Thursday, June 22, 2023



There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Ecclesiastes 3:4

At a time when nothing seems funny in the church anymore, I thought these stories might make you smile.

Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, a tenacious watchdog of orthodoxy, was a major defender of the status quo at the Second Vatican Council. One story from Vatican II days had him hopping into a Roman taxicab and exclaiming to the driver, “Take me to the Council!” His reputation solidly entrenched in people’s minds, the cab driver headed for the city of Trent (the scene of a council 400 years before).

When Bishop Carroll Dozier became Bishop of Memphis, Tenn., in 1971, he soon scheduled a general absolution ceremony in a sports arena. Some 14,000 showed up. Rome did not approve of general absolution except for emergency circumstances, such as existed in battle areas during World War II. Bishop Dozier blamed Cardinal Spellman of New York when he was summoned to Rome to appear before the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments to be reproved and directed not to repeat the ceremony.

When Bishop Dozier’s plane circled New York in preparation for landing, an unchastened Bishop Dozier joshed to a friend, “I looked out the window, raised my right hand and absolved the whole city of New York – everyone, that is, except Cardinal Spellman!”

When Cardinal Sarto of Venice was elected Pope Pius X, he had pawned all his personal possessions to help the poor. When it came time for him to appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square after his election as pope, all he had was a cheap tin cross, because he had pawned his silver episcopal cross. Some were troubled, but not the new pope. “No one will notice. It looks quite like the real thing!”

Most people have heard Pope John XXIII’s most famous joke. He was showing a visitor around the Vatican one day, and the visitor asked how many persons worked there. “About half,” Pope John replied.

Cardinal Cushing of Boston was famous for his small regard for pomp and circumstance. At confirmation ceremonies, he would pace about and ask those to be confirmed questions from the catechism. He posed easy questions and glossed over blunders.

At one such ceremony, Cardinal Cushing came across Michael Cronin, son of Joe Cronin, then manager of the Boston Red Sox. “Who made the world?” Cardinal Cushing asked Michael. “God made the world,” said Michael. “Who made the Red Sox?” Cardinal Cushing countered. “Tom Yawkey,” declared the youth, citing the then-current owner of the Red Sox. Cardinal Cushing waited for the laughter to subside, then said: “You certainly know your catechism!”

Bishop Sheen, a great fund raiser for the missions, liked to tell the story of a young girl who was hugely successful raising money for the missions. Many of her customers returned three or four times. Her mother asked her where she was getting all the lemonade. The girl answered, “From the cocktail shaker you had in the icebox.”

A Reprint from For the Record
July 14, 2011

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Other than a few little loose ends that I need to finish, my latest "big project" has been completed - the turning of my old childhood grade school building into a new St. Theresa Family Life Center and the old parish rectory into a Guest House for retreats, for overnight speakers in the Family Life Center and for various other new uses. It took over two years of intense focus, attention and outside help to bring it to completion.

Reaching this milestone, the next question facing me personally is this - what next? At a time like this, I am reminded of a quote from Marilyn Ferguson. "It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear. It's like being between trapezes. It's like Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hang onto."

During my other "post-project times," there was always the temptation to try to repeat what worked before in a different location or anything that was similar to that last success. I have been through this "in between time" many times before. Here are only a few "reinvent myself" examples from my past.

When I left the Cathedral, I was tempted to look for another historic parish to revive. I even made the mistake of trying to go back there for a while. Instead, I reinvented myself and got involved in the initial formation of priests in the seminary and the ongoing formation of priests after seminary. During that time I founded the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad Seminary and led well over 100 ongoing formation priest convocations in 10 countries. During that time, I also got involved in campus ministry, started an annual Blue Christmas Mass for the grieving and writing a weekly column for our archdiocesan paper, The Record.

When the time came to let go of all of that, I was tempted to try to hang onto some parts of all that or maybe continue some of it in a new way. Instead, I decided to leave it behind and reinvent myself as a "missionary" in the Caribbean. After twelve trips down there with several obvious successes, the onset of a COVID epidemic and a volcano eruption, I was forced to end that ministry.

When my ministry in the Caribbean missions ended, I was tempted to look for ways to try to repeat or expand that experience somewhere else. Instead, I decided to reinvent myself and take on the challenge of finding a ministry closer to home that did not require travel during the COVID epidemic. I landed on the idea of revitalizing and renovating the neglected buildings of my home parish. Now that that project is finished, I find myself again in one of those "in between trapezes" periods in my life while "my blanket is in the dryer."

