The soon-to-be-murdered Monsignor Thomas Wells gathered more than a dozen family and friends at an old Irish farmhouse in Garrykennedy, a village smaller than your backyard. I remember the trip as if I unpacked my suitcase an hour ago, There were daily home Masses, riotous late-night storytelling that awakened the cows, and leisurely walks past sun-splashed meadows choked with ruby-red corn poppies, thick hedgerows and “penny fences” that knifed through lonely boglands. We capped our days at Larkins, the white-washed riverbank pub down the one-lane road that offered traditional music each night like jackpot-winning Lotto tickets.
One day my uncle “Tommy” suggested we take a boat ride out to the uninhabited island on Lough Derg. We walked up to ancient monastic ruins. It was quieter than the other side of Pluto.
“See that hole?”
He pointed to a plunging, six-foot deep opening in the earth. It was a narrow pit, about 2’ x 2’ in width, with a crude stone interior lining.
“Guess what it was used for,” he asked that July afternoon.
“Keggy,” he said. “That’s where monks used to spend the day in prayer.”
“You’re kidding me?”
Irish historians believe St. Colum and his small order of Anchorite monks first prayed here, on Inis Cealtra (Holy Island), in the sixth century. For hundreds of years thereafter, innumerable monks rowed out to the windswept island to join the quietude of the rigid, but joy-filled monastic community devoted to intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and Eucharistic lives.
That prayer hole has stuck with me all these years later.
A low rumbling storm surrounds us today. This virus has attached itself to us; it is a worldwide Siamese Twin. Although COVID-19 doesn’t carry the dark might of the bubonic plague, many feel strongly that this time of exile is God’s chastisement. Staggeringly, rather than imploring Catholics now to enter into a deep inner cave of prayer, fasting and penance during this indelicate Lenten season, some bishops have encouraged that we now lessen our Lenten sacrifices – which is unsettling to many for numerous reasons – but I’ll settle on just one.
I’ll consider what heaven has been saying.
As reported by EWTN radio on the opening day of the Amazon Synod, (Oct. 6, 2019), Sr. Agnes Sasagawa, after decades of silence, allegedly received a private revelation given to her by her angel. This is the same Sr. Agnes who in October of 1973 received from the Blessed Mother a dire warning of coming chastisements in a series of Church-approved apparitions in Akita, Japan. Mary warned then that the devil would infiltrate the Church and infighting would begin between cardinals and bishops. The Church would be filled with those who accepted compromises, corrupted the Gospel and disfigured the Truth. She warned of great worldwide devastation unless people turned their face to God.
Days prior to the unveiling of Pachamama — some 47 years later — Sr. Agnes allegedly received another message from our Blessed Mother. The focal point of it mirrored her urgings at the apparitions to the three shepherds in Fatima and in La Salette, France, when Mary appeared in bitter tears to two children minding cows in the mountains.
Akita’s 2019 message, translated into English, was this: “Cover in ashes, and please pray the Penitential Rosary every day.”
Our Lady requested that all commit to penance in reparation for the sins of humankind. She requested we pray the daily Rosary in atonement for the sins of mankind. Christ’s Mother, in approved apparitions, has begged us – repeatedly now – to pray the rosary in reparation for poor sinners, to do penances, to reform our lives, and to turn our face to God alone.
Repeatedly, though it often seems, we do not listen. Many millions of Catholics have rejected Our Lady’s message by taking the wide and pot-holed road of moral relativism. Too many Catholics have rejected every form of God’s Natural law in regard to marriage, life, sexuality and even gender. It seems so many of us (this writer is no exception) have made gods of ourselves – therefore, we all carry some part of the stain. Instead of sackcloth and ashes, we’ve chosen finery and amusement. Fewer and fewer Catholics believe in the Real Presence, the healing power of the priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and of the supernatural dimension of prayer lived out by folks like those island monks.
In this generation of head-tilt genuflection toward cell phones, where we graze off social media streams, Netflix, chat rooms, etc, – a question might be asked: have we reached a tipping point in turning our face from God? Or do we just abhor the thought of sustained silence in prayer, the humiliations of penance and the bodily pricks of fasting?
Or are we just ashamed – ashamed to be authentically Catholic today?
“Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory.” Luke 9:26
Does shame even exist in the Catholic church today?
Laity agonizes for a prophetic voice. It starves for strong leadership during this worldwide pandemic; instead, though it seems, an Exodus scene seems to be re-emerging from today’s scarceness of sacramentals and sacraments (which reflect and bring purification, mercy and life). A growing number of laity wonder and even quarrel like the Israelites to Moses and Aaron: “Give us water to drink.” (Ex. 17:2)
At Massah and Meribah, Moses struck the rock and water flowed. Today, though, often there seems to be neither staff nor water. The shepherd’s staff has been stowed and our secular leaders have taken the lead. Meanwhile, the wellsprings of Life have been sealed up. Fatherlessness has swept over the land. It is as ominous as it is revealing.
