Friday, June 08, 2007

FW's anniversary

It was seven years ago today that our good friend, Msgr. Thomas Wells, was found dead in his rectory in Germantown. A man who was drunk and high broke into the rectory and stabbed Fr Wells to death the night before. The people gathered for daily Mass on June 8, 2000, and when Fr Wells didn’t show up in the chapel at Mass time, they went looking for him in the rectory. I can’t imagine the horror they must have experienced when they found his body lying motionless on the floor of his ransacked bedroom.

My Mom called me later that day; I was in India on a seminary mission trip. I had just talked with her a few days prior, so I knew there was something wrong. When she told me the awful and horrific news, I almost keeled over. The priest who was with me and the two other seminarians in India was a good friend of Fr Wells. I asked to go pray in the chapel of the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. Thankfully, he led me there, and persuaded the sisters to let me use the chapel (a no-no after hours in the motherhouse). The next sixty minutes or so was heart-wrenching, but also amazing. There I was, praying in the presence of Christ, one floor above the tomb of Mother Teresa, about my good friend who had just been killed. Basically, I was talking to Jesus about one saint with the body of another saint just below me.

Thankfully, the director of the mission trip flew me home for the funeral. It was an enormous crowd of people who came to the funeral at Sacred Heart in Bowie (one of the parishes where FW served). Estimates said there were 3,000 people there. My good friend, Fr Jim Stack, gave an incredible homily, thanks to the Holy Spirit. He focused on three things that summed up FW: family, life, and the Eucharist. Fr Stack used the same three points of emphasis at my first Mass of Thanksgiving last May.

As I said at Mass this morning, the peace I get in the wake of Fr Wells’s death is that he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He lived with such extraordinary faith. He had an alarm system at the rectory at Mother Seton in Germantown, but chose not to use it because he said “there are too many buttons”. I think it was for a far greater reason: he wasn’t worried about what would happen to him in this life. It’s not that he didn’t care about his body or this life; he did. But, he lived in this world with his heart and soul focused on Heaven. He often railed against a culture which put total stock in this life only, and that we need to live to be 100 or something. He lived for Heaven, and wasn’t worried if his time on Earth came up short (it did; he lived 56 years only).

Finally, I remember talking with Fr Wells about a statement my father once made: “I’d rather live half a life doing the things I want to do than live a full life without them”. This came true in my Dad’s life because he died at 51. The discussion with Fr Wells was a fruitful one because it showed me that my Dad’s approach was not entirely selfish; in fact, Fr Wells said that it could be seen as Christian in nature. In other words, God wants us to enjoy this life (in moderation, of course), and not worry about when we are going to die. If we have our eyes on Heaven, like Fr Wells did, we will not worry about tomorrow so much that we fail to enjoy today.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.


At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Kat said...

How can we live for Heaven when we are so caught up in this life? How do we change that focus from our lives here with all our hurts and pains and issues to focusing on Christ?

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a good way in through the example of others. When I get caught up in my own "stuff" (which has been often of late, I'm embarrassed to say), it helps me to think of those who have made it through to a better place (like living a happy and full life) in spite of really significant trials. I have friends who have lost children, friends who lost parents at really young ages, people I know who survived cancer (!!!), and thinking about them helps me put what's important into perspective. Just in reading FG's post- he lost two men in his life who he loved and admired at points in his life (I believe it was high school for his dad and then in the seminary with FW) when their physical presence was probably so badly missed, but look at the joy he exhibits in his life each day. Instead of giving into despair (although I'm sure there were times of tremendous sadness), he moved forward and chose to share his life of experiences with us. Those are the kinds of examples that give me pause to examine my own behavior, and usually make some kind of shift to focus on what is important in my life- family and faith.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously both men had such an important influence in your life. We are all grateful you are able to draw so much that is so positive from those relationships to share with us. I am especially grateful that you have shared those experinces with our children present, for loss is a hard thing to speak of with children. But on the occasions when I have heard you speak about you dad and Fr. Wells, each time is was in regard to how much both gave you, what you learned from them and how they inspired you. And each of those times, I thought- cool!

