An Encouraging Word — When the bell no longer rings

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom and until the end I will cultivate her. Sirach 51:13-14

For most of the last 65 years, I have been “going back to school” every September. This year, however, I won’t be doing that. I must admit, there is a sense of sadness in that fact.

When I was growing up in Rhodelia, Ky., and even after I moved to Louisville permanently in 1966, going back to school was the most exciting part of the year. From 1950, when I entered the first grade, to 1970 when I was ordained, September was always a time marked by a strong sense of new beginnings and new hopes, not to mention the acquisition of new clothes.

I went back to school full time every fall for 20 years and part-time for another three and a half. Now, I no longer direct the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates and I have finally retired after 17 years as chaplain at Bellarmine University.

Before those positions, I taught a while at Somerset Community College and offered special classes at St. Meinrad Seminary and a couple of high schools. I have attended many ongoing formation programs and ministry conventions.

Just because I am not “going back to school” this September, does not mean I am no longer committed to learning and growing. I have always been a proponent of St. John Paul II’s idea that “all formation is ultimately self-formation.”

He said that unless one chooses this idea of a life-time commitment to self-formation, one cannot maintain one’s “youthfulness of spirit.” 

I am a little rattled that I will not be “going back to school” this fall, either as a teacher or a student, but I am certainly not giving up my passion for personal and vocational excellence.

Because I am not going back to school this fall, does not mean that I am ready to commit what I call “spiritual suicide.” The idea of “spiritual suicide,” in my book, is the result of routinely saying “no” to opportunities to learn, to change and to grow. 

I am dedicated to reinventing myself as many times as I can before the end. I want to remain interested and, hopefully, interesting as long as I am here and as long as I am able.  To do that, I must continue to confront my own cowardice and latent lazy streak. To rest on my laurels is to invite decline and decay.

I may not be going back to school this fall, but I want a Dylan Thomas kind of future. 

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

In the words of American author Shauna Niequist, “I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. I want my every day to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift!”

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