Friday, December 25, 2020




Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged


Rev. Ronald Knott 

December 25, 2020


The angel said to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you and all people good news of great joy. A savior has been born to you.

Luke 2:11


Do you know what the first thing human beings said to God? According to the Book of Genesis, the first thing we said to God was this: “I was afraid.”  The word “afraid” appears many, many times in the Bible, most of the time along with the command, “Do not be afraid.” They were the words of Gabriel when he appeared to Mary when she first conceived. They were the words of the angel to Joseph when he decided to accept Mary and her unexpected pregnancy. They were the words the angel said to the women after the resurrection. They were the words of Jesus to his disciples when he appeared to them in the upper room after he had risen from the dead. They are his words to the shepherds in the gospel today and they are words addressed to us gathered here again this Christmas, in the midst of a COVID epidemic at the year 2020! 

As one who has preached 50 Christmases, it has occurred to me several times that more often than not, we have the tendency to reduce the Christmas story we just read to childish sentimentalism, when underneath it  has at its core a very adult and real message of hope in times of great disappointment and loss.  When we reduce it to pious sentimentalism, we can just keep it safely “out there” somewhere. When we infantilize it and reduce it to mere “cuteness,” “sweetness,” “sentimentalism,” and “niceness” we don’t have to deal with its very adult message. Santa Claus is for children, but the message of Christmas is for serious adults.  

“Do not be afraid,” is a message directed to the shepherds and to us! “Do not be afraid,” however, is easier said than done! Most of us are afraid at some time or another and some of us all the time. We are afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid of strangers, afraid of flying, afraid of heights, afraid of the water, afraid of germs, afraid of getting old and sick, afraid of dying, afraid of crowds, afraid of closed spaces, afraid of failure, afraid of success and, yes, afraid to move on after a terrible loss - the list goes on and on.

It occurred to me the other day that the fear we experience after a loss is not so much about fear of what has happened to the person we lost, but fear about what is going to happen to us without the one we lost.  Sometimes the hardest part of a loss isn’t letting go of the past, but rather learning to start over. It is embracing a “new way of being” that most fills us with doubt and fear. It’s as if the question “What am I going to do now?” keeps flashing before our eyes without letting up! My own niece summed it up quite well when her young husband died of cancer. “I knew who I was yesterday, but I don’t know who I am today!” That’s what fear is usually all about – not the past, but the future – our future.

Five years ago, I had to go through the death of a dream I had for retirement. It hit suddenly and it hit hard, leaving me disappointed, angry and confused. I had to come to terms with the fact that the future I expected, wanted and planned on for years was not going to happen after all. I went through a grieving process – a painful process of letting go. One day, I read something that restored my hope and helped me let go. This is what it said: “A “plan B life” can be just as good or better than a “plan A life.” You just have to let go of that first dream and realize that God has already written the first chapter of the new life that awaits you. All you have to do is start reading that new chapter.” Thinking about it, this has been true over and over again in my life. As it turned out, my plan B life is actually better than my plan A life would have been.

As I waited for God to reveal “plan b” for my next few years, I remembered a quote from Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, that applied to me.  You will probably remember part of the quote, but maybe not know who said it. “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Jesus was right when he said, “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.”  In my own life, it seems that the closer I have become to God, the less afraid I have become of life’s ups and downs. The older I get, the more I can look back on the times I was afraid and realize that most of it was useless. I like to think of it as practice for facing the “big fear,” my fear of dying.  The more times I have been able to let go of my fears and chose to trust God, the more I can do it.  Most of the things I worried about never happened. In fact, most of the time when I have been able to trust God, unimaginable good things have happened instead. I did get through the seminary, even though the head priest at St. Thomas Seminary called me a “hopeless case!” I did enjoy my assignment in Somerset even though I thought it was going to be hell! I was successful at the Cathedral even though I thought it was way beyond my abilities. Even though I thought the world was coming to an end when the sexual abuse scandal hit Louisville, it led to writing my column in the Record weekly for fourteen years and publishing 32 books instead. I thought my years as a vocation director was a disaster, but instead it led to a $2 million dollar grant to implement my dream of starting the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad Seminary. I thought leaving Saint Meinrad was a disaster, but now am happy working in the Caribbean missions.   

