Thursday, January 26, 2023


Louisville, Kentucky
January 14, 2023

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

Mark 2:13-17

As I sat down to reflect on today’s gospel, where Jesus was attacked and condemned for being seen hanging out with the riff-raff and trash of society, I immediately thought of a little hand-written list of New Year’s Resolutions that someone sent me. It was in a child’s handwriting. Here is what it said, “This year I want to be more like Jesus. I want to hang out with sinners. I want to upset religious people. I want to tell stories that make people think. I want to choose unpopular friends. I want to be kind, loving and merciful. I want to take naps on boats!” Evidently, the person who wrote that, adult or child, was very familiar with the Scriptures because that is exactly what Jesus did!

Today we read about how Jesus “hung out with sinners.” His critics could not stand the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. They wanted him to condemn them! Jesus gave them a perfect response. “Those who are well do not need a doctor, but sick people do!”

Those of you who know me, know that what Jesus did, is something I have tried to do in my normal practice! As a priest, I have specialized in reaching out especially to fallen away Catholics. For 15 years, I wrote a weekly column in The Record called “An Encouraging Word.” After 500 columns, I started a blog by the same name entitled “An Encouraging Word.” The personal philosophy behind my ministry as a priest has always been to look for goodness to affirm, rather than sins to condemn! I believe with all my heart that “we see what we look for!” If we look for sins to condemn in people, we will find plenty of them to condemn! However, I personally believe that the opposite is also true! If you look for goodness in people to affirm, you will find plenty of goodness to affirm!” I learned this growing up! From the time I was born, until I was about 21, it seemed that I was always being condemned because I was not perfect. Since I was not perfect, in my younger years I seemed to have carried a lot of feelings of “never being good enough!”

This was certainly true leaving St. Thomas Seminary here in Louisville! That training clearly focused on “sins to condemn.” When I entered St. Meinrad Seminary in the Fall of 1964, I entered into a new form of training that emphasized “goodness to affirm.” It changed my life and gave my ministry a new way to look at myself and to look out at you! Personally, I have never been inspired to change and grow through condemnation, but I have been inspired to change and grow through encouragement! Besides, who wants to come to church if you keep being condemned all the time? My firm belief is that most people are doing the best they can under their circumstances. Sometimes, all they need is a little encouragement from the pulpit!

I know I am right following the example of Jesus in today’s gospel. I have done it all my 52 years of priesthood and it works. I know priests who have run off more people from the church, through their judgment and condemnation, than you can imagine! In my own defense, I can point to one place in particular – the Cathedral of the Assumption from 1983-1997 when I was pastor. When I arrived there, the parish was down to 110 people, mostly elderly parishioners who lived in the two high rises around the corner. When I left, there were at least 2000 registered individuals.

How did this happen? It certainly wasn’t my looks, my personality or my intellect. I simply preached the “good news” of God’s unconditional love, especially for those who felt judged and unloved! They were attracted to that message, not to me! They used to call us “the island of misfit toys.” If you have ever read the child’s book, “Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” you know what I am talking about. In that book, there is an "island of misfit toys” where broken toys could go to be repaired so they, too, could be part of Christmas! In the words of Pope Francis, we became 'a field hospital for the wounded and sick.'

We specialized in welcoming wounded and fallen-away Catholics. As the “mother church of the diocese,” we liked to say to them, “You can always come home to mother!” They came in droves because they knew they would not have to sit there and be condemned and “put down” every Sunday, but rather be energized by hearing about God’s love and mercy! 

“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!” Personally, I was never inspired to change and grow through condemnation, but I have been inspired to change and grow through encouragement…and so were they! They came to church to be assured that God looks for goodness to affirm, more than sins to condemn, and that doing their best was good enough for God! 



Tuesday, January 24, 2023



Sure, he might be able to drive out demons, but he does it with the help of the prince of demons!

Luke 11:15


What we have here is a message about pettiness and jealousy in ministry that has been around since the beginning.   There was one thing the religious enemies of Jesus could not stand and that was his success in ministry. Since it was obvious that he was doing good things, the only tactics they had left to fall back on was to discredit his success by attributing that success to the fact that he was in cahoots with the devil. Since it was obvious to all that he had power to cast out demons, they attributed his power, not to God, but to the devil. Jealous of his power to do good, they slander him by telling people that his power to do good came from evil itself.  