Hearteningly throughout this time, a pair of gladdening themes – like door-to-door merry Christmas wassails — have emerged.
Firstly: Priests who see the invisible — those who validate Our Lady’s messages through the model of their priesthood — are leading now. Like Ven. Fulton Sheen, they are supernaturalists. You know them by the light in their eyes.
Secondly: Priests who since their ordination have committed to daily holy hours and the reading of the Office are responding now like 9/11 firemen who unhesitatingly desired a self-emptying and death of self to serve others. In a stunningly intimate cooperation with grace during this odd time of separation from their flock, these priests in persona Christi have fallen into even deeper measures of prayer, mortifications, and sacrifice because they know it is only through interior revolution and amputation of self-will that they’re able to nourish their isolated flock and anchor them to God. Some expose Christ at outdoor Adoration and offer outdoor confessions. They are leading rosaries and novenas for their flock. Others are holding online retreats, and giving daily spiritual talks. One priest, Fr. John Hollowell, began to read his Office (online) just a week after brain surgery. His long pink scar is the mark from the crown of thorns he’s offered up for those sexually abused by clergy. Fr. Hollowell is a supernaturalist – he sees the invisible.
Other holy priests have chosen to resemble the Irish monks on the Holy Island. They’ve abandoned all forms of social media. This was part of an announcement from a strong pastor this past weekend:
“As you have noticed, I have not been livestreaming the Mass. I don’t plan to,” he said. “I would rather use the time it takes to livestream and commit that time to prayer and spiritual reading. Let me explain: a priest’s number one job is to intercede for his people. YOU ARE MY PEOPLE. I would rather spend my time praying for you than running around like a lunatic so I can appear online for a couple hours a day. I am praying the rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and various prayers for you—all the time.
“I am spending more time in silent adoration. I am interceding for those dying in isolation with no family or friends present. And I am praying that our country will come back to God. God loves all people and wants them to want Him. I look at this time of forced isolation and silence as a chance to grow in holiness.”
This priest sees the invisible. But he also sees what is visible – and that’s why he knows it’s time to beg for God’s mercy, similar to the wailing Old Testament prophets. It is time for John-the-Baptist pleading: Repent. Turn to God. His kingdom is at hand!
And I have to imagine some holy priests celebrating Mass alone and in private in these isolated days are imploring God with more candor, urgency and even specificity. Aware of their role as mediator and intercessor, it isn’t difficult seeing them begging God like never before in their priesthood. In fact, during this temporary time of lonesome Masses, their Intercessory Prayers may be becoming as powerful to them as when they turn bread into Christ and wine into His Blood.
Permit me now to dig up the resurrected voice of the claustrophobic Irish monk – and imagine his voice were he allowed to preside over one last Mass.
Here might be his Intercessory Prayers:
“Merciful God who can do all things. Pour cleansing fire into the sleeping souls of bishops who’ve forsaken the great burden of their identity during this hour of plague; bring them to an awareness of the disfigured state of today’s Catholic Church. Grant them the might and grace to shake off their reticence to see the deeper meaning of this virus. Pull off the scabs of passivity and rend their hearts with the urge to die as shepherds must for their flock during this time of pandemic.”
“O Heavenly Father, in perhaps what could be a glimpse into your just chastisement, raise our hearts, minds and souls only to you now. Employ your divine scalpel to uproot within us our sins; use this quarantine to pull us from our disordered attachments and movement toward sloth, pride and comfort. May all self-deceptions and sinfulness be burned away by the everlasting fire of your love.
“Almighty Father, I pray that the murderous reign of Planned Parenthood, America’s most unstoppable evil, is terminated – and I pray that bishops, priests and myself will now begin to address by name each evil, disorder and darkness from time immemorial.
“Father, I pray that your truth reigns supreme and that your light will dispel every atrocity of this modern age, including what society has normalized —perversions, the killing of the most innocent, the transition of genders and abandonments of Natural Law that so terribly wound your most Sacred Heart.”
“Almighty Father, I beg that you open the heart and eyes of Pope Francis to see the great harm caused by the apparent worship of an idol at the home of Peter. Father, encourage His Holiness to renounce Satan and the display of any idol in the future, including “Mother Earth.”
“Savior, You reign over all, power and might are in your hands. When you decree, it comes to pass. As mediator for the people of God, I beg that you pull back and dispel this chastising plague of COVID-19 – and that you lead us to a heightened awareness of you as a just Judge so we might be made fit for our homeland. I praise you today and always.
“Father, I pray for fellow believers who are spiritually weak because of poor formation and absence of strong leadership, that your kingdom might be strengthened in their souls and that their minds, hearts and consciences might be illuminated as they come into greater awareness of You during this pandemic.”
This is the priest we need, the resurrected voice of the forgotten Irish monk, who even from a hole in the ground is able to see the whole of the spiritual universe and the unshakeable furnace of God’s fiery love for his unruly children.