Father Stuart Long was a diocesan priest from Helena, Montana who was diagnosed with a terminal illness (ALS) before his ordination. Father Stu became a beloved priest, confessor and friend to countless people. His physical suffering sanctified him. Accepting the pain and weakness of each day he gave thanks to God always.
Father Stu’s witness brought dozens (if not hundreds) of Montanans to Christ. His fascinating life story (before his conversion to his deathbed decree) will be portrayed in a major motion picture set for release later this year, starring Catholic actors Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson.
Father Stu’s life story, which appeared in California Catholic as “Boxer, actor, priest” upon his death in 2014, was an inspiration for the film.
The following is a three-part correspondence between Fr. Stu and his parishioners during a pilgrimage to Lourdes and the acceptance of his fate as a dying priest.
My trip to Lourdes was very fruitful, but not at all what I expected. I did not receive the instantaneous, physical healing we were praying for. I did however, have two experiences that completely changed my life.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes rests upon a rock just above the Grotto where St. Bernadette received her vision. The grotto is surrounded by outdoor plumbing, with many spouts where pilgrims can obtain water. I saw many washing their faces, drinking and filling containers. To the right were the private baths where pilgrims are clothed in a garment embroidered with a prayer invoking Mary’s intercession. Four volunteers were needed to help me in and out of the bath.
I entered the pool expecting, in faith, an immediate healing. The assistants plunged me backwards into the water and had to pull me back up. I stood briefly silently praying, then tried to walk on my own but was unable.
I was placed back into my wheelchair and left weakened, troubled and discouraged. After a day or two of conversation, Fr. Kilian convinced me to return to the waters for a second attempt.
I began the day with Mass outside the Basilica. The homily lasted about 30 minutes and focused on praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Mercy. I was situated among 500 or so saintly souls in a similar condition (those in wheelchairs with physical and/or mental disabilities). To be quite frank, I had never felt so humbled and unworthy. I may struggle now, but most of my life has been blessed with good health and a strong body.
My prayer this time was simple: “Lord Jesus Christ, your will be done. If I am healed, it is your will. If not, this is also your will. I desire your will. Please Lord, if you do not give me healing, give me the grace to endure lest I lose heart. I ask this through the Immaculate Conception, our Mother.”
I was plunged into the water for a second time but still did not receive a physical healing. I was graced however, with something more important in my opinion, a spiritual healing. I was given an immediate and assured confidence that from this point of my life on that I would carry my cross with Christ.
Parts 2 and 3 of the correspondence to appear tomorrow and Wednesday. Thanks to Robert Moscato for sending this to California Catholic Daily.