An Encouraging Word — Why bother with encouragement?

Let not fidelity leave you. Proverbs 3:3

I started writing this column as a way of encouraging discouraged Catholics. I am nearing the end of my first ten years of writing “An Encouraging Word.”

In spite of the overwhelming amount of positive feedback, I have this feeling in my gut that discouragement in the church is on the rise, rather than waning. Writing is hard work and so every once in a while I ask myself, “Why bother?”

Why bother? I bother simply because what is at stake is worth it. Jesus Christ founded the church to be his body in the world to carry on his ministry and mission and promised that he would be with it until the end of time and not even the powers of hell can prevail against it.

Why bother? I bother because I knew from day one that I was going to be a priest at a time when the church would be undergoing tumultuous change. I knew that God was calling me to be a priest at this time in history and that if I was going to be a priest worth my salt, I could not be a manic flight attendant running up and down the aisles of the plane screaming, “We’re going down! We’re going down!” My job as a priest, for this time in history, is to tell people to “Remain calm! Fasten your seat belts! We will be landing soon!”

Why bother? I bother because faith is subject to decay. Faith is tested not just once but over and over again. Faith needs constant vigilance. Theologian Fredrick Buechner said, “Faith is not a seamless garment, but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment … clutched about us like a man in a storm.”

Why bother? I bother because my own faith has needed “constant vigilance” especially in the last 10 years. Writing has been my way to create a personal culture of “constant vigilance” so that I will not slide into discouragement. That’s why I chose the word sophronismos from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy (1:7) as the name of my publishing efforts — Sophronimos Press. It is loosely translated as
“knowing what to do in the face of panic” or “knowing how to keep one’s cool.”

I have always been impressed with the response Father Teilhard de Chardin gave to those who urged him to leave the Jesuits and the church when he was “silenced” by his superiors and forbidden to write.

His response was a choice “to go to the end, and with a smile if possible,” adding, “one must work from within. Those who leave no longer have any influence.”

Another hero in this regard is Nazi prison camp survivor Victor Frankl. I quote him often. He said, “The last of the human freedoms is the freedom to choose one’s response in any given situation.”

So I say to you, “Choose fidelity! Never give up, no matter what is happening!”

Father J. Ronald Knott

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