An Open Letter to New Priests


The season of priestly ordinations is currently underway. Having just completed years in seminary, this years class of 590 ordinands are now receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is with humility and charity that I pen this open letter to our newest priests.

Living With the Smell of the Sheep (and Proclaiming the Truth)

I ask you to reflect back on something the Holy Father said early in his papacy. He reminded all priests that they must be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

Some took this admonition to mean that priests need to get out into the world to make a difference. However, this was the same misguided assessment that resulted in the emptying of rectories, monasteries and convents in the 1970’s as many priests and religious abandoned their vocation to become social workers.

Please understand that we do not need you to be social workers. We need priests. We need sacramental grace.

Our culture is sick and confused. Sin is rife and grace is lacking. While Our Lord’s mercy is limitless, our faith instructs us that the individual who dies while in a state of mortal sin spends eternity in hell. As our spiritual fathers, you must do all that you can to help keep souls entrusted to you in a state of grace.

However, this commission to care for those in your care also requires truth and clarity on your part. People will stay away from confession if they are permitted to remain comfortable in their sin. Where apathy and lukewarmness exist, the Church will always suffer.

We the faithful want you to give us straight talk. Give us fully caffeinated Catholicism. Proclaim the faith unapologetically. The faithful need to hear the truth from you.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be pushback no doubt. Very possibly it may even start with the pastor at your first parish assignment.

There are priests who have spent decades refusing to discuss sin from the ambo or in the confessional. They are like parents who desperately want to be their childs best friend. They have made avoiding the angry email or phone call their life’s ambition.

Some will not appreciate your candor. Regardless, while you must be charitable and obedient, you cannot forfeit your own soul because of their brand of cowardly Catholicism. Always speak the truth.

From the ambo speak of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Speak of the constant spiritual warfare present in our lives. Speak of Satan, the Prince of Lies. And speak of sin. The obligation to do so comes with your ordination. Accept this as you did your very calling to the priesthood.

In addition, you must speak out against the evil and moral relativism which permeates our culture of death: fornication, cohabitation, contraception, abortion, same sex marriage and euthanasia.

Recognizing the symptoms and diagnosing the disease, do not commit spiritual malpractice by avoiding the treatment and cure. Souls are lost when priests abdicate their God given responsibility. Trust God, and trust the faithful in the pews, who ultimately will listen and respond to your fatherly concern for their eternal souls. The world needs more sanctifying grace at this moment in time. More people need to avail themselves to God’s infinite mercy.

The Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven

Sacred scripture instructs that there is nothing more important we can do than to love God with all our heart, soul and strength (Luke 10:27). There is no greater priority for a Catholic priest than to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Peter Julian Eymard advised the faithful:

“Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more, nor profit your soul more, than by devoutly assisting at it…”

The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, hang a little board in the sacristies of each of their orders chapels around the world which reads:

Priest of God, Celebrate this Mass as if it is your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass.

It is with this level of reverence for the Sacrament of the Altar that you will restore devotion to the Eucharist and a sense of the sacred to the Liturgy. Even if your first parish assignment as a priest presents you with an environment heavily infused with the secular and profane, do not despair. You offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. You are a priest of God.

Back in the 19th century English priest Fr. Frederick Faber described the Mass as “the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven”. Please remember that beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder. Just as truth is objective, so is beauty (and for that matter goodness too). People recognize beauty when introduced to it. Lead by example and challenge others to do the same.

Challenge your parishioners. Catechize them. Teach them that we pray as we believe. Introduce the writings of Ratzinger and Guéranger to the faithful. The Spirit of the Liturgy and The Holy Mass are required reading if you are going to restore the sacred and revitalize the faith.

The False Charge of Clericalism

There is a good chance some people will accuse you of clericalism as you seek to be the priest God is calling you to be. It does not take much: a sprinkling of Latin in the liturgy, a refusal to use Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at less attended daily masses, traditional vestments, or even the request to be called by your last name (Fr. Smith, for example, instead of the warm and fuzzy, “Fr. Bill”).

