FOX News hosts a weekly half-hour television news analysis called the “Journal Editorial Report.” I try to catch it every Saturday. Barring national emergencies, the JER is usually repeated in afternoon, evening, and late-night time slots so I seldom miss it. Led by Paul Gigot, Editorial Page Editor for The Wall Street Journal, the weekly panel of news writers is always informative and thought-provoking.
At the end of each episode, the panel weighs in on its “Hits and Misses” of the week in the news, and it’s my favorite part of the program. Viewers can e-mail their own suggested hits and misses, but of course I think most readers know that as a prisoner, I have no on-line access at all. Some times this feels very frustrating as the world weighs in and I do not. But last week’s Journal Editorial Report gave me an idea to use our final post of 2011 for some “Hits and Misses” of my own. Here’s my list, including a brief explanation of each. I invite TSW readers to comment with their own “Hits and Misses” for 2011.
HIT: MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION TO LEARN PATIENCE
I remember, to this very day, the pre-adolescent oath I took when I joined the Boy Scouts of America at the age of ten in 1963, a time I wrote of in “The True Story of Thanksgiving.” I don’t know how much the Boy Scout oath has changed since then, but back then it began, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty for God and my country. I will obey the Scout Law.” Having broken a few fingers over the years hence, I can no longer even hold up the requisite three-fingered salute. This was a very influential time in my life, and I immersed myself, heart and soul, into the ideals of scouting – even when home and family disintegrated as I described in my recent post, “What Do John Wayne and Pornchai Moontri Have In Common?”
The Scout Law to which I devoted much energy was a list of traits every scout must seek to advance within himself. I haven’t thought much about that list over the 45 years since, but it’s a tribute to its impact on my life that it came back to me spontaneously, and in perfect order, as I recalled it for this post:
“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
I’d like to think I’ve been all of those, but none of them perfectly. Such articulated goals went out of fashion in the later 1960s – to the detriment of the men we were to become – but when I was ten and eleven, this list was engraved in my mind and a guiding light through some very dark times.
But I just noticed that “patient” is conspicuously missing from the list. Maybe in 1963 we didn’t need a reminder to be patient. The world had not yet become frantic. But I need a reminder today. Prisoners wait for everything, every day, and you might think I’ve had plenty of practice for patience, but all that practice hasn’t made a dent. I am a most impatient person. So my first “Hit” as 2011 comes to a close is my resolution to learn patience. Lord, help me to be patient. Do it NOW, please!
MISS: FORGETTING THE DOWNSIDE OF 1963
Though my “Hit” above recalls a simpler time, I sometimes forget that it wasn’t necessarily a better time. There were social problems I did not even know existed at age ten, and, having learned of them, I would never want to return to a time when such things plagued us. For example, I did not know in 1963 that in some states my childhood friend, Joey, an African-American, could not have ridden on a seat on the bus next to me. He could not have attended the same school. He could not have had a burger in the same diner I sat in, and could not have been a Boy Scout in the same troop. I did not know of the immense racial barriers that would have even barred our friendship if we grew up but 1,000 miles further south. I did not know that Joey’s father and mother could not even have been able to vote for the very people who might alter such rules.
Knowing these things today, I cannot say that 1963 was a better time, nor would I want to live again in the bliss of my ignorance of such things. So my first “Miss” of 2011 is my occasional lapse into a very selective melancholy about the world before all this change.
HIT: THE NEW ROMAN MISSAL TRANSLATION
In an Advent post, “Down the Nights and Down the Days,” I described the challenges we face to offer Mass in a prison cell, and I described the obstacles we had to overcome in another post, “The Sacrifice of the Mass.”
The new translation has itself been a challenge, and I stumble here and there. I used to be able to pray the entire Roman Canon by memory at Mass. Now I have to consult the Roman Missal for every word and phrase. But it’s beautifully written, and a far more faithful translation of the Latin Mass. It is worth the effort to learn the new translation.
I read a recent criticism of the translation in a letter to the editor in a recent issue of Our Sunday Visitor. The letter writer found the new translation to be “pompous” and failing to reflect our “intimacy with God in familiar terms.” I could not disagree more. Perhaps prison has helped me reflect on the nature of my relationship with God. I speak to my friends as equals. I speak to God as my Savior, my Redeemer, my Hope and my reason for not giving up. Restoring some reverence to that dialogue is a very good thing. Not all agree, but I feel I owe a little deference to the Church on this one. I sometimes miss the old and familiar, but only because it’s old and familiar, not because it’s correct.
MISS: THE DIGITAL AGE AND THE END OF PRINT
There’s sometimes a certain tunnel vision in our efforts to be “green.” I’ve read that the glut of computer monitors and other electronic equipment in landfills will do far more long term damage to the Earth than our harvesting of trees for paper. Forests can be managed and regrown, but the cathode ray tube in a computer monitor will taint the ground for many lifetimes.
But closer to home – at least, my current home – the demise of print is a burden. In December alone, two venerable old Catho1ic publications will see their last print issues. Homiletic & Pastoral Review and Catholic World Report have both ceased publication with this month’s issues. Both will become on-line only publications starting in January 2012.
It’s a loss for me. I have had gift subscriptions to both, and count on them to help inform me in a prison world where any on-line access is forbidden. Writing weekly for a Catholic blog is a challenge all by itself, but the digital age leaves prisoners behind. I know only too painfully that many other fine Catholic publications could follow.
