Some strange and interesting things are happening behind These Stone Walls this summer, and it’s a task and a half to stay ahead of them and reflect a little so I can write of them. In too many ways to describe, we sometimes feel swept off our feet by the intricate threads of connection that are being woven, and sometimes revealed.
I wasn’t even going to have a post for this week. I spent the last ten days immersed in a major writing project that I just finished. I knew it would be a struggle to type a post on top of that. I also had no topic. Absolutely nothing whatsoever came to mind. So I decided to just let readers know that I need to skip a week on TSW. Yet here I am, and it’s being written on the fly as I struggle to type it and get it in the mail in time.
What brought on this frenzy to get something posted on this mid-summer day? Well, first of all I awoke this morning and looked at the calendar, and realized that the post date I decided to skip is also the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It commemorates the apparition of our Blessed Mother to Saint Simon Stock, founder of the Carmelite Order, in the year 1215. She promised a special blessing to those who would wear her scapular. According to the explanation of this Memorial in the Daily Roman Missal, “Countless Christians have taken advantage of Our Lady’s protection.”
“Protection.” It seems a strange word to describe what we might expect from devotion to Mary. Most TSW readers remember my post, “Behold Your Mother! 33 Days to Morning Glory” about the Marian Consecration which Pornchai Maximilian and I entered into on the Solemnity of Christ the King in 2013. Felix Carroll also wrote of it – with a nice photo of us – in “Mary is at Work Here” in Marian Helper magazine. [Flash Version and PDF Version]
Throughout that 33 Days retreat leading up to our Consecration, I was plagued with the creepy feeling that this was all going to cost us something, that maybe Pornchai and I were opening ourselves to further suffering and trials by Consecrating to Mary the ordeals we are now living. What we have both found since our Marian Consecration, however, has been a sort of protection, a subtle grace that seems to be weaving itself in and around us, permeating our lives. Exactly what has been its cost? It has cost us something neither of us ever imagined we could ever afford to pay. The price tag for such grace is trust, and where we live, that is a precious commodity not so easily invested, but very easily taken from us.
I am amazed at the number of TSW readers who have written to me about their decisions to commence the 33 Days retreat, and commit themselves to Marian Consecration. I received a letter this week from Mary Fran, a reader and frequent correspondent who is completing her 33 Days retreat with her Marian Consecration on the day this is posted, the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She is going into this with just the right frame of mind and spirit. I hope she doesn’t mind, but here’s an excerpt of her letter:
“This is a very good retreat. I will be sorry to see it over. I have the Consecration Prayer typed out on pretty paper in preparation for the big day. A new beginning. A new way of life. Under new management.”
The truth is, Mary Fran, that it will never be over. But I like your idea of a life “under new management.” The concept seems to have a lot less to do with what Marian Consecration might cost in terms of trials to be offered, and more to do with what graces might be gained to endure them when they come. I’m not sure of why or exactly when it started, but after receiving the Eucharist since my own Consecration I have begun to pray the Memorare, a prayer attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux that best expresses our confidence in Mary as repository of grace and, therefore, protection:
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
TRUST IS THE CURRENCY OF GRACE
In a post last month, “Father’s Day in Prison Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” I wrote a little about how much of a daily ordeal our prisons can sometimes be. Near the end of that post, I quoted a brief dialogue between Father Michael Gaitley, author of Consoling the Heart of Jesus, and Father Seraphim Michalenko, Director of The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Their discussion is worth expanding a bit for this post. In fact, it was part of this week’s assigned reading in our Consoling the Heart of Jesus retreat in which we are at the midway point behind these prison walls. So here is a little more of that conversation:
Father Gaitley: “And we want to console Jesus in the best possible way…and the best way to console Him is to remove the thorn that hurts His heart the most, the thorn that is lack of trust in His merciful love…and the best way to remove that thorn and console Him is to trust Him.”
Father Seraphim: “And how do you LIVE trust? What is its concrete expression in your daily 1iving?…The way you live that trust is by praise and thanksgiving, to praise and thank God in all things. That’s what the Lord said to St. Faustina. (Consoling the Heart of Jesus, p. 95)
It struck me just today that the new trial asked of me in Marian Consecration is to imitate her trust, her famous fiat to the seemingly impossible: “Be it done to me according to Thy word.” Such trust is not an easy thing to embrace when the world turns dark, when freedom is taken by forces beyond our control, when fortune fades, when health fails, when loved ones are lost, when love itself is lost, when evil seems to win all around us, when depression, the noon- day devil, wants to rule both day and night.
That almost seems to sum up prison, and as such we are all destined for the trials of life in some form or another. We are all destined for some form of prison. So many readers have asked me for an update on our friend, Anthony, of whom I wrote recently in “Pentecost, Priesthood, and Death in the Afternoon.” Anthony is in prison dying of cancer. Several weeks ago, he could no longer bear the pain he was in so he was moved to the prison medical unit for palliative care. He came to the prison chapel for Mass the following Sunday, and the one after that. He was not there at Mass last week, and it is very possible we will not see Anthony again in this life.
Though he is but 200 yards away locked in another building, prisons pay no heed to the bonds of connection between human beings in captivity. Once Anthony was moved elsewhere, we may not visit him, inquire about him, or even hear from him. That is one of the great crosses of prison, and the welfare of that person and his soul is something about which we can now only trust. We can only be consoled by what YOU have done in our stead. When I last saw Anthony, he smiled and said, “I have gotten so much mall and so many cards I feel totally surrounded by God’s love.”
