A response to A PRIEST’S CONVERSION – “I GET IT NOW!” by Fr. Richard Heilman
By pure chance I came across a blog post by a priest named Fr. Richard
Heilman. I was struck by his candor and astonished by the many
things that he said that were true – and equally astonished by a
few things he said that were categorically untrue.
Heilman began by recounting the numerous strangers – the pest
control guy, the checkout guy at a convenience store, a couple of
guys at a party – whom he invited to drop by his church sometime.
And they did. This all occurred within the last week.
admit it: I felt a tinge of joy reading about Fr. Heilman’s
is happening in the Church and in the world today. And, I know
something is happening with me. I can’t recall many times (any?) in
my priesthood that I would unabashedly – with great confidence and
joy – invite people on the street to these amazing sacraments.
invitation is the only way to build an organization without dumbing
down. If you rely on advertising, you need a gimmick – something
catchy, cheapening, and at least partially untrue. If instead you
invite someone, the invited decides to come. The inviter doesn’t
have to lower the quality of the product – the invited has already decided to give it a try.
had spent a great portion of my priesthood buying into the notion
that, if we create all kinds of trendy “programs” and socials,
while we kept our liturgy as cheery and entertaining as possible,
people would hear about how “cool” and “fun” and “with the
times” we were, and come running. We may have “held our own”
with numbers in the pew, but I also noticed the average age was
continuing to rise, and – where were all the men? I could see that,
while this trendy approach had short-term results, the future was
didn’t make sense. I was led to believe that “hip” and “trendy”
appealed to the youth. And, we believed men didn’t go for all that
ceremonial stuff – “Johnny Six-pack” likes it “real” like
the rest of the world.
I have been saying these things for decades, as have most of my
colleagues. But to hear a priest say it was powerful. If the
Millennials are interested in one thing, they’re interested in what
is real and true.
it is on this very point that Fr. Heilman started to go astray.
the Internet was invented (thanks, Al Gore?). With the advent of the
Internet, we began immersing ourselves in truth. Prior to this, we
took the word of the so-called “experts” – those who
specialized in such things as liturgy. These experts would give us
directions and we would follow, never suspecting there may be more to
understanding the deeper truths of the liturgy. Now, with so much
information at our fingertips, we were becoming experts ourselves,
Fr. Heilman touched upon an important fact: Millennials are educated,
they can read, they have Internet access, and for those reasons, they
will not, and should not, accept any old Medieval malarky that happens to emanate from the
Fr. Heilman continues:
truth in hand, we were shocked and appalled to discover that, up to
that point, we were receiving information through a
liberal/modernist/progressive (pick one) filter. Essential facts were
being left out or twisted to perpetuate this modern liberal agenda.
There was an emphasis on what they wanted us to know, and a
de-emphasis of things they did not want us to know.
fortunate and hopeful reality of our times is that “truth” is
like a poison for the whole liberal movement. Many, especially the
young who are more Internet savvy, are not buying what the liberals
are selling any longer. This is one of the reasons why, I believe,
our older generation remains indoctrinated in the liberal agenda –
they are simply not using the Internet to the degree in which young
people are today. And, I believe, this is one of the main reasons
seminarians today tend to be more traditional. The liberal professors
have a much more difficult time convincing them to follow their false
agenda any longer.
What? In what diocese are the older congregants liberal? The Diocese of Fantasyland? The vast majority
of Catholics that I know are what I call “automatic Republicans”
– they vote Republican because of The One Issue. I agree that
abortion is a serious matter. However, for all its preoccupation with
what happens before you’re born and after you’ve died, the Church
often fails people who are still alive. The other reason most
Catholics vote Republican is because conservativism does not
conserve people – it conserves institutions. If gay marriage is
OK, that shakes the foundations of Catholic teaching. Unfortunately for the institution, Jesus would say that homosexuals are real, living human beings, as are African-Americans,
divorcees, and so forth. Rather than rush to strengthen those human beings, conservative churches rush to
strengthen the teetering institution.
I’m surprised that so many Italians practice Catholicism. Italians
above anyone else appreciate the importance and significance of breaking bread
together. How can a church hold up a banner that says, “ALL ARE
WELCOME”? A truthful banner would include the footnote, “You
can’t eat the meal with us, but you’re welcome.”
Heilman was fully within the borders of Fantasyland with his fictional
description of the “liberal filter.” I almost laughed out loud. Any attempt to compare liberal secrecy with conservative secrecy
cannot be serious. “What melting glaciers? I didn’t see any
melting glaciers.” The GOP doesn’t lack a filter; they lack a
thermometer. Now, would you like to talk about the secrecy of the
Roman Catholic Church? I didn’t think so.
as the topic turned toward liturgy, I started to feel a twinge of joy
of faith in our Church was rapidly dimming, and the way to restore
its blaze once again was by, first, restoring the liturgy: “It is
in the treatment of the liturgy that the fate of the Faith and of the
Church is decided” (Pope Benedict XVI). Pope Benedict’s legacy
was in trying to recover the sense of transcendence and beauty of the
wanted to cheer when Fr. Heilman said,
come to understand that when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is
celebrated with due reverence, honor and beauty, it opens our hearts
to receive the magnificent power and majesty of God. It is the spark
that, quite literally, changes a person.
my long career, I have never seen a shred of evidence to support the
theory (which, thankfully, Fr. Heilman doesn’t hold) that beautiful
liturgy in itself drives parishioners away, and “lighter”
liturgy in itself attracts parishioners. I personally have worked in
churches with beautiful liturgy yet many young people in the pews,
and churches with guitars and drums yet very few young people in the
pews. I’ve seen it many times, and in each case the difference was
not the liturgy – it was the pastor.
In one respect, my perspective is clearer than that of most clerics. I
have worked for virtually every major denomination, thus I can often
see what each church has to offer, or “has going for it” so to
speak. More than any other denomination, Catholicism captures the
mystery. The stained glass, incense, and (in a few churches)
reverent music enhance a worship service filled with readings and
dogma which, frankly, don’t always make sense. There is little in
the Creed that corcords with the laws of science. That’s a hard
sell for college-educated Millennials who just incurred $200,000 in
debt so that they could learn the laws of science. Now they’re
expected to believe in a God who says, “I gave you a brain. Now, I
require you to believe things that make no sense.”
to Fr. Heilman,
people ... are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust
spirituality, and they weren’t finding it until now.
Millennials are looking for something – in particular, those with
young children, whom they hope will grow up with “some sort of
church experience.” According to Fr. Heilman, what they’re
looking for is
encounter with the Divine; Someone who transcends them; Someone who
is big enough, large enough, great enough to take care of them and
lead them into an amazing new life.
I don’t think that’s what most young people are looking for at
all. After years of listening to the litany of grown ups’ lies,
they seek what is real and true. They buy fresh coffee beans, not Sanka.
They buy artisan breads, not Sunbeam. They buy Italian extra-virgin
olive oil, not Wesson. They’re tired of the big companies poisoning the environment. And yes, they are more fascinated by the pipe
organ than by electronic substitutes. As for 60s-style
guitar-strumming: if even I, born in 1971, am too
young to remember that music, why would someone born in 1995 long to
I could look that pest control guy and Kwik Trip dude in the eye and
say, “I know what you are looking for, man … Come Home!! We have
of course, that those guys are heterosexual and have never been