Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hieronymous Bosch and The Four Last Things

Miracles happen behind These Stone Walls as Catholic Priest and writer Father Gordon MacRae explains in the latest Advent posting The First of the Last Four Things: An Advent Tale.  But miracles happen behind these stone walls as well.  These Stone Walls are the walls of the prison that Father Gordon is incarcerated in, and "these stone walls" are the walls of each of our hearts, in which we are incarcerated by our sins and burdens.

When Father Gordon writes, he always leaves me wanting more, and so I have to research sources for many of the things he writes and always discover there that the vein of gold he has opened up for us runs deeper and shines more brightly than at first glance.

Today's story of Anthony Begin, a fellow inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men is in itself uplifting and inspiring, but is only the tip of the iceberg.

Father Gordon first gives us a little glimpse of Christmas on the Bipolar Express, a tiny peek at what life behind bars is about this time of the year.

But, he does not tarry there, as he reminds us of the miraculous work of Divine Mercy in the story he previously told of his compatriot and mentee Maximilian Pornchai Moontri, in A Stitch in Time, Threads of the Tapestry of God.

Then he weaves for us a glimpse at one of the Last 4 Things, which the Church has always held as Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell, and writes of Anthony Begin, and how he has had a miracle in his life that has deferred his own death from imminence to an indeterminate time in the future.  It seems that God is not done with Anthony (who by the way shares a common Saint with me, as my middle name, and the first name of my long dearly departed grandfather is Anthony).

But, what Father Gordon does with Anthony's reprieve is remind us of the fragility of life, and the eventuality that we will encounter the first of the Last 4 Things, Death.  God has spared Anthony for now because he has plans for Anthony, not the least of which is allowing him to grow in his faith. One of the things to come from Anthony and his story of healing and faith is that it has fallen into the hands of a teller of stories Father Gordon, and has opened him up to telling us of the Last 4 Things, which in turns opens his readers to them as well.

Father Gordon's post ends on a deep note:
Anthony found this to be profoundly hopeful. So do I. It’s also sobering, calling to mind that our “momentum mortis” is something far deeper than a reflection on death. It’s a reflection also on the art of living, and it’s the greatest of Advent hopes. Opening ourselves to the Birth of Christ lets fall away all the hubris of being human. We belong to Christ, and we have but a little Advent left to come to terms with that.  
Anthony, too, has seen the Fall of Man. He has seen it in himself and all around him. The great thing he is now to achieve, the thing he will take into life in eternity, is the sure knowledge that no one can witness the Birth of Christ, and remain a prisoner.
There is profound hope in Father Gordon's conclusion.

But, as always, his post is pregnant with meaning.

Perhaps you noticed the picture in the middle of the posting.  It is a picture of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, painted about 1500 and entitled The Seven Deadly Things and the Four Last Things.



I first came across the name Hieronymus Bosch in the novels of Michael Connelly, where his hero Detective Harry Bosch was actually named after the painter.  So, with the help of Google, I was able to learn a little bit about the artist, about whom only a very little bit is known at all.

Of interest to readers of Father Gordon MacRae, the real Hieronymus Bosch, a Catholic, joined the Brotherhood of Our Lady, a religious organization devoted to the Blessed Virgin in about 1486, and died about 1516.  So, it seems fitting that an image of a painting by Bosch should grace the blog site of a man committed to his Consecration to the Blessed Virgin.

Father touched on the 4 Last Things, which made me delve into them a little deeper, and it is not only appropriate for us to so do, but is essential for us as we look forward to our own passing away from this mortal coil.

The 4 Last Things are worthy of contemplation, and there is an excellent series written by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life available at this link.

Bosch graphically depicted in this painting how the 7 Deadly Sins impact on the 4 Last Things.

The devil has worked hard to make us forget the 4 Last Things, because if we renew our faith in the 4 Last Things, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell, then we will realize too that the 7 Deadly Sins, and how we respond to the temptation to commit them, leads us towards Death, Judgement, and a choice between Heaven and Hell.

But, as long as we are so busy about today so as to not look towards the future of our immortal souls, we are in for a surprise, quite possibly not a pleasant one.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Office of Readings for this wonderful Feast has this writing.

SECOND READING

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956)

Virgin Mary, all nature is blessed by you


Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night—everything that is subject to the power or use of man—rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God. The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.


We also have this concluding prayer that is worthy of contemplation.


Let us pray.

Father,
you prepared the Virgin Mary,
to be the worthy mother of your Son.
You let her share beforehand
in the salvation Christ would bring by his death,
and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.
Help us by her prayers
to live in your presence without sin.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stone Walls do not Daunt the Immaculate Heart

Recently I was asked by Father Gordon if I would write a guest post for These Stone Walls. Though Father invited me to write about anything I wanted, he did suggest that I write about my Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and what it has meant for me.

It was reading that Father Gordon and Pornchai had begun and then completed the Consecration that initiated my direct interest in it, and that of many others as I have come to understand.  Soon after my interest was piqued, a conversation I had with my spiritual director, who at the time was in the midst of his own Consecration, was the final impetus I needed.

Now having read Father Gordon's Thanksgiving post on the tapestry that is being woven and has been woven in the life of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, we see once again how marvelous our God is, and how grace filled his servant Our Blessed Mother Mary is and how that grace flows to us.

But also I saw something in this story I never saw before, that my life too has been a tapestry and I was reminded of the opening lyrics of Carole King's song of that name:
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.
The vision is everlasting since it belongs to God, but our view of it is ever changing as we grow closer to Him or further away from him.  And, of course the rich and royal hue is the wonderful threads of gold and royal blue that our God and His Queen Mary weave into our tapestry.

