These Stone Walls remembers the cause for canonization of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, a special intention by Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, and the passing of a dear friend, Father Clarence P. Murphy, and celebrates the harbingers of spring.
Many years ago, I had a friend, Rachel, who was a college student at a campus near my last parish. I knew Rachel’s family who lived a few hours’ drive away, so I was tasked with being her family away from home. We had a Sunday evening Mass that was popular with college students. After the Mass one night, Rachel told me that she overheard some other college girls refer to me as “a hottie priest.” I smiled while feigning embarrassment. Imagine my letdown when I learned a week later that Rachel was spelling “hottie,” “H-a-u-g-h-t-y!”
Here we are, twenty-five years later and I’m a lot less haughty no matter how you spell it! I wish my ego was as impervious to calumny as it is to compliments, but that’s a balance few of us ever strike. Like many people I know, compliments bounce like bullets off Superman while criticism can really sink in, and linger, and undo all serenity.
You might have sensed a hint of my bristling to unjust criticism in “Breaking News: I Got Stoned with the Pope!” I admit, some of my former haughty self poked its proboscis through my prose.
Sometimes, however, high praise comes from a source that delivers it with an impact in equal measure to disparagement. One such came recently from a former professor of English at a most prestigious prep school. David left a comment after one of my posts, “In the Land of Nod, East of Eden,” and it bestowed some high praise indeed. I’m going to repeat it here for no other reason than I really like seeing it in print:
“I have read and enjoyed and/or been pained by all of your submissions to TSW, especially ” … East of Eden,” which I found more profound, focused, and verbally economical than either Steinbeck’s novel or Kazan’s and Dean’s film, both of which I taught for decades.
I wish I had back then your own ” … East of Eden” adaptation to include in our studies to show students how true sincerity, anguish, and poignancy can lend power and authenticity to creative works. And your writing would have stood up well against Steinbeck’s in its clarity, depth, and power.”
Wow! Where does one go from there? I may never write anything again! My friend, Pornchai, read the comment and brought me back to some semblance of reality. “Oh terrific!” he said. “Like you’re not hard enough to live with already!” Anyway, thanks David! Pornchai says, “thanks” too!
TO THE VENERABLE JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, AN URGENT PRAYER
You likely know that during his planned visit to England in September, the Holy Father will beatify Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the British convert who became an acclaimed prelate, preacher, and poet. Cardinal Newman’s verse cannot just be read. It must be also prayed. I concluded two December posts with very moving excerpts of his work. “The Dark Night of Priestly Soul,” concluded with a verse by Cardinal Newman about Purgatory. My favorite Cardinal Newman verse, “Lead, Kindly Light,” concluded my Christmas post on These Stone Walls.
An active proponent of Cardinal Newman’s cause for sainthood is Father Peter M. J. Stravinskas, S.T.D., Ph.D., editor and publisher of The Catholic Response. It’s a wonderful bi-monthly journal published by The Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman with a website at www.jhcnewman.org.
Father Stravinskas included an urgent request for prayers in the May/June issue of The Catholic Response. I wrote to him last week that I would inform TSW readers of the request. Here is an excerpt from The Catholic Response:
“It has come to our attention that old friends of ours, in New Jersey
have a son, Thomas, who was born blind and suffers from substantial brain damage. His blindness has been determined by all the doctors involved in his care to be irreversible.
Thomas’ parents (both converts) would like to solicit prayers for
the miraculous recovery of their baby through the intercession
of Cardinal Newman. The Houghs plan on making a pilgrimage
to the Oratory of Birmingham, England, to pray to Cardinal Newman for this cause so dear to their hearts and to those of their other children, who have shown from the outset such tremendous and touching love and affection toward their now fourteen-month-old younger brother.
We, here at The Catholic Response, would like to express our
Christian solidarity with the Hough Family by asking all of you,
our readers, to write us confirming your willingness to pray to
Cardinal Newman for this special intention. Please invite others
whom you know…to join you in communicating their prayer
intentions to us via email or direct mail [see below].
May your prayerful solicitude be blessed by Almighty God and
lead to the miraculous healing of Baby Thomas, whom we now
entrust to the intercession of the great Cardinal. We thank you
in advance for your kind participation in our effort to bring healing
and consolation to Baby Thomas as well as to his loving family,
not to mention furthering the cause of Cardinal Newman’s
“Cardinal Newman, we ask you to intercede before
the throne of the Father for the total healing of Baby
Thomas, that he and his family may serve the Lord
with joy and gladness and that your intercession
may be recognized by Holy Church, for the glory
The Hough Family will be greatly consoled and aided by your prayers. Please communicate your offer of your our prayer for this intention to Father Stravinskas, and he will in turn present it to the Hough Family. Father Peter Stravinskas can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by direct mail to:
The Catholic Response
601 Buhler Court
Pine Beach, NJ 08741
Please mention that you read of this request on These Stone Walls.
FATHER CLARENCE P. MURPHY: A PRIEST IN FULL
Please also remember in prayer Father Clarence P. Murphy, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts who died April 3rd. I happened to be looking at a copy of The Boston Globe a few weeks ago when his name jumped off the obituary page. Our friendship needs a bit of explaining.
