Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Victory for Grace (in the death of Fr Wells)

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the death of my good friend, Msgr. Thomas Wells. I’ve been talking with people recently about it and the most frequent comment has been, “can you believe it’s been 10 years?” This has come from some who knew Fr. Wells well and from some who didn’t. I understand their point and agree to some extent, but, overall, it has been every bit of 10 years, if not more. Maybe I’m alone in this among Fr. Wells’ family and good friends (a huge group itself), but my thought is that the 10 year anniversary is no surprise because a) we’ve been commemorating the anniversary each year, and b) the events of his death seem so far removed from our lives now. It seems like so long ago.

So, I took all of these thoughts to the memorial Mass at Mother Seton Church in Germantown last night. Archbishop Wuerl celebrated the Mass and did a beautiful job as celebrant and homilist. The main point I took from his homily was that Fr. Wells, as with all priests, was anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, to so many people. It was extremely meaningful to have the Archbishop of Washington honor Fr. Wells in the way His Excellency did last night.

There were several of us concelebrating priests. As you’ve seen before, it is customary for the concelebrating priests to gather around the celebrant at the altar as the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer begins. When I thought that this would happen, I remembered the significance of the place of the altar at Mother Seton: it was where the old rectory was located…where Fr. Wells was murdered. I flashed back to 10 years ago returning from Calcutta and seeing my buddy’s place taped off as a crime scene. I recalled the gory pictures from the trial which showed the slain Fr. Wells and his ransacked bedroom. Then, I thought about how the Eucharist was the focal point of Fr. Wells’ life and I was about to concelebrate the Eucharist on the spot where his life was taken.

As we made our way into the sanctuary, I began to get overwhelmed with what was about to happen. Fr. Wells was the one who led me to the Eucharist. He loved the Eucharist with every fiber of his being and truly loved celebrating Mass. He would stare at the Eucharist for several seconds each time at the elevation of the Host. He appeared to say several words quietly to the Body of Christ each time. This is now part of my ritual at the Consecration: after holding the Host and Chalice above my head in Adoration, I then bring them down lower to the level where Fr Wells would gaze upon the Blessed Sacrament. I thank God for Fr Wells each time I make this tribute to my friend and spiritual father at Mass.

There was a lot going on at the altar area during the Mass, as you can see. And, at the moment of Consecration, I just lost it. Just lost it! Tears came streaming down my face and I was a mess externally. Internally, I was overwhelmed with awe, joy, sadness, and humility. But, there was also a great peace with it all. Here I was doing what Fr. Wells led me to do: offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice on behalf of the people of God. The powerful irony was that it was on the very spot where his life ended…where his final sacrificial offering was made. His life continues through me and other men who he inspired to become priests (again, a large group).

The biggest realization, then, from last night is that Grace wins! Last night’s celebration was really to say that good has won over evil in the death of Fr. Wells. On the very spot where evil prevailed on a given night 10 years ago, Grace has won victory…in the exact same manner that Christ won victory over sin on Mount Calvary.


Maura said...

Thanks for sharing this! It is a great tribute to Tommy. For once it was you and not me falling apart! Kevin started our Mass at Sacred Heart by mentioning the two masses going on simultaneously. We were celebrating Mass at the place where Tommy had his first assignment as a priest and where he was laid to rest. You were celebrating Mass with the Archbishop at the same time where he had his last assignment and where his life ended. Although we still mourn his death (and I do agree with you about it feeling every bit of 10 years) it was also a great celebration of his life and his love of the Eucharist. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

It took me a minute to figure out who you were referring to. "Tommy" Duhh... you're referring to Fr.Wells!