Thursday, June 20, 2024

A VERY BIG DAY AT A VERY SMALL PARISH


A GROUP OF U.S. BISHOPS VISIT ST. THERESA CHURCH
Home Parish of  Family Members of the Venerable Augustus Tolton, Father Ronald Knott and Father Robert Ray
Rhodelia, Kentucky
 
Friday, June 14, 2024

 
GATHERING AT THE GRAVE OF MATILDA CHISLEY IN THE OLD ST. THERESA CEMETERY

Grandmother of the Venerable Augustus Tolton - First Black Priest in the United States, an enslaved man,  and Soon to Be Canonized Saint


Father George Illikkil, Pastor of St. Theresa Church, welcoming the Bishops and Archbishops. 
Historian, Lee Loumis of Louisiana, reading the tombstone and commenting on the dates.   
The Bishop on the far left is Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, who is the Vatican Postulator for the Venerable Augustus Tolton's canonization process from the United States. The wood cross in the background marks the location of the second St. Theresa (log cabin) Church (1826-1857) 
Father Tolton's grandmother (Matilda), grandfather  (Guston) and mother (Martha Jane and her siblings) were all parishioners at this second log cabin church. They were among the 222 enslaved people who are listed in our mid-nineteenth century  baptismal books.  
I am explaining how the grave site was found and the tombstone was cleaned and straightened. I  was also able to provide them with the hymn, WITH US THEN AND WITH US STILL, the lyrics of which I wrote, that tells the history of St. Theresa Church - from the first log cabin church (1818-1826) along the river, to our sad connection to slavery, the 123 year history of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth serving at St. Theresa and the founding of our neighboring sister parish in Payneville, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. We were led in some prayers, the Bishops laid a wreath and we sang the hymn.  

Personally, I have led two other smaller groups in saying what I believe is the most appropriate prayer at Matilda Hurd Chisley's grave site - the Confiteor - where we confess "what we have done and what we have failed to do." 
Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville welcomes the Bishops, USCCB Staff and Guests in one of the meeting rooms in the new St. Theresa Family Life Center. 
 Christy Brown supplied the drinks, the servers and the food at the end of the tour in the St. Theresa Family Life Center. Father Bob Ray, another son of the parish, with his back to the camera, can be seen in front of the drink bar in the center of the photo. 
The third and present St. Theresa Church (1857 - the present) The old St. Theresa/Cross Roads School,
which can be seen among the trees on the left (1952 - 1996), replaced the older and larger St. Theresa Academy (opened in 1868 and closed and torn down in 1952). After having been closed and left empty for over 25 years, it was renovated into a new St. Theresa Family Life Center and re-opened in 2023. 

Two of the features of the new Family Life Center, the historic photo hallway gallery and the museum room, feature efforts to educate this generation of members about our connection to slavery in the mid 1800s by prominently listing the names of our enslaved members from our baptismal record books and telling the bad, as well as the good, sides of our history. Failing to teach this part of our history, I consider sinning in another way as identified in the Confiteor when we confess "what we have done and what we have failed to do."  We desperately need to own this history, especially if we dare celebrate our connection to a new American saint, Father Augustus Tolton.  


THANKS
A special thanks to Mr. Tim Tomes and Fr. Dale Cieslik for supplying the photos above. 
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A CALL TO A HIGHER STANDARD


GIVEN AT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF HE POOR HOME FOR THE AGED
June 17, 2024


Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
Matthew 5:38-42

Few passages of the New Testament have more of the essential teaching of Jesus on how we ought to behave in the world than the chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel.  In short, Jesus raised the bar on how people ought to treat each other to a much higher level than what was generally accepted.

In essence, to be Christian is to be different, to stand out, to swim against the stream, to hold oneself to a higher standard, to be "the light of the world and salt of the earth" - otherwise we are no better than "pagans," we are no better than unbelievers. Sadly, many who call themselves "Christian" don't even know that Jesus raised the bar on human behavior and therefore they do not even attempt to measure up!  Some even think the Church ought to lower these high standards to better match the level of our behaviors or be ignored altogether!

