Father Steven Scheier should have died on Oct. 18, 1985, in a collision while traveling back to his parish in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan. He suffered a major concussion and fractured vertebrae of the neck. Doctors gave him little chance to survive.
But he did.
Shortly after returning to his parish, as he read the Gospel of Luke about the unproductive fig tree, the page illuminated, enlarged and moved toward him from the Lectionary. Shaken after Mass, he remembered that after his accident he found himself before the judgment seat of Jesus.
Our Lord went through his whole life, showing him sins unconfessed and unforgiven since his last confession.
Father Scheier could only answer, “Yes, Lord.” Although a priest, he admittedly was not very spiritual and had practically no prayer life.
The judgment was hell, to which Father Scheier agreed. He said the Lord was merely “honoring his choice.” But then he heard a woman’s voice pleading to spare his soul. He knew it the Blessed Mother.
He heard Jesus say: “Mother, he has been a priest for 12 years for himself and not for me; let him reap the punishment he deserves.” Our Lady responded, “But Son, what if we give him special graces and strengths and then see if he bears fruit? If not, your will be done.” Jesus replied, “Mother, he’s yours.”
Since then, he has been hers. That extreme wake-up call with its eternal consequences has made all the difference in Father Scheier’s life and priesthood. Moreover, he wants it to make a difference in the lives of others. In the 1990s, he appeared as a guest on Mother Angelica’s EWTN show to recount his experiences.
In terms of near-death experiences, the Register reported on this topic in 2001. “I cautiously treat these experiences as a good thing, but not as a major argument for life after death and our belief in the Resurrection — the big thing is Jesus’ victory over death,” said Father Gerald O’Collins, professor of systematic theology at the prestigious Gregorian University in Rome. “However, he added, ‘Some people have quite a big change in their lives for the better after one of these experiences.’ Father O’Collins also sees no reason why theories about near-death experiences being a glimpse of the eternal have to be in opposition to those that attribute the effect to chemicals released by the brain. As he put it, ‘Who made the brain anyway? God.’”
Today, Father Scheier is pastor at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in rural Caldwell, Kan.
Did your judgment experience transform your life?
It has changed my priesthood. More than anything else, I am very conscious of the pilgrimage here on earth. This period we have is a test, and time is so relative here compared to eternity — and so much depends on my time here.
What important things did you learn?
It wasn’t any question of belief in the tenets of the Church. But now, to me, heaven and the saints are not merely things on paper or in the books I read or at services; they are real. I believe with the head and the heart.
A lot of our priorities are mixed up. My priority should have been to save my soul and others — what a priest should do, investing in that future, not investing in happiness here on earth.
If we run from the cross, there is a bigger one awaiting us.
We have a heavenly Mother. Since then, she’s been everything. Any one of us in the same stead would suffer the same consequence and experience the Divine Mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ I experienced. His mother is the one who interceded for me.
Any other reason you were allowed to live?
My mission is to let you know that hell exists and we as priests are liable to it. But also his Divine Mercy exists. His love outweighs justice.
But mention of hell and sin are so unpopular today.
These are things that have to be talked about because they are real and are probably the most important things we can talk about. I remember years ago visiting Cardinal William Baum in Rome, and he said, “You have a problem in the United States. People are not going to confession anymore.”
People don’t think they sin anymore. There are no longer lines for the confessional. Sometimes a priest sits for an hour without hearing one confession. How strange to me everybody goes to Communion on Sundays and nobody goes to confession.
I see Communions being a matter of routine — no thinking about who we are receiving. The idea of the Real Presence is less and less in the minds of Catholics.
We are depending more on science than religion.
When you once gave talks around the country (he no longer does), what did you see happening then — and now?
The Church as I saw it was changing. I’m seeing a remnant that is holding on to the traditions and to the doctrines of the Church, and the Church is growing less in numbers. Things are not relevant as they used to be, such as confession, devotions, novenas, Holy Hours, Benediction, perpetual adoration, and prayers for souls in purgatory.
