Saturday, April 22, 2017



Several years ago, when I was designing annual priest convocations, I designed one where priests would be offered the chance to "renew" their commitment to their promise of obedience to their bishop and their fellow priests. This was done in several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Louisville at its annual convocation at Saint Meinrad Seminary.  
I was fortunate enough to get a photo of myself renewing the promise I made to Archbishop McDonough and "his successors" at my priesthood ordination. Here I am renewing it to Archbishop Kelly, Archbishop McDonough's successor. Below is a homily I gave in conjunction with that renewal ceremony.

“Conscientious Fellow Workers with the Bishop in Caring for the Flock”
June 8, 2006
Rev. J. Ronald Knott

Jesus summoned the twelve and sent them out two by two to preach, drive out demons and cure the sick. Later they gathered together again at a deserted place to rest because things were so busy they had no time to eat. Then James and John made a move for the best seats in the kingdom which caused the other ten to be indignant. Jesus summoned them again and reminded them that true greatness for them was service, not power. 

Working alone, working too much and working against each other have always been the enemies of priests. They are all addressed in today’s readings. It’s worth noting that things have not changed all that much in ministry over the last 2,000 years. Presbyterates are still plagued with these problems even today and around the country they are in deep trouble again because of them.

The readings present the problem, yes, but they also give us the solution: we are a team, we don’t have to do it all ourselves and we need to support and honor each priest and his gifts. As a presbyterate, we are also a body with many gifted parts like the one Paul talks about, working cohesively under our head, the bishop. Without each one adding his gifts, doing his part and reverencing his brother priests, this body is diminished. This is a living body. It needs constant nurturing and feeding or it will get sick and become unable to function. We must constantly confront our loneliness, our stress and our competition or they will kill us.

The priests, who make up the majority of every diocesan presbyterate, make two solemn promises: celibacy and obedience. (It might be good to remind ourselves here that religious priests working under a diocesan bishop are full members of that presbyterate as long as they are working in that diocese. They are not just visitors or mere associates.)

Rather than negatives, the promises of celibacy and obedience are meant to “free us up for ministry.” Celibacy makes it possible for us to become that “intimate sacramental brotherhood for the purpose of ministry” that the church speaks about.

Of the two promises, the only one we ever hear much about after we make it is, celibacy. We never hear too much about “the other promise,” the promise of obedience. It, too, makes it possible for us to be that “intimate sacramental brotherhood for the purpose of ministry” that the church speaks about. 

The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom of our two promises. Regardless of all the pious exaggeration written about the beauties of celibacy, I agree that, if embraced and lived freely, it can be freeing. It can free one up for a greater good, for full-time service to the People of God.   The only time I have ever thought much about obedience, or needed to, was two weeks after I was ordained, when I go my first assignment. As one who was born in the country, but urbanized quite well by the seminary system, I had had my heart set on being an associate pastor in a large suburban parish in Louisville, where restaurants, theaters and friends were all around. What I got was an assignment to the “home missions” of our diocese, on the edge of Appalachia, a parish the size of the state of Delaware with a Catholic population of one tenth of one percent, as far away from Louisville as one could get.  My family and friends were three hours away. 

I cried, I pleaded and I even took to my bed to no avail!  I had to go “out of obedience.” I was a bit like those people who join the National Guard in peace time, not imagining that they would ever have to fight a war! I balked at first, but with God’s help, I was able to turn my mind around. Since I didn’t get what I wanted, I decided to want what I got. That, I believe, is part of the true spirit behind the “promise of obedience.”  I went because the bishop has the “big picture” and said he needed me there.  I went because I promised him and his successors that I would go where the Church needed my gifts. Yes, I was upset and disappointed. Yes, I tried to change his mind, but in the end, I knew that it was me who needed to change my mind. I did change it, not grudgingly, but with as much good spirit as I could muster. (By the way, that assignment turned out to be fabulous, one that led directly to later assignments that were all  the love of my life.)

Over the years, my understanding and appreciation of “obedience” has evolved. It has matured.  I have come to see that the “promise of obedience” has implications beyond the person of the bishop. It includes a promise to fellow members of my presbyterate. Rather than making me a slave to the whims of one particular person, the bishop, it is really a promise to be a “team player” with the bishop AND the other members of my presbyterate for the sake of the common purpose we share: effective ministry to the People of God. It is this understanding of the “promise of obedience,” a promise to be a “team player,” that I believe that will lead to a renewal of our presbyterates. The theology is quite clear: we are not priests, one by one. We are priests in a presbyterate under a bishop.  The very idea of “lone rangers” and “priests in private practice” are heretical!