Jesus begins his teaching today by citing the world's oldest law---an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That law is known as the Lex Talionis, which can best described as the law of “tit for tat.” This law is found in the Code of Hammurabi, who reigned in Babylon from 2285 BC to 2242 BC. The principle is clear and apparently simple----if anyone inflicts an injury on anyone else, an equivalent injury shall be inflicted on him. Even though it is not universal, that law was absorbed into the teaching we find in the Old Testament.

As savage as it may sound, this law was, in fact the beginning of mercy. It, at least, limited vengeance. Before that law, unlimited vengeance could be taken not only on the perpetrator, but anyone in his family, including death for a minor slight. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth deliberately limited vengeance.  The law lays it down that only the man who committed the injury must be punished, and his punishment must be no more than the equivalent of the injury inflicted and the damage done.

Another thing is worth noting here. This law never gave a private individual the right to extract vengeance. It was always a law that was laid down to guide a judge in a court in of law in assessing punishments and penalties for violent and unjust deeds.

Still further, this law was never, at least in semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon after the law was written and accepted, the injury done was assessed at a money value and the injury was assessed on five counts - for injury, for pain, for healing, for loss of time and for indignity suffered. Sounds remarkably modern, doesn't it?

As advanced as it was for its time, Jesus comes along and obliterates the very principle of that law, because retaliation, however controlled and restricted, has no place in the Christian life. Jesus abolishes the old law of limited and controlled vengeance and introduces the new spirit of non-resentment and non-retaliation.

To take these words of Jesus in a crude literalism is to miss the point, as in the case of "turning the other cheek and offering no resistance to injury." He is certainly not advocating physical and emotional abuse! If a car runs over you, don't just stand there and let it happen again and again! The first thing to do is to get the hell out of the road and don't let them do it again!  The next thing, after recovery, is to resist trying to "get even" or worse to "carry a grudge." The ability to do that will help you, not the perpetrator!   One cannot have a full life under the shadow of bitterness!

To opposite of crude literalism is to dismiss what Jesus is saying here.  Jesus is teaching his followers that they must live at a higher level than what is generally accepted. In the case of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," if we lived that way, we would all be blind and toothless in no time! What he is saying is to stop the revenge! Find out where the hurt that would drive them to do such things is coming from and try to heal it, if possible!   Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us that nonviolent resistance can bring down oppressive governments and change the hearts of a nation, while violence only begets more violence.

And, you, what about you? Do you live a life of “tit for tat,” a life of always “getting even” when you are hurt or snubbed? How do you try to live the challenging words of Jesus in today's gospel?  It is not easy for any of us, but Jesus offers his own Body and Blood to strengthen us to do for each other what he always does for us - love us without condition!

 

 

 

 


Sunday, June 16, 2024

NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER LOSE HEART! THE KINGDOM IS COMING!



“This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground is the smallest of all seeds. It springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so big that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
Mark 4:26-34

We are reading Mark’s Gospel this year. To better understand the message of his Gospel, it is important to recall that his original audience was a community of persecuted Christians who were losing hope. If you ever get the feeling that the whole blooming world, including our church and our country, isn't working all that well anymore and nobody seems to have the foggiest notion of how to really fix it, you can understand some of what the writer of the Gospel of Mark is trying to say to the discouraged community of his day! By using the two parables today, about tiny seeds slowly sprouting and quietly growing, he reminds his audience that God too is quietly working and his kingdom will finally come to fullness – not matter what!  

It seems to me that we too are communities that need a message of encouragement at a time when many are losing hope. I have heard this from you and I have felt it myself for a long time now! The Rudyard Kipling poem “If” puts words to my feelings.



If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,
twisted, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
to serve you long after they are gone,
and so hold on when there is nothing in you
except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

I spent twelve long years in the seminary preparing for ordination to the priesthood, only to see the bottom appear to drop out about the time I got there. When I was ordained in 1970, priests and nuns were leaving in a steady stream, many life-long Catholics were no longer going to church and young people, even the graduates of our expensive Catholic School system, were not even bothering to receive the Sacraments. It has steadily gotten worse year after year!

