Accommodations in the Garden of Good and Evil

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 1942 – “Letter 12”)

“There are no coincidences, only signs.” I have no idea who wrote that, but I have long remembered it, and it came spontaneously to mind as I began this post.

When I wrote “Saints Alive! Padre Pio and the Stigmata,” I described the famous John Guare play, “Six Degrees of Separation.” Its title was based on a 1967 theory by sociologist, Stanley Milgram who concluded that any two people on earth are connected to each other – directly or indirectly – by no more than six other people.

In that post, I wrote about the eerie coincidences I encountered during a prison visit from Pierre Matthews – my good friend and Pornchai’s Godfather. As a young man, Pierre met Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo, and received his blessing as the famous priest placed his bandaged hands upon the young Pierre’s head. Then when I wrote of the great cosmologist, Father Georges Lemaitre, in “A Day Without Yesterday,” Pierre sent me a photograph of himself as a boy serving Mass with Father LeMaitre who had signed the photo. I am in awe that my friend and Pornchai’s Godfather knew two of the great heroes of faith I have written about on These Stone Walls.

TSW reader, Jamil Malik had one of these strange “small world” encounters earlier this month. You may have read some memorable comments on These Stone Walls by Jamil Malik.  Jamil is a young Egyptian student who first came across TSW late last year. From a recent snail-mail letter, I have learned that Jamil is one of a small minority of Coptic Christians living In Egypt. As legend has it, Christianity was brought to Alexandria in Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist.

The Coptic Christians are the Middle East’s most ancient expression of Christianity. They have co-existed as a small minority in Egypt – sometimes under great persecution – with the 95-percent Muslim majority since the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the year 642. Jamil commented on my post, “Saint Patrick and the Labyrthine Ways” that Patriarch Shenouda passed from this life on March 17th. Patriarch Shenouda led the Coptic Church of Egypt for the last four decades.  Let us pray for him and for the Coptic Christians.

As an Egyptian student of Coptic Christianity, Jamil Malik has been especially interested in the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen Gnostic Christian texts dating as far back as 150 AD. The texts were written on papyrus in Greek and hidden, probably by Christian monks, by the Fifth Century. They were discovered 1,500 years later in Nag Hammadi along the Nile River in 1945. These texts are the very roots or the Coptic Christians’ existence in Egypt, and Jamil has devoted his young life to studying them.

One of the world’s leading experts on the Nag Hammadi Library, and one of its primary translators, was my late uncle, Father George W. MacRae.  He was a Jesuit, Scripture scholar, who was Harvard University’s Stillman Professor of  Roman Catholic Studies, and an authority on Ancient Near Eastern languages and texts. Uncle George was my father’s brother, older by two years, who died suddenly at age 57 in 1985.

He had to drop out of plans we had to visit the exhibit of Pharaoh Ramses II in Montreal because he was asked to present the annual Scripture symposium to a conference of bishops that year. While I stood alone before the artifacts of Pharaoh Ramses in Montreal, my Uncle George succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage following his treatise on the Gospel of Saint Mark. My uncle’s texts and commentaries on the Nag Hammadi Library were used in formal studies by Jamil Malik who is stunned to learn of this connection – as am I.

Jamil first learned of this when I mentioned my Uncle George four months ago in “What Do John Wayne and Pornchai Moontri Have in Common?” Jamil was drawn to that post because he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Pornchai Moontri, and especially in “Pornchai’s Story.” In his comments on TSW, Jamil often writes of his respect and admiration for our friend, Pornchai, and of how Pornchai’s conversion has influenced him and others among his friends struggling to live as Christians despite real persecution in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.


Jamil communicates with me, and posts his comments on TSW, through a friend in the Boston area, but Jamil Malik is not his real name. In a recent snail-mail letter, he explained that he has been urged by his Muslim cousins not to use his real name “on the websites of the Infidels.” He asked me not to take that personally. Jamil wrote that some of his cousins were born in the United States, and are citizens, but they fear being seen by their Egyptian Muslim kin as entering into far too much accommodation with suspect American values. “The Infidel,” Jamil wrote, “is not how we see you or Pornchai, or even how we see Catholics, but it’s how we see most Americans, especially now.”

Jamil’s letter left me hanging with the “especially now” part, so if he’s reading this, I would really appreciate knowing what he meant by that. I asked Pornchai what he thinks Jamil meant by “especially now” in his letter. Pornchai thinks Jamil is concerned with Post 9/11 America, with the vast expansion of secularism, and with the ways the Catholic Church in America “has been kicked to the curb” (Pornchai’s words).

I think Pornchai is right. I have been very intrigued by most of Jamil’s comments on TSW, so I re-read some of his past comments hoping to gain some insight into his “especially now” remark. This one, posted on “Faith Trumps Relativism: Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day,” was one of Jamil’s first comments on TSW, and it’s an eye-opener – “especially now”!

