To Our Spiritual Fathers,
Please forgive the public nature of this letter. In a sense, it goes against my personal rule of not criticizing priests or bishops in print. But only in a sense.
You see, this letter isn’t meant as criticism, although I know some will take it that way. It’s more a cry for help, a plea or a prayer. After the Supreme Court rulings on marriage, I don’t know what else to do. Or where else to go. So I’m coming to you, here, in the only way I know how.
Let me begin by telling you a little about myself. I’m not a perfect Catholic. But I am a faithful Catholic. I love the Church. I trust her and believe in her teachings. I’m also trying my hardest to follow those teachings—every last one—regardless of the cost.
I’m also trying to be the type of witness the Church calls me to be. I strive to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. I talk about Jesus without shame or fear in coffee shops, dressing rooms, and airports. I defend the Church when people attack her or misrepresent her. And I try to do it all in a way that’s charming, engaging, relevant, and accessible. That’s not to say I always succeed. But I am doing my best to show the world the joy, love, peace, beauty, and life I’ve found in Christ and his Church.
So, why am I writing you?
Because I need your help.
Again, I’m trying so very hard to do what the Church asks me to do and call this culture back to Christ. So many of us are trying. But it’s not enough. Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions, while not a surprise, confirmed that.
I know as a Catholic layperson I’ve got to step up my game. And I’m willing to do that. Again, whatever the cost.
But you’ve got to step up your game too.
By that I mean no disrespect. As priests and bishops you bear a tremendous burden. I don’t envy you that, and I know many of you are carrying that burden heroically.
But many of you aren’t. You’ve been weak. You’ve been cowardly. You’ve made compromises and led people astray. Souls are perishing because of that. A culture is perishing because of that. And it’s got to stop. You have been ordained as priests of God Most High, Christ’s representatives on earth. You’ve got to act like it. We don’t just need our spiritual fathers standing shoulder to shoulder with us in this fight for souls. We need you leading us into the breach.
As for how you do that, it’s not complicated.
1. Preach the Faith.
On Sundays, don’t tell me to be nice; tell me to be holy. Don’t tell me to trust God; tell me who God is. Don’t even tell me to be faithful; tell me what faithful means. Explain holiness. Explain sin. Be specific. Preach on what lust, gluttony, selfishness, laziness, pride, anger, and vanity are, why they’re bad for me, and how to avoid them. Preach the Creed. Preach the saints. Preach the story of salvation history. And preach it in all its fullness.
While you’re at it, let go of this idea that homilies are a separate thing from catechesis. They can’t be separate right now. The majority of Catholics sitting in the pews on Sunday don’t know the basics of the Faith. And the only place most will learn them is from a homily. Don’t waste your precious 10 minutes in front of a semi-captive audience repeating fluff we can get from Oprah. Use the Scriptures to illuminate Tradition, not obscure it.
Outside the homily, invest in catechesis. Hire DREs who believe, know, and can teach the Faith. Pay them a family wage so they don’t leave after three years. Invest in your volunteer catechists too. Help them get the training they need. Then, get involved in catechesis yourself. Talk to the kids. Teach RCIA. The more you let people know how important you think catechesis is, the more important they will think it is.
2. Use Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law
In other words, stop playing nice with the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. Deny them Communion. Their sin is grave, public, and persistent. And until they have publicly repented of that grave, public, and persistent sin, allowing them to receive the Eucharist is not only a source of scandal to the faithful, it’s a source of confusion to the faithful. It communicates to us that it’s okay to support abortion rights, same-sex marriage, contraception, no fault divorce, and other serious sins. It also communicates to us that it’s okay to vote for politicians who support the same. And it’s not.
I understand, in not enforcing Canon 915, you have been trying to not burn bridges. You’ve been trying to deal with the matter privately. But it’s not working. It’s actually failing abysmally. Admit defeat. Then change course. It’s the most loving thing to do for everyone, Nancy Pelosi included.
3. Clean House
There is room in the Church for everyone. We should welcome saints and sinners alike. But when it comes to our dioceses, parishes, and schools, we need people who actually believe what the Church teaches in positions of leadership. Open dissent on contraception, homosexuality, the all-male priesthood, and more is a poorly kept secret in countless schools and chanceries. It’s less common than it used to be, but it’s there. Even in “good” dioceses. Spend a year working for the Church and you’ll figure that out right quick.
Not surprisingly, that lack of fidelity is impeding both the flow of grace and the quality of catechesis in our parishes and schools. People cannot teach what they don’t believe. And until that changes, the New Evangelization will do nothing more than limp along.
Change won’t be easy. Uncomfortable discussions will have to take place. Feelings will get hurt. Jobs will be lost. Lawsuits will be filed. But that’s still better than a whole culture going to Hell and your own personal swimming match with a millstone.
4. Give Us Beauty
As Catholics, we believe that “the body expresses the person.” That’s true for each of us, and it’s true for the Body of Christ. The physical stuff of the Faith—the smells, bells, and buildings—express the soul of the Faith—her doctrines, dogmas, and disciplines.
At least, it should express the soul. The Church’s liturgy and architecture should reveal a richness of beauty and belief that robs the gruel fed to us by the culture of all its appeal. It should move us to love God and neighbor more. It should make us long for Heaven. It should make us sorry for our sins.
The music of Marty Haugen and Dan Schutte doesn’t do that. Hastily and haphazardly performed rites don’t do that. Pedestrian speech, liturgical puppets, and felt banners don’t do it either. If you want Catholics to see the beauty of the Faith, you have to show it to us. You have to make it manifest in Church on Sunday. You have to give us something extraordinary to help us realize we’re called to something extraordinary. Feed us with beauty and truth; goodness will follow.
5. Prepare for Persecution
No matter how diligently you work, no matter how faithful you are, things will likely get much worse before they get better. Hard times are ahead, and you, our fathers, have to be ready for battle. You have to be ready to give your life not just figuratively, but literally.
Communicate that to our priests in training. Get them ready. Teach them to fast and go without. Get rid of the well stocked bars in seminary lounges. Teach them also to serve. Tell the families who invite the seminarians over for dinner that it’s seminary policy for the young men to do the dishes afterwards. And teach by example. Keep your tastes simple and your expenses minimal. Look to Pope Francis to see how it’s done.
Whatever you do, in all things, help young priests and seminarians understand that the era of comfortable Catholicism has come to an end. A new era is dawning, an era where priests will be hated and reviled, mocked, and perhaps martyred. This is a time for heroes, a time for saints, a time for greatness. Make priests for our time. Be a priest for time.
Again, I know many of you already do all these things and more. There are heroes at our altars already. But we need more heroes. We need all our spiritual fathers to do what you were ordained to do. Do it and I promise you, you won’t be alone. Your children will be standing behind you, following you, helping you, dying with you.
Just lead us where Christ calls, and we will follow, right to the very end.
With love, gratitude, and prayers,