In 1970, I was worried about my future, but not discouraged enough to quit. That’s why I chose the hymn with the refrain, “No Storm Can Shake My Inmost Calm,” for my First Mass and have had it sung at every one of my 54 anniversaries since!  With my eyes wide open, I made the deliberate decision to stand my ground and stay put, realizing that I would be serving the Church in one of the most tumultuous periods in recent Church history. I knew in my heart of hearts that my years as a priest would be more like shooting the rapids of the Colorado River than lounging peacefully in a canoe on a serene mountain lake. I had a pretty good hunch as to what I was getting myself into! At least I knew enough that it was not going to be easy! I knew it was going to be a rough ride! I chose to do it anyway, even though I might not have realized just how chaotic it would become.

For instance, I could not foresee that I would be sent, right after ordination, to the home missions to live by myself for five years in a church basement with no windows, to pastor two tiny parishes of less than 25 members total, and without enough income to even pay my monthly salary – which was about $200 a month back then! I did not foresee being thrown own of my first ministerial meeting down there simply because I was a Catholic. I did not foresee being terrorized by the thought of the Ku Klux Klan blocking the road while driving a dark mountain road at night because we had started the first Catholic Church in one of those counties and because we welcomed some African Americans young men from the local Job Corps Center!

I could not foresee that I would be stalked by a schizophrenic and have a knife pulled on me when I was pastor of our Cathedral for welcoming marginal Catholics back to church. I could not foresee an anonymously written “white paper” being circulated throughout Louisville condemning me and Archbishop Kelly, calling us about every name in the book for our efforts to bring the Cathedral back to life.

I could not foresee a damnable sexual abuse scandal coming to light that would drive me, for the first time, nearly to the point of quitting. I may have gone through with leaving the priesthood if I had not taken a three month “leave” to pull myself back together. I spent one of those months by myself, walking almost all day every day on a cold deserted Florida beach, praying and thinking about what to do next. I left there resolved yet again to tough it out.

I am still angry at the sick priests who have hurt children, hurt my church and brought shame on the 95% of our priests who have done good work and given themselves to the service of others for many, many years.

I am amazed that we priests let you lay people, in your goodness, put us on pedestals and treat us with respect without us ever having to earn it. We have sometimes taken your goodness for granted and created a climate of clericalism. Pope Francis said recently, “Clericalism leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything.” 

I am even angrier than ever at those within the Church who engage in all sorts of meanness, character assassination and anonymous personal attacks in the name of “orthodoxy,” deciding who God loves and who God doesn’t! Blaise Paschal was right. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” William Penn was right when he said, “Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than the arguments of its opposers.”

Regardless of all that, I have made this decision: nobody is going to take my church away from me no matter what they do or don’t do! I am so determined, like the French Scientist priest Teilhard de Chardin, to “stay to the end, with a smile, if possible,” that a couple of years ago I had my tombstone installed down in Saint Theresa Cemetery with my name carved in stone - FATHER James Ronald Knott! I’ll be damned if I go back at this point in my life and have “Father” chisel off that tombstone! 

From here on, I will not bury my head in the sand, but I have decided that I am going to place most of my focus on positive things - the things I have the power to change, instead of wallowing in sadness and giving into discouragement. I will do what I can to effect such positive changes, but I am going to ignore what I cannot change – and if I can’t ignore it at least I will try not to allow it to drag me down.

Like me, all of you have heard the hundreds of “good” reasons to give up on the church, to blame others for its problems, to withhold financial support, to punish those who are not guilty and to drop out in self-righteous disgust. Like you, I have been tempted to respond that way to the problems in today’s church, but just as I refuse to give up my United States citizenship because of the stupidity and moral weaknesses of our politicians and many of our citizens, I will not leave my church because of its cowardly leadership, because of a few perverted clergy or because of its often sinful members. It may not be easy to stay and fight evil, but I know I can be a whole lot more effective from the inside than standing outside the church and barking at it from a distance.

Whether your kids have quit going to church after all your investment in religious education, whether your spouse has been unfaithful to you after years of marriage, whether the bank foreclosed on your business after slaving for years to keep it going, whether you have lost your job or been diagnosed with a terminal illness after trying your best to stay healthy, I want to help you discover your solid center from where you can weather this storm or any storm life throws at you! I want to inspire you to become one of those trees growing along a river bank that the Prophet Jeremiah talked about when he said: “Those who trust and hope in the Lord, are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”

What is the solution? Rebel? Reform? Resign? Give up? Give in? Drop out? Is it time for another American Revolution? Another Reformation? Should we start another country? Start another church? Move to another planet? The only problem with those” solutions” is that we will end up taking our problems with us. We can run, but we cannot hide. We must build ourselves up – from the inside out – so that “no storm can shake our inmost calm It’s easier to put on slippers than it is to carpet the world. It’s easier for us to change ourselves than change everybody else! We must give up our juvenile search for magic programs, savior politicians and charismatic clergymen to make it all better for us. We must change!

