The Gospel for the Solemnity of Christ the King is Saint Luke’s account of Dismas who discerns from his own cross that he is dying in the company of the Son of God.
I sometimes write about the stranger things that occasionally happen behind These Stone Walls. There are just too many of them to list in a post, but one that really stands out and still fills me with hope was described in gruesome detail but with an awesome outcome recently in “Saint Maximilian Kolbe Led Us into the Heart of Mary.”
I will link to it again at the end of this post along with a few others that may help you ponder the grace of being in the Presence of Christ the King. Another of these stranger things occurred more recently. It happened on November 4 this year, but I must first describe the setting.
As you may know, Pornchai Moontri and I live in a 60-square-foot prison cell. It is so small that being up and about at the same time usually results in a lot of collisions. So we have adopted sort of an unwritten schedule. We both leave for work at 0700 each day – Pornchai as the Safety Trainer for the woodworking shop and me as the Law Clerk for the prison law library. To prevent collisions, Pornchai arises at 0530, eats breakfast and then at 0600 heads outside for an hour-long workout.
I haul myself up from the concrete slab upon which I sleep (it has a two-inch vinyl covered pad), at 0615. Coffee, peanut butter crackers, Morning Prayer, and the previous day’s newspaper comprise the first 45 minutes of each day. Pornchai returns at 0700 and we both depart for opposite ends of the prison complex.
At the end of the day’s work, at about 3:00 PM, we both return at the same time. Pornchai heads outside for another one-hour workout while I make phone calls in the cell with my GTL tablet to catch up on the day’s TSW messages, comments, and traffic. At 4:00 PM we are back in the cell ready to go to dinner. This is followed by an official prisoner count and then Mail Call.
At 6:30 PM we are both on our respective bunks. Pornchai likes to follow the stock market and I watch national news while reading the day’s mail. We have thus far passed through an entire day while barely speaking a word. It is not a cold silence. It is just an empty one. Prison small talk is seldom worth listening to so we tune out the mindless banter raging always around us. But the silence is also, without doubt, a symptom of depression. We sometimes ask in silence, “Is this all there is to our lives?” You may have asked that same question.
The day I am writing about was the day after the end of Daylight Saving Time. Our cell was dark and depressing at 6:00 PM. I am anxiously awaiting a book that I have ordered — The Day Is Now Far Spent by Robert Cardinal Sarah – and I sometimes feel as though I am living its title. I hear the book is brilliant, and look forward to reading it.
You might recall that we have been able to purchase small, 10- inch flat screen televisions sold to prisoners at a vastly inflated cost of $215.00. They connect us to the outside world and make life bearable. So there we were on this dark and dreary fall evening when I flipped during commercials between news channels. I landed on EWTN with our friend, Father Michael Gaitley on the screen.
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
In a comment on TSW’s “On the Record” page, Father Gaitley once wrote that Pornchai Moontri and I “Are the Special Ops in the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy.” I thought of that as soon as I saw him on my screen. I was just thankful that he could not see us giving in to sullen prison doldrums as our annual bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder was just setting in.
So I tapped the bunk above me and told Pornchai to turn to EWTN. He did, and we both listened to Father Gaitley for awhile. Then suddenly, an image appeared on the screen. It was – amazingly – a photograph of Pornchai and me. It was the photo above as we recited our Consecration to Jesus through Mary on the Solemnity of Christ the King. The photo and story became a featured article by Felix Carroll in the Spring 2014 issue of Marian Helper magazine entitled, “Mary Is at Work Here.”
On EWTN that night, Father Michael Gaitley was just then presenting our friend, Pornchai-Maximilian, as an example of the conversion of both heart and soul. He spoke of how Max was so moved by the life and sacrifices of Saint Maximilian Kolbe that he chose his name as part of his conversion process. Father Gaitley explained that “Maximilian” means “The Greatest,” and said that Pornchai’s roommate wondered how he could make room in a tiny cell to accommodate this new name.
Just then, one of our friends stepped into our cell, and Pornchai said, “Shhh! I’m watching myself on TV!” It was a humorous moment, and our friend was shocked to see Max on the TV screen. It was as though the sun had arisen upon the window to our inner selves reminding us of the treasure we found in the dual spiritual movements of Divine Mercy and Marian Consecration.
This treasure changed everything for us. The Solemnity of Christ the King became a very special time of commemoration as we recall the events leading up to that day in November, 2013 that Father Michael Gaitley was describing on EWTN. In his article cited above, Marian Helper editor Felix Carroll wrote,
- “The Marians believe Mary chose this particular group of inmates to be the first [invited to Marian Consecration]. That reason eventually was revealed. It turns out that one of the participating inmates was Pornchai Moontri who was featured in last year’s Marian Press title, Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions… As Loved, Lost, Found reveals, Pornchai is serving a 45-year prison sentence for a murder committed when he was 18. He experienced a dramatic conversion several years ago in no small part due a friendship formed with fellow inmate – and now cellmate – Fr. Gordon MacRae … who chronicles his life in his celebrated website, These Stone Walls.”
I have written several posts about our road to Divine Mercy, but the most important of these was the one I wrote about the long and arduous road traveled by our friend. That post – the one I want so very much in my heart for people to read and understand the magnitude of it – was “Pornchai. Moontri Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night.”
Not everyone gets to survive the long dark night of life’s cruelty. And now I have to announce something I have both long awaited and long dreaded. A petition we wrote to modify Pornchai’s sentence was granted in early October. His sentence will now come to an end in about ten months. At that time, he will be taken from this prison to the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to begin another long journey: a return to the land from which he was taken 35 years ago at age eleven.
