By Tony Rossi
Father Al Scott of Long Beach, California, may be retired and approaching age 85, but his passion and energy for Jesus and the Church serve as a model for people less than half his age.
Among other things, he celebrates Mass at various churches, visits convalescent homes, feeds the homeless with the Missionaries of Charity, works with men from a local rescue mission, takes a weekly class at Cal State Long Beach, exercises six days a week, and designates a daily holy hour for himself that includes prayer, meditation, and Eucharistic adoration.
During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” I asked Father Al what keeps him going. He said, “My motto is, ‘I don’t want to exist; I want to live.’ Some people die at 30, but they’re buried at 80…I made a choice…I want to keep going until the Lord says it’s time. My bags are packed, but so far He hasn’t [called] me. That’s why I’m plunging ahead and doing my part to light that candle and not curse the darkness.”
Father Al is particularly fond of that idea, which is why he has been a supporter of The Christophers for a long time. He receives 100 copies of our Christopher News Notes 10 times a year and hands them out to prisoners during jail visits, to people he meets in the bank or when out shopping, and to penitents who come to him for Confession.
“[I want to] let people know,” said Father Al, “that the way we’re living is so negative and depressing that we need to light candles and not just sit around and curse what a rotten world it is. We have to do something positive.”
That positivity is a natural part of Father Al’s personality: “God gave me the grace to look at the bright side of life. Not to be Pollyanna, but…to want to do my part to make things a little better. Because I enjoy what I’m doing, it gives me energy, too. It feeds…the Lord’s grace in me.”
Another one of Father Al’s mottoes is, “Some people invest their money in stocks and bonds, real estate, gambling, etc. But I invest in people, especially the discarded and forgotten people.”
That belief stems from his time at Loyola High School in Los Angeles where he took part in an outreach program that led him to teach Catholicism to young Hispanic children in a poor area of town. He relished the experience of giving and sharing, and has made it a point to do so in various ways ever since.
One of his most rewarding efforts nowadays is monthly visits to convalescent homes with a group of fellow volunteers (including an Elvis impersonator) who play music and sing with the residents: “We hand out music sheets, and the people there, we adopt. The volunteers come and they adopt one of the residents, stand by them, and occasionally some of them will dance. We bring cookies and flowers, and we just celebrate. We tell them, ‘You’re still important; you maybe can’t get up and do the things you used to do, but you’re still an important person and we love you and care about you. And that’s why the good Lord tells us to come and tell you – you are special.’ So we never leave there without feeling enriched.”
Another one of Father Al’s ministries is bringing men from the Long Beach Rescue Mission to cultural outings like symphonies or stage plays. But first they start off having dinner at the home of one of 22 local families. “During the dinner, each one of the men shares their story,” Father Al explained. “They tell about their addiction, their family life, how they got to be where they are – [be it] homelessness, drugs, whatever…The families are so impressed that they say, ‘My heavens, Father, these men have been through so much. How’d they survive?’”
Father Al sees this practice as biblical because Jesus “sat with the people that were the rejects of society. The Pharisees made fun of him, but Jesus sat with those people that we’re sitting with on Saturday night.”
After dinner, they go to the Long Beach Symphony, the Long Beach Pops, or a stage play. “For many of them,” notes the priest, “it’s the first play or symphony they ever saw. After the play, we go backstage and we meet the cast members to get their autographs. We recently met Dick van Dyke and, you know, that was the big thing for the guys. It’s great because [the men] get enthused to realize there’s a life beyond the streets, jail, prison, and misery. They see beauty, art, and things that are really special.”
As forward-thinking as Father Al is, he also reflects on the past and the road that brought him to the priesthood. After attending Loyola University, he felt a little unsure of where his life was headed. One Saturday morning, his grandfather, a well-known lawyer in his eighties, called him down to his office and asked him if he ever thought about becoming a priest.
Initially, Father Al’s response was, “Grandpa, I couldn’t. It’s just too hard.”
“Why don’t you just think about it, Son,” his grandfather answered.
Father Al recalled, “Then he went through all the things a priest does: baptisms, confessions, Mass, anointings, and everything. It was only a brief visit – 10 minutes – but I remember it vividly. This was in April of 1952. In September of 1952, I was at the seminary for the next seven years. My grandfather was a daily communicant and a wonderful person with a love of the Lord. He set off the little candle that burned and got me going.”
Looking back on his priesthood, Father Al concludes, “I taught high school for 35 years. I had been involved with Parish Ministry even as I was teaching high school, and I loved to preach, to share the word of God. I’d prepare homilies and try to give examples, stories, illustrations that inspired people. And I just feel God calling me where I am. I love doing what I’m doing, so the whole combination of outreach and an hour prayer every day – a Eucharistic holy hour in which I make my meditation, my spiritual reading, my divine office…Tie that all together with what I’m doing, it makes things happen. That’s the fuel that keeps the fire burning.”