the letter I almost sent to my parish priest

A month ago, my parish was conducting “listening sessions”, as required for the forthcoming abominable synod. I considered attending one, wishing to draw attention to what I consider the life-and-death issues for the Church today: beefing up our catechesis and apologetics work and trying to find a way to reduce the rate at which young people are leaving the Church. Then I saw that there was a pre-set list of questions, all having to do with how we can be more inclusive and bullshit like that. Obviously, there was no way any of my concerns could even be discussed. So I wrote an email to the parish priest, trying very hard to appear more moderate than I do here. I never sent it. I don’t know my priest’s sympathies, and I’m the head catechist with nearly full control of the curriculum of the last (and therefore most important) grade of religious education, a position where I might actually do some small good on a local scale on these very issues. I can’t risk that opportunity by making silly, futile gestures.

Here’s the letter.

Dear Father X,

I had considered attending yesterday’s “Disciples in Dialogue” session, but the list of questions seems to preclude what I consider the most needed discussions, and I do not think you would have appreciated me attempting to hijack the meeting.  However, I hope you will indulge my sharing my concerns with you.

Each night, when I say my prayers, I beg God to help my children persevere in the Faith, terrified by the knowledge that their apostasy is not only possible, but even likely.  I have read that about half of children growing up Catholic abandon the Faith by their twenties, with the average age of disaffiliation now as low as 13, and we can only expect this to get worse.

People do not abandon a belief for utter skepticism; they exchange one belief system for another.  Catholics don’t operate in a vacuum; we are faced with a confident, aggressive, and proselytizing rival, one that completely controls the media, schools, and corporations, and is waging a one-sided ideological war against us.  Furthermore, we face a fundamental disadvantage in trying to retain the allegiance of our children.  The influence of parents wanes in their childrens’ teenage years; formal catechesis in our parish ends at 6th grade.  But young people’s exposure to anti-Catholic propaganda only escalates from this age.  Consider children who go to college.  They will be taught college-level atheism, and will only have sixth-grade Catholicism to counter it.  No wonder many come to think of the religion of their ancestors as childish.

Consider any issue on which the Church and the world disagree.  When do young Catholics hear the Church’s teaching explained and defended on the immorality of artificial birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, the indissolubility of marriage, the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, the need for a distinct, all-male ministerial priesthood, the unique and exclusive role of Jesus Christ and His Church in the salvation of mankind, the reality of Purgatory, etc?  When are they taught about our glorious history and the great civilization we created, and when do they learn about the horrific legacy of our enemies and putative moral betters, of the murderous tyrannies of the Jacobins and Bolsheviks?  Our children only become old enough to hear our side of things when we are losing access to them!  We may wish to avoid controversy, but the advocates of opposing beliefs are relentless in their attack on our metaphysics, morals, and history.  And let us be honest–a person who will only accept Catholic doctrines that the New York Times lacks the interest to contradict is already an apostate.

If the Church is serious about the salvation of souls, we must focus on the urgent problem at hand and set concrete, realistic goals.  A plan to reduce the rate of apostasy of our youth by 30% in 15 years–that would be something worth the bishops thinking about, although I have no hope that they will do so.  Every parish should be thinking about it and prioritizing it above everything else except, of course, the ongoing distribution of the sacraments.  The Church has done enough “listening” to her implacable critics; now she needs to talk back and defend herself, or soon there will be no Catholics left.

As I said, the problem is systematic; just demanding more devoted parents or more skilled catechists will probably do little good.  We must also be clear about the difficulty of what must be done.  We must convince our children that the Church is right not only when she agrees with the world (what value is there in that?) but also when she disagrees with the world, and furthermore that the truths the Catholic Church professes are so important that we must be willing to accept the inevitable social ostracism and career hardships that disagreement with the world inevitably brings.  I have no idea how this can be done, but I’m quite sure we won’t do it if we don’t even try.

Thank you for your time.  Sincerely,

X

10 thoughts on “the letter I almost sent to my parish priest

  1. Looking from the outside in, the way I see it is
    Catholic Church = Robert Conquest’s second law
    Catholic priesthood = Robert Conquest’s third law.

  2. A letter I did send to my pastor, when I received an email about the Synod on Synodality that was chock full of modern churchspeak. I am pleased to report that the pastor replied in a gentle fashion. My letter is corrected only slightly to eliminate typos and obvious inelegancies. But here it is:

    What is the goal of this Synod? It is unclear from the email you were kind enough to send me. You posed two questions, so I will answer them.

    1. Where do you hear the Spirit speaking in the Church?
    The same place the Holy Spirit has always spoken to us – in the Magisterium and in the lives and examples of the saints. It most certainly does not come from the position papers churned out by the USCCB nor does it come from the innocuous sermons preached from most pulpits. The Holy Spirit speaks in the good, the true, and the beautiful. And sometimes these qualities are found less in the clerical Uriah Heeps that dominate our hierarchy than in the examples provided by our saints and artists. The saints we know. As for the artists, I have learned more about sin (that great unspoken word) and redemption from the writings of Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, GK Chesterton; the music of Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc, Antonin Dvorák, Henryk Górecki, Sir James Macmillan, and from our Orthodox cousins, like Arvo Pärt, than I have from any pronouncement from the pulpit. Perhaps none of these artists were saints, but their aims were true and beautiful.

