To honor freedom may seem a contradiction for a prisoner-priest, but who better knows the meaning and value of true freedom and the forces that seek to destroy it?
“From the Prodigious Hills of New Hampshire,
Let Freedom Ring!”
– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963
A strange thing happened after we posted “The Heart of a Priest in Hindsight.” My 37th anniversary of priesthood ordination seemed to come with some unusual events. There were lots of strange things in that post, but the strangest of all seemed to remain unnoticed by most readers. In the multitude of comments on that post, only one mentioned it, but even that comment did not seem to fully grasp it. I may have been too subtle.
I wrote in that post that a new TSW reader, Esther, who holds advanced degrees in both physics and computer science, had agreed to step in for Father George David Byers if he relocated to the Shrine of Saint John Vianney at Ars, France as planned. It turned out that the plan fell apart, at least for this year, because Father Byers’ bishop cannot spare him just yet. So Esther will be assisting TSW in other ways.
The astonishing story I wrote, however, was not about her offer of help, but about her prayer. Esther told me in a startling letter that before even discovering TSW, she wrote a prayer that she began to contemplate regularly at Eucharistic Adoration. Her prayer is attributed to her reading of the Gospel of John (15:5):
“I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Esther then turned the prayer into a mantra of sorts, a brief petition for use at Adoration and throughout the day. Her prayer became, “O Remain, Jesus, in me.” The beauty of the prayer is that Jesus is at its center just as He is at the center of our lives. Then Esther formed an acronym for it:
“O Remain, Jesus, in me” = O-R-J-I-M.
With a Ph.D. in computer science research, Esther thinks a lot about computer code. Not long after contemplating this prayer at Adoration, she noted that it could be depicted in code, such as in the code on a telephone. She then discovered that her prayer using that code would be thus: O-R-J-I-M = 6-7-5-4-6.
When Esther discovered These Stone Walls, she decided to write to me after reading a number of posts. She was startled to learn that the numerical telephone code that corresponds with her prayer is my prison identity. Anyone who writes to me will recognize it. I am prisoner number 67546.
There have been three times in the ten years of my writing behind these stone walls that I have been alarmed and astonished by the seemingly impossible mathematical odds against some reality that, for a moment at least, suppresses my doubt. The first was an event that occurred on October 1st on the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux that I described in a post entitled “A Shower of Roses.”
The second was a discovery revealed in “Lumen Fidei: The Science of Creation and a Tale of Two Priests.” I have written a lot about Father Georges Lemaître, the Belgian priest-physicist who is today honored by science as “Father of the Big Bang and Modern Cosmology,” an honor that has been influenced by These Stone Walls. Then I learned that Father Lemaître was a close family friend of Pornchai Moontri’s Godfather, Pierre Matthews.
The third moment of alarm and awe was this revelation about Esther’s prayer. I do not know what to say about it except that it seems mathematically impossible. And yet there it is. I can only hope that Jesus remains in me. That would be the source and substance of all freedom.
A DECADE OF SORROWFUL MYSTERIES
These Stone Walls turns ten years old this week. It began in July 2009 and we have posted something every Wednesday morning since. Over these ten years, I have written 500 original posts of about 2,000 words each. That means one million words have spewed out of my typewriter onto these pages. I would not have thought that possible when we began this in July of 2009. I will never again be able to claim to be at a loss for words.
TSW reader, Claire Dion makes the three-hour drive from Maine to visit our friend, Pornchai Moontri, on occasion. In a telephone call with me after her visit one day, Claire said that she asked Pornchai about my writing to which he responded, “Father G can stare at a rock and write about it.”
So Clare mentioned an Irish metaphor to Pornchai that was totally lost on him. She said, “It sounds like Father G has kissed the Blarney Stone.” For those unaware of the origins of this image, Blarney is a village of less than 3,000 people in County Cork in the southwest of Ireland. The town is the site of the 15th Century Blarney Castle containing the famous Blarney Stone, an inscribed rock slab near the top of one of its walls.
A person has to lay upside down at the top of the wall to kiss the famous stone. According to legend, the person who does so is henceforth endowed with the gifts of eloquence and persuasion. When Pornchai heard this, he said “I don’t think Father G kissed the Blarney Stone. I think he bit off a chunk and swallowed it!”
In the course of these ten years, readers from across the globe have walked with us on the road to Calvary. You have been a part of our journey, and I like to think that we have become a part of yours. You have learned a lot about the crosses we bear, and it is my enduring hope that what we have borne enlightens what you have to bear.
