Have there been saints who were thrown into prison? Father Gordon MacRae asked Father George David Byers to answer this with pictures of his Missionary of Mercy trip to Rome.
Pope Francis required his remaining 896 Missionaries of Mercy to come to Rome for some conferences and spiritual exercises on the days surrounding Divine Mercy Sunday. Having some free time, I made the rounds to a few of the multitude of churches and basilicas honoring those early martyrs who had been imprisoned.
But before clicking away from what sounds like a boring “home-movie” session, know that the purpose of this post is to express something of the very essence of Christianity by way of the lives of our greatest heroes whose example of fortitude in all fidelity and humility we strive to follow by the grace of God.
Let’s not forget, first of all, that Christ Jesus, having preached freedom to prisoners (Luke 4:18), was Himself wrongfully convicted by the State, wrongfully imprisoned, wrongfully put to death. It is we who were captive to sin, proving this by feeling it was necessary to murder Him for “incriminating” us with His goodness and kindness and truth when instead, His was an invitation of life to us. In this way, He took our place in captivity, the innocent for the guilty, and had the right in His own justice to have mercy on us: “Father, forgive them.” This is our faith, what we proclaim, the justice that makes the mercy credible.
In our fallen state, if we are without the grace of God, we rush to condemn such goodness and kindness as guilty of all sin of all times and places, and not just regarding Jesus. Whenever any priest is accused of anything, the accusation becomes proof of guilt. The disciple of Jesus is guilty because he was ordained. This is the express policy of The National Catholic Risk Retention Group. This is why Father Gordon MacRae has been in prison for decades, and why He will likely die in prison.
Jesus gives us His love and truth, so different from the ways of the world. Predictably, as Jesus pointed out, what happens to the Master will happen to the disciple. This is a privilege of the one who suffers to give witness to the Most High. While we could multiply references to modern examples of this, with, say, Bishop James Walsh, or József Cardinal Mindszenty, or Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe OFM Conv., and bring up those provably unjustly imprisoned in our own day – betrayed by what is rightly called “The Judas Crisis” – such as Father Gordon himself (About), let’s go back in time so that we realize that ignoring the saints of today is to reject the entire history of the Church, and is to reject Christ Jesus Himself.
SOME SAINTS WHO HAVE BEEN IN PRISON
Let’s start with a young acolyte of Saint Pope Sixtus II who was martyred at the same time with seven of his deacons including Saint Lawrence during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Valerian in the third century (257 A.D.). Just before being captured in the catacombs, Pope Sixtus sent young Tarcisius with the Blessed Sacrament to those imprisoned and facing the death of martyrdom at the Colosseum. Tarcisius was attacked on the way but he died protecting the Blessed Sacrament and is today the patron saint of those serving at the altar. It would never have entered the minds of early Christians that just because you are in prison it, therefore, means you are to be rejected by the Church and by Jesus.
In this picture, we’re looking at the papal altar in the Basilica of Saint Paul “Outside the Walls” of the old city of Rome. Those are the very chains used to bind Saint Paul. He is buried in the sarcophagus at the bottom of the picture.
In the above picture we see where both Saint Paul and Saint Peter were imprisoned, the Mamertine, right at the Roman Forum, right under the nose of the Roman Emperor, right next to the Roman Senate. Surely, because of that, they must have been guilty of terrible crimes, right? No.
GETTING TO KNOW JESUS IN PRISON
But is there a history of people getting to know Jesus in prison? Let’s follow Saint Lawrence down into his dungeon and find out:
It is there that Saint Lawrence, waiting for his own martyrdom, baptized his fellow prisoner. As he did that, that other fellow, who was blind, regained his sight. Their captor, a Roman Centurion, converted to the faith as his own eyes were opened to the Lord Jesus, and he declared this to the Emperor. He was punished by being dragged to death behind horses in the Roman Forum. Jailers can also become saints.
We are reminded, of course, of Pornchai Moontri, who was baptized in prison, having come to know the Lord Jesus by way of Father Gordon MacRae, whose quiet example of fidelity opened his eyes to a love and truth stronger than death. Father Gordon’s Patron Saint is Maximilian Kolbe. Maximilian is the baptismal name taken by Pornchai.
And with this, I cannot resist moving forward in time once again. Let’s take a short pilgrimage to the little church of Saint Andrew. It is where Saint Maximilian Kolbe, later imprisoned and put to death in Auschwitz, said his first Mass.
It is at this altar where the Immaculate Conception appeared to a non-Christian, who then converted to the faith in her Divine Son, Jesus. As you know, both Father Gordon and Pornchai Maximilian are dedicated, indeed consecrated to Jesus specifically through Mary, the Immaculate Conception.
Please share this post on social media. To do so is part of the corporal work of mercy of visiting those in prison. In this case, to do so also means countering the culture of “all priests are guilty because they’ve been ordained,” a culture which makes any accusation “proof” of guilt. That money hungry culture only promotes real abuse, because people will get sick of all the false accusations for money (see: #MeToo & #HimToo: Jonathan Grover & Father Gordon MacRae) and not listen to real victims any longer. Due process and justice for all is the way of mercy. That’s what I’ve learned being Pope Francis’ Missionary of Mercy.
Editor’s Note: You might also like to read posts by Father Gordon MacRae on These Stone Walls which mention Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Since there are too many to list here, you can peruse the titles by clicking this link, a search on “kolbe” on These Stone Walls.