Four Books For Priests

January 1, 2021

The Priests We Need to Save The Church
Kevin Wells
Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, NH, 2019.

A detective investigating the gruesome 2000 murder of Msgr. Thomas Wells said he never saw another Day-Timer like the slain priest's: containing so many penned-in commitments.

One entry in one of Msgr. Wells' calendars surely was the night he came to address a small, faith-sharing group I belonged to. When Msgr. Wells was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, Maryland, I occasionally returned to this church of my baptism to attend his Masses.

Quite honestly, I don't remember what Msgr. spoke to our group about. It's my misfortune not to have noticed the special reverence with which he elevated the host at his Masses. That's me, but shortly after Msgr.'s murder I experienced the urge to include him among my intercessors.

Almost 20 years after Msgr. Wells' death his nephew, Kevin Wells, has written the best-selling The Priests We Need to Save The Church, describing his uncle's exemplary qualities as models for all priests.

A newly minted priest and I were discussing the discipline of fasting.

"John Vianney was down to one potato a day!" the young Father contributed with amazement.

"You read Kevin Wells' book!" I said.

I discovered that a man I work with in a very secular media establishment had Msgr. Wells as a spiritual director. Thomas Wells' legacy is everywhere in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and beyond. Three thousand mourners, including over 250 clergy, some from distant dioceses, attended his funeral.

Swamp Creatures

I and other DC-area Catholics who have read The Priests We Need etc. marvel at how many good priests influenced by Msgr. Wells there are in the Washington archdiocese. We are, in some far-off eyes, all swamp creatures.

One protégé of Msgr.'s discussed in the book is DC Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville. I have witnessed Bishop Dorsonville preside at Masses preceding Rosary processions to Carhart abortuaries. It is noteworthy when bishops attend prolife events.

Bishop Dorsonville is unabashedly pro-life, yet he has been set down by a blogger as a "pro-death" swamp creature merely because he briefly shared a diocesan-owned residence with departing Theodore McCarrick.

"...[A] priest can never be married," Kevin Wells recalls his uncle telling him, "He's got to be around whenever someone needs him." (p.171)

Availability, "a different form of martyrdom: the daily, unremitting grind of being wholly available for those in need of a priestly presence," (p. 175) is one of Kevin Wells' essentials for priestly excellence.

However the two that I want to highlight in this essay -- You will see why as you read through it -- are 1) spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, aka the Holy Hour, and 2) praying to Mary.

"Mary is the coworker in our ministry," Wells quotes Msgr. Andrew Baker of Mount St. Mary's, "I don't see how a priest could achieve the full fruitfulness of his ministry without a daily Holy Hour and a daily Rosary." (p.110)

Social Justice Catholics, and they sadly include most Baby-Boomer-and-younger graduates of DC-area Catholic schools (many of whom have also graduated from the church), think of the Eucharist as being a quaint, optional extracurricular. They suspect that Catholics who prioritize the Eucharist are really harboring a secret agenda of cutting taxes and food-stamps.

Yet as the Catholic catechism declares, "...all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself...."(1)

St. Teresa of Calcutta fits a common conception of what a saint should be, but the focus on her care of the poor overlooks her motivation and source of strength. Mother Teresa had a tabernacle in every one of her institutions.

"He's life-giving and refreshing," one of Wells' interviewed priests say of his Holy Hour before the Eucharist, "It's at Adoration that my priesthood takes its shape." (p.89)

"The strong priest grasps Mary's spiritual motherhood," Wells writes, because of what unfolded in the lonely shadow of the cross, when, between heaving breaths, her dying Son whispered that she protect His beloved apostle. At that moment...Mary hoisted the vocation of the priesthood on her back. After lifting her eyes to receive her Son's final request, she cast them on the beloved apostle, John....Mary became [the priesthood's] safeguard...she began to shape the souls of the many millions of her son's future priests." (p.107).

