By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published September 4, 2008
Father Ronald Knott’s final presentation to the Assembly of Bishops and Priests from the Province of Atlanta last Wednesday was probably the finest summation of the challenges that we bishops and priests face together in the contemporary ecclesial world today that I have ever heard. Both Bishop Boland and I commented on our way driving to the Georgia Catholic Conference meeting that followed the assembly that we wished that every one of our priests had heard Ron Knott’s remarks.
He spoke to the bishops and priests about building a spirit of unity and fraternal love that reflects the way that Jesus first formed the twelve apostles. While Jesus selected the twelve individually, when he finally had finished his selections, he called them together and drew them into that special bond of friendship with him and among themselves that laid the foundation for the Apostolic College.
Jesus continued to relate to each of them as individuals, and he often took a few of them aside for special lessons of faith, but the corporate twelve constituted a unity and a fraternity that must inspire the hearts of all those of us who seek to serve the church in the ministry that Christ entrusted to that first priestly fraternity.
There were rivalries and bickering among the twelve. There were doubters. There were braggarts. There were cynics. There were doubters. There was even a thief. There were distinct jobs entrusted to individuals. John still liked to suggest that Jesus even had his favorites. But the twelve constituted a united group of servant ministers, and that is the challenge that we bishops and priests confront today. We do so in the face of some daunting obstacles. We are quite diverse in our backgrounds. We do not always speak the same language. We vary in age, in temperament, and in theological opinions. We have endured almost a decade of scandal and embarrassment that has severely eroded our ability really to trust one another. And in spite of all of these obstacles, the Lord Jesus still demands that we live his Priesthood as a single gift that is shared among us through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Ron Knott spoke about the necessity of supporting one another by our refusal to defame each other. Defamation is never to be confused with an unwillingness to speak the truth or to confront mistakes, nor does defamation mean silence in the face of bad behavior. Defaming one another means passing on gossip and hearsay that we know may be inaccurate or even just a fabrication. Defamation includes silence in the face of another’s hard and successful efforts. But we are beckoned in love to more than simply refraining from defamation; we are summoned to building one another up by words of encouragement, support, affirmation, affection and recognition of talents and successes.
The promotion of priestly unity is an important goal that every bishop must accept as essential to his very mission.
I must invite my brothers to an awareness of our oneness in Christ through the Sacrament that we share. This is extremely difficult when our priests are as diverse as they are. It is infeasible when some of our priests may decline to gather with their brothers for whatever reasons, historical, imagined or justified.
Our languages may separate us. Our ages and experiences may distinguish us. Our opinions and viewpoints may pigeonhole us. But the one Priesthood of Jesus Christ unites us—in Him. Ron Knott was simply exquisite in his presentation—I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in his reflections. May all of our priests now listen carefully to that Spirit whispering to each one of us.