Friends! No matter what! Don’t lose hope and don’t get distracted! Keep your eyes on the prize! In the midst of all the chaos we are experiencing, we need to remember that God is at work and the kingdom is coming into reality ever so quietly like tiny seeds sprouting and growing of their own accord.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


Thursday, June 13, 2024

IF YOU REALLY LOVE GOD, THIS IS HOW YOU WILL LIVE YOUR LIFE

 


Given At the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph Home
June 10, 2024

Unlike the Ten Commandments, which stress the things that one who loves God should not do, today’s gospel offers us a list of things that a person who loves God does do. It is important to remember here that Jesus is not saying “do these things and God will love you,” but rather “if you love God, these are the things you will do!” We do not do these things to earn God’s love, rather if we love God, we will do these things. So, what then does a serious lover of God look like?

(1)He or she is first of all “poor in spirit.”  What Jesus is talking about here is not merely economic poverty. Even the dirt poor can be greedy in their hearts. What it means, really, is the deep-down knowledge that when it comes right down to it, we own nothing and everything can be taken away from us in an instant. Every material possession, every blessing we have ever had, is a gift from God that was given to us, not to hoard, but to share. The more we have been given, the greater the responsibility we have to share.” “Poverty of spirit” is a basic knowledge that we are all poor, when it comes right down to it. As they say, “There are no pockets in shrouds!”

(2) A serious lover of God is able to mourn. One who loves God seriously knows that we are interconnected human beings and therefore never loses his or her ability to feel the suffering of others. A cold-hearted, self-centered, disinterested person is not a friend of God. A friend of God shares the compassion of Christ who was moved deeply by the horrible suffering of simple human beings and is never far from “the gift of tears,” as the saints called it.

(3) A serious lover of God is meek. A “meek” person is not a person who lets people walk over him or her. A “meek” person lives with the knowledge that he is never “a god,” but nonetheless always a “child of God.” In other words, he neither inflates his own worth on one hand, nor does he allow others to deflate his value on the other hand.  Being meek means to know who we are in God’s eyes- nothing more, but nothing less!

(4) A serious lover of God hungers and thirsts for righteousness. A serious lover of God does not dabble in religion, placing religion somewhere outside the realm of his daily living and daily choices.  Rather, he or she is a serious spiritual seeker, always trying to align his everyday life with Christian principles.  He or she strives always to close the gap between being a Christian in name and being a Christian in fact, while being totally free of religious fanaticism and doing spiritual violence to others in the name of orthodoxy.

(5) A serious lover of God is merciful. Being merciful means letting God be the judge of other people. It means giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving them a break, wishing them well on their path, knowing that with God, it isn’t over till it’s over, and with God there is always another chance. Yes, it also means living the maxim, “There but for the grace of God, go I!” Thomas Merton said, "The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all livings things, which are part of one another, and all involved in one another."

(6) A serious lover of God is clean of heart. A serious lover of God doesn’t just do good things, he or she does them for the right reason and with the purest of motives.  I tried to remind the seminarians at Saint Meinrad that it is a good thing to want to be a priest, but one must go into it for good reasons – to serve people, not for what priesthood can do for them. It is a good thing to give to the poor, but one can give to the poor, not because they love the poor, but because they will get their name in the paper or will have a building named after them. A serious lover of God always does good things, but he also does them for the right reason.

(7) A serious lover of God is a peacemaker. War is getting more and more irrelevant. We need to become as good at peacemaking as we have been at building sophisticated weapons. There will always be misunderstanding between people. One who truly loves God has the ability and the credibility to prevent disagreements from becoming a reason for violence. We need not think globally only. Families, marriages, neighborhoods, siblings and churches desperately need these peacemakers. When enough of us really love God, we will have enough peacemakers to move us closer to universal peace.  If you love God, you love his people! If you love his people, you will do what you can to bring them together.