Jealousy and competitiveness have been the dark side of clerical culture for a very long time and is alive and well today. When the apostles, James and John, were caught making a move to grab the best seats in Jesus’ new kingdom, they had to face the jealous indignation of the other ten apostles as well as a stern reprimand from Jesus. We may remember the story about John trying to put a stop to someone who was driving out demons in the name of Jesus because he was not “a member of the inner circle.” Then there is the story about Joshua doing pretty much the same when he complained to Moses that Medad and Eldad were prophesying even though they had not been “in the tent” with the others when the spirit came to rest on the other prophets.   Snubbed by some Samaritans while on their way to Jerusalem, James and John asked Jesus if it would be OK to call down fire from heaven and burn them up!   


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests dedicates quite a bit of space to the subject of clerical envy and competition. Whether you like his work or not, the late Father Andrew Greeley made a similar point in one of his books. He talks about the leveling that goes on in presbyterates, whereby priests are reluctant to applaud the work of other priests for fear that it will take away something from themselves. 


He says that, in the clerical culture, “to be a member of good standing, a priest must try not to be too good at anything or to express unusual views or criticize accepted practices or even to read too much. Some ideas are all right, but too many ideas are dangerous.” “When a layman mentions that Father X is a good preacher, the leveler priest’s response might likely be, ‘Yes, he preaches well, but he doesn’t get along with kids.’” Or, “He’s really good, but all he does during the week is prepare his sermon.” Or, “everyone says that, and it’s probably true, but he’s not an easy man to live with.” God help the individual priest who "shines" too much! 


In my transition class with the deacons at St. Meinrad, I always ended with a class on "the spiritual practice of blessing people." Blessing people is not about waving crosses over them, but looking for goodness in them to affirm. For some reason, this does not seem to come naturally to ordained ministers. It is a spiritual discipline that must be intentionally cultivated.  


A couple of years ago, I came across my notes for former student, Jorge Gomez’s class, the class of 2011. You may not know that Fr. Jorge, from Mexico, as well as a fellow seminarian, Stanley from Kenya, were killed in a car wreck a few weeks after his ordination. Here are the last words I said to Deacon Jorge to bless him on his way out of the seminary. “You have not forgotten that you do not have a vocation to the seminary, but to serve the People of God. You have a deep love and respect for your country, your family, your people and your community. You are very dedicated to “the people.” You seem to know instinctively that, as priests, we are “called from the people, to live among the people, to serve the people.” I also told them which saint they reminded me of. For him I selected St. Luke, whose heroes are always the underdog, the foreigner, the disaffected and the left out.  I am very happy I took the time to bless him with these words while he was still alive! Fr. Jorge would have loved Pope Francis’ homily where he said, “A priest who is not in service of his community does no good. He is wrong!”   


Brothers and sisters, our sin may not be so much about “what we have done,” the mean and nasty things we say about each other, but “what we have failed to do,” our withholding of clear and unconditional compliments.


St. Cyprian, in the Office of Readings for the Feast of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, put it this way. His words could be applied to religious women, lay ministers and fellow believers as well.  “Why should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him?  What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happenings of its brothers wherever they are?”  


One famous American Protestant preacher described our sin best when he said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but!” 




Sunday, January 22, 2023



As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 4:12-23

Please excuse me if you have heard this story several times. I have only one life, so I have to repeat some of my old experiences once in a while. As some of you already know from my many years of preaching at the Cathedral, at Bellarmine and writing in The Record, that I got my “call” when I was about six years old. No, God did not speak to me from the clouds. Mary did not appear to me in church. Something, however, happened when I was six years old that I have never forgotten. Since I was born and grew up in Rhodelia where there were no barber shops, an elderly man up the road by the name of Alvey Manning cut my hair for $.25. One day, one of his nephews who had recently been ordained, Father Henry Vessels, came for a visit. I just happened to be there for a haircut. Father Vessels paid no attention to me and I don’t even remember talking to him that day. At some point, he had taken off his Roman collar and coat and laid them on one of the beds. I don’t know what possessed me, but I sneaked into the bedroom, held the collar up to my neck and looked at myself in the mirror. Not knowing what got into me, I dropped it like a hot potato, as if I had broken every religious taboo in the Catholic Church.  Even though I was only six years old, I have never forgotten that experience.

The next time the subject of priesthood came up was a year later. I was in the second grade when Sister Mary Ancilla asked us to tell the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I can still remember thinking, “should I or shouldn’t I” tell them! I can still remember urging myself to go ahead and say “priest” whether they laughed at me or not! The only problem was, I proceeded to flunk the altar boy test, not once, not twice, but three times! This prompted Sister Mary Ancilla to say to me, “Ronnie! You’re a good kid, but I don’t think you will ever be any good around the altar!” (As punishment, I made her sit in the front pew at my First Mass.) 