“Many of us have wondered whether anyone in the West even noticed the difference between what happened in the Arab Spring and those shameful four days [of rioting] in London [last] summer. And if this is indeed the onset of a Catholic Spring . . . know this: my struggling young friends in Libya and Iran have something to say to Americans ready to disown their faith on the advice of pocket-lining lawyers and Snap’s obsession with their own selfish plight. I have friends who have been shot for their faith – in the last few months, not forty years ago.”

That, for me, is Jamil’s wake-up call. The Catholic Church in America – and I do not refer just to the United States of America – is in the process of being parked a block or so outside the Public Square, and it’s going to be accomplished by a force I have written of before on These Stone Walls. It is the most insidious force of all, but it is vague and subtle and indistinct, and we cannot blame President Obama for it. That force is best characterized as “the noise of a few, and the silence of many.”


It must seem an utter abomination to Jamil – whose faith and those with whom he shares it have endured 1,500 years of open persecution without ever caving in – to see so many American Catholics passively accept the new suppression of their Church’s moral authority in the American public square.

Let’s be clear. The issue is not whether Catholic Americans should bow to the values of their government on a matter like contraception. The issue is whether Catholic Americans are prepared to let their government dictate whether their faith even still has a right to hold forth a moral ideal.

Some of Jamil’s friends have died defending such a right. To see Americans squander it is a scandal in his eyes, an abomination that defines us as the infidels his Muslim countrymen suspect us to be. I wish there were a gentler way to say that. I suspect Jamil would be disappointed in me if I found one, however.


The Wall Street Journal published an editorial early this month entitled “Bishop Dolan’s Liberty Letter” (March 6, 2012). The Journal editorial quoted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Bishops, in a letter on religious freedom:

“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans.”

Then the Journal editors went on to describe that the current Administration “is using raw political force” to dismantle a concordance and remove from the table a promised accommodation to religious freedom in the form of a religious exemption. The Wall Street Journal editorial defended Cardinal Dolan’s letter with something that I found perplexing:

“The test of pluralism in a democracy,” the editors wrote, “is the protection afforded to minority  views, especially of religious faith and practice.” Have I missed something during 18 years of imprisonment? How and when did the moral voice of American Catholicism become a “minority view?”

TSW reader Dorothy Stein told me that she left a comment on that editorial at the Journal’s website. She said she left the comment on the same day it was published, but her’s was comment number 287. She knew her words would be lost among the onslaught of anti-Catholic rhetoric – not to mention anti-Clerical Catholic rhetoric – but she proceeded anyway. She wrote that it comes as no great mystery to her that the stage for dismantling Catholic moral authority in the public square was preceded by a decade of virulent Catholic scandal in the news media.

Writing for Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Charles P. Poole, Ph.D.  pointed out that the American bishops speaking out on this is reminiscent of something that occurred seventy-five years ago:

“On Palm Sunday, 1937 . . . Pope Pius XI dispatched the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Anxiety”), which was smuggled into Nazi Germany to be read     at all of the Masses that Sunday. It condemned the breaches of the Nazi government of the [concordat] agreement which it had signed with the Church four years earlier.”  (“With Burning Anxiety,” HPR, Feb. 5, 2012).

Alert TSW readers might be having a deja vu moment right about now. A result of the Pope’s confrontation with the Third Reich in 1937 is something I have written extensively about in two posts worth reading anew “especially now,” as Jamil Malik declared. They are “Catholic Scandal & The Third Reich: The Rise & Fall of a Moral Panic” and “SNAP’s Last Gasp! The Pope’s ‘Crimes Against Humanity’.”  I think Jamil might find them shocking. I think you might also if you haven’t already.

In those two posts, I described in great detail what happened in Nazi Germany when the Church asserted the inalienable right to religious liberty and the freedom of conscience over the demands of power. The result was that hundreds of Catholic priests in Germany were rounded up and accused of contrived sexual abuse claims. The entire debacle, it was later discovered, was the brainchild of Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. It served but one purpose, and with great effect: to get the Catholic Church, and its public influence, and its moral authority out of Hitler’s way.

I hope Jamil Malik takes some solace in the fact that he has stirred in me, at least, a determination to hold fast against the never-ending accommodations to secularism now expected of Catholics living in the Garden of Good and Evil. For as Adolf Hitler himself summed it up:

“The great mass of people . . . will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1, Ch. 10, 1925)

I think Hitler was onto something, for that seems very true.
Especially now!


About Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles and The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus encouraged Father MacRae to write. Cardinal Dulles wrote in 2005: “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials.” READ MORE


  1. Mary S says:

    Thank you for this insightful post. Though the message is difficult, it is also inspiring. It often portrays Catholics as being “silent” – but I do think there are many of us who are not silent.