This time, I have sworn off of any more "building and fund raising projects." However, I am not ready to quit reinventing myself. I just need to let some ideas percolate in my mind until a new direction comes into focus. I will no doubt offer a few educational programs in the new Family Life Center and stay in the Guest House when I do, but how I will fully reinvent myself this next time around has not yet become clear. However, I firmly believe that it will come to me in time. It always has in the past. All I have to do is keep my eyes, ears and heart open. As Alexander Graham Bell said, "When one door closes another door 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."

Even at age 79, I don't believe that it is time to quit just yet. Rather, I have the feeling that it is time to reinvent myself once again! I'll need to take my time, but I have a strong feeling there is still "something else" yet to do - probably something I have never thought of before! Like it has so often before, I believe that "what to do next" will be revealed to me soon! All I have to do is resist the temptation to shut down, to give into ease and to quit caring! Pray with me that I will not give into that temptation. Who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come?

Sunday, June 18, 2023


At the end of the Nov. 6, 2013, general audience in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis drew attention by warmly embracing a man who suffers from a rare disease causing neuronal tumors all over his body. His name is Vinicio Riva, a 53-year-old Italian who has suffered from neurofibromatosis since he was 15.

Rev. Ronald Knott

As many of you know, for fifteen years I wrote a weekly column in our archdiocesan newspaper, The Record. My column was called An Encouraging Word. My philosophy was, that if you looked for it, you could find all kinds of wonderful things happening that never make the news. I wanted to shine the light on affirming that goodness, rather than "mousing for vermin." By that, I mean I wanted to resist the temptation to constantly "look for evil to condemn."

I still believe that there is a lot of goodness out there, but when I saw today's reading I could not help but be moved by these powerful words and offer some encouraging words about what's happening to our culture.

When Jesus saw the crowds, his heart was moved with compassion to the depths of his
being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like a sheep who have no shepherd.
Matthew 9:36-10:8

There is a deadly disease of epidemic proportions infecting our country and our churches. Many of us are already infected with it and most of us have already been affected by it. No, it's not COVID, AIDS or cancer. It's an aggressive selfish individualism. This disease, this mindset, is infecting our families, our marriages, our political process, our neighborhoods, and our churches.

It’s all about me, my rights, my needs, my opinions, my future and my wants. It’s all about "every dog for himself" and a “I don't give a damn attitude” about how my behavior affects anybody else. It’s about running red lights, trashing public property, seeing what you can get by with, reneging on promises, running over whoever gets in your way, getting out front no matter who you have to walk on and engaging in crude, rude, and in-your-face public discourse and behavior especially on social media.  

When Jesus saw the crowds, his heart was moved with compassion to the depths of his 
being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like a sheep who have no shepherd. 

As a result of all this, we are investing in more police, higher walls, more expensive lawyers, more guns, stronger locks, and more counseling just to protect ourselves from each other. Because of all this, people's anger, rage, and hate are boiling over everywhere. This disease is being labeled, among other things, as the “decline of civility” and the “collapse of culture.” The disease of selfish individualism is the problem behind most of our other problems. Of course, not everybody is infected by this disease, but it is spreading like wildfire. We have learned how to be a “me,” but we have forgotten how to be a “we:” as citizens, as family members, as marriage partners, as neighbors, and as church members.

When Jesus saw the crowds, his heart was moved with compassion to the depths of his
being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like a sheep who have no shepherd.

What did Jesus do, when he saw all the human bewilderment and dejection of his day? He compared it to seeing "sheep without a shepherd." When he saw it, he was "moved with compassion" for all the sick, the blind and the mentally afflicted. He was "moved with compassion" by the world's sorrow - for those who have lost loved ones, for the tired and hungry and those who struggle to get by with so little. He was "moved with compassion" by the world's loneliness when he saw those who have been marginalized, abandoned and isolated by their sickness, their race or their age. He was "moved with compassion" by people's desperate longing for a connection to God while doing without good spiritual leadership. Story after story in Scripture tells of Jesus' longing to relieve the suffering and desperation that he saw in the people around him.  

What he saw was a serious spiritual leadership crisis - a heart-breaking lack of people willing and able to do anything about all the suffering that "moved him with compassion."  What did he do about it? He sent his disciples out, after instructing them, to do what they could to relieve people's suffering and to give them hope. Here is what the gospel text today says: 

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Ask
the master of the harvest to send out laborers. He summoned
his twelve disciples out after instructing them: "Cure the sick,
raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons." 