    2. What are the strengths you perceive as signs of the Spirit present in the Church?
    The answer is easy but counterintuitive. The signs of the Holy Spirit are manifest in the chastisement the Church is now experiencing. The betrayal of our leaders is systemic, rooted in a desire for a respect of the world that is the very antithesis of what Our Lord warned us against. The results of this betrayal are found in the empty churches and seminaries. We are less a sign of contradiction than a sign of obsequiousness.

    My two cents
    If anyone is reading this (and I am cynical enough to have my doubts), I would refer that person to St. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s brilliant essay/sermon called “The Religion of the Day.” It is an insightful counterpoise to the cant that made up much of your committee’s offers for responses. For instance:

    “In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion, as to deceive the unstable and unwary. The world does not oppose religion as such. I may say, it never has opposed it. In particular, it has, in all ages, acknowledged in one sense or other the Gospel of Christ, fastened on one or other of its characteristics, and professed to embody this in its practice; while by neglecting the other parts of the holy doctrine, it has, in fact, distorted and corrupted even that portion of it which it has exclusively put forward, and so has contrived to explain away the whole;—for he who cultivates only one precept of the Gospel to the exclusion of the rest, in reality attends to no part at all. Our duties balance each other; and though we are too sinful to perform them all perfectly, yet we may in some measure be performing them all, and preserving the balance on the {310} whole; whereas, to give ourselves only to this or that commandment, is to incline our minds in a wrong direction, and at length to pull them down to the earth, which is the aim of our adversary, the Devil.

    “It is his aim to break our strength; to force us down to the earth,—to bind us there. The world is his instrument for this purpose; but he is too wise to set it in open opposition to the Word of God. No! he affects to be a prophet like the prophets of God. He calls his servants also prophets; and they mix with the scattered remnant of the true Church, with the solitary Micaiahs who are left upon the earth, and speak in the name of the Lord. And in one sense they speak the truth; but it is not the whole truth; and we know, even from the common experience of life, that half the truth is often the most gross and mischievous of falsehoods.”

    For the complete essay:

    https://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume1/sermon24.html

    Finally, and apropos of Newman’s sermon, I am something of a convert and frequently ponder in my new faith the disparity between the Jesus I meet in the pulpit to the Jesus I meet in the Gospels. The latter is one strict Dude and taught many uncomfortable things that run counter to your email and to the universalism now apparently embraced from Pope Francis to Bishop Barron. After all, if nothing matters and we’re all going to heaven then why bother? For example:

    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.”

    “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.”

    “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

    “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, there is no life in you”

    “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (There’s one that always gives me the shivers, and I grew up a Brooklyn guttersnipe, the son of an immigrant City bus driver, ever mindful and grateful that I could live and raise my sons in a nice suburban neighborhood.)

    So, thanks for asking me to bloviate, but I thought some pepper and lemon juice would add to the recipe that is overladen with sugar.

    Thank you.

    MPJR

    Ps It would be nice that while Pope Francis is rightly speaking up for Ukraine he could also spare some words for our Chinese brothers and sisters. And does he have to gather around him such lowlifes like that pedophile enabler and anti-Semite Cardinal Maradiaga? Just asking.

  3. You know your priest’s sympathies because the few that have tradish sympathies stand out.
    Why don’t you just pick up and move to an oratory with the TLM? We did. So you give up being a physics professor. I gave up my cushy government contractor job and I have a lot more kids than you do and I’m also a hell of a lot dumber and less educated than you are. The faith is flourishing in these parishes. We have MANY dozens of large families here, solid priests, a beautiful church. Will your wife divorce you for the loss of income or do you fear the loss of prestige?
    Sorry if this comes off as a personal potshot.

    • Rereading this it came off as a bit trollish. I guess I would like to see us concentrate ourselves together to survive what’s coming which I can’t help think is pretty bad. Anyway sorry.

  4. Your (withheld) letter to your Parish Priest makes salient points most of us “conscientious objectors” can identify with forsooth and forthwith. I only *wish* I could make them so saliently. I am not engaging the sin of envying your talent, I hope you understand. Just acknowledging it for what it is as compared to mine, and in my humble estimation.

    Carry on, sir.

  5. My third and youngest child was confirmed just last week. Because her sponsor lives out of town, I sat through confirmation classes for the fourth time in the past ten years. I didn’t think much of the confirmation classes, or of the RE that preceded them, but none of my children show signs of outright apostasy. They are not particularly devout, or pious, or punctilious, but neither is their dear old dad. I have no idea where they will be ten years from now, and more especially after I am gone.

    You were probably right to suppress your email, but I entirely agree with what you say. I was twice on parish council and argued against outreach to strangers and for outreach to our children. One mistake I have noticed is that youth ministeries tend to be run by people who were particularly devout, pious and punctilious in their youth, and that these youth ministers have a very poor understanding of their normal peers. I’m sure you have learned this as a professor. There are plenty of perfectly decent in your classes who are not half as jazzed about physics as you are, and you need to talk to them.

  6. As someone who fell away, probably somewhere in high school; I think you should have sent it.
    It didn’t in anyway sound unreasonable and I wish I had all those teachings explained to me.
    I was poorly catechized; but it seems all those teachings should be part it. Maybe extend catechism.
    I am sorry I ever left the church. Looking back maybe I could have been reached before leaving.
    No one even tried.
    Sue

  7. What ways is there to actually expel those wolves in sheep’s clothing from the Church?

    They aren’t going to leave voluntarily.

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