The seminarians are all back at school after summer assignments assisting in local parishes, as chaplains-in-training in hospitals, in practicing Spanish in Central American countries, and more. And the first week back isn’t class as usual. It’s a week of prayer and learning more about the spirituality of priesthood.
As the senior class, which we call “Fourth Theology”, my classmates and I are hearing from a Louisville priest about making the transition from seminary into parish life: what it will be like, how our prayer life may change, what to look out for and to joyfully anticipate, and how living life as a priest will itself help us to grow closer to Christ.
The priest presenting to our class is Father Ron Knott, and while he “retired” from active ministry, Fr. Ron continues his circuit, which includes several international trips to lead conferences for bishops and priests, writing a weekly column for his archdiocesan paper, selling books on the spiritual life, and much more. While many people want to relax in retirement, I look at his busy life at 65+ years and say, “That’s the life I hope I have in 40 years.”
When God calls us to give ourselves to Him and to others, God doesn’t call us to a life of tragedy or a life of complaining or even a life of looking forward to “the end” of our mission. When God calls, God offers a life of joy, peace and great energy for the work He wants us to do, and simply being around Fr. Ron Knott enlivens me for the work of priesthood.
I was trying to put my finger on why Fr. Ron seems to inspire me so much, and a story he told in class about St. Damien of Molokai provides the answer.
Father Damien served a colony of people with leprosy on the island of Honolulu about 150 years ago. After more than a decade living with and preaching to this community, he gave his most powerful homily ever, by beginning the homily, not with “You lepers,” but with “We lepers,” for he has finally contracted leprosy himself. From then until his death, his words rang so true because Father Damien was now not just there “for” that community. He was himself numbered among them.
Father Ron has given his life joyfully to the people entrusted to him, as well, and that is exactly the life we young seminarians long for.