Eric Metaxas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pornchai Moontri, Fr George David Byers, Fr Andrew Pinsent, Fr Georges Lemaitre. These and more are TSW’s Hits and Misses of 2015.
The Year in Review at These Stone Walls is modeled after my favorite weekly news commentary, the Journal Editorial Report which airs Saturday and Sunday afternoons on FOX News. Each week’s half hour segment ends with The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board members citing their “Hits and Misses of the Week.” Dorothy Rabinowitz is often among them, and it’s one of the best news analysis programs on television.
This year on TSW, I decided to cover our “Year in Review” in reverse, beginning with some of the Hits and Misses that ended the year, and then moving backwards. Each segment will be brief, and will have a link to what I wrote about it during the year. In the comments, I invite you to describe some of your own Hits and Misses of 2015.
HIT ERIC METAXAS POINTS US BACK TO GOD
I have to start with a wonderful and inspiring interview with author and radio host, Eric Metaxas in The Wall Street Journal (“The Death of God is Greatly Exaggerated,” Dec. 19-20, 2015). Interviewer Kate Batchelder captivated us with the “muscular Christianity” of Eric Metaxas, a prolific writer of science, history, culture, and faith whom I have cited in two posts on These Stone Walls “The Divine Mercy Canonization of Saint John Paul II,” and early this year in “Science Makes a Case for God and Respect for Life.”
In his recent Journal interview, Mr. Metaxas cited one of his life’s principle influencers, and it is one he and I share. He wrote of him in the highly acclaimed book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2011). TSW readers may recall that I was born on April 9, 1953. Eight years earlier on that very date, the great Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was murdered at age 39 by the Nazis upon orders of Adolf Hitler just two weeks before the Allies liberated Flossenburg Prison where he was held.
Eric Metaxas recalled “the great decision” in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “sitting safely in New York at Union Theological Seminary,” freely chose to return to Germany at the height of Nazi oppression to openly oppose Hitler and the Third Reich. It was a choice motivated by Bonhoeffer’s guiding principle “He who believes does not flee.”
The WSJ interview inspired so many that there were over 1,000 comments posted on it by the end of its first day in print. My own meager comment was number 978:
“It strikes me that Eric’s observations have a powerful precedent. In the Christian tradition, God Himself does not flee. He does not flee from the betrayal of Judas, from the abandonment of friends, from the condemnation of Caiaphas, from the judgment of Pilate, from the execution of Rome. The Gospel, and the story of science and faith in the hands of Eric Metaxas, becomes a truly compelling story.”
So bravo to Mr. Metaxas for ending the year behind These Stone Walls with a needed dose of inspiration rooted in faith. It would be a New Year’s Resolution toward a better world if you read “The Death of God is Greatly Exaggerated.” If you cannot find it, with the link above, try Googling the title in quotes.
HIT: THREE HOURS OUT OF PRISON
In “The Thrill of Hope! A Weary World Rejoices” last week, I mentioned the annual family Christmas gathering held in the prison gymnasium here. Our friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri works for the prison Recreation Department which raises funds all year from commissary sales to host an annual Christmas gathering for prisoners and their visitors. Though Pornchai works for the event, neither he nor I ever actually got to attend one of them until last year, and I described it, with some nice photos, in “The Hits and Misses of 2014.”
On Saturday afternoon, December 19, we both spent a wonderful three hours out of prison. We were still here, of course, but it sure didn’t seem like it. Pornchai’s crew, all earning the standard prison salary of $2.00 a day, spent weeks decorating the gymnasium to welcome some wonderful visitors. They include Viktor and Alice Weyand who traveled from Traverse City, MI; my Connecticut friend, Michael Fazzino; and Pornchai’s life long friend, Samantha McLaughlin.
