These Stone Walls Fifth Annual Stuck Inside Literary Award is presented to Fr Michael Gaitley for The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, and it’s worthy of its title.
Late in August, I received an e-mail message from a man who wrote that he first heard of These Stone Walls three years ago when Catholic League President Bill Donohue cited it on “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo” on EWTN. The man wrote that he had never ventured onto the “Contact” page of TSW until recently, and when he did he was astonished to learn that I am a prisoner with no access whatsoever to the online world.
“How could you possibly publish so much on the Internet,” he asked, “if you cannot access it or even see it?” The answer, of course, is that I can only do this in the same manner in which I learned of his message – through the grace of Divine Mercy that has reached behind these prison walls by moving others to assist me. I cannot see any of the places for which I write, nor even any of what I write until it is either sent to me or read to me.
But this is old news for readers who have been around awhile. Most know that my posts are typed on an old Smith Corona typewriter/word processor manufactured before some of my fellow prisoners were even born. When it breaks down, as it has done twice since These Stone Walls began, I must have it shipped to the only place left in America that still repairs Smith Corona typewriters. Parts are somehow found even though they haven’t been manufactured in decades. There must be a Smith Corona graveyard somewhere.
Both times, the repair took all of 90 minutes while procuring the parts needed to make the repair took up to five months, at a price more than double what I paid for this machine when new. These are my only options as a writer, and some find it to be part of the fascination with this “Voice in the Wilderness” as one Catholic writer described These Stone Walls.
I write with a sense of driven urgency, never knowing when this old codger (umm, the typewriter, not me!) might meet its final end. Under current prison rules, I can repair it, but I cannot replace it.
When I write, my typed pages embark on a long journey. I first entrust them to prison mail handlers, then to the U.S. Postal snail-mail system, then to a friend’s computer scanner in North Carolina, then to an intercontinental e-mail process that culminates in the post you are reading now. I write with a certain hard-earned appreciation for having the freedom to write, and for the value of the written, published word. My posts on These Stone Walls begin in a prison cell in Concord, New Hampshire and end at our publisher, Suzanne Sadler’s computer in New South Wales, Australia.
Over the six years that I have been writing from prison at the behest of Cardinal Avery Dulles and others, a parallel story has emerged, one even more nebulous and convoluted than the original story of how I came to be behind these stone walls. It’s a story that made its way into the wilderness of prison, and no obstacle was strong enough to stop it, but not for lack of trying.
It’s the story of Divine Mercy and of how it has woven a tapestry of grace within and through the lives you have been reading about in these pages. I have written so much about this other story, the far more important one, that I can’t even list all the links you might need to review to catch up. I’ll put a few of the essential ones at the end of this post because my strongest sense of urgency is that you DO catch up.
It’s a story that has entirely eclipsed the one that These Stone Walls first set out to tell. It has refrained my account of injustice, false witness, and unjust imprisonment, and it has retranslated Pornchai Moontri’s amazing story “To Hell and Back” (now described at http://MercytotheMax.com).
THIS GREAT STORY IS YOUR STORY
This story is knocking on your door right now just as it has knocked on mine. If you have ever struggled with finding meaning and purpose in suffering or loss, and a sense of peace in the Presence of God in the threads that weave their way through our lives in this troubled world, then spend some time with the story of Divine Mercy. There is no spiritual movement more urgently needed in this age.
Like everyone facing unjust trials in this life, all that we have been through before and behind these prison walls remains our cross to bear until we are delivered from it. Seeking to right the wrongs we have endured is still our mission and duty not only for ourselves but for all who thirst for justice. And like most of you, we still walk upon the Road to Emmaus in the company of a Risen Savior we cannot always see clearly in the twists and turns of our journey. The difference between now and six years ago when we were first swept up into the light of Divine Mercy is that we have come to trust in Him. Even when we weary of this journey, even when He is shrouded in our doubt, we keep before us that great Divine Mercy image, and place ourselves in the light of His mercy.
