The death of Anthony Begin, heroic priestly sacrifice, remember Fr Kenneth Walker, Independence Day, the battle for our souls: this week behind These Stone Walls.
For those who may have missed our announcement on Facebook last week, our friend Anthony Begin passed from this life at 12:30 AM (EDT) on June 18. He was 50 years of age. Thanks to a new hospice program using trained prisoner volunteers, a friend, John Spaulding, was with Anthony when he died. It was a comfort to learn from John that Anthony appeared to be asleep and peaceful as he breathed his last in this life.
I first wrote of Anthony and the diagnosis of his terminal cancer one year ago in “Pentecost, Priesthood, and Death in the Afternoon.” I revisited his story, and the brief respite he had when he was able to spend Christmas with us in “The First of the Four Last Things.” During that time, Anthony was received into the Church, sponsored by Pornchai Moontri who cared for him during the three months he was able to live just outside our cell.
We had many conversations then about Anthony’s life and death, and I know he was prepared to face death with a lively faith. What had once been a cause of grave anxiety in him became matter of fact, and I felt inspired by Anthony’s simple acceptance of faith and redemption. Our friend, Pornchai, exemplified the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in his reaching out to Anthony who, even as a prisoner, was often ostracized.
We could not prepare him for Heaven, but we did prepare him for Purgatory and “The Holy Longing,” a post that Anthony read again and again. He found some comfort and hope in it, and for that I am grateful. Thank you, dear readers, for your prayers for him, and for us.
THE WITNESS OF “FATHER JIM”
TSW readers may remember “Father Jim.” Though we did not use his real name for reasons that should be clear, TSW featured a powerful guest post by him one year ago entitled, “On the Fatherhood of Bishops with Disposable Priests.” He wrote in very moving terms of the burden of false witness and the injustice of the Dallas Charter that imposed a severe retroactive punishment on him for uncorroborated accusations from 40 years ago.
I received a letter last week from “Father Jim” that I would like to share with you, and ask for your prayers for him:
“Be assured that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day. No one can prevent that, nor will they, for as long as I am alive I have been dealing with terminal cancer. There is really nothing that medically can be done about it. I am sharing this with you to ask for your prayers that I accept God’s will with peace and joy, and that whatever time I may have here in this life be spent for the Kingdom of God and the salvation of souls.
Please also be aware that whatever suffering I am asked to endure will be offered up in prayer for you and your ministry, and for the grace that justice be acknowledged so that you be released from prison. How truly blessed we are to share in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of this world.” (Letter of “Father Jim,” 13 June, 2015, Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)
I am not at all worthy of the share in the suffering of Christ that Father Jim has offered, nor could I ever be. This is the sort of courageous priestly sacrifice that our world rejects – and, sadly, our bishops seem to have sided with the world on this one. However, in the economy of the spiritual world, the sacrifice and priestly witness of this priest are a treasure of immeasurable worth. Please keep “Father Jim” in your prayers.
REMEMBERING FATHER KENNETH WALKER, FSSP
Joyce Coronel, a Catholic writer from Arizona, has an article in the June 14, 2015 issue of Our Sunday Visitor entitled, “He Did Not Abandon Us.” Her article is a moving tribute to Father Joseph Terra, FSSP, who has spent a year recovering from the brutal attack that took the life of a young priest.
I wrote of this tragic story a year ago in “Jesus Wept: The Death of Father Kenneth Walker, FSSP.” Members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, Father Terra and Father Walker served the Mater Misericordiae Mission in downtown Phoenix, AZ when Father Terra was attacked and beaten with a metal bar wielded by Gary Michael Moran who had recently been released from prison. Moran then shot and killed Father Walker just months after the young priest’s ordination.
Today, the attacker is facing a capital murder trial in Phoenix. Meanwhile, Father Terra, whose injuries were life threatening when he endured them, has been recovering physically and spiritually from a skull fracture and multiple other injuries requiring surgery. I have wondered how he might ever recover from the tragic death of Father Walker, but we should never discount the power of faith to heal all wounds.
As reported by Joyce Coronel in OSV, Father Terra has been visited and consoled by Tom Walker, father of the slain priest. In regard to the assailant, both men have forgiven him. “I want him to be penitent for the sake of his soul,” said Tom Walker. Added Father Terra, “Some might say that we were abandoned by God, but He did not abandon us… He endured it with us.”
I have a personal lesson to learn from these good men. Twelve years ago, Father Michael Mack, a dear friend of mine, was murdered by an intruder in his home while Father Mike sat at his desk writing me a letter. When he walked back into his home after stepping out to place it in his mailbox, he walked into his death, a death I wrote of in: “Jesus Wept.”
The similar death of Father Kenneth Walker felt so very personal to me. Now I need to work on joining Father Terra and Father Walker’s family in the matter of forgiveness. Independence Day is a good time to start. There is no freedom when resentment rules the day.
It’s Independence Day this week, an especially ironic holiday from this vantage point. From a practical perspective, it falls on a Saturday this year which means that for prisoners it will extend from Thursday evening until Tuesday morning during which we won’t have much in the way of independence.
That feels so petty to write in the light of all the above, but it is the reality before me. During this down time, “Father Jim,” Father Joseph Terra, and the memory of Father Kenneth Walker have given me much to ponder. As priests, they exemplify a Scriptural truth: “To whom much is given, much will be required”(Luke 12:48). They have risen to this truth as self-giving men and priests, and I can only ask for the grace to follow.
These Stone Walls came into being six years ago this week. As most readers know, the idea for TSW came from an invitation from Cardinal Avery Dulles and Father Richard John Neuhaus to “Contribute a new chapter to the volume of Christian literature from those unjustly imprisoned.” TSW, or at least the idea of it, has been attributed to them, but the nuts and bolts of its existence are really the work of Suzanne Sadler of Sydney, Australia as she, herself, once described:
“Back in May of 2009, I happened on an article written by Ryan A. MacDonald which introduced me to Father MacRae’s case. I spent days reading every scrap of information I could about his case and about the abuse of the abuse crisis. Within a few weeks, I proposed that Father MacRae start a blog to alert faithful Catholics about the post-Dallas Charter witch hunt that has stripped many innocent priests of their reputations, social and economic support, shelter, liberty … and hope. What I didn’t know was that the late Avery Cardinal Dulles and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus also encouraged father to write about this.”
On July 1, 2009, we posted “Maximilian Kolbe and the Man in the Mirror,” our first post on These Stone Walls. Since then, Suzanne had been using the same computer system to format, publish, and host TSW, and it was already then a few years old. So I want to thank readers who have helped so generously to meet our goal for a new system to post and manage These Stone Walls. May the Lord bless your kindness. We have met our goal for new equipment thanks to you.
I received a letter last week from a young woman in the U.K. who wrote, “I’ve wanted to write to you for some time now to say thank you so much for your writings which have helped me in my spiritual journey during one of the most difficult times of my life.”
She also wanted to thank Pornchai Maximilian whose journey she has found to be both inspiring and empowering. I cannot put into words how much such letters mean to us. We are blind to the online world from inside this prison cell, but I am told that These Stone Walls has been a beacon of sorts in the battle for souls that characterizes this age. I still have an appeal going on, and I thank you for your prayers and your generous help, but I have turned its outcome over to God. Freedom – real freedom – is a state of the mind and soul, and it can be found in only one place,
“For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’ … But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-11)
This is how Independence Day may be marked in a prison cell with the freedom of the Sons of God. We offer these days locked in for you, the readers of These Stone Walls, and we revel in your freedom. Never take it for granted that freedom is free.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.