Fair criticism from a priest of The Priests We Need To Save The Church: 1) Kevin Wells does not include among his numbered-lists of essentials the necessity of priests seeking frequent confession; 2) Not every priest has the personality to be a Msgr. Thomas Wells.

A layman such as Kevin Wells telling priests how to live their vocations may seem to be overstepping bounds, however priests, bishops and even recent great, saintly popes have not decisively dealt with corrupt clergy, with priests and bishops who compromise the faith to avoid offending sinners, or with comfortable-bachelor, maintenance pastors who binge-watch The Baking Show while their congregations die of old age.

Younger priests and bishops, the inspired products of St. John Paul II's and Benedict XVI's seminarial reforms, the subjects of Kevin Wells' book, are on the verge of leadership. However, for the moment -- what seems to be a very protracted moment -- the new generation is barred by an ancienne regime wedded til death do it part to Social Justice, a church cozying up to the World. Moreover, that regime is locked arm-in-arm against reform with some ordained men who are simply plain opportunists and gangsters.

That obstruction can't last forever. In the meantime, get used to laypeople with institutional knowledge and a sound experience of the faith putting in their two cents.

The Day Is Now Far Spent
Robert Cardinal Sarah in conversation with Nicholas Diat
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2019

The optimism of the church in the Third Millennium, so marked by St. John Paul II at its beginning, has, over 20 years, receded before gloom. The momentum we experienced during JPII's papacy has stalled.

The light finds old scandals and more recent disgraces. For every person converting to Catholicism, six leave the church. Scientism, a canon of beliefs about "Science" devoutly held by people, including some scientists, who know nothing about real science has made the faith nonsense to young people. Defeatist Catholic pundits moan (I like to imagine in an Eeyore voice): Now we're gonna be persecuted. We're heading for the catacombs.

Yet as we move into the new millennium, with darkness descending, we find -- speaking of laypeople offering counsel, the lights of an astounding number of Catholic intellects -- lay and ordained, men and women, igniting to dispel an encroaching night.

One of these is Robert Cardinal Sarah, a native of Guinea who was taught in his village school that he is French.

"I was able to appreciate the finest fruits of Western Civilization," he says in The Day Is Now Far Spent (p. 242) his third book-length conversation with Nicholas Diat.

Sarah's intellect towers as high as St. John Paul II's and Benedict's. The learning the cardinal manifests in his books is breathtaking, ranging from classical thinkers through the church fathers to modern French authors.

It is a couple of the latter, one being George Bernanos (p.208) who inspires His Eminence's occasional concern about something that 2020s readers may find bizarre: robots. While Artificial Intelligence poses serious ethical problems, Robby is not currently the face of technological advancement hazardous to human dignity.

However very timely in the coronavirus panic is Sarah's diagnosis that his beloved Western Civilization is intent on committing suicide and opening the door to "totalitarian barbarity." He is the rare observer who understands, and is brave enough to say, that Europeans (and Americans) who encourage immigration from Africa and elsewhere are only interested in immigrants as a means of wiping out the civilization that Europeans (and Americans) have built.

Immigration, Sarah laments, not only results in migrants living in poverty, but further destroys the ancient cultures of Africa which face the alternate assault of Westerners smothering them in decadent sewage.

"Jesus loves his fatherland...." the cardinal points out. (p. 312)

Other thoughts, atypical for a modern churchman, from the cardinal include:

"Laypeople...claim a "ministry" at Mass so as to feel that they are taking part... [but Mary and John were silent on Golgotha]." (p. 112) Think about that when lectors switch like sports and weathercasters during the readings and eight Eucharistic ministers slam the altar after the communion antiphon.

"The twelve apostles turned the world upside down. Why are we so preoccupied with the number of priests?" (p.84)

Catholics disgusted with Pope Francis may find it jarring that this extremely orthodox shepherd quotes the feckless, leaky-mouthed pontiff of 2020 along with JPII and BXVI. BXVI is quoted most in all of Sarah's interviews. In 2019 Benedict and Sarah coauthored a book on celibacy. (2) In another volume of his trilogy of talks with Diat, Sarah made a remark about "noisy popes."(3).