In February, 1998 I wrote a commentary for First Things magazine entitled “A Catholic Rush to Judgment.” Something I wrote there got the attention of Father Clarence Murphy:
“It is in the nature of witch hunts that those in politics religion, and journalism who have promoted them, participated in them, or publicly endorsed them have done so under the guise of “the public good,” and with a perceived “public sanction” that has historically consisted of two equally influential components: the noise of a few, and the silence of many.”
Father Clarence Murphy was 80 years old when he read this in First Things in 1998. He immediately put his name on the prison clergy visitors list and drove three and a half hours to Concord, NH to visit me. He told me that after reading my commentary he was determined not to be one of the “silent many.” I had been in prison for four years then, and Father Murphy was the first New England priest to visit me.
And after leaving me that day, Father Murphy drove down to Boston to visit my mother. He apologized to her for the way I was treated by other priests. Father Murphy gave her a context in which to understand that suffering born of sacrifice is redemptive, and asked her to encourage me to offer my imprisonment for others. Twice a year since then, Father Murphy sent me a check to help cover expenses, to keep my writing alive, and to keep hope for justice alive. He said he gathered the funds from other priests, but I suspect they were few and he filled in the rest. Like Cardinal Dulles and Fr. Richard Neuhaus, he urged me to write and never give up.
Last year, I ceased to hear from Father Murphy and knew that age and infirmity had come to claim him. I last wrote to him in December when I sent him a copy of my post, “A Corner of the Veil.” Father Murphy’s birthday was March 17, the Feast of Saint Patrick. When I wrote my post about Saint Patrick in March, I thought of Father Clarence Murphy throughout, and wondered if he ever saw it. I think he would have liked it. He died less than three weeks after it was posted.
I have prayed for Father Clarence Murphy daily, and was at once both sad and joyful when I learned of his death. I was sad to have lost another good friend. But I was joyful because in life Father Murphy, like Job, knew that his – and my – Redeemer lived. He didn’t just hope this. He knew it! He lived each day as if it were so, and it IS so. I found his faith to be contagious when I dearly needed some. Please join me in prayer for Father Clarence P. Murphy, a brother in Christ and a priest in full.
FR. JAMES SCAHILL: SOME THINGS ARE BETTER LEFT UNSAID
It almost seems a sacrilege to follow the above with this. If you are one of the rapidly dwindling few who still read them, you may have seen reports in The Boston Globe or The New York Times about Fr. Jim Scahill, Pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Parish in East Longmeadow, MA.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, he used his parish homily to call for the resignation of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. He got raucous cheers for it in The Boston Globe and throughout the news media, and in at least one Mass, some of his parishioners applauded him.
Hmmm. If you’ve read my last few posts, you have a sense of what was going on here in this prison on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Remember what I wrote above about the noise of a few? Well, I had a very pointed reaction to this story which I asked to be posted on Carol McKinley’s blog. You can link to it to see my heated comment if you wish, but some deeds just speak volumes under their own power with no help from others. All the nuancing and rhetoric in the world won’t make them any clearer than they already are. So I’m now more inclined to give Father Scahill’s rant – and his fifteen minutes of approval by the mob led by The Boston Globe – the attention it deserves. Please pray for Father James Scahill.
EMILY DICKINSON AND POETIC JUSTICE
In my third year at Saint Anselm College in 1977, I wrote a term paper entitled: “Emily Dickinson: Recalcitrant Daughter of Abraham.” I can’t imagine how I handled such a title, but I remember that the paper focused on Emily’s contrary nature reflected in her poetry. She was renowned as a recluse and pessimist, but she was – and is – my favorite poet.
I memorized a couple of her poems all those years ago, and thought of them as I was typing this. In the corner of my cell where I type sitting on an empty bucket, my head is just six inches from the barred cell window. The window doesn’t open – a fact that I deeply resent – but there is a little security grate with a knob that opens a small section of the grate for a little – very little – air.
As I sat here early yesterday morning thinking of a title, I heard something unusual through the open grate. It was a song, and it came from a red-breasted robin perched atop the spirals of razor wire on the twenty-foot wall that has been my view of the outside world for sixteen years.
I watched the robin for a long time, and listened as he sang. It instantly made me think of Emily Dickinson, and one of her most pessimistic poems:
I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I’m some accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though –
I thought if I could only live
Till that first shout got by –
Not all pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me –
I won’t depress you with the rest. I could just imagine the reclusive Emily Dickinson pondering with a grimace the signs of life spring brought to her window, the very idea of cracking it open a bit to let some spring air clear the foul mood of her winter. I understood her, though. It’s hard to be depressed while listening to a robin sing. Her’s must have sang a lot, for she changed her own tune with a later poem:
“Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul –
And sings the tunes without the words –
And never stops – at all -“
My robin sang the latter song, and he was back again this morning. I don’t dread this robin at all. I just dread not being able to open the window so I can hear him better.
Someone gave me a gift subscription to The Catholic World Report, and I was surprised to see These Stone Walls mentioned in the April issue on the “Letters” page:
“CWR readers would do well to visit a remarkable website located at www.TheseStoneWalls.com The site details one falsely accused priest’s ordeal in confronting fraud while calling for fidelity to the Church’s mission for real victims and for all concerned.”
Especially now, in a media climate that’s hostile to all priests, accused and not, guilty and innocent alike, changing minds and hearts is crucial to justice. I have you to thank for bringing attention to TSW. Thank you. If you think of other faithful Catholic publications, websites, and individuals, please feel free to pass along a link to These Stone Walls.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.