It was a visit we will long remember. Mike Fazzino has been helping with communications behind the scenes of These Stone Walls. Viktor Weyand was instrumental in the establishment of Divine Mercy Home, an orphanage in Bangkok, Thailand. He was there recently to attend the priesthood ordination of one of its first residents. During an earlier visit to Thailand, he learned of Pornchai from members of Divine Mercy Bangkok who had been reading These Stone Walls. All three have been selfless and amazing supporters of us in prison. We managed to get a photo of all of us together.
And if you read my November post, “The Writing on the Wall Behind These Stone Walls,” then you know of our friend, Chen, a Chinese student from Shanghai now in prison with us. Over the summer, Pornchai turned him into a pretty good baseball player. The story I wrote touched some TSW readers in China who reached out to Chen in some amazing ways. He was also present at the Christmas gathering this year, and we got a photo of him with his visitors, Elizabeth Webber and Thuy.
A PAINFUL MISS
My “extra poundage” of late isn’t just the result of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Many months ago, someone commented on one of my posts that I had a few health problems “that aren’t being addressed.” That is not entirely so. They just aren’t being addressed quickly, but nothing ever happens quickly here.
Back in September I wrote, “On the Worst Day Ever, Who Wants to Write a Blog Post?” It described a number of bouts I have had with acute biliary cholic (aka gallstones) lasting several days each. I was finally taken for an abdominal ultrasound in late September. It revealed a very large number of stones some of which had created an extremely painful blockage and a lot of inflammation in surrounding organs and tissue.
So I am scheduled for surgery, but I do not know when. Being taken out of prison for tests and surgical consults is no simple affair. I described in detail one such field trip in “Naked in the Public Square.” It will make you smile – maybe even laugh, but it will also make you grimace. I’m offering this up for TSW readers. Hopefully, the surgery will happen soon if I don’t explode first.
RELATED MISS: HOME REMEDIES
Once word of this got out, I received numerous letters from readers with all manner of home remedies and urgent advice that I try them before allowing surgery to take place. They involve consuming large quantities of everything from beet juice to castor oil. None of these things are available to a prisoner, and the surgical route is the sole treatment option. So please forgive me for not jumping on the home remedy ideas. I’m simply not home.
On that note, I would appreciate a prayer. Though laparoscopic removal of the inflamed gall bladder is the preferred course, the surgeon has cautioned me that there are signs of possible complications that may involve a much broader, surgery and much longer hospital stay. So in the event that I miss a Wednesday posting on TSW, this will be why. Other than this, rumors of my imminent demise are greatly exaggerated.
A MISS: A HARD HOLY WEEK BEFORE PILATE
Even Pontius Pilate asked to hear evidence and testimony about the defendant before him, but that was not the case with the latest and last court of appeal we petitioned in our three-year-long effort to rehear my trial.
You can review it for yourselves if you wish, but in April some accomplished writers addressed the matter of whether Catholic priests can find fairness before the bar of justice. Ryan A. MacDonald tackled this in two posts: “Judge Joseph LaPlante Denies Priest’s Appeal,” and “For One Priest, a Fate Worse than Dying in Prison.” Then noted defense attorney, Vincent James Sanzone took it on in “Criminal Defense Expert Unfurls the Fr. MacRae Case.”
HIT: TRUST BORN OF SORROW
Of course, no one wants to end the year on such a dismal note. There’s a lot more to the story of injustice. I’ve discovered another, more pervasive and mysterious source of justice that is balanced in mercy on a Cosmic scale. Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered it as well, and so did Saint Maximilian Kolbe. They both died in prison, and though I sincerely hope not to, I’ve learned a lot about grace in and from unjust suffering.
As Eric Metaxas pointed out at the beginning of this post, we all have to come some day to “the great decision.” We are either believers or we are not. There is simply no fair weather clause in it. This really is a decision, and if we decide in favor of believing, then we cannot flee what we believe. I attempted to draw that same analogy in my own commentary about loss and prison last summer in, “My Turn: A Lesson from Damien, Leper Priest,” and in “Upon the Dung Heap of Job: God’s Answer to Suffering.” These two posts this year detail what I have come to know about injustice and suffering – my own and yours – and why I decide to believe and not flee.
