I think most Catholics realize that we live in troubled times, both in the world and in the Church. It seems as if the troubles are increasing exponentially, and the latest news out of Rome and the Middle East only fuel more anxiety. It’s enough to make one wonder where is God in all of this?
Lately, however, I’ve come to realize that God is responding to today’s crises—He is aware of what’s going on and is actively working for our salvation. It’s just that His ways are not like our ways: He responds not through geo-political moves or by wielding power in the Church, but by raising up individuals to live lives of holiness that have a lasting impact on many others. One example of this is Sister Wilhelmina, who Timothy Flanders and I talked about in yesterday’s podcast.
Another example was Fr. Al Lauer. It’s likely you’ve never heard of him, unless you are from the Cincinnati area. Fr. Lauer was the pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish in downtown Cincinnati from 1998 until his untimely death at the age of 55 on October 13, 2002—21 years ago today.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Fr. Lauer was a dynamic and charismatic priest who was passionate about evangelization. He founded Presentation Ministries, an Association of the Laity under the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, as well as a religious community of priests and brothers called the Brothers and Fathers of Pentecost.
I first encountered Fr. Lauer soon after I decided to become Catholic in the early 1990’s from reading his “One Bread, One Body,” which included short mediations on each day’s Mass readings. For someone who was just learning what it meant to be Catholic—and to read the Bible as a Catholic—I found Fr. Lauer’s writings extremely valuable.
I also encountered Fr. Lauer in front of an abortion clinic. One summer during college I would pray weekly in front of the local Planned Parenthood, and often I would see Fr. Lauer there, praying and counseling frightened mothers in crisis pregnancies.
When Fr. Lauer was named pastor of Old St. Mary’s in 1998, the parish was on the brink of closure. It is located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, which during the 1980’s and 1990’s was ranked as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Most folks would avoid the neighborhood if at all possible for fear of carjackings or other acts of violence.
Yet Old St. Mary’s was a beautiful church with a rich history—it is actually the oldest church in Cincinnati. But almost no one wanted to attend Mass in such a neighborhood. In 2001 the area was home to massive race riots. During the height of these riots, Fr. Lauer stood outside Old St. Mary’s praying the Rosary for the protection of the church and for the troubled souls surrounding him. The church was unharmed.
The riots occurred during Holy Week, and Fr. Lauer told parishioners that if they attended Easter Vigil that year, they would need to spend the night in the church, for fear of late-night violence. A few hearty souls spent the night with Fr. Lauer in prayer and celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord.
Fr. Lauer kept Old St. Mary’s going when it made more sense, at least in the eyes of the world, to shut it down. Yet since Fr. Lauer’s death (and likely due at least partly to his intercession), both the neighborhood and the parish are now thriving. Old St. Mary’s has grown significantly in recent years, and it is now well-known in the area for reverent and beautiful liturgies with incredible music. People drive from all over the Greater Cincinnati area to be parishioners at Old St. Mary’s. But without Fr. Lauer being faithful during its darkest days, none of this would exist today. So many souls impacted by a priest long-dead but who was faithful to Jesus Christ.
This is how God works in the midst of crisis: not through powerful men or influencial institutions, but through simple men and women who are faithful to him. Countless souls today are closer to Christ due to Fr. Al Lauer, including me.
This morning I attended a Requiem Mass for Fr. Lauer at Old St. Mary’s. We prayed for his soul, as is fitting. However, I believe it also fitting to ask for the intercession of this good and faithful servant:
Fr. Al Lauer, pray for us!