A loving priest has passed away: Fr. Elias Leyds, thanks for everything

Michael van der Galien

Michael van der Galien

A loving priest has passed away: Fr. Elias Leyds, thanks for everything

This week, many Catholics and Catholics-to-be dealt a hard blow. Indeed, the highly respected Fr. Elias Leyds of the Brothers of St. John died suddenly. Everyone who knew him is in deep sorrow, yours truly especially. Father Elias was in fact my catechist: the priest who was in the process of "teaching" me so that I can become a full member of the wonderful Catholic Church. In the midst of our process, he was sadly taken from us.

On the website of the Brothers of St. John, his fellow brothers explain that he was found dead in his room in Oisterwijk. The circumstances of his death are being investigated. I have called around and the like, but it is really not known exactly what happened. What we do know is that Father Elias appeared to be in perfect health. He had all sorts of plans, was extremely active, exercised a lot, and even had plans to go camping in the mountains again. The man seemed indestructible.

Brother Elias was born Frederick Boudewijn Leyds. He was not a Catholic. In our conversations he explained that he traveled a bit and at one point ended up in Ireland, this because of love (for a very nice girl). That relationship eventually ended, but, he told me, it is what did set him on the Catholic path. He became a Catholic and, more, he began his novitiate in France, did his theology training there, and then in 1994 he officially became a priest.

Prison Work

As a priest, he experienced many adventures. It started in Enschede, but what he could especially tell very nicely about was his work in Eastern Europe. Especially in Vilnius, Lithuania (1997-2005). There he worked as a prison chaplain. That work, he told me, was extremely satisfying - difficult, tough, in tough conditions and with people who had been through a lot.... but he looked back on it with great pride and gratitude. I wish everyone could have heard him tell about that. The man really learned to understand Eastern Europe well because of it - and although he undoubtedly saw and heard things that were by no means pretty, his faith has only grown deeper because of it.

From 2013 to 2018, Father Elias was program director at Radio Maria. And in 2020 came his big project. He founded the Dutch branch of the Catholic television channel EWTN. He was very busy with that. He posted videos on YouTube and could enthusiastically tell what else he had in mind. He had his own studio in the pastor's residence where he lived which he was extremely happy about (and for which he was always very grateful to Bishop Mutsaerts). Fr. Elias lived there with immense pleasure and always told me, "You must come and visit us. It's so beautiful here." On camera (we did our teaching digitally because I'm in other countries a lot) he showed me, but of course that's never as beautiful as "in the real thing.

Concerns

Just a few days ago, he put a beautiful video online on EWTN Low Countries' YouTube channel. He was very concerned with recent developments in the church, with the pope suddenly giving priests permission to "bless" gay couples under certain circumstances.... But not only that. There's more going on in the church. About that, he wrote multiple articles / essays asking the pope for clarification. That clarification never came. Fr. Elias made it clear several times that this was problematic for him; that at times it seemed as if ambiguity was being deliberately created.

One of the problems with the theology now being pushed from Rome, Father said, was the obvious "deconstructive" method being used. That's a leftist method of interpretation that always destroys the traditions and ends up reinterpreting everything in such a way that it either doesn't mean anything anymore or changes it so much that it is barely recognizable. This is what church leaders now want to do with "blessing" people. The "blessing" (blessing) must be "not traditional. Not ritualistic. In a "spontaneous" way.

But, said Father Elias, then it is already no longer a blessing. A blessing, by definition, is a ritual. If you take away that objective meaning, anything can be a "blessing." For example, in the video above he says, "I can wish my hamster a good day in the morning, and then that can be a blessing." He said the recent statements from Rome would lead "to clerical prostitution." That is why he wanted to continue writing - "it is my job to ask questions until clarity is given. St. Peter's successor has a duty to provide clarity, not to cause more ambiguity. If he does, it is only good to ask him for clarification."

Catastrophe

"What is happening now is a catastrophe," Father Elias also said. But, he continued, that doesn't mean the end is also a catastrophe. It may end up being positive, "but that is only possible if we continue to ask questions." For example, he wanted to know from Cardinal Fernandez (a very influential cardinal who clearly wants to put the pope on a left-wing path and who has written extraordinarily controversial books), "What does his book Mystical Passion mean? It is an obscene work. After a few pages I had to stop reading it because I found it too disgusting."