(8) A serious lover of God will be persecuted, insulted and lied about. The brighter the light the fiercer the attack! Evil does not like goodness. Evil cannot tolerate the presence of goodness and so it attacks. One who seriously loves God is more than willing to take persecution, insults and lies, knowing that personal integrity is more important than comfort or approval.

So, the bottom line is this – you will know that you are on the path to sainthood if these "beatitudes" describe you! If these eight characteristics don't describe you, make a u-turn while you can, because you're headed in the wrong direction!      

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

A SPECIAL CELEBRATION AT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

MOTHER PROVINCIAL JULIE, L.S.P.
Visiting From the Chicago Provincial House of the Little Sisters of the Poor
Palatine, Illinois
Celebrating Her 25th Anniversary of Vows

Part of my "retirement plans" was to volunteer regularly at St. Joseph Home for the Elderly, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, here in Louisville. 
Sister Julie's Family and Relatives

Among the Sisters at this table, there are Sisters from Kenya, the Philippines and the South Pacific islands. 

LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR
“Sister Julie’s 25th Jubilee”
Rev. Ronald Knott
June 8, 2024

This is my commandment: love one another as I loved you.
John 15:12

Over the Christmas holidays, a couple of years ago, I got the opportunity to watch the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is about two terminally ill men on a road trip with a “wish list” of things to do before they “kicked the bucket.” Since I had just officially retired, it struck a chord with me.

In one of my very favorite scenes, they are both sitting on one of the pyramids in Egypt. Morgan Freeman’s character says to Jack Nicholson’s character, “You know the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven…the gods asked them two questions. Their answer determined whether they were admitted or not. “Have you found joy in your life?” “Has your life brought joy to others?”

When Sister Julie asked me to preach today, I thought these two questions would be two great questions to propose to her as she reflected on her first 25 years as a Little Sister of the Poor! “Have I found joy in my life?” “Has my life brought joy to others?” Jesus, of course, put it this way! Has God’s love for me brought me happiness? Has God’s love for me inspired me to bring happiness to others? I am confident that she is able to answer both questions with a resounding “yes.” Her life as a Little Sister of the Poor has certainly brought joy to her life and her life as a Little Sister of the Poor has certainly brought joy to the lives of those she has served!

What we are talking about here basically is Sister Julie’s living out of the Great Commandment. The "great commandment" of Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," not "Love your neighbor rather than yourself!" In other words, if you have no love for yourself, you will have no love to share with your neighbor! You cannot give anybody else anything, if you don't have anything to give! As I learned in High School Latin class, "Nemo dat quod not habet." "If you ain't got it, you can't give it!" Only those who know God’s love can love another as they are loved!

To love oneself, one has to be dedicated to wholeness of "mind, body and spirit." We can also call it being dedicated to one’s "education, health and spirituality." Whichever words you prefer, the task is to fill your mind with truth, fill your body with a balance of healthy food and exercise and fill your spirit with help from your "higher power."  If you "fall in love" with pursing those three things in your own life, you will have an abundance of love to give to others. 

Sir Ranulph Fiennes makes a great point when he said, “There is no such thing as “bad weather,” just “inappropriate clothing.” We can complain about the weather or how bad the world is, but it comes down to us taking the necessary personal precautions to survive and thrive in the world as it is! If it's cold, we wear a coat and hat! If it is weak, crooked and selfish, then we make sure we are personally strong, honest and communally focused! If the world is filled with ignorant, unhealthy and materialistic people, then we make sure we are individually educated, healthy and spiritually sound! 

Alexis de Tocqueville was so right when he said this about personal responsibility and how it affects the society we live in when he said something like this: ‘A nation cannot remain strong when every citizen belonging to it is individually weak; just as no religious community, family, marriage or parish can be strong if it is totally made up of cowardly and enfeebled individuals.’

Taking personal responsibility is what it means to “love oneself.” That is part of the great commandment, the part that brought joy into the life of Sister Julie. However, that is only half of the Great Commandment. The other half is to “love your neighbor” – in other words to being competent in “bringing joy into the life of others.”

When I preached recently about the Good Shepherd, I noted that there were two possible words for “good” in the Greek text – agathos and kalos. Agathos means “good” as in “holy,” but that is not the word used for a “good shepherd.” The words used there is kalos, meaning “good” as in “good at something” – “competent”, if you will!

