The Willing Victim: The Priest Nailed to the Cross

Priesthood in Christ

In the concluding episode of today’s Lenten Journey, Fr. Dan Leary shares thoughts on the victimhood of Father Al’s priesthood. The centerpiece of one’s priesthood, Fr. Dan shares, is an identification with the crucified Christ. He believes Venerable Aloysius Schwartz began to offer himself as a victim immediately after being ordained in 1957.

On Good Friday, Kevin and Fr. Dan’s discussion rotates around the cross holy priests and The Sisters of Mary nuns must carry.

Father Al was a priest whose thoughts, desires, and interiority always went to the extremes. At some point during seminary at the University of Louvain in Belgium in the 1950s, he considered what many might consider an outlandish thought: he wanted to feel Christ’s crucifixion – or at least embrace it closely as he was able.

Years later, when Father Al, as he put it, was nailed to “the cross of his wheelchair” with ALS, he found great interior joy and peace. His never-forgotten request was answered: he had come to understand Christ’s same labored breaths, desolation, and physical and mental agony. Nails held Jesus immobile. Near-total muscle loss had done the same for the priest from Washington D.C. 

Nailed to the Cross

“I am nailed to the cross of ALS. Each day the struggle intensifies. The disease is inexorable in its progress. Each day becomes more difficult than the day before, and looking ahead, I see stretching before me uncharted paths of pain, suffering, and humiliation. Being a realist, I am trying to find out how to cope,” he wrote near the end of his life.

He continued: “The answer is found on Calvary in the person of Jesus. I must aspire to his heroism. I believe He has sent me ALS as a sign of His love and special favor. I believe this and I try to renew this belief at each instant. So it is, I do not look at ALS as an enemy which I fight. I accept it, embrace it, and welcome it as a friend.”

This profound acceptance and embrace of ALS can be understood if one considers the measure of his priesthood. When he arrived in Busan, Korea in 1957, he offered himself as a victim for tortured and abandoned souls of the war-torn country. He made a decision from his earliest days to suffer each day to relieve the suffering of the poor. 

So ALS really wasn’t that horrific. He had already been living out crucifixion for 35 years. Part of that crucifixion was Fr. Al’s chosen entrance into a dilapidated shack that he made his living quarters in 1962.

When Father Al moved into the shack in 1962, he didn’t know that its four walls would become a winepress, crushing him, like Saint Paul, into a libation to be poured out in love. He would later tell the Sisters of Mary: “Mary realizes [the crucifix] is the heart and center of the Christian mystery, the heart and center of holiness—this crucifix— Christ nailed to the cross, and we [too], nailed to the cross with Christ.” 

The Sisters of Mary religious community he founded have always tried to serve in the same capacity.

“Our role is to mingle our blood with the blood of Christ”, Fr. Al once said to the Sisters in a homily. “and to shed our blood with that of Christ to the poor. The way we serve is to have a constant crown of thorns.”