"The teachings of the recent popes," Sarah says, "lay the foundations for an authentic priestly spirituality." (p. 301)

Look to the recent popes who have produced the most teachings.

As much as he speaks of what priests must do, Cardinal Sarah discusses what they must avoid:

"We are not commissioned to speak about our feelings." (p. 57)

"[A priest] is not there to invest time in democracy, social justice, ecology, human rights.... (p.62) [However he] must oppose any law against life and family." (p. 51)

"The chief preoccupation of all the disciples of Jesus must be their sanctification," Sarah declares on page 30, "The first place in their lives must be given to prayer, to silent contemplation, and to the Eucharist, without which all the rest would be vain agitation."

"[W]ithout [everyone availing themselves of] regular confession," Sarah warns, "sacramental Communion is in danger of losing its meaning." (p.18)

"A parish in which there is no adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is either a dead parish or a sick one." (p. 329)

Also by Neal J. Conway:

The Franciscan Stall

In this volume which focuses on the adoration and imitation of Jesus, Sarah says little about the Blessed Mother. In one passage he points out her (and St. John's) demeanor at the foot of the cross, "silently allowing themselves to be penetrated, imbued and shaped by the mystery of the cross." (p. 112)

Many knowledgeable, orthodox Catholics, including this writer, hope and pray that Robert Sarah, born in 1945, the son of Africa and of Western Civilization will be the next pope, despite his advancing age.

God, of course, has His omniscient view. Cardinal Sarah himself thinks that Benedict XVI is accomplishing more in his retirement as a contemplative than he would as a still-reigning pope. (p. 121)

In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart--
The Journal of a Priest at Prayer
A Benedictine Monk
Angelico Press, Kettering, OH, 2016

Did Jesus and less frequently, His Blessed Mother really "speak" to, bestow private revelation on, an anonymous Benedictine monk in Ireland during the years 2007-2014?

The Vatican has not officially examined the content of In Sinu Jesu, declaring it "worthy of belief" as it has with Lourdes, Fatima and the analogous diary-recorded Divine Mercy apparitions to St. Faustina Kowalska. However, In Sinu Jesu bears the imprimatur of the bishop of Meath, Ireland. Its censor deputatis who declared that the book contains nothing contrary to the faith is Traditional Catholic theologian Peter Kwasniewski.

"There is nothing new in what I am saying to you," Jesus tells the monk, "but there is much that has been forgotten, cast aside or even refused out of hardness of heart." (p.72)

Four Books For Priests

Authentic private revelations may emphasize a matter of faith neglected at the time of the revelation, but such private revelations do not add to the revelation that ended with the death of the last of Jesus' Twelve Apostles.

Belief in private revelations, even if the church declares them "worthy of belief," is optional. In describing this book, I am assuming that the voice speaking through the monk's written meditations is really that of Jesus.

"You priests...have forgotten that keeping open your churches is integral to your sacred ministry...."

Interesting is the equal proportion to scripture and tradition in which Jesus speaks to the monk of those in His life. We learn nothing new about the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph or St. John. Incidentally, Jesus mentions "the poor" once (p.229). They are described as those who "come to me in the Sacrament of My love."

The monk discloses that he was diagnosed with a serious illness which inspired his increased adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus tells the monk that he "was well on the way to a terrible separation from me," but "...My Immaculate Mother intervened, Pope [St.] John Paul II interceded...."(p. 108).

