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Kevin Wells is a Catholic man with a remarkable range of experiences — major league baseball writer, author of a Catholic bestseller, survivor of a brain aneurysm and interviewer of exorcists, having wrestled with and overcome evil himself — to name a few.
Church Militant previously interviewed Wells when he talked about his bestselling book The Priests We Need to Save the Church, now in its fourth printing, which lays out a blueprint of clerical heroism, calling for today’s shepherds to take the narrow path of self-denial once trod by St. John Vianney, the priest-saint of old, and Wells' own uncle, Msgr. Thomas Wells, who — before his shocking murder in 2000 — led more than a dozen men to the priesthood and spiritually enriched the lives of thousands of Catholics.
Wells agreed to speak with Church Militant again, offering his insights to help the faithful trudge with Jesus through this holiest of weeks, as well as through the ongoing Wuhan viral pandemic, which Wells suggests has unleashed a wave of "intense demonic activity."
Church Militant: You recently wrote that when bishops began to shutter American churches, you began to consider "the Evil One ... barks as grotesquely as the chorus on that Good Friday morning: 'Crucify him!'" Say more about this in relation to how the faithful can navigate Holy Week.
Kevin Wells: As an old Irish soul in this COVID-19 exiling, I've lately been imagining Jesus in those quiet moments when He faced the city of Jerusalem, fully understanding what awaited Him. Yet He stepped forward into the violent plan for redemption of mankind.
I've shared this lonely-hearted visual with my cabin-fevered children. I told them it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to spend this oddly isolating time attempting to walk right up alongside Jesus throughout this holiest of weeks. Just as we feel abandoned and in exile to some extent, it's probably wise now for us to remember how exiled He felt by our sin in the garden. I'd have been right up alongside his sleeping friends. Except by his grace, I might have been Judas. So, as I shared with my kids, it's not a bad idea to "get over ourselves and this temporary lack of conveniences" and to work at consoling Jesus with small sacrifices, measures of love for each other, patience, deeper prayer and daily Rosaries as we go about this indelicate, but very holy week.
CM: You also wrote about a powerful — and frightening — metaphor given to you by 93-year-old Msgr. John Esseff, "renowned for his ability to read souls," you said, to describe the state of seminaries:
I began to see the seminary as the sick womb of Holy Mother Church … Priests became deformed in the belly of the Church — or if you were a well-intentioned and good seminarian, you were going to be aborted. The guys who were real, they would just be aborted.
Despite this depressing description, do you see any hope for seminaries or seminarians? Where? Why do you see hope there? What can the laity do?
Kevin Wells: Thankfully, seminaries are in far better spiritual shape today. Not all, but the lion's share, are forming future holy priests. In speaking to faith-filled rectors in the reporting for my book, I happily discovered that most of today's rectors have shaken off the heretical rust introduced into seminaries by the misreading and misapplication of Vatican II. Re-engineering 2,000 years of truth only lasts so long. John Paul the Great, I believe, had a lot to do with stamping out the wide-sweeping heresies, spiritual diminishments and ugly strain of homosexuality.
The laity can offer enormous help by praying for the future heroes of the Church, but also by encouraging rectors to emphasize to hard-working, hard-studying seminarians the spiritual need for devoted prayer, committed holy hours, daily Rosaries and an embrace of mortifications. An acceptance of martyrdom should also be introduced, not just as something theoretical, but also practical. This has been the seminary blueprint for many hundreds of years.
CM: Monsignor Esseff also said: "When you're anti-Eucharist, anti-Mary and anti-prayer, you're of the demonic." This describes wide swaths of our population including many politicians (and dare I say bishops?). Yet God-fearing, prayerful leaders seem to be emerging, do they not?
Kevin Wells: Yes. Martyrs always emerge during spiritually dry days. A very strong bishop told me a few months ago that he's been led to accepting red martyrdom. He said Our Lady revealed that she wanted martyrdom from him during his holy hour. This particular bishop believes it will only be spiritual leaders with supernatural faith who will lead this post-Christian generation back to reason and God's natural law. And in these riotous, politically-correct days, that's not easy. He knows he will suffer — he already is — because he is unafraid to call out sin by its name. He has given his "priesthood" over to Our Lady. Accordingly, he knows she demands that he suffer to the same degree as her Son — or close enough anyway.
CM: You mentioned that St. Padre Pio and St. John Vianney relied on their demonic attacks "to intensify their own fasting, prayer and attentiveness to souls. So the demons — powerless — left and never returned."
This is an interesting way to look at holiness — from the evil (demonic attacks) came intensified holiness. Do you see this as a hopeful phenomenon for priests and laity?
Kevin Wells: Of course. I am reminded of what my mom used to always remind me all those years ago, "Return evil with good." Essentially mom was telling me to do something holy when confronted with an affront or indignity.
Pio and Vianney knew they had to do something with the diabolical harassment in both spiritual and practical ways. If Satan was a nightly visitor, they knew they were accomplishing something holy and good, so they doubled-down with the sacraments and prayer. In turn, they probably saved even more souls than if Satan had never entered their lives.
CM: You mentioned that the devil can taunt a priest, especially now in the midst of online services and outreach, by saying: "You're worthless now as a priest — you're detached from your people, and they aren't praying or paying attention anyway."
What can the laity do right now to strengthen their good priests' resolve — and perhaps bring bad priests back to God?