Friends, the words in Isaiah are meant for us. “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not!” The words of the angels to the shepherds in the gospel today are meant for us: “Do not be afraid!” The words of Jesus in both the gospels of Mark and Luke are also meant for us, “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.”  These words are invitations to turn it all over to God and wait for “plan b” to reveal itself.  Remember, also, that many of the things that appear to be a tragedy one year may become something marvelous, more marvelous than we could ever imagine, the next! The secret is not to give up or give into our fear. As Dale Carnegie said “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”  Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” An unknown author said this, “Don’t get discouraged; it is often the last key on the ring that opens the lock.”

And so, I say to any of you whose hearts are frightened today, “Be strong! Fear not!” Today’s breakdown may just be tomorrow’s breakthrough.  In the meantime, tell yourself this: “Do not be afraid! With God’s help, I will be able to handle this too!”


Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy.


Thursday, December 24, 2020



This was sent to me from Fergal over in Ireland, my SVG volunteer partner in SVG. We know it by 

"Lo, How A Rose 'Er Blooming," but this video adds a Irish touch - instruments and voices.   


Reprinted from The Record December 17, 2020


Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host…praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Luke 2:13-14 

As I think about all of you who have attended any of my seven Blue Christmas Masses, and those of you who would have attended this year if not for COVID, I am aware of so much sadness, loss and grief that I really don’t know where to start!

I thought long and hard about whether to cancel this year’s Blue Christmas Mass, but I concluded that it might be the safer thing to do. One of the suggestions for replacing it was to publish what I would have said that night in The Record for people to read, while hoping things will be better next year.

Every year, I have tried to find something in the Christmas readings that speak to those who are experiencing sadness and grief during the holidays. This year I want to focus on the singing angels in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.

In Luke’s version of the Gospel, Jesus is presented to us as a God with a big heart, a God who embraces all, especially the poor, the left out, women, children, the sick and the those going through pain and loss. Jesus is reported as crying in John's gospel when his close friend, Lazarus, died. 

A perfect example of this tenderness is Luke’s inclusion of singing angels at the birth of Jesus. His Jewish readers would have known that if Jesus had been born at home in Nazareth, the neighbors would have swarmed the house with musical instruments, ready to burst into song, when it was announced that “it’s a boy!” In the absence of joyful neighbors, Luke has singing angels filling in to replace what was missing, bringing joy to the holy family’s sad predicament and reminding readers that God is with us, even in situations like theirs. “Emmanuel” means “God-with-us!”

The first Christmas is a portrait of separation, poverty, pain and tragedy. In spite of that, what the angels saw brought them to singing. They saw through that dark veil and saw a savior being born, relief from sin and a glorious destination for God’s people.

Friends, we often tend to forget that God is present when things are going well and tend to think God is absent when things are going badly. The truth is that God is also there with us even in the bad times. Luke makes that gloriously obvious in his touching stories.

As I contemplated how this story of the singing angels at Jesus’ birth, might apply to those of you who are grieving, either from losses of years past or from losses only recently, several things came to mind.

First, do not stifle your grief. If you suppress grief too much it can well redouble. Second, the more loss you feel, the more grateful you should be for whoever it was that you had to lose. It just means that you had something worth grieving over. Third, if you feel like crying, go ahead! As Patty Loveless used to sing, “Cry and cry if it makes you feel better.” Research has found that shedding emotional tears, besides being self-soothing, releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals reduce physical pain and ease emotional pain. Fourth, grief is really an aching heart trying to reconcile itself with a painful reality that you find extremely hard to accept. Reconciliation with reality takes time.

Last of all, someday soon you will hopefully come to realize that your loss is actually gain for those for whom you grieve. They are in God’s embrace. As you grieve your loss, as you feel your hurt and as you shed your tears, know that they are now part of that same multitude of the heavenly host that sang at the birth of Jesus.  Just as that heavenly choir looked down on that pathetic scene around the birth Jesus  – a poor young couple away from home without their family’s support and having to give birth to the Savior of the world in a smelly animal stall – they look down on your grief and sing to you of the love that God has for you and your loved ones!  