    The wheels of moral outrage need time to simmer silently while strategic responses can be measured. In my archdiocese (Oregon), there have been many voices registered in protest to the recent developments requiring insurance coverage that denies the right to life for the unborn.

    While waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision, we appear to wait in silence, but not in the limbo of indecision. In the meantime, it doesn’t matter how many so called “Catholics” like the Speaker of the House and others like Donna Brazille come forward and say “Catholics no longer believe this [or that]” It does not change our theology, our resolve or our faith.

    “…and Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus did not mean the “Gates of Hell” would not viciously attempt to prevail (history proves that) – but they will never win.
    It may seem that the whole world is against us for a season, but the Spring always comes – and with it, Hope.

  2. Dorothy Stein says:

    I posted this comment at The Wall Street Journal after reading this article:
    “‘The Catholic Church in America needs its leaders to be a lot more like Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer right now, and a lot less like the brow-beating bishops of 2002 who spent a decade apologizing for a sex scandal while denying basic civil liberties to their own priests. This is not the first time an oppressive regime has used the sex scandal to silence the Catholic Church and get it out of the way. That story is told well by a voice the bishops should listen to, but don’t.”

  3. Liz F. says:

    This is a very powerful post this week, Father!

    First of all the “coincidences” are just incredible. I guess it just shows the hand of God in our lives, but it is amazing to ponder. God is so good.

    I’ve really enjoyed Jamil’s comments on TSW. It is fascinating to read more about him. He will be in our prayers, especially to his guardian angel. God bless him, and all of his loved ones.

    I think Americans are complacent because we haven’t had to suffer in that sort of way. Plus, I think in the busy-ness of life people aren’t paying attention while their liberties slip away. I, for one, have taken much for granted. It’s not until you lose something that you see just how precious it was to you.

    I’m so glad that you, Pornchai, Jamil, and your readers are sounding the warning bell…I only hope people will listen.

    God bless all of you!

  4. Mary Jean Scudieri says:

    Hi Father!
    It seems that people will not get involved if it does not DIRECTLY involve them!I have witnessed this with so many “good Catholic friends” So sad, because but for the grace of God, it could be them not allowed to freely practice their faith. You and Pornchai are well aware of that as you live through it
    People need to pray and speak out as if their very life depended on it….Because it does! Satan knows what buttons to push and whose to push!
    Our country needs to wake up this November and vote out those who are undermining the faith in God. You have the God given right to choose your God over those that seek to be “god” to us….the Obama’s. Pelosi’s and Reed’s. Speak out and express your faith. Say NO!

    Jamil, I know you will see this here. I pray for you and all of those with you. He will not abandon you but hold you up to Himself.
    Father, you and Pornchai and Donald continue to be in my prayers each day at Mass. God love and bless you all.
    Your friend in Christ, Jeannie

  5. Antoinette says:

    I had an Egyptian friend, a Coptic Orthodox, who told me that laws were passed in Egypt which prevent repairs being carried out on any church. Some priests found repairing churches have been sent to gaol and as a result, the old churches of Egypt are slowly turning to ruins.

    I don’t know how true or not that it. But it is symbolic of the state of the Catholic church everywhere.

    Sin has a consequence. When we permit and consent to sin, we empower evil. We enslave ourselves. And the greatest problem, the greatest sin, is the loss of the sense of sin. And too few good people to act.

    Fr John Corapi said “So, why are there so many problems in society and in the Catholic Church? Because we as Catholics have been unfaithful! To the degree that we are faithful, we lift the world up and infuse life into the Church….life into the world!”

    Every one of us makes a difference and so does our indifference. Every single act. If the devil revealed to St Jean Vianney that had there been 3 men like him on earth at one time, he would have been destroyed, then how little we do as the many baptised Catholics to undermine demonic forces?

    We are blind by the consequence of sin.

    Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”

    We put down our weapons long ago. We pick and choose the teachings of the Church we like in disobedience, prayer and silent reflection are outdated, and fasting something someone used to do.

    Our Egyptian friends see their church in disrepair, we do not.

    And you Father, you see your prison bars, we do not.

    You are blessed.

  6. Lynda Finneran says:

    Aren’t things very much worse for Egyptian Christians since the Islamists have gained more control? You continue to be in my prayers, and especially during Holy Week. If the US criminal legal system is working at all, your trial has to be found to have been unfair, and the verdict erroneous – before the year is out. Thank you for your holy, priestly witness!

  7. Frank Dias says:

    Father Gordon, great article. i wish every catholic church read this at their pulpits. Father G. i am still going for adoration on a weekly basis for your release. I have read the book ( the grunt padre) a marine chaplin who gave his life to save marines in the jungle of vietnam, please never surrender but to God.

    God bless you and will pray and beg God for your release every day.
    viet/vet 70-71
    helicoter crew

  8. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Well, Fr. it is a good thing I listened to Michael Voris once again, who reminds me that God wants me here and now, in the present moment, otherwise I would hide myself away.

