Tuesday, December 5, 2023





Fr. Ronald Knott

a repeat from previous years

Ever since St. Nicholas changed his name to Santa Claus, he has been going downhill fast. How did he sink so far?

Nicholas started off as a rich young man from Turkey who ended up becoming a kindly bishop. Dressed in a red cope, miter and crosier, he was known for his love of children and his determination to use his inheritance doing anonymous works of charity.

Probably “too Catholic,” 17th century Dutch Protestants helped turn him into a married ex-priest living at the North Pole. Instead of being a holy bishop presiding over a diocese, he ended up presiding over a gang of workaholic elves. Obviously, he married without being “laicized.” Why else would he have been banished to such a God-forsaken place as the North Pole?

It must have been a traumatic career-change. He ended up with a serious eating disorder and a possible drinking problem that turned him into a rotund bag of cholesterol with a bad case of  “rosacea.”

Just when you thought he could not sink any lower, a few years ago he stared in a new “adult” movie with an R rating called “Bad Santa.”  For those who think foul-mouthed drunks and vulgar rudeness are funny, this movie promised to be a huge hit. The reviews use words like, “demented, twisted, gloriously rude, rancid, vulgar and unreasonably funny.” 

So far, no one has raised any serious questions about his obsession with children, his enslaving of small animals to carry loads heavier than any UPS jet or his penchant for “breaking and entering” homes all over the world. Of course, there is always next year.

St. Nicholas, the compassionate bishop, is not the only one to lose at this time of year. Even Jesus is being nudged out on "Christmas cards" by elves, reindeer, snow men and kittens in stockings.

Instead of Jesus’ birth being central, Christmas has become a frenzy of buying: buying things people don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have. Just recently a mob of shoppers, rushing like a herd of charging elephants for a sale, trampled the first woman in line, knocking her unconscious. No wonder so many are left disappointed, in debt and the suicide rate is said to spike right after Christmas! 

Before you dismiss me as a grinch, let me assure you that I love Christmas. My point is that it takes a lot of imagination and determination these days to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  Since I am single and my life is so different than that of many people, I am reluctant to give practical suggestions, but here is one. Keep it simple. Do less, not more. Take a little of the time you saved and go on a one-hour retreat. Take a long walk by yourself or spend a few minutes in an empty church or take a soak in a hot tub and try to remember what Christmas is really all about - even if it is only a short break from the mad rush of the season.           

Sunday, December 3, 2023



Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when
the time will come. May he not come suddenly
and find you sleeping.
Mark 13:33-37

Harold and Maude is an old movie about an eccentric young man who is fascinated with death and an eccentric old woman who is fascinated with life. They meet by accident while doing what they both enjoy doing - attending the funerals of total strangers. 

      Maude, the eccentric old woman, is a serious student of life.  She teaches young Harold how to wake up and savor every delicious moment of life. In what has to be the most crucial line of the movie, Maude says to Harold: "You know, Harold, there are a lot of people who enjoy being dead!" Her point is this - a lot of us are "dead" inside a long time before we're buried. 
Norman Cousins put it this way. “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Someone else puts it this way, "Humans, unlike insects, start out as butterflies and end up in cocoons!" 


Why do so many of us choose to go through life half-asleep? Obviously, because a wide-awake life is so often scary and painful! Do we not say that "ignorance is bliss?" and "what you don't know won't hurt you?" Waking up is the riskiest business on earth. We endanger the status quo, the way things are now! When we really wake up, we disturb our comfort. If we don't have the guts to deal with the ensuing problems and chaos that come to light, we endanger our very sanity. 

      We spend a lot of time making sure we don't wake up: sleeping too much, the over use of drugs, too much work or an excess of entertainment. On the other hand, we spend millions of dollars on therapists to help us wake up. We spend millions of hours in self-help groups so that we can become more aware of what's going on around us and within us.


We often use the words "religion" and "spirituality" interchangeably. Religion is about performing certain external acts. It is something that happens outside us. Spirituality is about waking up on the inside! Jesus said we needed both religion and spirituality, but warned of the dangers of mere external religious acts that are done without any inner conversion of the person doing them. 

       The work of spiritual growth is about resisting the temptation to deliberately go to sleep, the temptation to avoid pain, the temptation to go through life deliberately dull and unaware. The work of spiritual growth involves standing up to our own cowardice in the face of life; resisting that part of us that does not want to know. Most people resist this work because they fear finding the worst about themselves when in reality, if they actually take a good look, if they take their whole being apart and examine it, they will find that there is much good and genuine about who they are!

      Five years ago, I wrote a little autobiographical book about that very thing. It is called "Between Courage and Cowardice: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good." We all live in a world between the poles of courage and cowardice. Between those two poles, we choose either personal growth or personal stagnation. In my book, I trace the hard decisions that I have made personally, from age six to the present, unconsciously in the beginning and sometime consciously later on, that have contributed to the kind of person that I have become. I believe with all my heart that we actually create the persons we become. Our lives, as we experience them, are a result of how many times we have chosen courage over cowardice, the road less traveled over the road most taken. Aristotle was right, "Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” 


Today's text refers to all the waiting and watching Christians would do until the Second Coming, whenever it does happen. The "watching and waiting" is not about trying to predict anything, but on "waiting and watching in joyful hope" and "living lives of preparedness" for something wonderful, whenever it does happen!


The best way to prepare for death is not to focus on dying, or tying to predict when the end is coming, but on living in the here and now; not focusing on the future, but focusing on the present. It's not a tragedy to die. It's a tragedy to get to the end of your life and realize that you never really lived. The tragedy is to look back over your life and realize that you always took the path of cowardice to protect yourself, to look back and realize you spent the whole time spinning a cocoon around yourself to protect you from having to do something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. 


In such a cocoon, we can live in a coma-like state. We spin that cocoon because the real world is too much trouble, too much work. We prefer to go back to sleep. 

      Maude was right -"A lot of people enjoy being dead." They prefer comfort over challenge, safety over growth, invisibility over visibility. The ideal set of circumstances for them is a womb-like environment: warm, safe, secure, with all their needs met. They spend their lives backing away from what would really make life, life! It takes guts to stay awake, to be alert and to be on guard. For many, that's just too much trouble! As Thomas Merton said, "The greatest temptation in life is to settle for too little!" 


Jesus did not put us here to wait for death, to predict and wait for the end, but to live fully! To live fully, we must cultivate a "mindfulness" about life. We must learn the discipline of staying awake, keeping a sharp eye out, looking around us and being constantly alert. From the title of my book, we must "choose to do hard things for our own good" and resist "the road most traveled." To the extent that we accept our own call to be all we can be, the mission and purpose of our own lives, we will work against anything, within or without, that would hold us back!

      The urge to go to sleep is powerful. We are called to resist it! We are called to live "on purpose" and "with purpose." We must choose courage and reject cowardice. In the words of Jesus, we "must be watchful and alert so that he will not come suddenly and finding us sleeping!”