Kevin Wells: That's an easy one: Encourage them with letters, phone calls and [safe] visits to the rectory to say hello. Ask how you can help him during his lonely days in the rectory. Express sincere gratitude for their heroic work to tend to his isolated flock in unique ways. Priests didn't become priests to sit behind a camera; this work is indelicate and burdensome for them. Holy priests, like Pio and Vianney, will always be attacked by Satan because of their incessant work at anchoring souls to God.
As far as bringing lukewarm priests back, we must pray every day for them. I spend more time in prayer for timid or reluctantly-holy priests than any other priest. Since the release of my book, The Priests We Need to Save the Church, many dozens of priests and even bishops have reached out to share with me that my encouraging words of holiness and heroism have reshaped and even re-engineered their entire priesthood. God's redemptive work channeled through a poor, old sinful sportswriter has been quite remarkable to me.
CM: Your book was published before the coronavirus crisis. Do you think its message is still relevant?
Kevin Wells: Yes. It's my firm belief that a priest must wake up each morning wanting to die for both the Church and for his flock. It's the burden of his identity. He is Jesus Christ, the mediator who was crucified. As a progressive society, we've mostly derailed ourselves. I believe that the holy work of the bold and heroic priest will help to convert the world. When his flock recognizes in him a willingness to die for them, conversion naturally unfolds.
CM: During an online Palm Sunday liturgy, a priest stationed in Ohio shared this reference from the breviary for Holy Week: "Liars are come round about, they have fallen upon me with scourges." I wonder if you can comment on this quotation in light of your 2009 hospital experiences when you wrestled with the demon.
Kevin Wells: Satan's work does seem to have a primitive simplicity: He divides a soul from God and works to destroy it through his duplicity. And when the soul is in its most vulnerable state, the scale and ferocity of his work intensify.
When I was in the hospital dying from a brain hemorrhage, he seemed to take over my room. The chaplain, Fr. William Spacek, used to walk into the lengthening shadows of my neuro-ICU room as many as three times a day to hold the Eucharist above my head. He told my wife demonic forces had come into my room.
But as is often the case, a holy priest chased away all doubt, fear and oppressions with his anointing. I was healed. It is a remarkable story of what unfolded as the priest anointed me; this priest often cries when re-telling the supernatural that poured into the room. And as an old boxer and weightlifter, crying is kind of a wimpy thing for him to do, so you know it had to be pretty cool.
CM: Speaking of boxing, the Ohio priest didn't pull any punches when he also talked about a "silent, yet blaring, revolution around us ... the destruction going on." He said to think of the situation as a combination between George Orwell's 1984 (in regards to unprecedented state intervention) and fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" (believing the lies and stories in the propaganda media). Do you think this is a realistic assessment of what's going on?
Kevin Wells: I think there are always lies and disorder where God is absent. The secular zeitgeist is where we live now. It is on altars, in grocery stores, television studios, schools, the Capitol building. It is everywhere. Again, the Evil One marinates in places where God is absent, so he spins lies that spiral in wickedly harmful directions. Setting COVID-19 analysis aside, look at abortion.
I do believe the possible legal overturning of the murder of the most innocent — the pre-eminent secular sacrament — is driving much of today's misdirection, lies and vitriol. Cowardice and a seeming lack of a supernatural outlook from clergy isn't helping in a world that agonizes for true shepherds.
CM: The priest also said, "911 didn't work, climate change was a great flop, this is the big one," urging the faithful to "make the best of Holy Week" and not to "waste a grace." What can you say to this advice in general or in relation to your escape from the Evil One in the hospital room?
Kevin Wells: Repeated warnings from Our Lady about turning our faces back to her Son at La Salette, Fatima, Akita and even Garabandal (which Padre Pio, John Paul the Great and Mother Teresa seemed to support) aren't being heeded. Few pray the daily Rosary. How many are committed to the daily penances she requested? Are we in sackcloth today? Or has Netflix and pornography viewership skyrocketed since the onset of COVID-19? I think Our Lady has done a pretty good job at trying to hold God — as a just judge — back.
We've displayed through our re-engineering of marriage, gender, life (abortion at nine months, euthanasia) that we enjoy the idea that we can play god. This doesn't seem to bode well for us. I've spoken with a handful of priests the past few days who believe these are chastising days that may not be ending soon.
As far as this Holy Week — and as it relates to the aforementioned — I believe it is a time to intensify our pleading for God's mercy through prayer, fasting and sacrifice. And if we find that we haven't come into deeper measures of prayer during this Holy Week — this strange week of exile — then I think it would be wise that we re-evaluate our lives. We're simply not in the game. If we find ourselves repeatedly grabbing the remote to tune into CNN, Fox or talk shows to hear the latest on the virus, we're simply wasting this desert grace. Our spouses, children and the Catholic Church need us in prayer and penance now.
CM: Is there anything else you'd like to add in regards to the graces of Holy Week, the laity or the priests we need to save the Church?
Kevin Wells: I strongly believe we should be praying for all of our priests now — holy priests, fledgling priests, bachelor priests and suffering priests. When the virus finally passes, priests will quickly become overwhelmed. And it will be during this time that I believe what Pope Benedict said: Our Church will be smaller, but stronger and holier. And when that happens, some of these overwhelmed priests will begin to resemble saints; other priests, I imagine, will look exactly the same. The wheat will begin to be separated from the chaff. It will be exposed for all to see.