If you would like to do some spiritual reading of some little short reflections, I have 15 volumes. I can leave them somewhere and you could take turns borrowing them.
(5)   There are little books laying around the chapel with daily Scripture readings for your use. You can read and pray over them ahead of daily or weekend Masses as a way of preparing yourself for Mass.
(6)    If you want to try meditation, I have a one-sheet guide to help introduce you to it.

Whatever you do, find a way to pray that fits you. Don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t. I have been trying to get myself ready for the home stretch these day by re-assessing many things in my life, including how I pray. At our ages, we ought to be able to say what the woman of the well said in our reading this afternoon.

No longer do I believe because of someone else’s word.
  I have heard for myself and now I believe.”

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