Several times Jesus commends Pope Benedict XVI, bidding:

"Listen well to all [Benedict's] teachings. Receive them and make them known, for he is my Messenger and My victim-priest.... Soon I will give the world a sign that will convert many hearts. Many others will remain closed...they will be like hearts turned to stone, and incapable of responding to My redeeming love." (pp. 164-165)

In a 2008 revelation -- five years before Benedict's resignation and made all the more interesting by 2018-2020 revelations about Theodore McCarrick -- Jesus makes the mysterious statement that Benedict, "has great need of your prayer for him. He is not entirely free to follow through on decisions." (p. 89)

The scandals of the early 2000s, "the sufferings and hardships experienced within my church at the hands of her ministers, my priests" (p.17) are certainly a cause of this private revelation.

Another current circumstance addressed by Jesus is the problem of fatherlessness. There is a hint that the recipient of these revelations suffered the absence of his own father.

Of immediate timeliness is:

"You priests...have forgotten that keeping open your churches is integral to your sacred ministry. I would pasture souls in my Eucharistic Presence, but you...frustrate and contradict the desires of My Eucharistic Heart....How I desire to see my churches open! Open the doors of My consecrated houses and trust Me to fill them with adorers in spirit and in truth!" (p.54)

Adoration, adoration, adoration, keeping the daily Holy Hour, is the theme of In Sinu Jesu.

"If you cannot come before My Eucharistic Face, you can be transported there spiritually....Ask Me to transport you before those tabernacles of the world where I am most forgotten, neglected and even despised." (p. 153)

"I want the visit to the Blessed Sacrament to become once again a part of ordinary Catholic life...."(p.55)

"Chapels of adoration are...radiant pulsating centres of an intense divine activity that penetrate homes and schools and hospitals; to reach even those dark and cold places wherein souls are enslaved to Satan." (p.169)

As for having a relationship with The Blessed Mother, Jesus says the following:

"Priests who do not collaborate with my Immaculate Mother will be stifled in their priesthood." (p. 44)

"It is by the humble prayer of the Rosary that priests will be delivered from the temptations that harry them." (p. 10)

"Pray using my Mother's Rosary, even when you feel that your prayer is empty or mechanical...."(p. 16)

Intriguing promises in In Sinu Jesu include:

"To all [priests] will be offered the grace of a new outpouring of the Holy restore to the priesthood a brightness of holiness such as the church has never had since the times of the Apostles." (p. 9)

"...the renewal of My priesthood in the Church will proceed from a great return to the adoration of My real presence in the Sacrament of My Love." (p.33)

"The next generation of priests will be wholly Eucharistic. (p. 83)

"The attack on my priesthood that appears to be spreading is, in fact, in its final stages." (p. 149)

"My Eucharistic face will shine over this new hour of building and of work for My glory and for the sanctification of My priests." (p. 152)

Keep In Sinu Jesu by your bedside and read a bit of it every night.

Heroism And Genius:
How Catholic Priests Helped Build --
And Can Help Rebuild -- Western Civilization
William J. Slattery
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2017

Not only is the church sliding into greater disadvantage, but as Cardinal Sarah laments, civilization is committing suicide. Our situation is getting to be like that of Europe in the 6th Century. Fewer people can read and write. The rule of law is giving way to will and power. The population is decreasing (not because of plagues as back then, but because of fewer people being born thanks to abortion, contraception and (especially overlooked) the unwillingness of young people to court and marry.

On page 218 of Heroism And Genius, Fr. Slattery quotes Pope Benedict XVI:

"[In the Middle Ages] human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man could and might share in God's activity as creator of the world."

That labor, production, building are necessary to maintain life and civilization is becoming an unpopular idea. Look how quickly the economy was chucked for the COVID virus. A growing number around the world believe that it is possible to continually extort and steal free stuff from a dwindling number of earners rather than earn it themselves. Although unlike the 6th century, the stealing is not so much done with swords and clubs as it is with politics.

Such was Europe in the 500s A.D., but along came Catholic men (and yes, some women), missionaries, priests, monks, kings, soldiers, saints, laypeople who, over the next several hundred years, transformed the continent. They built a civilization. They developed agriculture and economies, engineering and architecture, human rights and formal education, science and philosophy. They taught people how to fish.