Independently, Canadian writer Michael Brandon came to the same conclusions I did this year in his reflections on the setback in my legal appeal: “All Things Turn to Good” at his Freedom through Truth blog. It’s one of the real “Hits” of 2015, that and his very moving “Parable of a Prisoner” now posted at Mercy to the Max.
A DOUBLE “HIT” FOR A MISSIONARY OF MERCY
This year, our friend, Father George David Byers also heeded the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “He who believes does not flee.” After having been silenced for two years, when Pope Francis came to know of his demise, he was forthwith personally released from such a restriction by the Holy Father so that he might write of the Synod on the Family and other matters of importance for the Church. The Holy Father does not seem to tolerate so readily the easily abused practice of silencing priests. Then, after Father George wrote some challenging and controversial things that could have placed him in poor stead with some in the church, Pope Francis personally appointed him as an official Missionary of Mercy.
Then, Father George being Father George, on the very heels of that appointment, took on the same topic that seemed to precede his silencing in the first place. He entitled it, “Prelude to the Year of Mercy: Confronting the Truth.” Lest you think gallstones are the most painful thing I face, that post was torment, but only for its dose of unbridled truth. I struggle a lot with being a topic of controversy in the Church, but Father George approached the truth as he always does, head on, but with charity and pastoral solicitation for the well-being of the castaways, straight to the dark peripheries, and no fleeing down side roads of political correctness.
And in the midst of all this confrontation and collision on behalf of truth and mercy, Father George took time out to launch Mercy to the Max, a website that is slowly marking the milestones of redemption in the life of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri. A visit to Mercy to the Max is a Corporal Work of Mercy.
MY FIRST AND LAST HIT OF 2015
As mentioned in my first segment about Eric Metaxas, I cited him in a January 2015 TSW science post titled, “Science Makes a Case for God and Respect for Life.” It was followed one week later by a remarkable guest post from a remarkable writer, Father Andrew Pinsent who posted “Father Georges Lemaître, Father of The Big Bang.”
Father Andrew Pinsent is Research director at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Faith at England’s Oxford University. Prior to becoming a priest, he was a physicist at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland where the recent discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson particle was a scientific milestone.
Father Pinsent is a prolific author in both science and faith, and one whom I have long admired with great respect. Among his more recent contributions to science and faith is his work for the Catholic Truth Society. He is a member of the United Kingdom Institute of Physics and the Vatican Conference for Scientists. So you might forgive my succumbing to the sin of pride when he wrote in his January 2015 guest post:
“The fact that a Catholic priest invented the Big Bang theory is therefore what might be called ‘an inconvenient truth’ … Among Catholics with some kind of popular outreach Fr Gordon MacRae, through his widely-read blog TSW, has done more than almost anyone I know in recent years to draw attention to Fr Lemaître. Inspired in part by Fr Gordon’s work, my colleagues and I in England have now put together some high quality laminated A3 posters that can be sent worldwide in a series called “The Catholic Knowledge Network”… As a regular reader of These Stone Walls, I thank him for this opportunity and for the remarkable worldwide impact of this blog.”
Father Pinsent is forgiven for omitting one more truth. My side-road into the science of cosmology was accomplished from a prison cell. And in the weird but profound tapestry of connections behind These Stone Walls, just imagine my utter shock to learn that Father Georges Lemaître, the Father of the Big Bang and Modern Cosmology whom I have long honored, turned out to be also a lifelong friend of Pornchai Moontri’s Belgian Godfather. Anyway, I was never more pleased and proud than to start 2015 with a huge hit, the Catholic Knowledge Network’s amazing poster featuring the life and work of Father Georges Lemaître, and we are proudly posting it again here.
Happy New Year! Let’s leave the “misses” behind, and look forward to what dreams may come!