Throughout grade school, unfazed by Sister Mary Ancilla’s negative evaluation of my possible calling, I did not dwell on the idea of being a priest, but it was always there in the back of my mind. When it came time to go to high school in 1958, I found out that the church would accept young men to start their seminary training out of the eighth grade. Against the advice of almost everybody who knew me, even my pastor Father Felix Johnson, I decided to apply. He didn't want to fill out the papers for my going to the seminary until I groveled. Even then, he predicted I wouldn't make it to Christmas.  A month or two later, at barely fourteen years of age, I left home to begin a twelve-year seminary program to become a priest. Father White called me into his office during my second year of high school seminary and told me he was sending me home because "you, Mr. Knott, are a hopeless case." I had to grovel again for a second chance. (Actually, when I think about it, I have had a lot of experience at groveling!)

Finally, on May 16, 1970 I was ordained! It was hard, very hard, an uphill battle most of the way, but I never looked back, I have never been through an identity crisis for more than a day or two, and even today, I would not trade with anybody. However, even on my ordination day, a woman came up to me and asked how many years I was in seminary. When I answered 12, she stepped back and gasped, "My God! You could have been something!" Most of the time, almost fifty-three years now, I have loved doing what priests do. At age 78, almost 79, with the finish line in sight, I still hope to finish my life as a priest.

In today’s gospel Jesus notices two sets of brothers, fishing. He calls them to follow him, to become his disciples.  We are told they immediately dropped their nets, two of them even dropped their father, and followed Jesus.  Unlike the resistant and foot-dragging response of the Prophet Jonah, these guys are decisive and passionate.       

Throughout Scripture, different people respond differently to God’s call. Abraham and Sarah were old, “one foot in the grave” as the scriptures put it, when they were called to be the father and mother of God’s “chosen people.” Sarah was even caught snickering in her tent about the very idea of becoming a mother in her old age. Moses, who had some sort of speech impediment, tried to beg off when God called him to lead his people out of slavery. Because of his youth, David wasn’t even called in from the fields for the selection process to be King of Israel, yet God chose him over all his older and wiser brothers. The Prophet Isaiah tried to beg off because he had a foul mouth, but God chose him to be a prophet anyway, after washing his mouth out with a hot coal. The Prophet Jeremiah also tried to beg off, using the excuse that he was too young and pathetic at public speaking. God chose him anyway. Mary was barely a teenager when God called her. Paul was a fanatic Christian basher, but God called him to make a 180 degree turn and convert thousands to the Christian way of life.  Sts. Francis of Assisi and Augustine of Hippo were playboys of the worst kind. The scholarly St. Thomas Aquinas, when he was younger, was nicknamed “the dumb ox.” He was so fat that they had to cut out part of the table so that he could reach his plate. He became one of the Church’s most brilliant theologians. Elizabeth Ann Seton was a married Episcopalian when God called her to convert to Catholicism, to become a nun on the death of her husband, to start schools, orphanages and hospitals all over the eastern coast of the United States and finally to become one of a handful of American saints. These men and women join a long list, not only of very ordinary people, but also a long list of misfits, adulterers, losers, weaklings, incompetents, thieves and idiots that God has called to important work.

You are also called to called to carry on some part of Christ’s ministry to the world. Yes, you! God has a special job for you to do in your life that no one else can do. You cannot use the excuse that you are too young or too old, too unworthy or too short on talent. One of the most regular themes in scripture is this: God does not use the world’s standards for choosing those he calls. No, he “chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him.”

Personally, I have always thought that marriage and the raising of children was the hardest of vocation. I have always admired those of you who were called to marriage and who have raised families. I don't know how you do it! I learned that when it comes to marriage, you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have presided at weddings where I had great confidence that the new couple would surely make it, but didn't. I have presided at other weddings where I was very doubtful they would last a year only to help them celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries!  Obviously, God knows more about what he was doing than I did! 

From personal experience. I learned a long time ago, both as a seminarian myself and as a seminary staff member for fourteen years, that the best seminarians do not always make the best priests! In my own case, very few people had much hope for me making it to priesthood, much less lasting this long! I am pretty much surprised myself, but as Mary said to the angel, “with God, anything is possible.” 

Maybe you are young and have not yet heard your life’s call. If not, just remember that God has his eye of you right now, so be ready to "drop everything" and "go for it!" Maybe you are right in the middle of living out your vocation or maybe you have completed your life's vocation. Either way, I hope you can look back over your vocation and feel how I feel about my own call. My vocation is summed up in four words at the top of my new tombstone down in Meade County - “simply amazed – forever grateful.”