When I hear about, or see first-hand, all the human bewilderment and dejection today, I see clearly that we too are in a serious spiritual leadership crisis. We have so few really good role models in government and the most pressing need facing Catholicism today is the quality of its spiritual leadership. Faced with all the social bewilderment and personal dejection, those called to positions of authority seem more and more focused on their own personal power in government and on their own personal piety in the church than helping relieve the pain of others They are becoming examples of that bumper sticker I saw a few years ago that  said, "I'm saved! Sorry about you!"  

Effective spiritual leaders have the ability to influence people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be – the ability to inspire them to become people willingly and able to serve others. We have lost our ability to influence people to choose love, service and compassion  over hate, competitiveness and greed - leaving them like "sheep without a shepherd."  

To me, the most pressing problem facing Catholicism today may just be the quality of its priestly leadership in face of seemingly deteriorating religious devotion and faith, community cooperation, generosity and concern for the poor. 

Organized religion has lost its power to impose unquestioned rules on the behavior of its members No amount of ranting and raving from leadership about how it ought to be listened to, and no amount of new editions of the rule books, will fix this. 

Instead of blaming ourselves for our lack of skills of persuasion, some clergy persist in their propensity to blame the laity for their lack of faith and the culture for its "secularism" and "moral relativism." As I used to teach those who were about to be ordained at St. Meinrad Seminary, "If you are going to be a priest (noun), for God's sake priest (verb)! Just don't blame the laity for your own lack of ability to connect and influence!  

Instead of blaming others, the better approach might be for us clergy start owning the fact that the real problem may be our own style, mistakes and inability to influence others.  Instead of looking around for a solution, maybe we clergy should start looking within. We designated spiritual leaders need to become real spiritual leaders. Maybe the real problem is not with the sheep, but with the shepherds

What can you do when we have a spiritual leadership crisis? You do whatever you can to survive spiritually! That's what you do! When you can't find a good spiritual director, you do what you can to become your own spiritual director. In the past, some of you did for yourself what you could do when your parents were not there for you while you were growing up! Some of you found a way to parent yourself! You may have to be like those four kids who managed to survive in the Amazon jungle for 40 days after the plane they were on crashed and killed three adults including their mother. Those four children, all siblings, are ages 13, 9, 4 and 11 months. The oldest was used to taking care of the younger ones. They survived jaguars, snakes and other predators. Their knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills gave them a better chance of remaining alive.

Here is one thing you can do to be your own spiritual director if necessary. You won't have to add something else to your already busy schedule. All you need to do is to focus more seriously on something you are already doing - going to Mass. It requires that you move away from the passive old idea of "attending Mass" to a new discipline of "celebrating the Eucharist." Instead of expecting others to offer you a moving spiritual experience every weekend, it requires that you personally become responsible for that "moving spiritual experience" that you crave. It is possible, even when the homily is not very inspiring and even when the music is not up to your liking, to have a "moving religious experience." Here are some things you can personally do in a pinch to help yourself have a "moving spiritual experience!"

(1) Spend some time reading and re-reading the Scriptures of the day at home on the computer or from a missalette before you come to Mass. If that doesn't work, or time doesn't allow it, come to church early and do it right there in the pew. Of course that will be a lot easier if the church is quiet and talking and welcoming is restricted to the vestibule or outside the entrances of the church. That way, even if the homily is disappointing, you can still be inspired by reflecting on the readings before they are read. (2) Pick a seat to minimize visual and audible distractions - maybe up front near the altar or pulpit. (3) Pick up a hymnal and sing along, or minimally read the words as others are singing them. St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.” The words of the hymns are prayers too! (4) Keep a "spiritual progress journal" even if you only have time for a few sentences on some days. Personally, I now have over 20 volumes of journal reflections that I can go back to, re-read and notice when I made progress or fell behind spiritually. (5) If you do better in a group, you can always join a spiritual reading book club, a prayer group or a support group. If none are available, start your own. (6) Use commuting time alone in your car to listen to a recorded spiritual reflection, to listen to someone leading the Rosary or to listen to collections of various religious hymns. Personally, I like to turn off the radio and enjoy the quiet as prayer time.  

Whatever you do, remember this! If you are not being fed spiritually by others, feed yourself! Feed yourself! Take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being! In an emergency, become your own spiritual director! Be like those four kids who managed to stay alive on their own for forty days after a plane crash in a Columbian jungle! Until help arrives, starting today do whatever you can to prepare yourself to be "moved with compassion for the bewildered and dejected!" 

In the meantime, pray that the Lord will strengthen the spiritual leaders we have and send us more effective spiritual leaders because "the harvest is great, but the laborers are few!"