If (scheduling) is not convenient, people are not coming to any rites we have. Sports are taking over as precedents to religious activities.
People are following their consciences, and their consciences are not being directed by the Church in grave matters.
I’m finding people do not want any constructive advice today. Remember the book I’m OK, You’re OK? We’ve taken that to the ‘nth’ degree: I’m okay, and you’re here to please me and affirm anything I say or want. Whatever I do or say is okay because I’m a good person.
Do you find not shying away from telling people the truth is unpopular?
Right now, to tell the Truth is to pay a consequence. The consequence being we’re not going to be liked, and we’re going to be talked about and avoided. That’s martyrdom, in a way, unbloody martyrdom. But we’re all called to be martyrs. We can be and will be if we stand up for the truth, even to the point other people are going to ridicule us for it.
He never promised us we would be popular being his followers. He only promised us crosses. But the crosses are bearable because he is there and because his Blessed Mother is there to lighten them.
Crosses are also unpopular to talk about, aren’t they?
I’m still very much afraid of crosses. Oftentimes, we avoid crosses. But our Blessed Mother and Our Lord have said crosses are like jewels, ways for us to get to heaven. The cross is the only way to get to heaven, Our Lord said.
When I look at the crosses, I look at the three on Calvary. The Blessed Mother said we can choose one of them. Remember the Bad Thief who cursed his suffering and the good thief Dismas? Which do we choose?
It’s only in suffering we come to know religious values. Proof is people who spend time in the hospital. Their suffering seems to bring them to their knees. I think that’s what God is trying to do to us now, to the point where we fall on our knees and stay there. The Twin Towers were a wake-up call. We didn’t heed it. At Akita, the Blessed Mother said that she could not hold back her Son’s arm anymore.
Do you propose we have a healthy fear about all this?
I don’t think we’re conscious of the fruit of the sacrament of confirmation. But this is the role of the Holy Spirit, making us soldiers of Christ: being unafraid, giving witness of the truth of the Catholic Church; and we become devoid of fear by our devotion and prayer to the Holy Spirit.
What do you see in regards to our Blessed Mother showing us how to lighten the crosses?
What is really paramount, to me, these days is the fact that the majority are not paying any attention to the locutions or appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is marking out for us a detailed plan on how to get to heaven. That’s how concerned she is. It’s not a surprise, because we’re her children, and she loves us more that our own mothers. I found that out.
At the wedding feast of Cana at Galilee, she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” That’s what she has said in all the apparitions and locutions for centuries. “Do whatever he tells you.” Revelation has ceased. She’s said nothing new. What she’s done is what the Holy Spirit is doing in our time. He’s reminding us of what Jesus said we should do. The Holy Spirit and our advocate, the Blessed Mother, have the same job.
If young people want to know their vocations, who do you suggest they ask to help and to show them?
As far as I can remember in my early childhood, I had a special devotion to our Blessed Mother. Not expecting anything from her, I would go and write special prayers to her. She was always important to me — and remains so, even though I went off and did my own thing for awhile. But she didn’t forget, and it was to my advantage she didn’t forget. Early devotion to our Blessed Mother played a great part in my vocation to the priesthood and led me to the priesthood. I always relied on her for everything, especially getting through the seminary and my studies.
Why is the devotion to our Blessed Mother you have now so important for all of us?
The Blessed Mother is like our lawyer, our advocate. She is closest to God as mother of his Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we know how powerful she is. The Blessed Mother pleads, “Please pray.” What queen pleads with her subjects? She’s humility personified.
In her mind and words, priests are special. They are to be likened to her Son, who is the most humble person who came upon the earth.
The one thing God does not stand for is arrogance and thinking more of ourselves than who we are. Look at the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
What major insight did you get about the Trinity and our Blessed Mother?
One thing I’ve learned is this beautiful truth: the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — none of them, not one, can say “No” to her. They cannot. They will not. It’s impossible. St. Bernard said the same thing. Even here on earth Jesus could not say “No” to her. And that’s because his will and her will are one. Isn’t that somebody we want on our side?
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.