On another note- in getting ready for Mass this a.m., my 4 yr old had a flip comment that I corrected by reminding her she was talking about God's house. In turn, she asked me which God I was talking about. I thought- oh no- I don't have time for another LONG explanation, and answered, "There's only one God." That didn't suffice. She said that I was wrong- she knew there were two. I thought maybe she was confused about Jesus, but it wasn't that. She told me that one God lives in Hevean, and the other was her friend who like to talk to her. You can imagine what went through my head- she's inherited my crazy genes! She said she met him at the party with the balloons. She said he likes to wear a red dress. I'm like- what the heck? Finally, she said he knows all about Ariel, the Little Mermaid. BINGO! I said, are you talking about Fr. Greg? Now, on occasion, she's been shy around him (not a usual thing for this child), and I said, "Is that why you were nervous to say hello to him on the playground- 'cause you think FG is God? She said, "He is- I know it, 'cause he knows about everything- Jesus and the princesses." I exlpained what/who a priest is. Today in Mass, you must have smiled at her, b/c she said to me, "Mommy, that man who works for God smiled at me!"

At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

How cute!

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

My Dad died when he was 48 and I was only eight. But I have many special memories of life with Dad, even though the time was 'short'. I know I was really loved by my Dad.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know who is going to be in the confessional this Saturday at St. A's?

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which priest I mean...

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

If you have a specific priest to request for confession- have you thought about calling to make an appointment? Contact info for both is available through our parish bulletin. On Saturdays, I'm grateful we have either one of our priests available in the confessional, for I understand that it isn't so in some areas.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

Speaking as one who has had prefrences of who I go to confession for sometimes you just need to go regardless of who is in the box. I know I do so I will be seeing whoever is there on Saturday.

At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Joan said...

I was on business travel and remember getting the call from my family and again in my life struggling with the “why did God allow this to happen?” I thought back to a time of folk music and felt banners and how Fr. Wells met each of us where we were and brought us closer to God. We were children (teens) of the times, but this priest, who wasn’t much older than some of us, had a love for fun and a deep commitment to our Lord. He showed us it was possible to do both. (Reminds me of someone else we know.)

I can still see the tremendous number of people attending his viewing and funeral – you could say Fr. Wells had packed the house again! I also remember the grace filled way his family handled the events of that week and the weeks and months to come. We saw a family united in faith, despite the devastation. We saw acceptance, love, and confirmation of the sanctity of life for all.

Even in his death, Fr. Wells continued to teach us how to live.

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you forgive someone who shows no contrition? Is it even possible? Isn't contrition/ repentence on one part nessisary for forgiveness to happen?

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Kelly said...

It is with tears rolling that I read FG's reminder of Msgr. Wells' death and his father's death.

My older brother died suddenly at age 40 (3 years ago). His son was an 18 year old marine and we had to call the Red Cross to bring him home. My nephew has 18 years of great memories of his dad.

My brother was fun loving adventurous and lived life to the fullest. We often say he lived more life in 40 years than most do in 80. When my mom called from the hospital (she was in shock), she said, "Please come to the hospital right way - Michael is dead." She later apologized for being so abrupt (like she really needed to apologize!). I was watching a movie with my hub and kids. I screamed and threw the phone across the room. My mother's legs collapsed numerous times over the next week (btw she is in great shape and very spiritually strong). It was awful.
Perhaps I am sharing too much because this all is such a downer. I feel the need to share it because it has shown me how your life can be forever changed in a day.

It sounds like Fr. Wells and Fr. Greg's dad lived life to the fullest.

Kat's question intrigues me. My brother's sudden death has taught me not to live as if I will be around til 80-90. This loss has shown me that life is so fragile and not to take it for granted.

