“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8). As a new year begins with an Epiphany, These Stone Walls tackles a state of the union address.
In between the states of frenzy in the presidential election of 2016, there were a few items in the news media that paid homage to the 50th anniversary of the TV debut of Star Trek. At the dawn of 1967, my 13-year-old mind was on the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise – “its five-year mission: to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” I wrote of those days gone by, and of the epiphany my friends and I shared with Captain James T. Kirk, in a little-noticed post on These Stone Walls entitled “Phasers on Stun, Mr. Spock! Captain Kirk’s Star Trek Epiphany.”
The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek, “epiphaneia” which means manifestation.” In religion, it refers to something hidden that reveals itself to the eye or the mind. In the case of Star Trek, my post above was about a single special episode written and produced a half century ago by Gene Roddenberry, the visionary behind Star Trek. It ended in an epiphany for Captain Kirk about the life and death and cosmic presence of Christ. The post is worthy of an Epiphany visit, but I admit that I might be a little biased because I wrote the thing.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany – the manifestation of God in Christ – began in the East where it was originally associated with the Baptism of Jesus. In the Fourth Century, persecution of Christians evolved into favor in the Roman Empire, and the date, of Christmas became settled upon December 25. The Solemn recognition of Epiphany then spread to the West where it was more associated with the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem. This was seen as the first manifestation of God to the Gentiles. I mined the depths of that story’s meaning in another Epiphany post, “Upon a Midnight Not so Clear, Some Wise Men from the East Appear.”
POLITICS AND THE STATE OF OUR UNIONS
I was visited in prison on Christmas Eve by an old friend, a New Hampshire attorney and former parishioner of mine, who has dutifully visited me for each of the last 23 Christmases in my wrongful imprisonment. Last year our Christmas visit was filled with the audacity of hope that something might change in the realm of justice for me.
This year, the visit opened with my friend’s disappointment and anger that our fight for justice has gotten no where because no judge in New Hampshire would hear it. Justice in New Hampshire has revealed itself to be just another lightless display in the spectrum of our weird politics. Saint Thomas More medals are still handed out to Catholic jurists and lawyers here, but with little regard for the courage and bold justice of the saint they depict.
But the greater topic of conversation with my Christmas visitor was just how weird our politics, have become. My friend spoke of turning off her television in resignation to what seemed inevitable only to turn it back on early in the morning of November 9th to absolute astonishment at the results. I, on the other hand, did not wait until morning. I endured until about 3:00 AM, unable to sleep until I knew the outcome.
If you think the post election fighting and the political tides behind it are just too weird to fathom, then you haven’t been paying attention to history. We live in a culture that sometimes forgets history, and thus interprets every event in its own light. Bear with me for a brief foray into the weird presidential elections of 1800 and 1804. Don’t click me away just yet. History doesn’t always have to end with a yawn.
Aaron Burr, a U.S. Senator from New York and that state’s former Attorney General, was a leader in what was then the Democratic-Republican party. It was a position that put him into conflict with the Federalist leader, Alexander Hamilton.
In 1800, Aaron Burr ran for U.S. president against Republican, Thomas Jefferson. They each received the same number of votes in the Electoral College, so according to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the election was decided by Congress. That’s how Thomas Jefferson became president, and Aaron Burr vice president.
Four years later in 1804, Aaron Burr failed to win renomination and also failed in his bid to become Governor of New York. He blamed his losses on the vocal opposition of the Federalist candidate, Alexander Hamilton and his frequent attacks on Burr in the public square. The Federalist Party advocated for a bigger, stronger central U.S. government, but by 1804 it was fading, and Hamilton, its prime mover, was not taking it very well. So he took it out on Aaron Burr.
After losing the governorship of New York, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. The public spectacle took place at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804 where Hamilton was shot and killed. The dishonored Burr went on to become involved in a political scheme to acquire land in the Louisiana Territory for the suspected purpose of attempting to form his own rival republic in the American Southwest.
For this, President Thomas Jefferson had his former vice president arrested and placed on trial for treason in 1807. The federal prosecutor who tried the case was, believe it or not, a man named Gordon MacRae. That Gordon MacRae fared no better in the justice system than the one writing this account. In spite of a mountain of evidence, Burr was acquitted of all charges. He went on to a career practicing law in New York City where he died on September 14, 1836.
If you think the election of 2016 was bizarre, just imagine how the Aaron Burr story might have played out before no less than three 24-hour national cable news networks and Breitbart News, Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, and Politico.com.
CIVIL RIGHTS LEFT BEHIND
So lighten up. In 2017 our union will still hold and history will still unfold. Was this election worth the bonds of family and friendship? Some of my friends on the left were furious with me for writing “Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables.” One of my friends blamed that post for the fact that – according to exit polls – more than half of American Catholics voted for the candidate who didn’t consign them to the “deplorable” category . And the aftermath of it all is no less deplorable than the Burr-Hamilton shoot-out. The problem for too many on the left is not what we found out, but how.
Seeing the manifestation of God was a challenge at Christmas this year. Some of your friends behind these stone walls are living in inhumane conditions with no end in sight. Parole violators and prisoners serving very short sentences are sent directly to the best housing units available while men serving decades in prison with exemplary records are crammed eight to a cell in squalid conditions.
I’m not complaining. That’s not the point. Pornchai-Max and I have endured far worse, and we can endure this forever if we need to. But there was a time when Catholics who aligned themselves with the left and its social justice agenda would be deeply concerned about conditions and inequities in prison.
But those same Catholics are today the very people who form Voice of the Faithful and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and their only interest is using the fall of priests for their own anti-clerical agenda.