"As the highest authority on Faith in the Church, Cardinal Fernandez has said he does not want the book to be distributed because it could be misinterpreted. That's a very, very crazy thing to say. In fact, what he means is that he does not regret the text, but that he feels sorry for ón us because we are too stupid to understand it."

Solidarity

"Oh, then please tell us, eminence, what the correct interpretation of this book is," Father Elias replied. "It is quite possible that we are a little more intelligent than you think. In addition, we would like to know if you regret publishing it? If not, why not? If so, well, all I can say is: welcome to the team. We are all sinners. We've all done things we regret. The moment the regret is there, there is also solidarity."

"Your brothers and sisters will then pray for you," he explained. "For we are all allies in the fight against evil; against Satan. We all sometimes get involved in Satan's tricks and intrigues. Together we can get through that. For the Church is the Church of Christ. No one else can claim to be the Head of the Church. Christ is the Head of the Church."

Hopeful

So although he criticized the recent way of leadership from Rome and wanted answers, Fr. Elias was always very positive about the Church itself. Both in the video posted above and also in conversations I had with him because of my training program in the Church. He was convinced that it would all work out in the end. He saw a lot of positive developments every day. Maybe not at the top in the Vatican, but everywhere else. And, he said several times, we must always remember that nothing can destroy the Church. More so, he believed, that what wants to weaken the Church will only strengthen it in the end.

That may sound a bit like a cliché, but that's really how he always said it to me. The idea that "we" would lose the battle was anathema to him. The battle cannot be lost. After all, Christ has already won the battle before us.

Loving Christian

The above offers an insight into Father Elias' thinking. But of course it does not tell the whole story of who he ís - not "was": after all, his soul lives on and I pray for his heavenly well-being. He was extremely well educated, could talk to you for hours about theology, of course, but also about ancient philosophy. I have been a professed Stoic for about twenty years. We could talk about that too for a long time - and he then explained extremely well how Stoicism was actually made complete in Christ. Stoicism could not really solve the problems - but was well thought out by people who unfortunately could never have seen Christ (was, of course, already hundreds of years old as a philosophy when Christ was born).

Of course, we also had more personal conversations. About fears, sins, thoughts, family life.... In this, this man was truly a priest sent by God. He was always clear: a sin is a sin. You have to break with it. You have to get rid of it. You have to turn to Christ. But he also always said: a sin is a sin is a sin. He made no distinction between "sinners. Whether you have relatively small sins like most of us, or very large sins and have lived a whole life in a sinful way.... in the end, it's all just sin; and sin is overcome by Christ. It is forgiven when you come to Him in regret, in love, in faith. Done, over and done with.

If you had him with you about your family life and the usual struggles in your family, he was extraordinarily understanding. You would think that a man who has never been married would have trouble understanding marriage, but you didn't notice any of that with him. In fact, often I think he understood marriage better than I did.

In doing so, it always struck me that he talked with great respect about others in that family situation - even those who are not Catholics at all or even want to become Catholics. There was always understanding and compassion, and a call from him not to force your own development on those others; but to face them with love and understanding, and even humility. No "I have found the truth, shut up and do as I say," but, "I love you, and we are going to do this in a sensible, loving way."

Miss

And so there is much more to tell about this wonderful man, priest and friend. Because of my Stoic way of life, I am not easily really dismayed by things. Death is part of life, you have no control over it, death is neither good nor bad, etc. These are all truths that are hammered into me. But I have to admit that yesterday and today I really do experience sadness in my heart. This man was so full of life, so active, seemed so strong.... and most of all he was such a wonderful spiritual companion and dear friend...

The EWTN Low Countries project will undoubtedly continue, and that's a good thing. Follow EWTN here on Twitter and visit their website here.

Fr. Elias, I and many others miss you fiercely even now. Please put in a good word for us with God. You will always be in our hearts. This Avé Maria is for you. Thank you for all you have done for us.

Avé Maria, gratia plena.
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc at in hora mortis nostrae.
Amen.

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