Don’t discourage. Turn to your brother priests for camaraderie, particularly those who are experiencing similar challenges. No doubt, some will call you aloof for this. So be it. Just as married men do well to keep company with other married men, Catholic priests do well to spend time with other priests. They will be your band of brothers.

And one more thing: Please wear the cassock!

If there is anything that drives an aging Modernist to drink, it’s a young priest in a cassock. You boldly proclaim the priesthood when you wear the cassock. It is also great for the next generation to see. Much like a policeman or fireman, a Catholic priest’s uniform is the Roman collar and the cassock. Children notice. Don’t be afraid to be a Catholic superhero!

Pope Pius XII, was addressing priests of any era when he wrote in the encyclical Mediator Dei:

“The indelible mark on the souls of priests comes with the power of the priesthood and it conforms them to Christ. Their hands have been consecrated so that whatever they bless may be blessed, whatever they consecrate may become holy and sacred in the name of the Lord Jesus. Let all who would live in Christ flock to their priests.”

Deo gratias and thank you for your priesthood.

An earlier version of this article was published in June, 2014.

Posted on May 29, 2017, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. And may the Holy Name of Jesus be frequently in their daily speech, writings, and homilies. I pray the same for anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus God Almighty.

  2. Mary Alice Hoffman

    Excellent summation of what is desperately needed today.

  3. “And one more thing: Please wear the cassock!
    If there is anything that drives an aging Modernist to drink, it’s a young priest in a cassock”

    Speaking as an aging Modernist (who already drinks), I can say you could not be more wrong about us.

    I’ve lived in my current home for 30 years. I do not attend my neighborhood (canonical) parish except when there is inclement weather. But I know of the priests who have been assigned there and for 24 of the 30 years they have had priests who would agree with you as to the cassock or at least firmly with the clerical suit. I call them conservative; you would probably call them “orthodox.”

    Now, I take an evening stroll that brings me past the rectory. I’m a poor cook so I eat frequently in the neighborhood restaurants. I enter or exit the local subway station at least twice a day at various hours. I am employed at the polling place on election day. I have been Vice-President of the neighborhood association and attend the meetings. I pay visits to many friends nearby. I am in the hardware store once a week; the barber every three weeks. And in those 30 years I have seen one of the parish priests in the neighborhood ONCE. And in that one instance he was impossible to make eye contact with. (I tried, just to give him a “hello Father.”)

    What we aging modernists like to see is priests that actually walk around their parish. That show up at community events, even if only on occasions and briefly. That are seen making house calls. Maybe can be found every now and then at the local diner.

    Yes, wearing their cassocks in the privacy of the church and rectory and their car doesn’t ring my liberal modernist buzzer.

    Let me repeat — THIRTY YEARS AND ONE SIGHTING on the streets, in the shops, restaurants, taverns, polling place and community gatherings of the parish neighborhood.

    As for the parish I do attend, is a mostly working class parish that many call “progressive” and I call pastoral. The priests are constantly walking around in their parish wearing the habit of their religious order. While my neighborhood is practically crime free, there are issues in the neighborhood around the parish I attend. The shop owners know the priests. The kids on the playground wave to them. The pupuseria lets them eat free. Parishioners and non-Catholics (and some future Catholics) approach them on the street for conversation. But of course, they are considered a bunch of liberals.

    • Amen brother.

      Clothing doesn’t make the man or the priest. But those preaching arteriosclerotic dogmatism as the key to regilding Catholicism never learned that lesson.

      • Please Steve, no preaching from the generation that emptied the pews, seminaries, and convents. The generation that contracepted, close Catholic schools, and lost the culture really needs to (humbly) step aside and prayerfully (while offering penance) let the restoration of Catholicism and sacred liturgy continue moving forward.