This trust, this added focus with which we live our trials in the light of Divine Mercy is a force to be reckoned with that welled up from within to broaden our view of what we suffer into something more panoramic. We, Pornchai Maximilian and I, today know that we are part of a much greater story, one that is far reaching and eclipses our mere selves. I am still at a loss to explain in fifty words or less, exactly what Divine Mercy is. I know you’ll catch on, though, if you stay and travel with us for a time. “This great story is your story,” says Father Michael Gaitley on the back cover of his newest book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (Marian Press 2015).
When a post is published on These Stone Walls, the people who help me in the online world also publish a link to my posts on various social networks such as Facebook, Linked In, and Google Plus (And it helps a lot if you would do so as well!). We cannot see, or even imagine, these social networks. None of them existed when Pornchai-Maximilian or I last saw freedom.
I saw a vocations ad recently in a Catholic magazine. The ad was promoting a community of contemplative religious brothers. The ad stated, “We are a monastic and cloistered community living a contemplative life of prayer removed from the world.” Then just below that in smaller print was the line, “Find us on Facebook.” I laughed, but I guess I shouldn’t. We are at least that removed from the world and then some, but you can still find us on Facebook. (Search “Gordon J. MacRae,” and “Pornchai Maximilian Moontri”).
My first inkling that another book by Marian Father Michael Gaitley might end up in the pages of These Stone Walls came via a Facebook message from Kathleen Riney, a TSW reader in Texas. It was a fluke that I received the message at all, and I really can’t explain why I received it, but it was printed and mailed to me and it’s in front of me now as I type this. The posted message from Kathleen, dated April 8, 2015, was on the Facebook announcement of my post, “You Did It to Me: Wisdom and Works of Mercy” about a series of retreats in this prison presented through the Hearts Afire publications and the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Kathleen Riney posted:
“Fr Gordon … There is a great gift to us from the Divine Mercy of Christ! The connections are so far beyond co-incidence they’re impossible to ignore!! THE SECOND GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD connects ALL THE DOTS!!!”
I like Kathleen Riney, but I was skeptical, of course. I always seem to have a lot of dots to connect. Then, on the heels of this, I was sent the book. Catholic author George Weigel, the celebrated biographer of Saint John Paul II, wrote that this new book by Father Gaitley “teaches that mercy is the gateway to truth in a new and troubled world.” EWTN’s Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR wrote that readers “will be truly informed and inspired as they see more clearly God working in our world in such crucial times.” Popular author and Scripture scholar Scott Hahn called it “a page-turner and a life-turner this book about Divine Mercy and Marian Consecration in our time needs to become the back story of my devotional life, and yours.”
But it was really Kathleen Riney’s glowing endorsement that inspired me to read the book. She’s a hard sell on many topics. I let our friend Pornchai Maximilian read it first. Night after night, about every ten pages or so throughout the book, Pornchai’s head popped down from the upper bunk with his hand clutching the book to declare, “You HAVE to write about this!” Talk about pressure!
But having read the book, I find Scott Hahn’s description to be the best summary. This is the “back story of my life and yours.” In less than 200 pages, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told takes us on a historical tour of the Twentieth Century, of the currents and tides that both enhanced and eroded our faith, of the Jansenist heresy that tried to redefine God for us, and of the great saints God sent among us to speak, to write, to suffer, to die, to build the vibrant and immensely powerful catalyst of faith and trust in Christ known to us as Divine Mercy.
SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE AND SAINT FAUSTINA
In another fifty pages, Father Michael Gaitley documents his work with explanatory endnotes and recommended resources that are as compelling and inspiring as his text. I was left in awe of this accomplishment. Father Gaitley’s prose presented in three dimensional clarity the very people who have so powerfully stepped into our lives behind These Stone Walls over the last six years to redefine our struggles, to redirect our sufferings, and to reprioritize our hopes and prayers. These include Saint Maria Faustina who stepped into my life at the time of her Beatification in 1993, a series of events I described in a 2013 post, “In the Company of Saints and Villains: The Work of Divine Mercy.”