As I may have said in previous posts, my own father, age 68, is dying. I am ever so grateful that the Lord helped me to forgive past hurts(my parents are divorced). The Holy Spirit started working on me over 10 years ago. Now we know that we are getting ready to say good bye. It might be next month or maybe a year. Only God knows.
Christ is blessing me with a wonderful intimate time to care for my father. At the end of his life, he tells me that his children and grandchildren keep him going. It is sad to learn that so close to the end of your life. He asks me what did he ever do to deserve me for a daughter? He looks at me with great tenderness and love. You have no idea what healing this is for me. He was hardly around when I was growing up. What healing for him and for me. This is how I focus on Heaven at this moment in time.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to an event tonight that I so much wanted to go to. I knew it would be difficult, but I knew there would be people I could hold onto, even if some of them didn't know what was going on. It ended-up that none of those "lean-to" people were there. After observing my white knuckels, I decided I had to leave.

Man- I just wish I could be like everyone else and just have a great time at a party! God made me differently, and sometimes it's hard NOT to be resentful.

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Kat said...

How do you forgive someone who shows no contrition? Is it even possible? Isn't contrition/ repentence on one part nessisary for forgiveness to happen?

I wish I knew the answer to this, it would make my life so much easier! I have found that in those times that we have been hurt by others and that person hasn't or won't apoligize the next step is to pray about the situation and for the person. The hurt, no matter what will go away eventually but I think there is a diffrence between forgiveness and reconciliaton. I can forgive my friend for doing something to me, but we won't be reconciled until the situation is resolved. Does that make sense??? Does that even begin to answer the question? I dunno.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How do you forgive someone who shows no contrition?"

I am not very good at this, but I'll share with you what I've learned, even if I still have trouble putting it into practice. You don't ever know where someone else is coming from (even if you think you do). Each of us has our lifetime of experiences that color the way we see everything. Expecting someone else, on their own, to appreciate what you're experiencing in any stuation isn't very realistic- for that other person may not have a set of experiences in their life that lends itself to empathize with you in that situation. Secondly, very rarley do things just "happen" to us. I learned, mostly from the years of playing referee to my kids, that it both people in any given disagreement have some responsibility. Try this- and I know it's hard. Write a letter. Include a statement of responsibility for your "part" of the problem, and say you are sorry for it. Then explain what's going on for you:

"When you said/did this, I thought/felt that you were saying.... As a result, I feel...."

Include a statement of purpose- "I want our relationship to heal."

It's a hard thing to do, for even if you don't think you should have to, you are taking the first step. But you can either be right or look towards resolution, even if only for yourself in knowing you put your best effort forth. I've done this exact thing. I wrote a letter to my sister-in-laws. It was heartfelt (and long), and I assumed some of the responsibility for our problems. I haven't heard back from either one, but at my sister-in-law's upcoming wedding, I will be able to walk in knowing that I atleast tied. The rest, I'll pray for.

At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Joan said...

How do you forgive someone who shows no contrition? Is it even possible? Isn't contrition/ repentance on one part necessary for forgiveness to happen?

Forgiveness is in my control; contrition in theirs. If I don't forgive, I get locked into a perpetual cycle of anger, which affects my relationship with others, including those I love, and particularly my relationship with God.

Forgiveness doesn't come easy, especially when the actions of another rob us of something very precious. For me, it only serves to prolong the grief surrounding the situation and lead me to despair.

It's taken me a while to learn that forgiveness requires a lot of faith and prayer, and that in the end, failure to forgive harms me more than the one who has hurt me.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

"I also remember the grace filled way his family handled the events of that week and the weeks and months to come."

You statement reminded me of something I remembered reading in the Catholic Standard years ago about Fr. Well's brother. He actually hugged the mother of the man who killed FW and told her he was sorry for her pain. I can't remember when the trial was- atleast 6 yrs ago, but I remember that article. Can you imagine doing that? Talk about offering an example to others!

At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post. Forgiveness is a gift freely offered. If it is given with the expection of contrition, is it really a gift?

It is only with the Holy Spirit's help that we can truly forgive and let go of expectations. We may never see another's contrition. Yet Jesus still commands us to forgive and love our neighbor as our selves.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Father Greg,

I join you in your prayers for your dad and Father Wells. If it were not for them, I am not so sure St. A's would be so blessed with you as a holy priest.

You are an inspiration to all of us who have loved and lost. Inspiring us to know that God's ways and thoughts are far beyond us.

Some experience great pain and loss and lose their way and true purpose forever. You have listened, answered God's call, and you are such a joy filled priest.


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