A new Marian Press title, 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, set us on a pilgrimage behind These Stone Walls for a year of grace and mercy.
The GTL Tablet I purchased last year revolutionized life behind these stone walls, but I found myself quickly becoming dependent on its technology. Prior to the tablet, my only phone access was through a few outside collect-call-only telephones with poor connections. Depending on where we were living, there were up to 40 prisoners for each available phone. Just imagine living in a house with 40 adolescents sharing a single telephone. Not even Dante’s Inferno could depict such a scene.
In a New Hampshire winter, placing calls from prison meant long frigid waits outside in the howling wind and weather. After two winters of daily calls to TSW helpers in just that way, these tablets became available. I had heard rumors that they would have telephone capability, but I had serious doubts that this prison would ever allow such a thing. I was therefore shocked when my $149.00 GTL tablet arrived in April 2018 equipped with headphones, a microphone, and a phone app.
It worked great, and the prepaid calls placed through GTL were just a fraction over one-cent per minute compared with the up to 15-cents per minute we were paying for the privilege of getting frostbite. No more sharing a single telephone with 40 other prisoners. No more standing in line shivering early in the morning. No more having to talk on a phone after the last five guys sneezed on it. You get the point. The GTL tablet and its available features changed how life is lived here.
Until I dropped it. The tablet is solidly built but no match for the even more solid concrete floors of a prison. Three months after its warranty expired, I dropped my tablet and broke the one feature I relied on most: the telephone connection. I had a choice of sending it for an $80 repair – which would take four months – or ordering a new one which would take two weeks.
Just one more day outside using a telephone in subzero weather again made up my mind for me. I had to go with the two-week option. So I spent another $149 to order a new tablet from GTL. Two weeks later, on the coldest morning of winter, my name echoed off the walls as the PA system summoned me and fifty other prisoners to receive personal property that had arrived. Finally, I thought, no more lines for freezing phone calls!
I ventured out into the biting cold to proceed down the multiple flights of outside stairs toward an office four stories below. As I got closer, I found myself at the end of a very long line and wished I had brought a hat and gloves. Thirty minutes later, numb from the subzero cold, it wasmy turn to step into the office to sign for my property.
I approached the desk, stated my name, and reached out to receive my tablet only to be handed a book instead. It turned out that the tablet would take at least another week. I was never a spoiled child, but the experience recalled every spoiled child’s lingering memory of excitedly unwrapping a Christmas gift at age eight just to find underwear and socks inside.
My wave of disappointment increased when I was told that I also have to climb backup to my cell to surrender a book that I am already reading to get this new one. We are limited to owning only ten books at any one time I sneered with resentment at the book in my hand. It was not a book I ordered or even wanted. There was no indication of why it was sent to me or by whom.
I considered just having it discarded and keeping the books I had. But, seemingly on autopilot, I instead ran back up the eight flights of stairs, grabbed a book that I was halfway through reading, and came back down to turn it in for this new one while having absolutely no idea why.
FALLING INTO THE HANDS OF THE LIVING GOD
I am telling you the above story for just one reason: to leave you with no lingering doubt about what a fool I am. For perhaps if you become clear on that point about me, you might become more inclined to accept the truth about what fools we all are when the things we think we want blind us to what we really need.
The book that I received unbidden and out of the blue was not anything that I ever wanted, but it turned out to be exactly. what I needed most. The book is 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina: A Year of Grace and Mercy by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. It was published at the end of 2018 and landed in my hands as the new year dawned. It seems that it was sent to me for the purpose of reviewing it on These Stone Walls. But I cannot do that until I read it, and I can’t just “read it” for it isn’t just a book; it’s a pilgrimage.
The last book that was sent to me for review turned out to be of monumental importance. It was described and reviewed in my post, “Priesthood in the Real Presence, and the Present Absence.” I have been told that this post fanned the embers of faith in some readers and drew them into the practice of Eucharistic Adoration which, ironically, is entirely denied to me.
But this time, I was so disappointed at not getting what I was waiting for that I failed to really look at what I had. When I finally sat down with Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book, it became for me another example of “Waking Up in the Garden of Gethsemane,” suddenly becoming aware that I nearly slept through a scene of great spiritual importance.
As much as the story of Divine Mercy has been a central tenet of my life, and of my friend Pornchai Moontri’s life, its principle proponent – Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska – has been an utter mystery to me. The story needs a little background some of which you may have read before. It’s important so please bear with me.
On Sunday, April 30, 2000, Saint Maria Faustina was canonized by Pope John Paul II in Rome. During his canonization homily, Pope John Paul declared that from henceforth the Sunday after Easter (the Second Sunday of Easter) will be known as Divine Mercy Sunday. In my prison cell, I listened to his canonization homily:
“By this act, I intend to pass on this message to the third millennium addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give up in despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope.
“How many souls have been consoled by the prayer, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ which Providence intimated through St. Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jesus, I trust in you” (From the Homily of St. John Paul II).