Finally, if you found any of these words helpful, feel free to cut them out, copy them and send them anyone who might benefit from them. For more weekly encouragement go to this blog:












Sunday, December 20, 2020



The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin named was Mary. He said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” She was greatly troubled at what was said. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you will conceive in your womb, bear a son and name him Jesus. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s handmaid. Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

Luke 1:26-38

God created us and God invites us, over and over again, during our lives to growth and change. In other words, he offers us his grace, his free unsolicited help, so that we can become all that he has called us to be. The only thing God requires of us in return for the investment he makes in us is a “yes” or “no” response of acceptance or rejection.

All of you married people said your “yes” to God, in a formal way, when you originally made your weddings vows! You have said your “yes” again and again, every year that you have renewed your vows. Most importantly, you have said your “yes” every day you got out of bed and put your feet to the floor and carried out your marriage commitments. I have done the same, in my own way, every day for fifty years since I was ordained.

God does not require that we be perfect, he only requires that we be in a serious relationship with him – that we give him our best. He knows that our best is better on some days than other days, but that’s OK as long as we keep coming back to try again. 

I define personal and spiritual suicide as the result of always saying “no” to God’s invitations to growth and change. The biggest sin is not to fail, but to never really try! I am so convinced of this dynamic that I wrote a book about it two years ago. This book is really my autobiography. I sat down and wrote about all those times I can remember being offered an opportunity to growth and change from age six to the present. I tracked the times I said “yes” and how those “yeses” have made me who I am today. That little book is entitled BETWEEN COURAGE AND COWARDICE: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good.

As I read the story of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary today, and thought of last Sunday’s story of the baptism of Jesus when he heard a voice from heaven, I was reminded of many similar invitations that have come to me during my own life. None of them were delivered by angels, but I believe they came from God, none the less! Whether you are aware of them or not, you have had similar invitations in your own life.

Remember those old cowboy movies? Remember the scenes when the good guys are “holed up” in a little cabin outside town, surrounded by “bad guys?” Inevitably, the “bad guys” would tie a message to a rock and throw it through the only window in the cabin. I have always thought that was a good image of the invitations that come to us from God. It’s like we are just going along comfortably doing our thing, when one day a rock comes crashing into our lives with a message attached that reads, "You have just been invited to change! Signed: God!" Once you have been through this enough times, you know how it works! You are then ready to start "throwing rocks through your own windows." You no longer wait till change comes to you, you go out to meet it. You "induce your own labors pains" of growth and change. 

A favorite “throwing rocks through my own windows” story from my autobiography, happened at the end of my tenure as your pastor. After fourteen successful years as pastor of this Cathedral, even though Archbishop Kelly told me I could stay as long as I wanted, I started to think that "it was time” to move on. I set up an appointment with Archbishop Kelly and told him I thought my time was up - that I had made my contribution. Even though I had just "caused" that change and "set it in motion," I remember sitting in my car, after I left his office, feeling like I had just committed professional suicide. In the following weeks, I felt like my niece after her husband’s funeral, when she said, “I knew who I was yesterday, but I don’t know who I am today.” My time in that painful "in between world" was shortened greatly because of all that I had learned in previous years about change. In a year or two, I found myself happily in yet another wonderful job as a staff member at Saint Meinrad Seminary.

At the end of those wonderful fourteen years at Saint Meinrad, having reached the age of seventy, I “induced labor” yet again and decided to go into retirement. Even though that transition did not go smoothly, and that "in between world" was painful, I came out of it again and arrived at a new level of excitement as a volunteer in the Caribbean Missions. I am sure the day will come when I will have to give that up too - either by circumstance or by choice! 

On this day when we remember Mary saying “yes” to God that led to the birth of our Savior, let's remember our “yeses” to God when we either got married or was ordained, let's remember the many times you said “yes” to God when you accepted a child or I took on new ministries and finally let's look forward to all the “yeses” we will make to God before that big “yes” when we have to leave this world! How will we be able to keep saying all those “yeses?” We will do it like we have always done it - with God’s help - because “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)