Friday, April 14, 2017



God did not spare his own son,
but handed him over for us all.
Romans 8:32

Every year, on April 8, hundreds of dog lovers gather in one of Tokyo's train stations to remember the loyalty and devotion of a university professor's pet dog, Hachiko.

This dog was only 18 months old when his master died of a stroke while at work. The next day, and for the next nine years, Hachiko went to the station and waited for his beloved master before walking home alone. Nothing and no one could discourage Hachiko from maintaining his nightly vigil. It was not until he followed his master in death nine years later that Hachiko failed to appear in his place at the railroad station. A bronze statue of this dog still stands at his waiting place outside the train station. Inspired by his faithfulness and loyalty, Hachiko was mounted and stuffed and is still on display at the Tokyo Museum of Art.

What we have today, in our first reading, is a story about fidelity and loyalty as well. This one is not about a dog, but about Abraham, who Christians, Muslims or Jews all call "our father in the faith!" Abraham is model of total trust and absolute fidelity to God.

When we read this story, most of us think about the poor boy, Isaac, all strapped on a woodpile with his father standing over him with a knife ready to kill him to please a sadistic God! If that is what we get out of this story, we have missed the point and failed to understand its message.

We have to remember that Abraham and Sara had been childless all their lives until one day when three strange guests at their tent to tell them that they were going to be blessed with a child in their old age. One cannot describe how excited they would have been in that culture to have a son to carry on the family name.

As precious as this long-awaited son was to Abraham, as joy-filled as he had been since his birth, Abraham trusted God so much that he was willing to give Isaac up, if it came right down to it. Abraham had trusted God before and had been blessed, so he was willing to keep on trusting God even to the point of surrendering the one thing in this world that was most precious to him.  Because of this, Abraham became an example to the world of radical fidelity to God, even when things appear not to make sense and even when a good outcome seems impossible.

When we get to Good Friday, we will see this story acted out again when Jesus' radical fidelity to God holds up even through a painful death on a cross! We often focus too much, I believe, on the pain that Jesus suffered, when the most important thing was his fidelity.  It was his fidelity that pleased God. Jesus' suffering manifested his unequivocal fidelity to God.  

Fidelity! We have a whole lot of names for it: keeping a promise, carry through, doing what you said you'd do, keep your word, putting your money where your mouth is, putting up and shutting up, being faithful, to name a few.

When I was ordained a priest, 47 years ago this May, I made a promise to remain faithful to my ministry till death, very much like many of you students will make when you marry someday soon. Let me share with you a few things I have learned about fidelity.

(1) Fidelity is not static, by dynamic. By that, I mean you don't just commit in some ceremony and "puuuf," fidelity is guaranteed. It is always a way of life, rather than a fact of life. Fidelity is something that must be freely and consciously chosen every morning you put your feet to the floor, whether you're a marriage partner or a priest. In a days time, lie offers innumerable opportunities to be faithful or unfaithful. In fact, many of those around you today will actually encourage you and entice you to be unfaithful, rather than faithful. In other words, opportunities for infidelity, as well as some very convincing rhetoric will try to entice you to be unfaithful. Like love, fidelity can often be demandingly harsh, especially when you have to say "no" to things that look good, smell good, taste good and feel good - all for the sake of a higher good.

(2) Those who make commitments to fidelity must count the cost before they make it and be able to pay the price after they make it. In marriage, you must not be able to remain faithful yourself, you have to marry someone else who has what it takes to remain faithful. One should never make a lifetime commitment without having what it takes to keep it. Before one takes such a serious leap as a life-time commitment, one must be able to take baby steps before big steps. Before one makes a lifetime commitment, it is a good idea to see if one can make small commitments and keep them. Nemo dat quod non habet. One cannot give what one does not have. If you never keep your word, never follow through on even small promises, always take the latest best offer no matter what you told someone else yesterday, never finish a project, never can be counted on to show up, then you are not ready to be a priest or get married.  College is a good place to practice your "fidelity ability." If you are constantly unfaithful here in friendships and other commitments, you probably won't be able to be faithful later in the relationship of marriage.

It is here that the Church gets a bum rap. Catholic marriages are deliberately hard to enter - and that's because Jesus told us those who enter them, enter them for life. Permanence of marriage is not something the Church came up with. This permanence is something the Church was instructed to uphold. Therefore, the Church makes a big deal in trying to find out whether the two people marrying can not only make a commitment for life, but even more so, be able to keep it over a lifetime! Seminary students are brought through an even more strenuous process to find out whether they should be ordained, but even more so, whether they can stay ordained.

