An Encouraging Word — Renewed hope and effort

He will renew your strength. Isaiah 58:11

Fr. Ron Knott.2012-wForty-three down and one to go! Today, I celebrate my 43rd anniversary as a priest and, at age 69, I only have one more year to go before I can retire.

I will certainly not quit being a priest next year, but at this point in my life I have certainly been thinking long and hard about what form the next few years of my priesthood will take.

The recent papal election has been a major part of my reflections, both before and after. Before the election of Pope Francis, I found myself thinking that if the Cardinals elected a pope who would carry on as usual, I would probably quietly go into retirement and do what I could, but on a much less engaged basis, but if they elected a pope with a new agenda I might be seduced into staying enthusiastically engaged.

I told my friends that the signal for me would be his choice of a name. If he were to identify with another pope’s agenda, I would feel less engaged. If he chose a name that had never been used before, it would signal a second wind for me.

The dictionary defines a “second wind” as “the energy for a renewed effort to continue an undertaking.”

I must say that I do feel myself getting a second wind. I realize that no pope alone can fix everything that is wrong in the church, but this new pope gives me great hope, a renewed hope, a hope that I have not felt since the days after Vatican Council II. I am excited.

As an AARP commercial said the other day, “Not everyone peaks in their 20’s!” Maybe on this 43rd anniversary, “the best is yet to come” as that green needlepoint pillow that some friends gave me sixteen years ago says.

My renewed energy is not just about the election of Pope Francis. The fact that the cardinal electors of our church got together and had the courage to take this step gives me great hope and renews my belief in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So far, there have been many energizing symbolic actions. And symbols are important in the Roman Catholic Church. We do not use words only in our church. We may speak best through symbols. St. Francis himself said, “Preach the gospel always, using words if you must!”

Pope Benedict wrote some powerful words about “love” and “faith.” I am hoping Pope Francis will “make them come alive.”

What do I hope for? I hope for what I have been ranting about in this column for the last several years — a focus on the internal essentials of our faith, rather than its external forms. I am thrilled that lace surplices, liturgical pomposity and retro-clericalism are being retired again.

In the end, our church will become strong, not because we have elected a perfect pope, but when every member in it is focused on Jesus Christ.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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