Thursday, June 20, 2024


Home Parish of  Family Members of the Venerable Augustus Tolton, Father Ronald Knott and Father Robert Ray
Rhodelia, Kentucky
Friday, June 14, 2024


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

Father George Illikkal, Pastor of St. Theresa Church, welcoming the Bishops and Archbishops. 
Historian, Dr. Lee Leumas of New Orleans, 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 right side of the photo (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.  

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2024


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


“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.