Also by Neal J. Conway:

Catholic Matters

These Catholics raised standards, an action sorely needed now when the envious, lazy and stupid are allowed to set the pace.

Among the many achievements that Fr. Slattery recounts in his fascinating book Heroism and Genius was the requirement in Charlemagne's empire (late 700s/early 800s A.D.) that godparents know The Lord's Prayer and The Creed. Standards have slipped since. All godparents have to say today is "I do."

Not all human beings are on board with human flourishing. Some may act aggrssively against it. Unlike today, the Catholics of the Middle Ages striving for the worship and glorification of God -- and that is what all human beings are made for: to worship and glorify God -- were not afraid to raise the sword as well as the cross.

Fr. Slattery, in several pages, describes the ceremony and Mass of knighthood, including the blessing of the sword:

"Hear our prayers, we beseech thee, O Lord, and bless this sword with which which your servant desires to be girded so that he may be the defender of churches, widows, orphans [Today, let's include the unborn, the newborn and those with Down's Syndrome.] and of all the servants of God against the ferocity of pagans...."

Among Father Slattery's many fascinating anecdotes of heroism and genius is a paragraph about monks in Yorkshire, England who in the 1500s had "the know-how to create a blast furnace for massive production of cast iron." (p. 223) These monks could have started the Industrial Revolution two centuries before it began. However, King Henry VIII confiscated the monasteries.

Henry's destruction of the monasteries set in motion a cycle of poverty...and exploitation that...ripple[s] down to our times." (p. 223).

Let those who think that persecution and being run underground inevitably produce a more vibrant, evangelizing church look to the history of England since the 1500s.

So far in this essay the Eucharist has been treated as a supernatural necessity. A thousand years ago reverence for the Real Presence had very practical, tangible, dramatic results. Look at the cathedral. The Mass inspired it. The Mass stirred men to develop new architecture and engineering to raise gothic arches and vaults, to explore the science of light to create stained-glass windows. All that and much more because of the Mass.

If I may allow Cardinal Sarah to intrude once again in Fr. Slattery's space, the cardinal asks, "Does [the priest] realize that all Christian Civilization is born from the altar as its source?... Religious rites are the mold which shapes all attitudes of human politeness and courtesy. (The Day Is Now Far Spent, p. 44).

Glorious burden.

So you can't build a cathedral. One thing any priest and any Catholic can do is attend to the basis of Christian civilization, the family. That you, a priest, marries young couples may give you, and Catholics in general, the false impression that courtship and marriage go on as always. However, marriage, within the Catholic church, among practicing, knowledgeable Catholics, is in deep trouble, mirroring the decline of marriage in greater society. (4)

Look at the big picture, the 30,000-foot view. Think of "The Church," not just your assigned place in it. Read the four books reviewed here and works of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, especially the latter, as much as you can, and again and again.

You priests of the early Third Millennium have quite a burden to shoulder, much more than you realize. But if you take it up and carry it, what a glorious burden it will be!


(1) Catechism of The Catholic Church, 1324.

(2) Benedict XVI, Sarah, Robert Cardinal, From The Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2020.

(3) This is on page 42 of Sarah, Robert Cardinal, with Nicholas Diat, The Power of Silence: Against The Dictatorship of Noise, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2018. The context is "for two many garrulous theologians, so many noisy popes, so many successors of the Apostles who are pretentious and infatuated with their own arguments." But did such people exist before very recent times? The Power of Silence is another must-read work by Sarah, the second in the trilogy with Nicholas Diat, The Day Is Now Far Spent being the third. The Power of Silence focuses on monastic life and contemplation.

(4) For statistics, see Conway, Neal J., Manhating Catholic Style,, Jan. 1, 2019.

For Further Reading

The Franciscan Stall

Jesus' Mother Wasn't a Bitch

About Neal J. Conway