In August, 2009, a wrongly imprisoned priest was asked by Cardinal Avery Dulles to add his voice to the volume of Christian literature from those unjustly in prison.
Two years before his death in December, 2008, Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote a letter to me in prison after an article of mine appeared in the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst. He wrote in words now familiar to the readers of These Stone Walls:
“You are in a unique position to give voice to priests who are unjustly imprisoned. Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials. You may one day write a new chapter in the volume of Christian literature from those unjustly in prison, adding your voice to that of John the Baptist, Father Alfred Delp, Father Walter Cizcek, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”
One year later, in early August 2009, These Stone Walls began. A decade has now past and an estimated 2.5 million readers have since viewed these pages Our Sunday Visitor once called TSW “The Best of the Catholic Web” in spiritual writing. About.com deemed it a finalist for “Best Catholic Blog.” Readers at the Fishers Net Awards voted it “Best Catholic Social Justice Site,” and The Crescat gave TSW the dubious distinction of “Best Under-Appreciated Catholic Blog.”
Father James Valladares, in his book, Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast, described These Stone Walls as “The finest example of priestly witness the last decade of scandal has produced.” Deacon David Jones seemed to affirm the challenge of Cardinal Dulles when he reviewed These Stone Walls as “A mighty voice in the prison tradition of John the Baptist, Alfred Delp, Si, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”
But I do not know what to make of any of this. I have never even seen this blog. In 2009, after fifteen years in prison, I did not even know what a blog was. Now, in 2019 after ten years of writing, I am mostly blind to how any of this is perceived in the outside world. I am grateful to have this voice, but I am not a good judge of the value of what I write. It is not false modesty to say that I am always surprised when it has any notice at all.
To mark this tenth anniversary, I have been reviewing the posts I wrote a decade ago in the summer of 2009 when These Stone Walls began. Most are much shorter than my typical post today. Some have made me blush. A few make me laugh. One or two make me downright embarrassed, and a few made me proud. I am keeping this post brief so you might revisit our beginnings. I cannot speak to the acclaim TSW has achieved, but here are a few awards I would now bestow upon some of my posts of 2009:
THE NERDIEST POST OF 2009
Excerpt: “There was little I could do to stop the fighting. Convicts are so territorial, they do not hesitate to take on intruders twice their size. They just can’t be reasoned with. It’s even worse when the convicts are mating. What drama!”
MOST EMBARRASSING 2009 TITLE WITH A MOVIE TIE-IN
- Naked in the Public Square – September 2, 2009
Excerpt: “As I was led into the lobby with all my prison hardware clinking and the two armed guards at my sides, I felt the cold stares of dozens of wary eyes upon me. There had been a lot of idle chatter in the bustling hospital lobby, but everyone fell suddenly silent as I was led through their midst… I was trying hard not to look like Hannibal Lechter.
THE “HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER” AWARD
- Take a Hike! – July 25, 2009
Excerpt: “Growing up, Scott refused to be left behind. My older brother and I were blind to Scott’s relentless tenacity. He may have struggled to keep up with our mountain climbing skills, but I now see that we lagged far behind him in determination and strength of will. In March of 1970 the three MacRae brothers climbed New Hampshire’s Mount Chocoroa during a treacherous winter storm…”
THE MOST UNFORTUNATE TITLE OF 2009
- The Whoopi Cushion – October 14, 2009
Excerpt: “Whoopi Goldberg now ridicules the case against Roman Polanski, inferring that it is unjust to impose a penalty in a case from so long ago. Moreover, and most shockingly, she minimized the child’s victimization with an astonishing statement: ‘It wasn’t really rape rape.’ If Roman Polapski was a Catholic priest, Whoopi Goldberg would want his head presented to Herod on a platter…”
FOUND IN THE STONE WALLS OF 2009: A LITTLE FLOWER
- A Shower of Roses – September 30, 2009
Excerpt: “I scoffed and mocked at Brother Bernard’s letter. I am in prison in the harshness of steel and concrete. Roses do not exist here, In all these years in prison, I have never seen rose, I put Brother Bernard’s letter aside and put this pious nonsense out of my mind.”
THE 2009 “ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER” AWARD
- The Sacrifice of the Mass: Part I – November 4, 2009
- The Sacrifice of the Mass: Part II – November 11, 2009
Excerpt: “When I looked up at one point, I noticed a small wooden tabernacle on a shelf in a corner of the office. The tabernacle was hand-carved by a Catholic prisoner, and was incredibly beautiful. Sitting there with the deacon’s essay in my hand, I noticed a small Sanctuary Lamp that was lit… I felt overwhelmed and tears came to my eyes. The Chaplain smiled, apparently thinking that I was reacting to his essay…”
I hope readers will pick one or two of the above posts to revisit the 2009 origins of this “Voice in the Wilderness.” You might be curious why I have not included here a tribute to the real inspiration behind these writings, the great Martyr of Charity, Saint Maximilian Kolbe.
That is coming to these pages next week, on his Feast Day, the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. His latest intervention behind these prison walls is a stunning account of trial, tribulation, and triumph.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post with others and on your social media. I often hear from people who recently discovered These Stone Walls because it was shared by one of their Facebook or LinkedIn contacts.
I also want to alert you to significant changes to the ABOUT page of These Stone Walls. The recently surfaced video documentary interviews with me are now available there, and a Transcript of those interviews has also been compiled and added. Though I have never been permitted to present it in any court of law, this is the only direct testimony from me in existence.