The Divine Mercy Shrine and the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy extend an unexpected invitation to Fr Gordon MacRae and Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, and now also to you.
Suzanne Sadler, the Australia-based Publisher of These Stone Walls, has developed a page on TSW entitled “Most Popular Posts.” Because I cannot actually see my own blog, I had no idea what was on this new page until a printed copy was sent to me. The list of seven most popular TSW posts seems based on a combination of numbers of visitors, social media shares, comments, and links.
I was surprised to see that one of the posts on that list is one I wrote three years ago, “Les Misérables: The Bishop and the Redemption of Jean Valjean.” At the time I wrote it, the fictional Jean Valjean and I both marked 19 years in prison. He was paroled to Les Misérables to be tormented by Inspector Javert. Pornchai Moontri and I remain in prison, he starting a 25th year and me ending 22, tormented only by time.
My post on Les Misérables focused on the devastation of Jean Valjean’s life from the toll prison exacted from him. It revealed how a journey of Divine Mercy and its ripple effect were set in motion by the now famous act of mercy of another character from the pen of Victor Hugo, Bishop Bienvenue.
It was extraordinary that Victor Hugo penned a character like Bishop Bienvenue. In 1862, when Les Miserable was written, Catholic France was overrun by popular anticlericalism. The French of the Enlightenment that fueled the French Revolution were especially offended by Victor Hugo’s choice of a Catholic bishop as the catalyst for redemption in the novel. It’s one of the most ironic ideas in the annals of literature that Victor Hugo’s son, Charles, pleaded with him to replace Bishop Bienvenue with a character whose virtue everyone might readily see. He suggested that a lawyer would be a better choice!
And thus, I think, was born the world’s first lawyer joke. The truth is that Bishop Bienvenue wasn’t the bishop that France typically had in the 19th Century, but he was the bishop Victor Hugo wanted France to have. And love him or not, you cannot help but see Pope Francis in this description of “The Cleric Behind Les Mis” by Doris Donnelly in The Wall Street Journal:
“They had a Bishop whose center of gravity was a compassionate God attuned to the sound of human suffering, never repelled by deformities of body and soul, who occupied himself by dispensing balm and dressing wounds wherever he found them. Bishop Bienvenue conferred dignity with abandon on those whose dignity was robbed by others.” (“The Cleric Behind Les Mis,” WSJ.com, Jan. 4, 2013)
For those unfamiliar with the story of Les Miserable, take a moment to read my post. Because of Bishop Bienvenue’s act of virtue, chains of hatred, mistrust, and resentment were removed from Jean Valjean, enabling him, as Doris Donnelly writes, “to emerge as one of the noblest characters in literature.” In the end, many lives were changed by an act of mercy set in motion by Bishop Bienvenue on one fateful night. Had the Divine Mercy movement been born at the time Victor Hugo wrote, I have no doubt that his Bishop Bienvenue would have been seen and written as the Bishop of Divine Mercy.
I have received many letters from readers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Australia, and other “Enlightened” countries expressing grave disappointment with their bishops. Some of that disappointment has been over the treatment of priests cast into Church’s Outback without due process – often never to be seen or heard from again – because of real or merely alleged offenses and flaws. The story of redemption set in motion by Bishop Bienvenue could not happen in the environment of today.
One such letter was recently sent to me from a Canadian friend whom I have known for some 25 years. He was reeling from the failure of a bishop to intervene in the unjust persecution of a priest. Perhaps the most distressing letter I have received was a from a college-age young man from a devout Catholic family who asked my advice on his decision to leave the Church and his faith behind “because it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.”
DIVINE MERCY AND THE STATE OF OUR SOULS
I have challenged these readers to look beyond the perceived or real flaws and politics of our leaders for an authentic expression of Church that mimics the famous words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Ask not what your Church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Church.” One of the lines from Les Misérables that just jumped out at me is, “The time has come to decide who we are.”
To answer that question for myself, I would have to create a different page on These Stone Walls. I would call it the Divine Mercy Page, and the posts linked there would be the top Divine Mercy posts that have appeared at this site. I would have to have such a page because these would be the posts that have most influenced us behind These Stone Walls. And by “us” I mean not only me, because in most cases I was the last to clearly see the writing of Divine Mercy behind the walls. For now, I will list those seven Divine Mercy posts at the end of this one, and recommend them to you not just to mark Divine Mercy Sunday, but to hopefully mark the next chapter in the story of your life.
The story of Divine Mercy intersected with my life behind prison walls just a few years ago, but now I cannot imagine life in the light of any other grace. This movement has given meaning to suffering and though the suffering deforms us, the meaning found in Divine Mercy transforms us. How does the same set of events lead from “deformed” to “Transformed?” That’s a mysterious and complicated question, and for its answer you’ll have to join me in a journey that begins with the posts I have linked below. It’s worth the effort.
For the purpose of this post, however, I want to leap ahead to a recent invitation extended to me by Father Michael Gaitley. There’s a little back story to this, and I’ll tell you that part first. There is a clear path that can be drawn through our suffering, a path from how it deforms to how it transforms US. In my story, I am unjustly in prison at both ends of that path, but I can tell you – and its something you must come to know for your own sake – that suffering is one thing without meaning and something else entirely when given meaning.
That journey through the transformation of suffering is how These Stone Walls first began in July 2009 with “Maximilian Kolbe and the Man in the Mirror.” That and the few posts to follow were very brief because just as TSW began so did its many obstacles. Right after being invited by Cardinal Avery Dulles to write – as our “About” page describes – my ability to write was jeopardized. After typing my very first page for These Stone Walls my typewriter had to be shipped for a repair, that took months. So my first posts on TSW were hand written.