    Firstly, I have no right to comment here amongst so many who are smarter and more worldly wise than myself. It is only because I am reminded that God Himself wants me, insignificant and unintelligent as I am, here and now. I know it is He who moves within me and prompts me to tell the truth.

    Secondly, I am one of those who came up through the self indulgent 60’s and 70’s, who struggled to get what I wanted, oblivious to the general plan of takeover of the American spirit and the Catholic/Christian morality which has led our country from its beginnings. I really mean totally oblivious. I remember thinking that things would always just work out, that the people I voted for would take care of our country, that the Church was led by only holy people. I did not wake up until the new millennium, and my own Catholic reversion/conversion. But I am awake now.

    Just before I read this, I was forwarding email regarding our need to address yet another congress member who is proposing another bill to insure that homosexual sex will be taught in our schools. Every day I am confronted with such things. What am I to do? I write and call and email pertinent folks to tell them the truth. I try to bring these things up in conversation, which most don’t seem to care to discuss. I make all in my family, almost, aware of what is going on. You can imagine how popular I am among family members who are living a gay lifestyle, opposed to the Church in her teachings on sex outside marriage, abortion, etc, etc., and who are long ago tired of hearing The Truth because it means they have to do something, to change, to speak up, to risk their place in comfortable Christianity.

    As we near the end of this Lenten season, I want to thank you Fr. for the marvelous writing you do. I learn and understand so much more than I ever did as I read your posts. I can’t even give a decent comment on most as I am really blown away and rendered speechless, though you would not know it from this one. Anyway, thanks Fr. for being a good writer who has become my spiritual friend and teacher in cyberspace.

    I think we as a country deserve to be in trouble. We don’t deserve what so many fought and died for. We closed our eyes and let the devil in and he has full reign in our society now. We will reap what we have sown. And I hope there will be many martyrs for the faith before it is all over. I say this as I pray to Jesus, the Divine Mercy, to be merciful to us and to instill mercy in us, each one of us.

    God bless you Fr. MacRae and each of your readers out there. Viva Christo Rey!

  9. Mary says:

    Dear Fr.,
    I agree that a lot of Catholics are sadly unaware of the slow attempt to erode their faith and liberties of religion. Hopefully and prayerfully that will change and we will have a Catholic Awakening. When I speak up in defense of my faith I know that The Holy Spirit is there with me and it gives me strength. You are continually in my prayers and I pass along your website to all that I can so they can be educated and made aware of you plight , including priests. God Bless, Mary

  10. Hidden One says:

    It is sanctity that will win out in the end, and the faith of the humble that will survive.

    Have we – who are alive – many who are humble? Have we any who are Saints?

  11. Ann says:

    Last I visited a couple of friends in an affluent suburb outside Boston. Nice people, academics. Neither have any belief at all. One (raised Jewish) told me how she’d read, “Swerve,” which apparently resurrects some tired Enlightenment/ Church suppression arguments. She and her husband essentially believe life is a brief light between two black dead poles and one must take as much pleasure as one can. She was upset re the supposed “war on women” though she is perhaps the most male-identified woman I know. She essentially said she believes the Church is behind all this–between the bishops and the Supreme Court’s Catholic justices. Later the husband told me (ha-ha) that he wanted to design bumper stickers that say, “Fewer Christians, more lions.” Meanwhile they live in a self centered bubble in their tasteful “green” decorated million dollar home.

    As the husband said this—which recalled the Nazis–I thought of the Coptic Christians and the media’s complicity in ignoring what is happening to Christians throughout the world. The NYT is a joke. I often try to fight back against the constant anti Catholic venom I am exposed to (people are generally stunned that I do), which feels like The Evil One has sway.

    Would I die for Christ? I think I would. Sometimes I think Americans are naive children. Our comfort and self absorption is a curse that blinds us to what is important and what most of the world lives with .

  12. Veronica says:

    The Catholic Church(men) in the USA have only themselves to blame for having let everything get this far.
    “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 1942 – “Letter 12″)
    They have been going downhill for decades – long before Vatican II – slowly but surely.

  13. jamil malik says:

    I wanted to stand and cheer when I read this. You captured my meaning perfectly, and Pornchai’s insight was spot on. Americans, and American Catholics, are divided over many issues, but many of these issues are the issues of the elite while the rest of the world’s people struggle to preserve their freedom and basic rights. Will we watch now as American Catholics squander their own freedoms through apathy and complacency? We sleep in the bed we make.

  14. Evelyn lajot says:

    Hello father ,
    Just writing to let you know that you are always included and part of my prayer life now. Your suffering and fidelity to the faith always inspire and sustain me in times of trouble. May God bless you and your guardian angel keep you safe always. -Evelyn, Malaysia

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