An Open Letter to Our Spiritual Fathers

Fathers, please preach boldly about sin and demand excellence in the spiritual life.

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Dear Fathers, 

As we find ourselves in Lent and then Eastertide thereafter, I plead to the priests of our nation as a son to a father. And I come to you not only as a sinner but as a man who once lived as dissolute a life as the worst Roman pagan.  

I am grateful to God for every priest who has ever heard my confession and for every priest, since the Last Supper to the end of time, who has or who will offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

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Please preach boldly about sin this season, and use that word, “sin.” 

Please demand excellence in the spiritual life. For the love of God, please demand excellence in the  spiritual life. You are priests. You are not like other men. You have the power of the pulpit; you have the power to absolve sin and the power to confect God in the flesh. 

And you have the power to teach—and to teach not only that we must be holy but how to be holy. 

Sweet, sentimental sermons do no good. It does no good to preach the mercy of God if that preaching does not include the clear and unequivocal message that the mercy of God means deliverance from sin, and that is the reason Our Lord became incarnate, then suffered, and then died. He is the only man whose entire purpose in being born was to die. 

What is more, scheduling increased confessions during Lent, and encouraging penitential practices, as important as they are, do not increase the quantum of holiness or decrease the quantum of sin among Catholics or the world when the larger Catholic culture simply does not know the Faith. 

Our churches, from coast to coast, are filled with Catholics who simply do not understand the fundamentals of the Faith. They have no idea why they are Catholics, what Christianity is, or the simple truth that the entire reason Christ founded the Church was to save us from sin. And while it is a joyful time to celebrate Easter, people need to hear that it is not enough to look at Our Lord on a crucifix and think, “Poor Jesus. Thank goodness. Now I can live my comfortable life because He has saved me.”

Nor is it enough to remind anyone “Jesus died for our sins” or to hang “Alleluia, He is Risen” banners in our churches. The fact is that no one knows what that means, and for good reason. Those are meaningless slogans for the uncatechized. And make no mistake about it: the majority of Catholics in 2024 are uncatechized, whether they attend Mass regularly or not. 

Please, mention the specific sins of the age, such as pornography, willful divorce and hardness of heart in marriage, hardness of heart in general and unforgiveness, failure to keep holy the Sabbath, lying, fornication, drunkenness, detraction, calumny, and all manner of gossip, envy, birth control of all kinds, abortion, and so on.  

And teach what is meant by the occasion of sin. Preach that reparation must be made and how to make it. 

Fathers, stop preaching God’s love without explicitly stating that He loves us so much that He suffered for us because we are sinners. By “suffer for us,” let yourselves be plain: He was lonely, suffered all manner of human stupidity and arrogance, and then, after all that, was brutally tortured and murdered. 

The sins of the age are not “heated and divisive public discourse.” They are not “corporate greed.” They are not “pollution.” They are not even “voting Democrat” (as bad as that is). 

“Heated and divisive public discourse” (as well as greed and pollution) exist because people have degraded themselves so much by the aforementioned specific sins (especially the sexual sins); they have no idea how selfish they have become and how to treat others with respect, let alone how to give God His due.  

We are not going to be saved by bishops’ letters that scarcely anyone reads, or a political party, or the latest fashionable nonsense in some irrelevant internet media.   We are not going to be saved by bishops’ letters that scarcely anyone reads, or a political party, or the latest fashionable nonsense in some irrelevant internet media.  Tweet This

We are going to be saved by Jesus Christ, if you and every baptized Christian bring Him to us. And if we are not saved, then we are damned. 

Two days of required fasting and a few Fridays of abstinence at Lent aren’t going to do the job. 

You know this is true. And it is true among the lay state as well as the religious state and right up the hierarchy.  

Do not kid yourselves. The average Catholic believes he or she is “good enough” because he or she is not Hitler, or doesn’t rob a bank, or because he or she is cheerful most of the time.  

American Catholics today believe they are “good” and will go to Heaven because they recycle trash; or because they are a Eucharistic minister or lector; or because they watch EWTN; or because they drop a can of  lima beans into the food pantry; or because they subscribe to this or that orthodox cardinal or bishop (or even worse, this or that dissenting and disobedient cardinal or bishop), or some famous priest; or because they are Republican or Democrat; or even worse, sometimes because they openly promote some mortal sin as a “good,” such as birth control or abortion or divorce. And if they don’t do that, they nurture sins in private, afraid of availing themselves of God’s mercy, if not despising Him altogether. 

Not all will listen to you. Then let them go their way. Some will attack you. Let them. 

You will have discharged your duty, and you will have done it doubly if you offer your sufferings for them. You are not the Savior. But just as any of us do, you have an obligation to Him to do your job and then let Him do what He does. 

It does no good to preach God’s love without repentance. It does no good to preach God’s love if you are not willing to call your flocks to confession and then also are willing to sit in a confessional—bored, discouraged, or whatever—and absolve men of their sins.  

One need not preach fire and brimstone, but one must preach the stakes: Heaven or Hell. It does no good when you priests (or anyone with any spiritual authority) mollycoddle those for whom you have a spiritual responsibility. 

It does no good if, as some of you very rightly do, you preach the True Presence but you allow the flock to come into church yammering and conversing as if they are in a social hall (both before and after Mass), or dressed to watch a football game…or to play one.  

How does that promote belief in the True Presence?  

Or more to the point, how does it not undermine or, over time, simply destroy belief in the True Presence?  

That behavior is not permitted at St. Peter’s in Rome. Is God in the tabernacle there not the same God in all the tabernacles here across the United States? If you teach the True Presence, state plainly also that it is false to say the Eucharist is a symbol. 

It does no good if you tell people that it is good to come to Mass but neglect to remind them that it is a mortal sin not to keep holy the Sabbath—and to do so every Sunday. 

It does no good to say that “one may come to Communion if properly disposed” but do not say what “properly disposed” is and also fail to say, “Do not come to Communion if you are in mortal sin; and if you do not know what the Church teaches and has always taught is mortal sin, then go purchase a Catechism online.”

Fathers, I beg you. The world is beyond human aid. The world needs your preaching and your actions in persona Christi. It needs your absolution. It needs you to offer the Holy Sacrifice. It needs your Rosaries. It needs your sufferings as much as anyone else’s.  

Be bold and preach the Gospel, and do not blunt it. 

God bless you all, and be assured of my prayers for all of you.


  • Christopher J. Brennan, Esq.

    Christopher J. Brennan, Esq. is a practicing attorney in New Jersey, and has been married for 27 years to his wife, Susan, with whom he has six children. Mr. Brennan has spoken on the subject of divorce law and the practical ways Catholics can stem the tide of divorce and preserve marriage. He resides at the Jersey Shore.

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