Sister Julie did not become a Little Sister of the Poor to merely bring herself joy. She became a Little Sister of the Poor to bring joy to the lives of others. To do that, she needed to become “agathosandkalos” – personally “goodandcompetent at serving” the elderly poor! Just as no community like the Little Sisters of the Poor can be successful in its mission of service to the elderly poor if every Sister in it is personally weak and incompetent.  Each member needs to be both “good” and “good at it.”  Being a member of this community should bring joy to each individual member and each member of this community should bring joy to the lives of every other member. It’s that simple and it’s that hard! Being personally “good” and “good at what she does” is what we celebrate today in the life of Mother Provincial, Julie!  


With the help of Tim Schoenbachler, I wrote the lyrics of this hymn last year for the Feast of Saint Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. We sang it as a Post-Communion hymn at the Anniversary Mass.

Last August, 2023, I published a collection of homilies I gave over the last few years at the local Little Sisters' Home for the Elderly.
The book is available at Amazon Books. 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

LOOKING FOR GOODNESS TO AFFIRM, NOT JUST EVIL TO CONDEMN

 

His relatives set out to seize him, for they
said, “He is out of his mind!”
Mark 3:20-35

 

Today, Jesus seems to be getting criticism from two directions - from his family and from organized religion! One of the things about Mark's Gospel, the first to be written down, is that it is so blunt and straightforward. He tells it like it is! Those who write later, when the apostles were rising in admiration by the Church, clean up a bunch of stories so that his family and disciples don't look so rude and crude.  

 

First, we read about the family of Jesus showing up to take Jesus away because they felt that he had lost his mind!  Here is what it said: 


Jesus came home with his disciples.
Again, the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, 
                                                       for they said, "He is out of his mind."

 

It sort of shakes our usual ideas about Jesus and his family. To have them show up to "seize" him, thinking that "he is out of his mind" is really something else indeed!

 

Second the religious authorities show up and they were so "out of their minds" with jealousy, they accused him of being "possessed."  Here it what it says about them.



The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said,
"He is possessed by Beelzebul,"
and, "By the prince of demons he drives out demons."

 

What we have here, with the religious authorities, is an example of pettiness and jealousy in ministry that has been around since the beginning. This gives me a chance to tell you about one of the things I addressed in the retreats for priests I gave around the world - over 150 of them in 10 countries!  Pettiness and jealousy in ministry, unfortunately, is not restricted to the clergy. Anyone of you who has ever been involved in lay ministry knows that it can happen there as well. So, what I have to say about priests can apply to lay ministers and even family members as well. 

 

There was one thing the religious enemies of Jesus, even some family members, could not understand and that was his popularity and 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 accusing him of losing his mind or attributing his 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, the religious leaders 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 - even in families! 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 liked 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 among priests, whereby they are reluctant to applaud the work of other priests for fear that it will take away something from themselves.

 

Father Greeley wrote 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.”  One famous Protestant minister once said, “The meanest, most contemptible form of praise is to first speak well of a man and then end it with a “but.”   

 

In my August transition class with the deacons, when I was working 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 about 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.

 

Not too long after I retired, when I was cleaning out my files, I came across my notes for former student, Jorge Gomez of the class of 2011. Fr. Jorge from Mexico and his diocesan seminarian brother, Stanley, from Kenya, were killed in a car wreck in Tulsa a week or two after Father Jorge's 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 each one of 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! It makes me happy that I even made a donation for his ordination celebration because his whole town was invited and his family was poor! 

 

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

 

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 family members 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, as I mentioned earlier, 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!” "My sister may be a good cook, but her house is always a mess!" My brother may drive a nice car, but he is in in debt up to his ears!" "My neighbors have a nice house, but they don't mow their grass very often!" "My husband may be good at sports, but he is always late for work!" "My wife may hold down a full-time job, but she needs to lose some weight!" 


Brothers and sisters, we need to get off our "buts" and give each other clear compliments, focusing on what's right with them, not just what's wrong with them! 