This will be the last time we mark the Solemnity of Christ the King together, and the last Thanksgiving and Christmas. After fourteen years in prison together, come ten months time I will likely never see Pornchai-Max again in this life. There is so much that must be done. He will be starting his life over, and the 28 years he has spent in prison since he was a teenager have not afforded him the means to do that.
The enormity of this will be deeply felt behind these stone wails, but we have ten months to prepare for it. (At the end of this post, Ryan MacDonald will address how readers can help if you wish.)
DISMAS, CRUCIFIED TO THE RIGHT
It is fascinating that in the Liturgical Year cycle of Mass readings, the Gospel assigned to the Solemnity of Christ the King this year is the scene of the Crucifixion of the King of the Jews from the Gospel of St. Luke:
- “The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.’ Even the soldiers jeered at him As they approached to offer him wine they called out, ‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
- Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ The other, however, rebuked him saying in reply, ‘Have you no fear of God for you are subject to the same condemnation? Indeed, we have been condemned justly. The sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:35-43).
I wrote about the above scene in one of the most-read posts in ten years of writing for These Stone Walls. It is “Dismas, Crucified to the Right: Paradise Lost and Found.”
I want to revisit a few important segments from it. The name, “Dismas,” for the repentant criminal is a Greek name that appears nowhere in the canon of Scripture. It appears in a single document, the apocryphal “Arabic Gospel of the Infancy,” of unknown origin and date. It was discovered in the Middle Ages, but the legend about Dismas that it describes was cited in the Sixth Century by Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom.
The word, “apocryphal” comes from the Greek “apokruphos,” which means “hidden.” It does not necessarily mean false. The New Testament era apocryphal writings are not included in the canon of Sacred Scripture but some of them influenced the Early Church. The Feast of the Presentation of Mary celebrated on November 21, and the names tradition gives to her parents, Joachim and Anna, are based on an account found only in the Second Century apocryphal work, the Protoevangelium of James.
In the apocryphal legend about Dismas, the above Crucifixion scene at Calvary was not the first time Jesus and Dismas met. The legend holds that there was a mysterious encounter between them in which Dismas, as a young member of a band of nomadic criminals, accosted the Holy Family in the desert during their flight into Egypt away from Herod’s pursuit in Matthew 2:13-15.
In the legend, Joseph, Mary, and the Infant were confronted by robbers led by Gestas, the name given to the other criminal who later sneers at Jesus from his own cross. The Holy Family seemed an unlikely target because they had so little, but a search revealed – to the amazement of the robbers – that they had gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the precious gifts of the Magi.
IN THE LAND OF NOD, EAST OF EDEN
However the young Dismas was mysteriously affected by the infant. So he bribed the band’s leader, Gestas, to let them go. The legend contains an echo of the exchange from the Cross as Dismas said to the infant in the desert:
- “O most blessed of children, if ever there is a time when I should need thy mercy, remember me when you come into your kingly power.”
The ancient legend held that the original crime of Dismas was fratricide, the murder of his brother. His crime mirrors that of Cain whose punishment was to be banished to wander “In the Land of Nod, East of Eden,” (Genesis 4:16) which is also the title of an older TSW post.
In the Crucifixion scene presented by Saint Luke in the Gospel for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Jesus addressed the repentant Dismas who was the first to recognize the kingship of Christ in a manner that was not a taunt:
- Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43).
The word translated as “Paradise,” comes from a Persian term, Paradeisos, which means “garden.” It first appears in Scripture in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures which were lost in antiquity. In Genesis 2:8, “The Lord placed a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” It appears again in Genesis 4:16 after the murder of Abel by his brother, Cain: “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
The symbolism between the Fall of Adam, the Cain story, and the Dismas legend is given great clarity from the Cross. By his recognition of Christ the King, Dismas – the repentant murderer of his brother – became the first to have restored what was lost when mankind rebelled in the Presence of God and sin entered this world.
The same term, “Paradeisos,” is also used by the Prophets (Isaiah 51:3 and Ezekiel 36:35). It refers to the blissful conditions of Eden to be restored in the future. The term also appears two more times in the New Testament. It is identified as the place to where St Paul was transported on a mystical journey in 2 Corinthians 12:3, and the place of heavenly paradise, the eternal dwelling awaiting the saints in Revelations 2:7.
Saint Dismas is misnamed as the Patron Saint of Prisoners. He is really the Patron Saint of all who arise out of alienation and the trials of life to bow under the weight of our own crosses. We unite them with the Sacrifice of Jesus in thanksgiving for the enduring Presence of Christ the King.
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An Important Message from Ryan A. MacDonald:
To the Readers of These Stone Walls I have had the honor of twice interviewing Pornchai Maximilian Moontri behind those stone walls, and have written about him. As so many of you know, his story is staggering in the depths of its sorrow and yet inspiring in the heights of his spiritual conversion.
TSW reader Bill Wendell from Ohio has kicked off a funding effort with a gift of $1,000 to assist in the restoration of Pornchai’s life. Readers who wish to join in this effort may do so using the PayPal link (found by scrolling down on our Donate Page). Please indicate on the PayPal form memo line the name of Pornchai Moontri. You may also have a check made out to Pornchai Moontri forwarded to him at Pornchai Moontri c/o These Stone Walls, P.O. Box 205, Wilmington MA 01887-0205. In either case, these funds will be forwarded to a savings account set aside for Pornchai-Max who will be starting his life over. Thank you.
A Note from the Publisher: These Stone Walls and Father Gordon MacRae’s defense are sponsored by the National Center for Reason and Justice and endorsed and promoted by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Please share this post. You may also like these related posts from These Stone Walls:
- Giving Thanks in the Time of Christ the King
- Saint Maximilian Kolbe Led Us into the Heart of Mary
- Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night
- De Profundis Pornchai Moontri and the Raising of Lazarus
- The True Story of Thanksgiving: Squanto, the Pilgrims & the Pope