I'm always amazed by the fact that people can stand before God and witnesses and pledge unconditional fidelity to each other until death and come back three years later and get upset that you won't witness a second and third unconditional pledge of fidelity until death - all the while raging against the Church for not going along with it. I have already made a pact with a good friend of mine that if, for some reason or other, I should quit the priesthood, he will not allow me to blame the Church for my inability to keep my pledge to be a priest until death!  I may not be able to remain faithful to death, but if I can't, I promise not to blame anybody or anything but my own self and my own weakness.

(3) Fidelity is often presented as a horrible cross to bear with rewards only in the after life. Very little is said about the payoffs of fidelity. I believe that fidelity has pay-offs similar to regular exercise and a good diet. It's not easy, but it is ultimately good for you and for society.  God knows we have seen the pain that uncommitted partners, infidelity, latest best offers, grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence thinking have inflicted on innocent marriage partners, families and especially children. Fidelity teaches you a lot about yourself. It teaches you to work through problems, rather than run from them. It helps you focus your energy in a more effective way. You learn to be reliable and know that you have others to rely on, in a world that is becoming more slippery by the day. 

(4) One does not just make a promise of fidelity and hope for the best or merely tough it out. One must tend one's garden, pay attention on a daily basis and do all one can to protect one's commitment from compromise and contamination. I have learned one thing from hundreds and hundreds of failed marriages. They were not killed. They simply starved to death, day after day, from lack of care and feeding  - by one or the other or both!

One of my heroes is Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit and a scientist. Because of his new ideas, he was silenced by Rome in 1926. He was urged by many to leave, not only the Jesuits, but also the Church. He decided rather to "go on to the end and with a smile if possible." Why? He said, "When I took my vows I committed myself. To break them would be an offense against honor." "One must work from within," he said. "Those who leave no longer have any influence. The ideas now considered revolutionary will be generally accepted...The day will come; there can be no possible doubt about it."

Faithful God, help us develop the inner strength and courage we need to be faithful too!  

Thursday, April 13, 2017



What I have just done was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do. 
John 13:15

We human beings have a long and interesting history of both helping and hurting each other. In spite of all our wars and sophisticated weapons, we fundamentally remain a social and cooperative species. We have survived all these years mainly because we have helped each other along the way. Even our prehistoric relatives exhibited tenderness toward each other. There is evidence that they lined their children’s slippers with fur, cared for their cripples and even buried their dead with flowers.

The creation stories of Genesis remind us that God created us to be interdependent – to need each other. We are told that even from the very beginning, we have denied our interdependence. Adam and Eve denied they needed God. Cain and Abel denied their need for each other. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The rest of history is just one episode after another of vacillation between helping and hurting each other – between accepting and denying our interdependence. 

When Jesus comes to us in history, he simply restates in a more dramatic way what was true from the very beginning – that we must love God and our neighbors as ourselves. He did not just, of course, talk about it. He lived it to the very last drop of his blood. While we were still sinners and undeserving of being loved, he still loved us! He would not let that connection of love between God and us be severed – not matter what we did or did not do!

His life and death was one great “show and tell” on how much we are loved and cared for! One of his great final “show and tells” is recorded in tonight’s gospel. Remember, it was a response to an argument among his followers over who was the greatest. After telling them, again and again, that “it cannot be that way with you,” Jesus gets down on his hands and feet and does what a slave would do – he washes their feet!

The text is clear. This dramatic gesture is only an “example!” Surely, Jesus wants more from us that a yearly repeat of this “example!” Jesus certainly wants us to translate this “foot washing” into our own language and culture. We must find our own ways to serve each other, wait on each other, notice each other’s suffering, put each other’s need first and be there for each other. In short, to be like Jesus, we need to get over our need to be loved and learn to give love – to get over our need to be getters and learn to be givers.

Again this year, the message of this gospel story is loud and clear! Out happiness lies in cooperation, not competition! Only cooperation will save us. Our competition is actually killing us! The “sacred cow” of competition will not die easily. We must kill it within ourselves first, or else collectively, it will kill us in the end! We are created to be interdependent!

I would like to end this homily with a poem someone sent me many years ago! It is called “The Cold Within”


Six humans trapped by happenstance
In dark and bitter cold
Each possessed a stick of wood--
Or so the story's told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
But the first one held hers back,
For, of the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.

