Fr Michael Brisson, LC

Death in Black and White: a new novel by Fr. Michael Brisson, LC

Father Christopher Hart, a young New York priest and classic film buff, is unwittingly drafted by the mob to hear the confession of a man slated for execution. Playing a key role in the White Death—a mafia ritual in which a person condemned to death is allowed to confess his sins before he’s killed – was not one of the duties he expected when he became a first-time pastor. Should he just do his job and collaborate with the mob for the sake of souls, or find a way to stop the violence?

This is the premise of Death in Black and White: A Novel, the first book written by Fr. Michael Brisson, LC. This riveting page-turner will entertain, but it will also drive the reader to grapple with important themes such as identity, purpose, justice, sin, and, ultimately, redemption.

Writing has always been an important part of Fr. Michael’s life – he began writing fiction when he was just a teenager, coming home from his job making pizzas at Domino’s and staying up writing short stories on his computer until three in the morning. But when, in 1995 after graduating high school, he entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, he found it difficult to make time for his passion for writing short fiction within his busy life of studies and apostolate. It wasn’t until many years later, when fellow Legionary priests, Fr. John Connor and Fr. Daniel Brandenburg, who is a published author himself, asked Fr. Michael when he was finally going to write a book. Persistently challenged by these fellow priests, and reminded of the Parable of the Talents (and the servant who buried his single talent in the ground out of fear of losing it rather than investing and multiplying it), Fr. Michael decided to sit down and write a book.

Immediately, Fr. Michael knew he didn’t want to write a spiritual non-fiction. “I’m a storyteller, not an academic,” says Fr. Michael. “I knew I didn’t want to write a spiritual book, because there are so many spiritual books that have already been written, that already say things so well, and I need to read those before I can write my own!” But when he started thinking of his own life, his own experiences as a priest, and the many times he had witnessed God’s light shining into the darkest corners of humanity, particularly through the sacrament of confession, a story began to take shape. Inspired by his favorite authors growing up, like Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe, Fr. Michael began by writing a collection of short stories based on these experiences from his own life, and of other priests he knew.

The first vignette Fr. Michael wrote centered around an elderly lady that he had met, who had been lovingly and faithfully married to a paranoid schizophrenic for 60 years. The second story was a fictional account inspired by a true story told to him by a friend, in which a priest is brought to an abandoned farmhouse by a mafia member to hear the confession of a young man about to be executed.

Before Fr. Michael realized, and as he continued writing, these two stories became connected and took on a life of their own, and the book he would write was not a collection of short stories, but a novel that follows the saga of a young New York priest who has become the unwitting confessor to the mob.

But under the drama and suspense of the novel’s story lies a message that Fr. Michael has seen played out time and again in the confessional: “God uses every event in our lives, no matter how tragic or sinful, to lead us back to him, and everyone, no matter how dark their life is, can be saved. As St. John says, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5). The light of grace can penetrate any darkness.”

Although he is quick to reiterate that the priest in the novel is not based on himself, many of the protagonist’s experiences are drawn from the encounters of God’s mercy and forgiveness that Fr. Michael has had in his own life as a priest, particularly in the confessional, and it is these powerful moments that continue to inspire him not only as a writer but in his vocation as a priest. “I love hearing confessions – the bigger the sins, the better! Saying those words, ‘I absolve you,’ and watching the joy on the face of the sinner, the one who hasn’t been to confession in 50 years, the one who has been carrying that burden of sin around, never able to fly – with those few words and the sign of the cross, he is unfettered and lifting off the ground, tears of joy streaming down his face. What could be better?”

And although Death in Black and White is a work of fiction, it conveys the true story of God’s redemptive love in a way that speaks to readers and invites a personal response. “The unique advantage of fiction is that you can plumb the depths of human experience in a way that allows the reader to grapple with issues freely, without – if you do it right – feeling lectured or cajoled. If done well, telling a ‘true story’ (true in the metaphysical, not factual, sense) can be fun, exciting, and interesting, but also deep, real, and poignant.”

In addition to hoping that people find Death in Black and White to be an enjoyable and entertaining read, Fr. Michael also hopes that readers come away with a renewed belief that God is always ready to forgive them, no matter how many times they mess up, and that even in their sin, God can use them to bring about a greater good. “I hope people realize there’s hope for everyone. We just need to do God’s will as it is presented to us in this moment, and let God be God.”

Fr. Michael was ordained a Legionary priest on December 12, 2009, in Rome at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. As his first assignment he was named superior of the territorial directorate community in New York and director of the Regnum Christi men’s and women’s sections. From 2010 to 2013, he was local coordinator of apostolate for New York and superior of the Legionary community in Thornwood, New York. From 2013 he has served as territorial secretary for the North American Territory, superior of the Legionary community in Cumming, Georgia, and chaplain for the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi in Atlanta. He is currently serving as a general councilor of the Legionaries of Christ and working on his second novel.

Death in Black and White is available for sale on Amazon on May 17.

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