        The externals are a reflection of the internal. Our interior disposition does influence our exterior expression. Leave it to the generation that ripped out altar rails and destroyed altars and Catholic statuary to fail to grasp that.

        Catholicism is a belief in the incarnation of The Lord. It’s a religion of Sacraments. The exterior is indeed relevant.

      • Brian –

        Emptied the pews? There have been more people added to the pews in the last half century than ever before since the time of the Apostles. Oh, I’m sorry, while referring to universal reforms of the Church were you only counting white Americans? Don’t the new Catholics of Africa and Asia count?

        But going back to my earlier point, if a priest is rarely going to leave the rectory, he can walk around in his cassock or his undershorts for all I care. They need to learn from our engaged, pastoral-oriented priests and get out on the streets.

      • C’mon Brian, your broad brushing blinds you.

        Your beef is really with abusive clerics and those at every level of the church who hid and protected them for centuries by relocating them, co-opting secular judges and law enforcement to deny and demonize their victims and then lie and obfuscate to “avoid scandal”. How is that an outward sign of anything but internal evil?

        Your beef really with those who continue to lament a self inflicted vocation crisis and a predominantly same sex oriented clergy but then defend the post Apostolic abberation of invalidating the ability of presbyters and Bishops to marry and women to participate liturgically. How is that an outward sign of anything but internal sexual shame and misogyny?

        Your beef is with those who try to force feed a re-calcified version of the mass from the middle ages with all the peripheral trappings of that age (but not of the early church) – railings, Latin, communion on the tongue, statuary – as some sort of religious panacea for parishes. How is that an outward sign of anything but self serving nostalgia being substituted for the celebration of liturgy?

        Catholicism is supposed to be Christian – about the love of God and neighbor. Anything deviating from that mission is not Catholic.

  4. I certainly pray for you, new priests, with gratitude but I pray more for your bishops— that they may truly be your spiritual fathers, that they will care for you, support you, encourage you. I pray your bishops will be a good example for you, will respect your vocation, will help you use the gifts God has blessed you with. I pray your bishops will, as Our Lord said, “strengthen your brothers”.

  5. Fr.Felix G.O.Atindah(Kenya)

    This is to thank you most sincerely for the most inspiring post I have ever encountered
    my prayer for you is that God continues to touch the lives of many priests across the world.

  6. Francis Philip

    “If there is anything that drives an aging Modernist to drink, it’s a young priest in a cassock.” The truth come out of your heart. You would rather kill a man than heal a man? Nothing wrong with wearing a cassock, but it is pure evil to do it in order to drive a man away from God, that is, to alcohol and drugs. Sick.

    • It’s called humor. You might try it sometime Francis.

      • Francis Philip

        I like humor. Think more about what motivated you to think and write that about persons you classify as modernists. Do you know a person to be a modernist if he/she does not like the cassock, or do you react that way to someone who does not think the way you do? Think about it.

      • Modernism is a heresy. Therefore modernists are guilty of heresy. It’s an objective term and has nothing to do with thinking the way I do. The fruit of modernism is the widespread confusion among the faithful and the outright decimation of the faith in parishes, dioceses, and countries.

    • Andrew Joe Nelson

      And ‘Modernism’ is the synthesis of all heresies defined by Pope Pius X over 100 years ago. It is evil, plain and simple.

  7. Anthony Nichols

    Can you give an open letter to Deacons and those aspiring to Deaconhood

  8. Not exactly charitable in your responses, Brian.

  9. A most excellent article, thank you.

  10. Mario Cataldo

    Well said and a sober reminder to all our existing priests and bishops. This is a good start together with the necessity of consecrating Russia to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart as she requested. While the evil of Modernism has infected the very hierarchy of the Church, neither can the laity be excused from having played a part in this decline. Praying daily for the holiness of all our priests and bishops.

  11. whoah this blog is wonderful i love reading your posts. Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of people are hunting around for this information, you could aid them greatly.

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