An Encouraging Word — Settling for too little

Your old men shall dream dreams. Joel 3:1

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Over the Christmas holidays, I watched the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It’s about two terminally ill old men on a road trip with a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”

Because I am scheduled to retire on June 30 of this year, it was serendipitous that I should stumble onto it. It raised a ton of questions for reflection.

Many people my age, going into retirement, speak of retirement as a time to pamper oneself and finally being able to do whatever they want to do. Move to Florida! Sleep in! Putter around the garden or workshop! Play golf every day! Hang out at McDonald’s and drink coffee till noon with other old men!

God spare me. Thomas Merton was right when he said, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”

My main goal in retirement is, first of all to challenge the temptation from my own mind and from the mouths of others to think too small.

I don’t want to quit being a priest, but I want to be a priest in a new way. I certainly do not want to merely keep doing what I have been doing now, but less of it. I certainly don’t want a permanent vacation. I have spent my whole life as a priest dreaming bigger than what was considered wise. Some of those dreams did not materialize, but more than I could have imagined, have.

We have been conditioned to think small, to be happy and thankful for what we have  and to expect less from life. It is very convenient to think like that, because if you do, you don’t have to do anything. It lets you out of a whole lot of work.

I want one more big project. Fifty percent of all U.S. priests are scheduled to retire in the next six years. For the last year or two, I have been working on a program for our healthiest and most energized priests, nationally, whereby they would come to St. Meinrad to be trained to do some things they have always wanted to do in ministry, but never got the chance to do it — for their good, as well as for the good of the church. Implementing this program will be the centerpiece of my own retirement.

At the heart of this dream is an even bigger dream. I would love to win the lottery so that I could build a dozen small condos on campus to house our retired priests, coming from all over the country, to be trained for their new ministries. At their ages, I don’t suspect many of them could bear living in seminary housing again.

Why not dream big? “When someone asks you if you’d like cake or pie, why not say you want cake and pie!” (Lisa Loeb)  “Somebody’s got to win. It might as well be me!”

Father J. Ronald Knott

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