Much later, I expanded those first few posts with some new meaning and reflection. Even that has a back story. I was invited by a prominent Catholic author to write a chapter for a book he was preparing to publish, an anthology on suffering and redemption by various Catholic writers who the author thought were living exemplary lives under trying circumstances. After I wrote the chapter, the writer’s bishop urged him and his publisher to remove the chapter by me because of a fear of reprisals from S.N.A.P. and the news media for giving voice to an accused priest. In any moral panic, fear reigns.
The Catholic writer balked at this demand, but I voluntarily withdrew my chapter because I wanted his important book to be published. I then posted the chapter in two parts on These Stone Walls entitled “Suffering and Saint Maximilian Kolbe Behind These Stone Walls” and its Part Two – “The Sign of the Cross: Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s Gift of Life.”
WRITING FROM THE OORT CLOUD
I took what I thought was a path of least resistance in withdrawing my chapter from that book, but the more human side of my ego felt wounded and set upon. As I have written before, in the Galaxy of Church life I write from the Oort Cloud, that field of our Solar System’s cast-off debris in orbit around our Sun about 1.5 light years out beyond the orbit of Pluto. It was named for its discoverer, the Dutch astronomer, Jan Frederic Oort (1900-1962). All the refuse of the outer Solar System is ejected into the Oort Cloud and is there to stay, never to be seen or heard from again except for the rare exception of a comet that manages to break free and find its way back among the inner planets.
I just haven’t been very good at staying out there. As These Stone Walls emerged and grew, it sped like a comet back in where I hover somewhere in a lesser debris field between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Okay, as geeky-space-cadet as this all sounds, suffice it to say that my priesthood in prison has become a lot more complicated since TSW began.
And now Father Michael Gaitley has added to the gravitational pull that Father George David Byers described about Pope Francis commissioning the Missionaries of Mercy last month. Technically Father Gaitley fired his retro-rockets first, but because of the bureaucracy of prison, it took over two months for his letter to arrive in my hands.
Back in September, 2015, I decided that These Stone Walls “Stuck Inside Literary Award” must go to the author and book that influenced me the most in 2015, and so I announced it in “Divine Mercy: The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.” Then I sent that post to the recipient of the dubious award, the book’s author, Father Michael Gaitley. Along with it, I sent a letter offering him and his new apostolate, the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, the only thing Pornchai Moontri and I have to offer. I wrote that we want to offer some of our days in prison as a share in the Suffering of Christ in spiritual support of the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy and their apostolate and mission.
At Christmas, Father Gaitley wrote back to me, but his letter was returned to him by the prison mail room staff without my even being aware of it. It was returned because he included two booklets for me and Pornchai. Like most Catholic material sent into prison, this ran into a wall of obstacles and was returned to sender. Fortunately, Father Gaitley did not give up so easily, and at the end of February I finally received his letter which included an unexpected invitation:
“Dear Father Gordon: First, I thank you for the honor of having selected The Second Greatest Story Ever Told for ‘The Stuck Inside Literary Award.’ Your post was a great gift to me. Second, I was deeply moved by what you wrote about you and Pornchai deciding to offer days in prison as a share in the suffering of Christ in spiritual support of our ministry and mission. If that is still your decision, then I hereby grant to you both ‘honorary membership’ into the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy to become full members after you and Pornchai have time to prayerfully read the Marian Missionaries Handbook, enclosed. God Bless you, and Welcome to our Team….. signed, Father Mike.”
This is the first time in a very long time that anyone in the Church has suggested that there is a place for us, a place of refuge instead of a place of refuse. This invitation is to a place far closer to the heart of our Church than the Oort Cloud to which we had been consigned. It takes courage to reach out in the open to those shunned by others in the dark. TSW readers know of this courage because you convey it each, week. So please join us as we honor Father Gaitley’s invitation.
Pornchai Maximilian Moontri and I have carefully read the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy Handbooks, and have prayed and discerned this journey in the company of our friends who walk in prison with us, Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Padre Pio. On Divine Mercy Sunday, we will commit ourselves to the life and mission of the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy.
So, Father George David Byers may not be the only Missionary of Mercy connected to TSW. Yes, we know he was personally commissioned by Pope Francis, but we were invited by Father Michael Gaitley who has written WAY more books!
You will be hearing more of this journey during this Year of Mercy, and I invite you to walk awhile with us. If you are reading These Stone Walls then Divine Mercy is extending an invitation to you just as it has called to us to give meaning to what we suffer. Suffering without meaning deforms us, but the meaning that Divine Mercy brings transforms what we suffer into a great gift of grace.
Please don’t let this opportunity pass by. This Divine Mercy Sunday, or any time thereafter, travel further along this road with us. Visit the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy at MarianMissionaries.org to begin being formed in a wonderful expression of Church and faith that transcends the twisted politics of our time. It’s the challenge that faced both Bishop Bienvenue and Jean Valjean:
“The time has come to decide who we are.”
Editor’s note: Catholic singer, song writer, Annie Karto has written a beautiful song, “Rise up all people.” The song and video feature Father Gordon MacRae in part, and were shared for the first time at a National Conference on Divine Mercy posted by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Please, view and share this wonderful video, “Rise up all people!”
Annie Karto is featured at her website: anniekarto.com.
The Top Divine Mercy Posts on These Stone Walls:
- Knock and the Door Will Open: Divine Mercy in Bangkok Thailand
- In the Company of Saints and Villains: A Divine Mercy Story
- Woman Behold Your Son! 33 days to Morning Glory (Part 1)
- Behold Your Mother! 33 Days to Morning Glory (Part 2)
- The Divine Mercy Canonization of Saint John Paul II
- Father Seraphim Michelanko on a Mission of Divine Mercy
- “You Did It to Me”: Wisdom and Works of Mercy
- Divine Mercy: The Second Greatest Story Ever Told