As the crow flies in Washington D.C., Ven. Al Schwartz and Msgr. Thomas Wells grew up in homes eight miles apart. They may have played each other’s Little League baseball teams and sat down for a vanilla milkshake on the same Hot Shoppes’ swivel barstool off Rte. 202. A Shulman’s Deli sandwich was a favorite for both of them. In the summer, Al swam at the Rosedale pool; Tommy up the road at Kenwood.
It was a time when your neighborhood parish defined you; Al was a hardscrabble Holy Name kid; “Tommy” was a Blessed Sacrament upper-cruster. Both served as altar boys, and it was at these parishes where their desire for Christ and a life of sanctity bloomed.
Remarkably, the old neighbors are both on the path to sainthood. Perhaps because Fr. Al was a few years older, his path is moving along at a faster clip.
They’ve been on my mind a lot of late. For starters, both should still be alive. Fr. Al died too soon from ALS in 1992 and “Tommy” left the world in 2000 when he was murdered at his Mother Seton rectory in Germantown, Md. In fact, this past Monday marked the 20th anniversary of his death.
After reading several books on Fr. Al’s spirituality and mission to serve the poor, I know the missionary priest and parish priest – my uncle Msgr. Tommy Wells – would have been friends. And they would have been enormous powers for healing at this hinge point in American history. The holy witness of their priesthood in the public square would be heightened today. Simply, they would have understood their prophetic voice would need to pierce the roaring winds of anger, emotion and a politically-correct zeitgeist. Within this Golgotha-like hour in American history, they would have understood and seen the shifting weight of Satan and the colluding motivations of spiritual and governmental leaders – and they would have stepped forward to engage. They lived at the beginning times of Gehenna’s winds blowing down virtually every single one of God’s Natural Laws.
So it is a ripe time to dig up the holy graves of Fr. Al and “Tommy.” Because they were so closely attuned to souls, they would know precisely what to say and do to ease the frazzled state of America today. More importantly, perhaps, is what they would share with their brother priests, whom they would have known were as vital now as at any point in their priesthood.
Fr Al. and Tommy to priests: “Your flock is dispirited. Bring them back to the joy of Jesus Christ – grab them by the face mask if necessary – but you must find every single suffering family in your parish and lead them back to joy.”
They knew what Mother Teresa did: “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” You’d walk into the presence of both of them brokenhearted or ready to pick a fight, and then walk away wringing personality and cheer out of your clothes. They walked into poverty each day – Fr Al in the material way, and Tommy so often in the spiritual – and they went immediately to work to resurrect downcast souls.
A friend called me last week ago to share that his college-aged daughter now believes him to be racist (my friend requested I share his story). Nine months ago, before she took off for college, she adored dad; on this day, though, she is temporarily not speaking to him. Sister Lucia, one of the seers of Our Lady of Fatima, wrote before dying, “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family,” Fr Al. and Tommy understood this battle because they saw the invisible and knew the power that a prayerful, Christ-centered family had in mocking Satan’s designs.
Accordingly, many hundreds of times, the cross of their long days were spent in homes just like my friend’s, where they would have raced to console, challenge and fight to bring families back to harmony. Both navigated past thick walls of cynicism, loneliness, and addictions that had formed in homes. They loved the challenge of healing these places of pain, because they knew homes were battlefields in which travailed souls could be healed by the light of Christ.
Fr. Al and Tommy to priests: “Know your identity – you are the Slaughtered Lamb. Do not be afraid. Lay down your life now.”
Throughout the Spring, the Blood of Christ stopped being poured into souls. Satan, of course, took a foothold within the void. The past three months, I’ve often considered if one craned their neck and could see spiritual warfare, the blue skies would be covered with black flapping wings. Emotions today have gained the upper hand over reason – even though pre-Christian thinkers, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and all Christian philosophers since then have understood that a formed conscience always governed the will.
At least one bishop and growing numbers of priests are marching and carrying Black Lives Matter placards. Priests in Washington DC marched earlier this week to the White House to “pray for a change of heart, an end to hatred and institutional discrimination.” The gesture was viewed by many as noble-hearted, but Fr. Al and Tommy would likely say “Yes, and…”. They knew a priest identity and burden was always to make up for what is lacking – to heal materially and spiritually. To do more and be more, laying down his life for his flock.
The priestly response to this seismic societal upheaval, Fr. Al and Tommy would have agreed, is mostly spiritual. The Catholic Church is at war with Satan now, and Satan will not be overcome by marching priests. The underworld has already been overcome by Christ. By devoted prayer and increased fasting and sacrifice, which these two priests obliged, we can reflect our savior and unite the faithful to that promise.
Priests are intercessors; their strength isn’t theirs; it is given to them by God – accordingly, Fr. Al and Tommy knew they were ordained to become martyrs and saints – which wouldn’t occur without steadfast prayer. In Gethsemane, it was Christ’s blood-soaked prayer that pushed Him past his doubts and anxiety. It is this type of intense priestly prayer that will eventually tilt the balance. Fr. Al and Tommy knew they were mediators. They were the gatekeepers, the ever-pacing Bethlehem shepherds.
Tommy: “Bishops, please raise up the Eucharist now – everywhere.”
Never would Fr. Al or Tommy reject the vow of obedience he took to his bishop, even to those suspect due to their behavior. They would have, however, worked with great vigilance – within the constraints and contours of the vow they took – to push now for the reopening of Masses without restrictions. They would have fought because they would have known that unity in the paschal mystery and participation in the holy sacrifice was the lone cure for the fear and anger that mark these days.
And it would have been their agreement on this very point – the healing power of the blazing furnace of the Eucharist – that may have made the pair the very best of friends.