I have life-long friends and one-time supporters who stopped speaking to me at Christmas two years ago because Bill Donohue, a vocal and unswerving icon of the conservative political and religious right, took up my cause for justice when few other media figures in the Catholic world would utter a word. “It’s your choice to have Bill Donohue involved,” they said.
Somehow, having a conservative voice of the right on my side became a bigger issue for my liberal friends than two decades of unjust imprisonment. The social justice champions of the real Civil Rights era would not recognize what their party has become. Editor Paul Wright, from the Human Rights Defense Center, demonstrates an important point in Prison Legal News that you will see no where else in our progressive news media:
“Obama’s administration has deported more immigrants than any other in U.S. history – around 2.5 million between 2009 and 2015. We already have over 800 miles of border wall separating the U.S. and Mexico…so [Trump] isn’t starting anything new. With approximately 2.3 million prisoners held in abysmal and barbaric conditions nationally…” (Paul Wright, “From the Editor,” PLN December 2016).
THE RIGHT IN A CHURCH THAT SURVIVES THE GATES OF HELL
I had an epiphany of my own this Christmas. In a recent post, “Not Quite a Zombie Apocalypse,” I wrote of a letter I received from a reader in Monterey, California with a quote from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem that arrived just as we need to hear it. It was about the work of the Holy Spirit and it helps us endure the “abyssmal and barbaric” that Paul Wright describes above.
I received another letter from that same reader in December, and it had an assurance: “There’s no danger of falling into oblivion when Our Lady is involved.” He went on to tell me that he has subscribed me to a publication called The Catholic Illustrated published four times a year. He also said that he told the publishers of my situation, and asked for their prayers. I admit I thought little of this. A few well-meaning readers have sent gift subscriptions to a “traditionalist” publication, but I have not been impressed, and find it to be angry, even hostile at times, and sometimes openly disrespectful of legitimate Church authority.
At mail call on Christmas Eve, my first issue of The Catholic Illustrated arrived. It is by far the most inspirationally presented Catholic publication I have ever seen. I think you know that any Catholic spirit of Christmas has been virtually stamped out in prison with a ban on the Christmas cards that once decorated our cell at this time. The Christmas issue of The Catholic Illustrated filled the void beautifully. This is an amazing publication!
I spent much of Christmas day with this newspaper, and I don’t know where to begin in my recommendation of it to TSW readers. A friend and reader writes to me from Huntly in Aberdeenshire in the north of Scotland, and she once sent me a photo of my ancestral home, Eilean Donan castle in the midst of a loch in the north of Scotland. The Catholic Illustrated is published even north of there by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer on the Island of Papa Stronsay in the Orkney Islands located in Scotland’s North Sea.
This is a Traditional (with a capital “T”) Catholic publication and it is presented with great love and respect for the Tradition it represents. This will win over many converts to a vibrant respect for Tradition and the Latin Mass. Gone are the angry diatribes and accusing tones found in some publications that have lost their way. The motto of this paper is “Holy Tradition Re-Seeding, not Receding.” I was very moved by this description on its last page:
“This newspaper claims, so to speak, to be but as the lighthouse of Papa Stronsay which lighthouse is often officially described by the Scottish Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses as a “minor light” – number 3706. Without pretensions this newspaper is simply as a minor lighthouse on a small island in the vast darkness of this world and its oceans. The light from this island’s vantage signals abroad news of the traditional resurgence in the Church.”
Maybe it just came at a vulnerable time. Maybe the absence of visible signs of Church and priesthood left me in deprivation. I am in awe of this publication and the fact that some of its content (in much humbler form) has appeared on These Stone Walls.
The December issue has a wonderful full-page spread to honor the canonization of Saint José Sànchez del Rio, the subject of our post, “A New Patron Saint for Religious Liberty.” Its pages are filled with full-color photos of a very much alive Traditional Catholic faith in various parts of the world.
One photo left Pornchai-Max and me at first stricken, then smiling, then laughing with glee. It was a photo of All Saint’s Day at the Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour in Christchurch, New Zealand. The children of the parish are dressed in the garb of their favorite saints. In one scene, Father Jean Marie, FSSR is holding a child about a year old dressed in the stripes of a prisoner with the number 16670 blazoned upon his tiny chest depicting Saint Maximilian Kolbe.
I walked five feet to the bunk where Pornchai Maximilian Moontri lives and showed him the photo. He stared, not quite knowing what to say. Then we both burst into laughter. That was our Epiphany. We have been focused only on the horror of what happened to our dear Patron Saint. But from this little lighthouse of a newspaper in the far North Sea we see the immensity of the grace brought into the world through his life and witness. Maybe our own bizarre imprisonment could be a small lighthouse as well.
The Catholic Illustrated may seem a pricey newspaper at $10 an issue ($40 per year in the U.S., Canada, and Australia) but its stunning graphics and content are well worth it. It just leaves me with one problem. I keep The Wall Street Journal for just a few days before passing it along to others. We can’t hold onto newspapers due to space concerns. But I’ll not be parting with The Catholic Illustrated until another arrives to take its place.
“I long to see the day that Roe vs. Wade is consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs, and we again embrace a culture of life in America. And I promise you, different from the agenda of our opposition of abortion on demand, including partial birth abortion and public funding of abortion, Donald Trump and I will work to advance the sanctity of life and the rule of law.” (Vice President-Elect Mike Pence as reported in The Catholic Illustrated, December 2016).
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: On January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, our friend, Father George David Dyers entered into Consecration to Jesus through Mary after following the 33 Days to Morning Glory, a process he was inspired to undertake from These Stone Walls. On January 4, 2017, the day this post is published, our friend marks twenty-five years of priesthood. Please join me in offing thanks to God for the priesthood and witness of Father George David Byers.