           

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

A POSSIBLE NEW AMERICAN SAINT'S CONNECTION TO OUR DIOCESE


In Case You Missed It -- You Need to Know

MARTHA JANE CHISLEY TOLTON (1827-1911) WAS ONE OF 222 ENSLAVED CATHOLICS BAPTISED IN MY HOME PARISH OF ST. THERESA, DOWN THE OHIO RIVER IN MEADE COUNTY , KENTUCKY. SHE WAS A MEMBER OF ST. THERESA CHURCH UNTIL AGE 17 WHEN SHE WAS "TAKEN" TO MISSOURI. IN TIME, SHE ESCAPED FROM MISSOURI TO THE "FREE STATE" OF ILLINOIS WITH HER CHILDREN. 

BECAUSE OF HER STEADFAST FIDELITY TO THE CATHOLIC FAITH AND HIS SHEER DETERMINATION, HER SON AUGUSTUS BECAME THE FIRST BLACK MAN AND FORMER SLAVE IN THE UNITED STATES TO BE ORDAINED A CATHOLIC PRIEST.  

                       

FATHER AUGUSTUS TOLTON'S MOTHER, MARTHA JANE, IS BURIED IN CHICAGO, ILLINOIS.  

FATHER AUGUSTUS TOLTON IS BURIED IN QUINCY, ILLINOIS, WHERE HE GREW UP AFTER HE, HIS SIBLINGS AND HIS MOTHER ESCAPED SLAVERY IN MISSOURI. 

MARTHA JANE'S MOTHER, MATILDA CHISLEY, IS BURIED IN MY HOME PARISH'S OLD CEMETERY
ST. THERESA OF AVILA, RHODELIA, KENTUCKY
1806-1836 
            

 




 




 




Tuesday, June 4, 2024

WE ARE TENANTS OF THE VINEYARD TOO!


Given at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged
June 3, 2024


"A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. He then leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey. At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard.
Mark 12:1-12 

Like all parables, this parable is based on an everyday reality that the audience of Jesus would have understood. Many land-owners at the time of Jesus were absentee landlords. They liked to live in much more comfortable places than Israel at the time of Jesus so they bought land, made improvements like fences or walls, planted vineyards and then leased it out to tenets with agreements on how they would share the produce at harvest time.

My youngest brother does something like this down in Meade County. He owns a building material business and has done well with it. He doesn’t trust the stock market. Instead, he buys farm land to lease out to tenet farmers. They agree on what to plant and what percentage each will share at harvest time. One year, it may be corn. Another year, it may be soy beans. Another year it may be wheat.

When harvest time comes, he does not have to worry about being beat up by his tenet farmers who try to withhold his share of the profits like the property owner in the parable. He will either take them to court or simply refuse to lease the ground out to them the next year - or ever again for that matter! If the weather has been bad that year and the crop fails, they both share the loss. 

In this parable, the owner of the vineyard is God and the vineyard itself is the people of Israel – both working together as partners in the vineyard. 

The parable says that when the absentee landlord, God himself, sent his representatives to collect his share of the wine that the vineyard had produced, they were beaten and killed. Why would they dare kill the owner’s representatives? Since an owner could start collecting rental the first time on his investment after five years, maybe they thought that the owner was so far away and so much time had lapsed that they could get away with it, that he maybe had died and they could take all the vineyard’s profits. 

Those listening to this parable would have known that those who were roughed up and killed in this parable were God’s “prophets.”  They would have understood that the people of Israel sometimes forgot about God who was far away and who was, often in practice, dead to them.  As a result, they felt they could do anything they wanted in his absence.

The parable teaches us several things about God.  (1) It talks about God’s generosity. God made sure his vineyard was provided with everything to be successful. (2) It tells us about God’s trust in humanity. The owner went away and left the cultivators to run the vineyard themselves. In the same way, God trusts us to run our lives as we choose. (3) It tells of God’s patience. Multiple times the owner gave the vineyard cultivators a chance to pay the debt they owed. (4) It talks about God’s justice.  People might take advantage of God’s generosity, trust and patience, but there will come a time of judgment and justice.

The parable teaches us several things about Jesus.  The succession of “servants,” the prophets, that they killed was one thing, but finally God sends his son Jesus. They would kill Jesus too, but Jesus would rise and be victorious and God’s will would finally be done! After his rejection would come glory. Even after many rejections, the will of God will always be done.