Also during this decade, some wonderful guest writers representing six countries have taken up their pens to write TSW guest posts. These include Michael Brandon, Father George David Byers, Carlos Caso-Rosendi in Argentina, Claire Dion, Catholic League President Bill Donohue, Attorneys Clare and Malcolm Farr in Western Australia, Ryan A. MacDonald, Father Stuart MacDonald in Ontario, Canada, Pornchai Moontri, Monsignor Michael Palud in Jamaica, David F. Pierre, Jr., Father Andrew Pinsent at Oxford, U.K., Attorney Vincent James Sanzone and Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas.
I called this section of this post “A Decade of Sorrowful Mysteries” for that seems to sum up our lives behind these stone walls. The Sorrowful Mysteries of Christ are indeed sorrowful, but also redemptive. We would be doomed for eternity had they not taken place. We look with deep sorrow upon Gethsemane, the Agony, the betrayal, the abandonment, the scourging, the Crown of Thorns, the Cross and Crucifixion, the nails, the hands, the feet, the side, the tomb…
But we also look upon these events with the deepest gratitude. What if none of them took place? We would remain lost East of Eden, forever imprisoned to wander in the Land of Nod, never knowing grace, never knowing Christ, never hoping for a Promised Land in Heaven.
I have come, through grace, to look upon my own sorrowful mysteries in just this way. I never sought them. I do not understand them. And like Jesus at Gethsemane, I have asked again and again to be spared my sorrows all the while knowing that we would all be in prison had He been spared His. This is the freedom most worthy of hope and gratitude. In 25 years in prison, and especially in this last decade of writing, I have come to offer the sorrowful mysteries in spiritual support of you.
You may have noticed my quote from Rev. Martin Luther King atop this post. He became for many an icon of freedom in the 20th Century. In the 21st, his name is about to be smashed into ruins in soon-to-be-published half-century old stories of scandal tarnishing his reputation and legacy. It is a story familiar to Catholics. Are we better off as a culture for destroying our cultural heroes in the public square?
In this gruesomely painful time in the Church and priesthood I have hoped that what I endure might bring some much needed context and an awareness that not all is at it seems to be. In recent posts I have written much about spiritual battle and the cosmic importance of this time in which we live. Our lives witness – or fail to witness – to Christ whose first presence among us is equidistant in time between us right now and God’s Covenant with Abraham.
Should it be any surprise that this is a time of spiritual warfare? And should it be any surprise that Catholic priests and many of our cultural icons have especially been targets of the influence of the Evil One? Some of the scorn and derision our Puritan resurgence throws at them today is misplaced.
Of course child abuse has no place in our lives and certainly not in our sanctity. But something has gone terribly awry when we can forever tarnish and destroy a man’s name even after death. I heard of one accused priest, a pastor revered in life, whose bishop ordered his remains moved from a Catholic cemetery after the post-mortem emergence of a 50-year-old claim. Are we a better Church for this?
As the crisis rages on, and the media – including the Catholic media – publishes only one side of the story, our Church continues Her ministry through the selfless service of many heroic priests. And even some of those tarnished by scandal – some true, some not so much, some not at all – steadfastly pick up their crosses.
After 10 years of writing from prison, I was astonished recently to see this published tribute to the work of These Stone Walls by a reader – a Catholic deacon – whom I have never met:
“There are few authentic prophetic voices among us, guiding truth-seekers along the right path. Among them is Fr. Gordon MacRae, a mighty voice in the prison tradition of John the Baptist, Alfred Delp, SJ, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Deacon David Jones)
I am not worthy of this. It frightens me a little because I am not certain I can live up to it. If there is any truth in it at all, it is not because of me. It is because of you. We priests can speak and write until our moment of martyrdom – for martyrdom in one form or another seems to be what we are up against now – but if no one reads and no one listens, we are silenced.
I am very proud of the readers of These Stone Walls. Recently, as you know, a set of video interviews with me surfaced and were published online. In the entirety of this twenty-five years ordeal, I was never allowed to utter a single word in my defense. Now hundreds have seen and heard these video documentaries published on the YouTube page, The Friday Esquire:
After watching and listening to them a week ago, long time TSW reader Kathleen Riney, a retired RN in Texas, responded in a comment posted on FaceBook, which, by the way, I have never seen:
“Father Gordon MacRae is the most free priest I know!”
Editor’s Note: The above video links have been added to the “ABOUT” page at These Stone Walls. If you want to help make this story known, the ABOUT page is a good link to share with others and on social media. You may also like these posts on freedom from Father Gordon MacRae and These Stone Walls:
- Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night
- Cry Freedom: A Prisoner Unlocks Doors from the Inside
- A New Patron Saint for Religious Liberty: Viva Cristo Rey!
- Coming Home to the Catholic Faith I Left Behind