Remember these promises? You made them! I made them! We meant them, didn’t we? Didn’t we? (1) “Are you resolved, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail, the office of the priesthood in the presbyteral order as a conscientious fellow workers with the bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?” (2) Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”  How do those promises sound to you after all these years? How do they sound today as we prepare to let go of the bishop we have known and open our arms to a yet-unknown new bishop? 

Priests do not carry out their own ministry, they are fellow workers in helping the bishop carry out his ministry! For the bishop to carry out his ministry of caring for the Lord’s flock, his team of fellow workers must be on the same page with him!  That is why respect and obedience is needed! All this is beautifully put in Eucharistic Prayer I for Masses of Reconciliation, “Keep us all in communion of mind and heart with our Pope and our bishop.” 

At a time we need to work together as a team, we seem to be growing further and further apart. As Lily Tomlin would put it, “We are all in this together, by ourselves.” A new look at, and a new appreciation of, our promise of obedience, I believe, can be the beginning of the reversal of that trend.

A expansive understanding of “promise of obedience” is the only thing we have in our arsenal as diocesan priests to ritualize that group resolve because, in it, we promise each other to be “team players.”  We cannot have a healthy, unified presbyterate when everyone is self-focused. We are an orchestra, not a loose association of soloists. We are one body with many parts, each with gifts the whole body needs.  Like the original twelve, Christ calls us to resist those things that threaten that unity, especially working alone, working too much and working against each other.   

Brother priests! In a nutshell, I believe with all my heart that what is needed most of all is to move from our various points of view to a viewing point where we can appreciate each other’s point of view as well as our own, a one-priest-at-a-time conversion, away from an exaggerated good of the individual to the good of the group, for the sake of effective ministry to the People of God.  The only public expression of that conversion is our promise to each other, through our leader, to be “team players.” We need to revisit our “promise of obedience.” We need, I believe, to remind ourselves, regularly and in the most dramatic way possible, what we have committed ourselves to be, “fellow workers with the bishop in caring for the Lord’s flock.”  It is so easy to forget that we do not carry out our own ministry, but that of the bishop. We are his ministry team, and for the sake of his coherent ministry, we are called to set our differences aside and work as a cohesive unit for the sake of God’s people.

And now, let us take ourselves back to our original enthusiasm for a moment. Let is reclaim and renew our promise of obedience, a promise to be a team player in our ministry to the People of God, with our bishop and with each other. I wish every member of our presbyterate were here, but let us proceed with those who are here. As one Owensboro priest pointed out, whether we are here today or not, we are still bound to that promise we made at our ordinations: to respect this bishop and his successors and to help him carry out his ministry in our diocese.         

Thursday, April 20, 2017



When I remember that God is in charge and I remember to follow his lead, I am constantly amazed at what happens.

This has been true since that unplanned day on a fire escape when I was in college. when I finally, consciously and deliberately, made a decision to stand up to my our fear, laziness, blaming and victim thinking.

So many wonderful things continue to happen in my life that I find myself constantly amazed. They are things that I did not make happen. They are things that happened around me and to me once I made it clear that I was committed to walk a certain path and move in a certain direction - the path and direction of openness to surprising possibilities.

I didn't earn any of it. I don't deserve any of it. I wasn't the source of any of it.

I can't wait to embrace what awaits me around the next corner.


Sunday, April 16, 2017



Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark.  Later, Simon Peter and John came to the tomb. None of them understood yet that he had to rise from the dead.
John 20:1-9 

Speaking of visiting cemeteries, in a couple of my weekly columns in The Record, I have written about my fascination with cemeteries, especially the two in my own country parish of Saint Theresa where I will be buried, the two in Calvary, Kentucky, down around Lebanon, where I used to serve, the Sisters’ cemeteries at the Motherhouses at Nazareth, Springfield and Loretto, Kentucky, as well as the abbey cemetery at St. Meinrad in Indiana. 

Down home, I love to walk through the cemetery and remember my parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends and fellow parishioners dating back to 1804. It is a bit like walking through heaven and visiting with people I have known and loved, reminding me that I come from those English Catholics who escaped religious persecution in England, came to Maryland and on to Kentucky in the late 1700s - people who held onto their Catholic faith through thick and thin. It is especially sobering to look down at he very spot where I will be buried among them. 

