What Catholics Need Now: A Letter to Our Priests and Bishops

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,
Emily Stimpson

Martyrdom

 

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151 thoughts on “What Catholics Need Now: A Letter to Our Priests and Bishops

  1. Lillian says:

    #6 Stop making us wrangle babies and toddlers during Mass.

    You can have splendid homilies and great beauty in the liturgy. But for parents of small children, we won’t be able to hear a word or a note between the child screeches, shushing, and trips to the bathroom and foyer. You may have fond personal memories of Mass as a small child, but you probably were at least 5 by the time you remember that. Kids younger than that are NOT benefiting from being there, and they are sapping their parents and everyone around them of every ounce of spiritual nourishment they would otherwise get from being at Mass.

    Stop taking our attendance for granted. Be TRULY supportive of families being generous with having children. Give us the opportunity to pray and worship and learn without a little person tugging and crawling on us for one hour a week, for God’s sake (literally).

    Protestants provide nurseries and some Catholic parishes. It’s time for the other parishes to step up to the plate on this one.

    1. WSquared says:

      “Protestants provide nurseries and some Catholic parishes. It’s time for the other parishes to step up to the plate on this one.”

      While I take your point, I actually don’t mind hearing screaming toddlers at Mass. Not even at the Extraordinary Form. At least if your parish doesn’t have a nursery or can’t yet afford it, perhaps the best thing to do is to incorporate that screaming child into your worship at Mass. If you have to take him or her to the back of the church to catechize using visuals, then so be it. Maybe that’s a spiritual lesson in living the faith that God wants us to learn, too, given our tendency to compartmentalize things.

      I lived in the Pacific when I was a kid, where when we were little, there was no nursery, no cry area, and certainly no snacks and toys, at Mass. I also held my younger sister, who was at the time a baby, during Mass. That people have kids was just part of life.

      Kids are still benefiting from being there, because Jesus is there. He’s Truly Present. Let them have contact with Him and get used to being with Him just by being there. No reason why we can’t let that realization renew us instead of letting it sap our spiritual energy or nourishment, unless it’s truly infeasible. Screaming toddlers who don’t know any better just yet won’t necessarily detract from a beautiful liturgy with a dynamic homily.

      We may be thinking a little too much in terms of what kids can understand by what we think they can appreciate at whatever age. But friendship with Jesus Christ right from infancy involves simple engagement. As St. Anselm of Canterbury famously said, “I believe so that I may understand.” We as adults don’t understand everything there is to know about the Mass, either. That understanding unfolds over time the more we engage with the Sacred Mysteries. Likewise, we don’t expect our kids to know everything about the Trinity and fully appreciate it before we teach them that it’s important to know how to make the Sign of the Cross. The words unpack themselves over time, as do the words of every prayer given to us by the Church. For our kids (at whatever age) and us, to be with Jesus is to engage with Someone Who is Bigger Than You and yet simultaneously able to engage you on the most intimate level. For that reason, there are small children and child saints who, at a very tender age, have such a profound sense of Christ’s presence, more than most of us have as adults.

      I also recently read a blog post about a man’s two-year-old son who is already a big fan of those Benedictine sisters who put out that Gregorian Chant CD, “Saints and Angels,” that recently topped the Classical Music charts. That little guy already identifies it as “Jesus music,” not that anyone told him that it was. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/06/guest-post-gregorian-chant-will-save-the-world/

      Beauty isn’t just there for nice, whereby we’re anxious that screaming toddlers metaphorically might get their grubby little fingers on it; it’s alive. It’s there, because it’s meant to engage us. The Church understands the power of beauty to convert us in the process, because it points to the One apart from Whom we can do nothing. It’s about re-cultivating a sense of wonder in the midst of a culture that is uncurious and utilitarian, such that its search for efficiency and entertainment actually ends up being lifeless and plain boring.

      Sometimes, I do wonder if our thinking that kids have to be “quietly entertained” or distracted from making noise with snacks and toys, while well meaning, actually sets them up for being bored and blase at Mass. They might not be able to fully articulate their response to the beauty that they’re coming into contact with, but they will be engaged, because it has the power to engage them. We also live in a “Christian” culture whose Christian cultural artefacts are Protestant, not Catholic, and which has no sense of mystery. That is exactly contrary to the Catholic imagination.

  2. WSquared says:

    Hear, hear, Ms. Stimpson. Hear, hear!

    Re No. 2: it is also unloving to continue to allow Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion, because not discerning the Body is spiritually disastrous. Applying Canon 915 would be an act of mercy, not just to the faithful, but to them also: it will help to stanch the onset of eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear, that will ultimately not see or hear enough to repent. Not applying Canon 915 would arguably mean helping them burn that bridge. To not deny Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, et al. Holy Communion is to further ruin their spiritual lives.

    Part of that catechesis also has to teach that the Sacraments enable us to live what the world would tell us is “too hard.” I think a lot of people shy away from the likes of “Humanae Vitae” because they assume that the Church means to impose a heavy burden on them that they’re meant to carry all by themselves. But if there’s an unspoken theme to the Year of Faith, it’s this: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” We seem to either think that it’s “all about the rules” or the “I’m spiritual, but not religious” approach. It’s neither.

    Regarding Marty Haugen et al., I’m also agreed, wholeheartedly. About the body expressing the soul: what– indeed Whose– soul is the Body of Christ meant to express, especially if we profess to believe in the Real Presence: Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity? If I were to compare anything written by Marty Haugen to the Anima Christi prayer, Haugen would seem flat in comparison. Much of the “Christian” culture that badly catechized Catholics imbibe has a problem with the Incarnation and doesn’t believe in the Real Presence. This isn’t to rag on anyone who isn’t Catholic, but rather that going out to the “existential peripheries” that Pope Francis talks about involves knowing who we are, and not, therefore, thinking we can go out there empty handed.

  3. [...] Stimpson is spot on with her plea to our spiritual fathers to be who they were ordained to be. These lines in particular had me shouting my agreement and then [...]

  4. Tony from Oz says:

    Rick and Lori,

    I am sure you are both perfectly sincere – living, as we all do, in an era of Church history which has detached itself from sacred musical norms received from the treasury of Church music which is also (ironically) proclaimed by Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    Sacred music goes beyond the minimal requirement that its text contain scripture; it must take us beyond secular culture and point us towards the numinous. The meaning of ‘participation’ has also become bastardised to indicate the external. Rather, participation is a receptivity to the action of the Mass which includes attentive following of the liturgical action in union with the priest offering the eternal sacrifice of Christ. A beautiful choral setting of a mass, latin motets etc do not, therefore, exclude people’s participation whatsoever. I might also add that, regardless of genre, hymns do not constitute the text of the Mass of the day and, regardless of their aesthetics, actually deform the liturgy by replacing most of the propers set down for each day (ie entrance, offertory and communion verses) which are meant to be sung.

    Anyhow – it’s a huge topic but here are a few random links to websites discussing these issues at length:

    http://gregorianchantnetwork.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/listening-to-sacred-music-is-active.html

    http://www.ceciliaschola.org/notes/benedictonmusic.html

    Oh, and by the way, Emily, I second your motion!

  5. Jacki Cook says:

    I love Emily for speaking the truth. I have made copies of this letter and am sending to all parishes. It’s time to be strong and stand together. We can’t be afraid. Our priests need to get strong and passionate. We stand with YOU, holy fathers. Let’s go.

  6. Alexis says:

    I am thankful that I found a parish with faithful priests who teach the faith and promote beautiful liturgy. I am careful to thank them for both, and I hear many others doing the same after Mass.

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