The scene is Pentecost Sunday and Simon Peter has just received the Holy Spirit along with 120 others. A crowd has gathered, intrigued by the manifestation of the Spirit in the upper room. The door opens and out steps Simon Peter. He begins to proclaim Christ. After an initial summary of Jesus’ life and actions as well as a doxology, Peter says to those gathered,

Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36).

A few days later Peter preaches even more pointedly:

You handed Jesus over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…. Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. … Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out … (Acts 3:14-20).

Apparently, Peter never got the memo that we preachers are not supposed to mention unpleasant things like sin, and we certainly should not accuse our listeners of having sinned; we are supposed to issue the usual bromides of affirmation and speak only in abstractions and generalities. Imagine, he calls them killers, co-conspirators in handing over God to be crucified: “You killed the author of life”!

The unwritten rule among many priests and deacons today, especially those of the older generation, is that we should never—under any circumstances—offend anyone. We should not say anything controversial or that risks upsetting anyone. We should not mention, sin, Hell, judgment, or Purgatory. We shouldn’t preach on moral topics like abortion, fornication, contraception, divorce, or homosexuality. And we shouldn’t even think of saying that knowingly missing Mass is a mortal sin. For that matter, we should never even let the words “mortal sin” escape out lips!

Yet here is Peter saying, “You killed the author of life.” He’s not talking to the person next to you, dear reader, he’s talking to you! That’s right you did that, and so did I. Yes, we are sinners, and if we don’t repent and receive His mercy we’re going to be lost—we’re going to go to Hell. (Oops, did I let that word slip out?)

The logic is that if we talk in this way, we’ll offend people, and they’ll stop coming. Never mind that our churches have largely emptied in the aftermath of the widespread application of this policy. No indeed, it must be all honey and no vinegar, ever.

It is interesting that Simon Peter, though clear and bold in his preaching about sin, did not seem to cause the alienation feared by many modern priests. In his sermon of Acts 2, we read not of alienation but of mass conversion:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:37-41).

This response isn’t what some of the fearful, dovish, “do-no-harm-ever” preachers and liturgists of today would predict! Peter’s nets were nearly breaking with thousands of converts even after telling them they had crucified Jesus, warning them, and calling them to repentance and baptism in no uncertain terms.

Read more at Archdiocese of Washington.

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