An Encouraging Word – Living without approval

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

Bless those who curse you. Luke 6:28

From the day I left my little country town of Rhodelia, Ky., and entered the seminary up here in “the big city” of Louisville, until today, much of my life has been pretty much counter-cultural. As a seminarian from a small town, I felt like I was from another planet for probably eight of the 12 years. Even today, I feel I am swimming against the stream.

Just as I limped across the finish line to be ordained, a woman questioned me publicly about my decision to be a priest. At my “first Mass” reception, she asked me how long I had gone to school. When I answered “twenty, counting grade school,” she gasped, took a step back and said, “My God, you could have been something!”

Being ordained a priest in the 1970s, instead of the 1950s, I never got that “pedestal treatment” that some of the Bing Crosby “Going My Way” priests before me basked in.

In the 1970s, priests were beginning to leave the priesthood by the busloads. Just as I was getting on the front of the bus, they were getting off the back.

Instead of having a few years here in a nice Louisville parish where Catholics were still rolling out the red carpet for young priests, immediately after ordination I was sent to the home missions of southern Kentucky where I was told “they hate Catholics.”

At my first ministerial association meeting, the host minister stood up and asked us all to leave his church, saying that he “could no longer in conscience be a member now that it had a Catholic priest in it.”

I have been treated wonderfully by the great majority of parishioners I have served, but I have never required that a person be religious, much less Catholic, to be a friend of mine.

I have also had friends who proudly called themselves, “former Catholics” as if they had recovered from some type of malignant cancer. Even in the face of their ridicule and pity, I have learned how to stand my ground and remain faithful to my Catholic heritage without being defensive, while still being totally aware of its limitations and sins.

During the worst days of the sex abuse scandal, I found myself embarrassed to wear a Roman collar in public. I kept remembering the voice of a person who confronted me in public many years previously. “I can’t believe someone like you is still a Catholic, much less a priest.”

Yes, we probably find comfort among those who agree with us, but I believe we grow stronger being around those who don’t. It is an awful place to be to always live in fear of what other people think. Don’t waste time waiting for other people’s approval on what you believe or how you live your life. William Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

To read more from Father Knott, visit his blog:

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