HIT: CATHOLIC PRIESTS FALSELY ACCUSED
No, the subject is not a hit at all, but the new book by David F. Pierre most certainly is. When I reviewed it on These Stone Walls for my December 7 post, we had a record number of readers – more than 5,000 in just two days. Within two weeks, the book reached number two in its category on Amazon’s Best Seller List. This tells me something important. The Church is ready to hear evidence of the story David Pierre tells so well. Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories really is a service to the Church and to the truth.
It is not a weighty tome of erudite legal or social scholarship, nor should it be. If it were, no one would read it. This book speaks the simple truth to Catholics in the pew against a tidal wave of media coverage that has squelched the whole truth. You can still help us spread word of this book. David Pierre deserves a big “hit” for it, and another hit for his terrific website, The Media Report. You could help spread word of both, and of These Stone Walls, too, if you would.
MISS: THE BLATANT DOUBLE STANDARD OF POP CULTURE
And for me, it’s a big “miss.” In “The Cost of Father Marcial Maciel and Why I Resent Paying It,” I wrote of the media duplicity in the case of film director Roman Polanski. Convicted of the drugging and statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in the early 1970s, Roman Polanski was arrested by the Swiss police when he traveled to Zurich to receive the Zurich Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In the end, the Swiss government refused to extradite Mr. Polanski to the United States from where he fled before being sentenced forty years ago.
A week later on These Stone Walls, I wrote “If Night Befalls Your Father, You Don’t Discard Him.” I documented the cases of priests accused – merely accused, without evidence and without due process – in cases even older than the claims for which Roman Polanski pled guilty. Many of these priests have disappeared. Some, I am told, are now homeless. Some are in prison.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Roman Polanski traveled back to Zurich, Switzerland to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award that he was denied at the time of his arrest. The news media barely covered it. Could you imagine the SNAP judgment that would take place if the Church honored Father Dominic Menna, fifty years a priest and now gone after being accused of a single claim alleged to have occurred in 1959?
Roman Polanski also has a new film just out entitled “Carnage.” It’s set in Brooklyn, New York, but had to be filmed in the outskirts of Paris because Roman Polanski risks arrest in America. The film opened December 16. In a more consistent world, SNAP would be boycotting it, but they’re not. That should tell you something important about SNAP. That, and the truth I wrote about them in “SNAP’s Last Gasp!” which, in my own humble opinion, was also a “Hit.” Standing up to bullies is uncomfortable, but necessary.
HIT: LES MISERABLES
I have never been a fan of musical theatre, but one day last spring I came across the PBS presentation of “Les Miserables” performed in London to mark its 25th anniversary. For the next four hours, I was lifted out of prison and into the world of Victor Hugo and the French Revolution. His wonderful character, the wrongly imprisoned Jean Valjean, inspired me to hope against all odds. British performer Alfie Boe was mesmerizing as the tormented “criminal” hunted for years by Inspector Javert. The incredible musical score was trapped in my mind for months.
I came across it again last night on PBS, and once again my spirits soared! If you haven’t seen the PBS presentation of “Les Miserables,” you must! It prompted a dream that in turn inspired my TSW post, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Please do read it if you haven’t already. One commenter wanted to nominate it for a Pulitzer, but there isn’t one for blog posts. Besides, Pornchai saw that comment and groaned, “Oh great! Like you’re not hard enough to live with already!” (HMMPH!) Anyway, at the very least, go to that post and click on the video link to the song of the same title, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from the 25th Anniversary presentation of “Les Miserables.”
AND MY BIGGEST HIT OF THE YEAR
My biggest hit of 2011 goes to Suzanne, Charlene, and Leo. They are my digital eyes and ears and hands, and without them TSW could not exist and function. But you, our readers, are also a “Hit.” I apologize that when you write letters, I cannot always write back in a timely manner. Many of you sent cards at Christmas, but I had none to send back to you. I want you to know that your cards are posted on my wall. No, not my Facebook wall, my cell wall. You have transformed these stone walls into a vivid display of good tidings, and I thank you.
One of my Scotish countrymen, the great poet, Robert Burns, began a collection of 100 songs in 1792 that he entitled, Select Collection of Original Scotish Airs. One song in this collection was “Auld Lang Syne,” which, if you can shed enough of the Scotish accent, is actually entitled “Old Long Since.” It’s a song celebrating “The Good Old Days,” which every generation forgets are the ones we are in now. I’m not sure how the song became a tradition on New Year’s Eve, but it’s a reminder never to forget home, family, and the friends who walk with us along the way. Here it is:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of Auld Lang Syne?
For Auld Lang Syne, my dear,
For Auld Lang Syne;
We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne.
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gives a hand o’thine;
We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne.”
A “cup o’kindness” in the Scotish tradition is usually something with the words “single malt” imprinted on the label. That, too, is not possible in prison. But I have some Starbucks coffee I’ve been saving, and I plan to brew it on New Year’s Eve. I’ll have a cup o’that in honor of you, the friends I have met on this long and winding road. These Stone Walls is such a strange and unlikely place, yet it exists, and from it every week you let me reach into your hearts in friendship, and with a shared vision of grace at work in our world.
I would love to hear of your own “Hits and Misses” for 2011 and your hopes for 2012. Thanks for reading this year.
“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be strong.
Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers;
Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the
doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you
shall be the miracle. Every day you shall wonder
at yourself; at the richness of life which has
come to you by the grace of God. But everyone
needs someone; knowing that somewhere someone is
thinking of you.”
Venerable Solanus Casey
Editor’s Note: Several of you have expressed a desire to join Fr. MacRae in a Spiritual Communion. He celebrates a private Mass in his prison cell on Sunday evenings between 11 pm and midnight. You’re invited to join in a Holy Hour during that time if you’re able.
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