Father Michael Gaitley summed up nicely the road out of this dense forest of all our anxious cares:
“So the best way to console Jesus’ Heart is to give him our trust, and according to the expert [Fr Seraphim Michalenko] the best way to live trust is with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, the way of joyful, trustful acceptance of God’s will.” (Consoling the Heart of Jesus, p. 96)
OPENING IMPENETRABLE DOORS
At the end of “Dostoevsky in Prison and the Perils of Odysseus,” I wrote, “the hand of God is somewhere in all this, visible only in the back of the tapestry where we cannot yet see. He is working among the threads, weaving together the story of us.” Some readers liked that imagery, but it’s also true. It really happens and is really happening in our lives right now. I have experienced it, and Pornchai has recently experienced it in a very big way, but only with eyes opened by trust. Here’s how.
In the months after Pornchai Maximilian Moontri and I first met, United States Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro had just ruled that Pornchai must be deported from the U.S. to Thailand upon whatever point he is to be released from prison. The very thought of this was dismal, like stepping off a cliff in dense fog with no safe landing in sight. Pornchai had only a “Plan B”: to make certain that he never leaves prison.
I was deeply concerned for him, and tried to put myself in his shoes. How does a person get literally dumped into a country only vaguely familiar with no human connections whatsoever? How would he live? How could he even survive? So I told him something so totally foreign to both of us that I shuddered and doubted even as I was saying the words. I told him he has to abandon his “Plan B” and trust. Trust me and trust God. What was I saying?! I wasn’t even sure I trusted at all.
Three years later, Pornchai became a Catholic on Divine Mercy Sunday 2010. A lot of people don’t realize that this was completely by “accident.” And it caused me to worry even more about his future. Thailand is a Buddhist nation. Less than one percent of its people are Catholic. I wondered how becoming Catholic could possibly serve him in a country and culture from which he was already completely alienated and in which he must somehow survive.
Pornchai didn’t even know that the time he was choosing for his entry into the Church was Divine Mercy Sunday. What he had originally planned was to surprise me by telling me of his decision to be Baptized on my birthday, April 9, which was a Friday in 2010. It was, in his mind, to be a birthday present. Some present! I wasn’t even trusting that this was a good idea.
So Pornchai went to talk with the prison’s Catholic chaplain, Deacon Jim Daly to help arrange this. The Chaplain asked a local priest to come to the prison for the Baptism, but he was only available to do this on Saturday, April 10. I stood in as proxy for Pornchai’s Godparents, one in Belgium and one in Indianapolis, while Vincentian Father Anthony Kuzia Baptized and Confirmed Pornchai.
The next day was Divine Mercy Sunday, and it just so happened that Bishop John McCormack was coming to the prison for his annual Mass that day. So just the night before, I explained to Pornchai about Saint Faustina, Divine Mercy, why Pope John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday, and how this devotion seemed to sweep the whole world. Pornchai thus received his First Eucharist and was received into the Church on Divine Mercy Sunday, and Whoever planned this, it wasn’t us!
Then because I mentioned that fact on TSW a few times, it got the attention of Felix Carroll, a writer for Marian Helper magazine. Felix then asked if he could write of Pornchai’s Divine Mercy connection for the Marian.org website in an article entitled, “Mercy – behind Those Stone Walls.” The response to that article was amazing. From all over the world, people commented on it and circulated it. Felix wrote that “the story of Pornchai lit up our website like no other!”
So then in the eleventh hour, Felix Carroll pulled a book he was just about to publish. It was supposed to be about 16 Divine Mercy conversions, but Felix changed the titled to Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions, and added an expanded chapter about Pornchai Moontri’s life and conversion. The chapter even mentions me and These Stone Walls, though I really had very little to do with Pornchai’s conversion. Pornchai and I received copies of the book, looked at each other, and simultaneously asked, “How did this happen?”
THE NEEDLEPOINT OF GOD
The book went everywhere, including into the hands of Father Seraphim Michalenko, Director of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the person I quoted on the issue of trust in this post. Father Seraphim became an instrument for the threads God was weaving for Pornchai. He sent the book to another contact, Yela Smit, a co-director of the Divine Mercy Apostolate in Bangkok, Thailand. The result was simply astonishing, and the threads of connection just keep being woven together. I wrote of this incredible account in “Knock and the Door Will Open: Divine Mercy in Bangkok Thailand.”
In that post, I wrote of how I undertook responsibility for easing Pornchai’s burden by trying to find him connections in Thailand only to be frustrated every step of the way. Then, in spite of myself, in the back of the tapestry where we cannot yet see, those threads were being woven together miraculously, and trust found a foundation in the dawn of hope. Suddenly, through nothing either of us did or didn’t do, the cross of fear and dread about how Pornchai would survive alone in Thailand was lifted from him.
Pornchai and I went to Sunday Mass in the Prison Chapel last week. The priest who is usually here is away for a few weeks so we heard it would be someone “filling in.” It was Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, 84 years old and the man who opened the doors of Divine Mercy for Pornchai in Thailand where God has accomplished some amazing needlework. Father Seraphim was accompanied by Eric Mahl who also has a chapter in Felix Carroll’s Loved, Lost, Found, and who has become a good friend to me and Pornchai. They both returned that evening for a session of our Consoling the Heart of Jesus Retreat. Pornchai was able to meet with Father Seraphim for a long talk. He has seen firsthand the evidence of Divine Mercy, and it all happened behind the walls of an impenetrable prison.
Editors’s Note: a continued thanks to TSW readers for their generosity in responding to Ryan MacDonald’s appeal to help with the legal costs, at the Federal level. We haven’t reached our goal yet, so please share this link to Ryan’s news alert post!