The next one looked cross the way
Saw one not of his church,
And could not bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of wealth he had in store,
And keeping all that he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man's face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight,
For he saw in his stick of wood
A chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain,
Giving just to those who gave
Was how he played the game,

Their sticks held tight in death's stilled hands
Was proof enough of sin;
They did not die from cold without--
They died from cold within.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017


On April 5th, I had cataract surgery on my left eye and on April 12 I will have cataract surgery on my right eye. At 73, night driving was becoming a problem. To avoid the risk of hurting others, or myself, I decided to "get it done."  I may not even need glasses anymore. Now I may be able to buy some "cool" sunglasses. Modern medicine keeps improving. 

 If all goes well, I just might get my third eye done, just for the hell of it! 

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Rev. Ronald Knott

I am convinced that most people do not understand what Palm Sunday is about and I am not absolutely confident that I can explain it as well as it needs to be explained. I'll try anyway!

To understand it, I think we need to go all the way back to the beginning. Remember, Herod was so paranoid about the baby Jesus being a “newborn king” that he had all the young boys in Bethlehem slaughtered – just in case. Jesus, Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt for a few years. 

 Even when Jesus came out of obscurity to begin his ministry, we read at the beginning of Lent about Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert as he discerned what direction his ministry should take – what God’s plan was for him.

One of the temptations Jesus was offered by Satan was to take the political power road – to become a king. We know that, even though Jesus concluded that this was not God’s path for him, people were always trying to make him a king. Even some of his apostles thought that that option was always on the table. Remember the story where James and John tried an end run around the other twelve by asking for the two best jobs in this new kingdom they thought he was going to set up in the near future.

We will read tonight that Judas was so disappointed with Jesus over this very issue that he tried to force Jesus' hand to “get on with it,” only to see it backfire. When it didn’t work, he ends up committing suicide.

All this “king talk” among the people, all the dreams about power inside his inner circle and a rising tide of paranoia among the Roman occupiers was about to explode when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

When Jesus and his band arrived in Jerusalem, the streets were clogged with religious pilgrims from everywhere. The air was full of tension. Jesus’ own popularity had reached a fever pitch, the religious leaders’ jealousy had reached the boiling point and the government’s worry had become paranoid.  Everybody in authority, as well as Jesus, seemed to know that this trip smacked of a show down.  Jerusalem was indeed tense when Jesus arrived for the Passover - something big was about to happen. 

It was in this tense situation that Jesus came riding into the city, not quietly, but with total fanfare. Everybody noticed. This triumphant entry into Jerusalem was not some harmless little passion play. It was a deliberate move with dark possibilities.  Everybody knew that the very presence of Jesus in Jerusalem at Passover could set off a riot.

‘When  the  great crowd that  had  come to the feast heard
that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, 
throwing their coats on the road.’

Palm waving and the throwing of coats on the road were not just a nice gesture of welcome, spontaneously invented for this particular occasion. These gestures had major political overtones. In the past, when kings arrived to ascend their thrones, people threw coats on the road. Palm waving was a symbol of Jewish nationalism, synonymous with waving a rebel flag. Many in the crowds wanted a Jewish Messiah-King who would overthrow the hated Roman occupation and they thought Jesus could fit the bill. Even though Jesus had fought off several efforts of this kind, the crowds knew what kind of Messiah they wanted. They wanted a powerful revolutionary.

In response to the people’s misguided reception of him as a political, David-like, Messiah, Jesus deliberately came into the city on the back of a jackass, a pack animal.  It was a powerful counter statement that simply went over the heads of the crowds. While they waved palms and chanted nationalistic slogans, by this action Jesus said, “No! I’m not the kind of king you imagine! My power is a spiritual power, not a political power!”

This “temptation,” the temptation to become a powerful political leader, had been proposed by Satan at the beginning of his ministry.  The gospel tells us that Satan left him to wait for another occasion. It had been proposed to him, on various occasions, throughout his teaching days. Here it was again!   Satan, in various guises, never gave up, even at the end. Jesus, consistent in his refusal, remained faithful to his call as a humble, peaceful, spiritual messiah to the end.

Throughout history, the church has sadly from time to time given into the temptation to choose political power as a means to its goals, always with disastrous results. Again, in our own time, not convinced of the real effectiveness of spiritual power, some Christian communities have fallen for the temptation to take the short cut to achieve its mission by courting political power.  What is their rational? It seems that they believe that if people won’t choose to be good, they need to be made to be good! Palm Sunday has a lot to teach the church, even today!  My friends, our power is not a political power. It’s even more powerful than political power. It’s a spiritual power! Pope John Paul II had no armies, but he helped bring down communism just by his preaching and presence. That’s spiritual power!  Pope Francis has no real political power, except in a one-square mile of ground inside the walls of the Vatican, but he has tremendous spiritual power. That is the real source of our power as well – the power that comes from authentic Christian living.