In Calvary, right outside Lebanon where I was pastor before coming here, the parish was founded in 1796. The oldest of the their two cemeteries holds five soldiers from the American Revolution and the last person buried there was killed by Indians. 

At. St. Meinrad, I know one third of the hundred plus monks buried there. These are the people who had the most positive effect on my development as a person and as a priest. I never think of the bones buried there, but the brains. Many of them were European trained and held doctorates from prestigious universities. One of my monk teachers worked for NASA during the summer and invented the plastic for the nose cones of the early unmanned fights. Another went on to become a respected theologian at Yale University. Another was a language expert who once was missing, only to be found in a caravan in Saudi Arabia learning Arabic. 

I am fascinated, not with death, but with those who have lived the Catholic faith and served the church, as I have done these last 73 years. It does something for me – several things for me, in fact. (1) It reminds me that life is short so I need to live well while I can. By looking death in the face, it reminds me that death is a fact of life, not only for those who have gone before me, but also for me. I feel that it is good to remind myself to live with the end in mind.  (2) It reminds me, as well, that I am part of a large family of faith, that stretches back for two thousand years around the world and over two hundred years here in Kentucky. (3) I am reminded of a line from the creed where we say that “we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe that life does not end with the grave, but rather that we continue to live - that we will rise again someday, just like Christ rose from his grave that first Easter. (4) Believing in the “communion of saints,' it reminds me to pray for those who have died and it reminds me that they are praying for me as well.

The great Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once said, “The pastor should visit the cemetery as often as he is able. This is wholesome for him personally, for his preaching, for his spiritual care and also for his theology.” Bonhoeffer was right. When I walk through these cemeteries and view the names on the gravestones, I experience a peaceful, reassuring calmness.

I recommend this practice to any of you, especially when you are depressed or down about something.  Looking death in the eye makes us realize how short and precious life is, makes us put our problems in perspective and restores our peace of mind so that we can get back to living while we can.  It reminds us that we are not alone, that we belong to a huge family of faith and that we will be remembered after we die, even by people who have never met us.

There are several things that stand out when we read about the disciples’ visit to the cemetery shortly after the tragic death of Jesus.  First of all, it was a woman who first brought the news about the empty tomb to the men. Obviously, no one among them was expecting a resurrection. Even those who knew Jesus, saw him die and viewed his empty tomb, were slow in coming to faith.  Mary Magdalen did not go to the cemetery to get a front row seat for the resurrection. She went to finish burying Jesus according to Jewish custom. Jesus died on Friday and had been buried hastily because of the approaching Sabbath. Seeing that the tomb was empty, she concluded that the body had been snatched. The youngest apostle, John, looked in but was scared to go into the tomb. The impulsive Peter, wanting to get to the bottom of things, was the first to enter the tomb. John was the first to believe, and only gradually, over several days, did the others come to believe.

If the resurrection of the body was hard to believe, even for those who were there, what about us? Are we not, also, slow in coming to faith? As Jesus said about us to the doubting apostle, Thomas, in his demand for proof, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

With the Church, we believe in “the resurrection of the body.”  Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian, said that without the body, the human soul is incomplete. We need our bodies to be who we are, to have memories and relationships, to express our unique personalities. Our risen bodies will not be our limited bodies, but fully realized bodies, glorified bodies. Our risen bodies might exhibit some properties of our physical body, but without its limits. Like the risen Lord, who seemed to pass through doors but was also able to be recognized, our bodies will be our bodies, only in a glorified state. Frankly, I am hoping to trade this one in for an upgraded version!!!!

If you are finding it hard to comprehend what I am trying to say, don't worry about it. It really cannot be described in normal language. Frankly, I don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to logically figure all this out. I am simply comforted by the words of Saint Paul, “Eye has not seen, nor ears heard, nor has it even dawned on human beings, the great things God has in store for those who love him.”  I can live with that! 

So, on this Easter morning, let us not just remember the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event, but let us remember it with our own end in mind. Let us look forward to our own resurrections - whatever that reality may look like.  For me, in final analysis, the Easter story should be read as one would read a love letter or a book of poetry, not like one would read a science book or cookbook.

When it comes right down to it, all I really believe is that my life will continue after this life – and that life is going to be wonderful.  Therefore, in the meantime, I am trying to live my life to the fullest while I am here and I am trying to remain connected to Christ as I “wait in joyful hope” for that great and glorious time, which will be beyond my wildest imagining.   

Blessed are those of us who have no proof, who have not seen with our own eyes, yet still believe!