Five years later, on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in April, 2005, John Paul II died having bestowed upon the Church this very great gift. John Paul himself, would be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, a Saint who canonized the Saint of Divine Mercy. The importance of this gift of Divine Mercy is described in Father Michael Gaitley’s The Second Greatest Story Ever Told:
“Divine Mercy… a love more powerful than evil, a love that can even bring good out of evil. This is a profoundly joyful, hopeful and consoling message that counteracts the often sad and depressing situation of the modern world. It’s a message that announces God’s particular closeness to us in our time, which is, in fact, the time of mercy. It’s a message that shares the good news that God is pouring out unprecedented mercy on the people of our time, because ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more’ (Romans 5:20).11 (Fr. Michael Gaitley, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, p. 79).
Behind These Stone Walls we have been eyewitnesses to what Father Gaitley here describes. The recent post by Pornchai Moontri, “Imprisoned by Walls, Set Free by Wood” tells briefly, but powerfully, the impact Divine Mercy has had on his life since he fell into the Hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31)
I did, too, and if you are reading this, you may find that you have as well. Seeing this requires surrendering the notion that our lives are filled with mere coincidence which is a poor and senseless substitute for the Hands of God. My own walk through Divine Mercy has been astonishing, but it began with Gethsemane.
“TO THOSE AFFLICTED BY A PARTICULARLY HARSH TRIAL”
Those words of Pope John Paul were a vivid reminder of when and how St Faustina and Divine Mercy first entered my life In 1993 just weeks before the onset of the nightmare of false witness that resulted in my wrongful imprisonment. I had a brief meeting with my friend, Father Richard Drabik, MIC, former Provincial of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception who host the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Father Drabik had also been my spiritual director. We served together in a very special ministry to wounded priests at the Servants of the Paraclete Center in New Mexico. I was in my office working late one night when Father Drabik stopped by. It was early April, 1993. He told me that he was leaving soon on a journey to Rome to take part, with Pope John Paul II, in the Mass of Beatification of (then) Blessed Maria Faustina.
I had for some time been aware that Father Drabik was involved with the cause for beatification of the Polish visionary, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. Father Drabik had given me a copy of the famous Diary of [Saint] Faustina for which he wrote the Preface when it was published in 1987. In my office six years later, Father Drabik said he didn’t have time to explain, but he wanted me to write a personal intention that he would have placed on the altar at the Mass of Beatification in Rome.
I knew little of Faustina or Divine Mercy then. I spent some time thumbing through the Diary that my friend, Father Drabik gave me, but both it and Saint Faustina were a mystery to me. I know the Diary is considered a great spiritual treasure for many, but I have found it to be incomprehensible. As much as I admire this great Divine Mercy Saint, I have simply been unable to place myself in the perspective of an early 20th Century mystic nun.
I have heard this from others, especially other priests. I will get back to this, but first, Father Drabik. I forgot about his invitation to me to present (then) Blessed Faustina with my personal intention. A week later, he was leaving for the long drive to the Albuquerque airport when he showed up in my office to ask for my intention. I grabbed a piece of notepaper and wrote:
“I ask the intercession of Blessed Faustina that, like her, I may place my life into the Hands of the Living God to become the priest God wants me to be.”
I quickly folded my intention into a small envelope, sealed it, and gave it to Father Drabik who put it in his breast pocket as he rushed out the door. Thanks to EWTN, I was able to witness the Mass of Beatification. I had no idea then the profound impact that this day and this Saint would have on my life.
One week later, Father Drabik returned and assured me that my intention had been placed on the Altar. One week after that, I was arrested on false charges from a dozen years earlier, and was taken away. I became “inflicted with a particularly harsh trial,” one of those to whom Saint John Paul II would dedicate the Divine Mercy movement at the Canonization of Saint Faustina seven years later.
Divine Mercy became the source of grace through which I have survived and through which my friend, Pornchai Moontri, has been transformed. It has been for us a spiritual life preserver upon a raging sea.
In a sense, I believe that my prayer brought to the Altar of Beatification was the offering of a sacrificial priesthood. I should have remembered that as I stood chagrined when I received a gift that I always wanted, but forgot that I wanted it. I finally got my tablet. I don’t have to make calls in the cold anymore. But the irritants of life, big and small, mean nothing.
Author, Marian Helper, and EWTN host Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle and the folks at Marian Press have presented me with a guide book for a spiritual pilgrimage through the life and writings of Saint Faustina. In its Introduction, Father Chris Alar, MIC bets that the next 52 weeks with these meditations “will change your life.” My first, spontaneous reaction to what Father Chris described was, “Oh No. Not again!”
My review of this book – and this journey – may take awhile. I will be writing more about our pilgrimage in the company of Saint Faustina with Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle as our guide. I am beginning my 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina on Divine Mercy Sunday, and I invite you at any point along the way to join me on this long road to Emmaus.
Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement of our sins, and the sins of the whole world.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post on Facebook and with your contacts on other media. And I invite you to prepare for the great adventure of Divine Mercy with these other posts from behind These Stone Walls:
- The Divine Mercy Canonization of St. John Paul II
- Divine Mercy: The Second Greatest Story Ever Told
- The Marian Missionaries of The Divine Mercy
- Father Seraphim Michalenko on a Mission of Divine Mercy