And it includes the great Martyr of Charity, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who redefined the purpose of suffering for me as I once wrote in “Suffering and Saint Maximilian Kolbe Behind These Stone Walls,” and who then became the source and inspiration for Pornchai Maximilian’s transformation from despair to hope. Saint Maximilian’s powerful presence in this book is like reading a biography of my best friend, like reading of someone long gone, but still living and breathing and speaking in my own heart.
These two great Twentieth Century saints who so profoundly influenced us behind These Stone Walls came to life again in this book through the life events and the prophetic witness of another great Twentieth Century saint of whom I once wrote in “The Divine Mercy Canonization of Saint John Paul II.” These three great saints together are the Divine Mercy saints who accompany and empower us as witnesses to hope into the 21st Century, and I remain in awe of the tapestry this book weaves.
Along the way in The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Father Gaitley has also woven together some of history’s great mysteries of faith, powerfully tying into the Divine Mercy story the Miracle and Secrets of Fatima, the rise and tyranny of Facism and Communism, the near assassination of Pope John Paul II, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Europe, the suppression of the Divine Mercy movement, and the ultimate spiritual triumph brought about in the intertwined lives of three witnesses, three small people who grew up in poverty, then became the great saints behind Divine Mercy.
Among the many examples of the subtle weaving together of threads of connection with our lives, one of Father Gaitley’s enlightening end notes (no. 47) describes one of his earlier articles on this topic from the Spring 2014 edition of Marian Helper magazine. The citation is for “Trifecta of Mercy: Three Mercy Popes Will Come Together in the ‘Winner’s Circle of Grace’ This Mercy Sunday.” When I hunted down that edition and turned to the article, that same edition on the next page has a photograph and article about Pornchai Moontri’s Marian Consecration entitled “Mary is at Work Here.”
In another informative end note (no. 110) Father Gaitley relays an account from Father Seraphim Michalenko, Vice-Postulator of the Cause for Sainthood of Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska. In that account, Father Seraphim and Bob and Maureen Digan, with their son, Bobby, were on a pilgrimage to Poland and Rome in 1981. On the last day of the pilgrimage Father Seraphim presented Pope John Paul II with a specially requested bound copy of the Diary of Saint Faustina. During that pilgrimage, Maureen Digan experienced a miracle that twelve years later led to the beatification of Sister Faustina. One month after their pilgrimage, the Holy Father was shot in Saint Peter’s Square. The Digans today share a chapter with Pornchai Maximilian Moontri in Felix Carroll’s book, Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions.
There are a few “firsts” in this year’s “Stuck-Inside Literary Award.” This is the first time it has been awarded to an author who is also a priest. It’s the first time I have chosen a work of non-fiction. And it’s the first time it has been awarded to a writer whose characters have so powerfully become a central part of our lives in a time and place of much suffering and injustice.
These Stone Walls 2015 Stuck Inside Literary Award goes to Father Michael Gaitley for The Second Greatest Story Ever Told and it’s worthy of its title. I have to call my copy the “Heirloom Edition” because I sure don’t see myself parting with it any time soon.
For More on the Story of Divine Mercy behind These Stone Walls
- Woman, Behold Your Son! 33 days to Morning Glory
- Behold Your Mother! 33 days to Morning Glory
- Mercy is at Work Here by Felix Carroll at Marian Helper
- Father Seraphim Michalenko on a Mission of Divine Mercy
- For Divine Mercy, Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make
Previous Recipients of The Stuck Inside Literary Award
- 2011: At Sea With Patrick O’Brian
- 2012: J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
- 2013: Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory, and For Greater Glory
- 2014: Stephen King: The Shawshank Redemption and The Crime of Innocence