An Encouraging Word — A reflection on Fr. Knott’s 10th year

I find writing you these things no burden. Philemon 3:1

Ten years! Five hundred columns! It is hard to believe that it was 10 years ago this week that my first “An Encouraging Word” column appeared in The Record. “Time flies when you are having fun!”

I had no idea that I would be writing this long. If I did, I may not have started. Believe me, it is all-consuming trying to keep ahead of a weekly deadline for that length of time. With that said, it may be the most effective thing I have ever tried to do. Unless hundreds of people go out of their way to lie to me, it continues to be received with enthusiasm.

I have done some thinking and the question I would like to explore on this 10th anniversary is this: “What have I learned about myself and other people from this experience?”

  • I need to quit beating myself up for not being the sharpest pencil in the box — I could not write a deep theological treatise if my life depended on it and I do not need to feel bad about it. I do not write for academics, anyway. I write for the ordinary Catholic in the pew. I have always heard, anyway, that “if a teacher is not smart enough and in touch enough with the non-elite peoples to communicate his or her knowledge to them, then that person is in the wrong vocation.”
  • It is my weaknesses, not my strengths, that are most powerful. — I have been amazed at how often people respond favorably to my “wounds” and “humble upbringing.” I used to hide them. People across a spectrum actually like my stories of growing up in Rhodelia, Ky. I have discovered the key. People do not want to hear about how bad I had things, but how I overcame them. As Johnny Sain put it, “People don’t want to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby!”
  • Visibility equals vulnerability. — Edna St. Vincent Millay was right when she said, “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down!” When you stick your neck out as many times as I have done during 10 years, many will like it, but a few are likely to take a whack at it. Writing is not for cowards or the thin-skinned.
  • Writing is hard work. — Editing and polishing and finding that right word is everything, especially if you only have a 500-word limit. I am reminded of an Oscar Wilde quote: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”  This column is my version of giving birth once a week.
  • Writing is a spiritual discipline. — In the end, I write because it helps me. I will continue to write, but whether it gets published will depend on whether it helps you.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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