I was raised in a small Catholic family of 2 parents and 2 children in London Ontario. My parents were very Catholic in the context of the Catholic Church in Canada at the time, regular mass and confession, Catholic schools for the kids, Catholic Women's League for Mom, and Knights of Columbus for Dad.

When I was a child in the 50's Saturday night was bath night. My mother supervised my younger sister and I to ensure we were properly cleaned, and that our clothes for Mass on Sunday were set out for us. On Sunday we, as a family, attended Holy Mass. It was my mother who urged me to become an altar boy, and also every day in Lent and Advent we would go to Mass together. My father had served in the war, and was physically handicapped, so though he was present, the head of our home, and an important part of our formation, my mother was the heart of our home, and focused on matters of the heart with us.

It is only recently that I have come to understand how important my mother was in leading me to the Holy Eucharist, to Jesus. But, also importantly she gave me a model of the Blessed Virgin in her mothering of my sister and me. Having an earthly mother who loved me has helped me to see that I have a heavenly mother who loves me even more, and who like my earthly mother wants to clean me up, and dress me appropriately in spiritual and mental apparel to come with her to Her Son Jesus, in the Eucharist, and in personal relationship.

We Christians and even Catholic Christians have such a misunderstanding of the role that Our Heavenly Father has given to Mary in helping us on our journey of salvation.

Recently, I became aware of how authority and power were viewed in biblical times. It seems that the second most powerful person in the kingdom was the mother of the King. Queens tended to outlive their husband Kings, and so as mother of the then King, her son, were respected with special authority of their own. Subjects could petition the Mother of the King for help, and if she accepted their petition she would take them to her son the King and plead their case for and with them. It is said that the King seldom disagreed with His Mother in such matters out of his respect and love for her.

When I realized that I wanted to consecrate myself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus I downloaded books about Marian Consecration written by St. Louis de Montfort, seeking to understand in my mind what I believed my heart was instructing me to do.  St. Louis' True Devotion to Mary is available for download in a PDF format suitable for computer or an iPad or other electronic device here, and his book The Secret of Mary is available here as a PDF.

Father Gordon, Pornchai and their friends used  Fr. Michael Gaitley's book "33 Days to Morning Glory", which is available at your local Catholic bookstore or at Amazon here,   After reading and meditating on the above books by St. Louis, I purchased the Father Gaitley book and set out on a path to Consecration. I chose to do this on my own, and quietly, while Father Gordon and friends did it together.  Doing it is more important than who you do it with.

In my morning prayer time I set aside a part of it to read the book section for each of the 33 days, and contemplate what it said and meant for me. The model for this is really Our Blessed Mother who took all things in and pondered them in her heart, and I am certain that she provided me with the grace to do this, and ponder it as well.

St. Louis called Mary the easiest and surest path to Jesus, and I have come to believe that he was correct. Since I had a personal encounter with Jesus many years ago, I wanted to become holy, to live a life worthy of the calling I knew I had received that day.

But I failed miserably, though I had help as you shall soon see.  About a year after my personal encounter with Jesus my wife, three daughters and I were travelling up the interstate in Vermont heading to Stowe.  The girls, who were 2, 4, and 6 at the time were talking animatedly with their mother and me, as kids do.  Suddenly, I noticed it was quiet, and looked around to see that the 4 of them were asleep.  As odd as this seemed, what I heard next was disturbing.  I heard a voice I knew immediately to be that of St. Michael the Archangel say to me words that are etched in my mind to this day, 23 years later: "Satan has asked for permission to sift you and your family.  And, God has granted it."

Then a few moments later, my daughters and wife were carrying on the conversation that had stopped moments before.

That evening we decided to rent a cottage at the foot of Madonna Mountain, which should have been a clue for me, but was not until recently.  It was a two bedroom cottage and we put our youngest down in a crib in the living room.  As the two older girls and I headed for their bedroom, they stopped in the hall and pointed to one of the beds.  They both said that there was a bad man sitting on the bed and refused to enter.  I prayed for it to leave and knew that it was the devil making himself known.  After he departed the girls went to bed peacefully.

Later as my wife and I were asleep in our room, with two windows open for air, I was aware of the light from the moon filtering into the room.  After being asleep for some time, I was awakened to a presence at the foot of the bed.  I also noticed that all light that had been present before was sucked out of the room, and that this presence was evil.  I knew it was the devil again, and prayed for him to leave.  2 more times that night he appeared at the foot of our bed.  And so it began.

What I had missed then, and did not grasp until recently, was that Mary (the Madonna) would have been happy to help me if I had only consecrated myself to her care at that time.

So, though I prayed often, the ensuing years saw the end of our marriage, the loss of our business, and much emotional, and spiritual pain for us and particularly for our children.  Our children still bear the effects of all that happened in those years.

But, consecrating myself to Mary has brought about much change already. The tapestry of my life has been altered and is being rewoven with "rich and royal" threads.  Slowly and calmly Mary has been breaking down the stone walls of my heart, the sins and tendencies that separate me from her Son, Jesus. These sins/stone walls in my life were very instrumental in how the devil was able to disrupt my focus from my family during our most serious trials.  But, now these stones are being replaced with beautiful, but strong threads, and those threads connect me to her Immaculate Heart and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As Mary has reached into These Stone Walls to touch her sons in the New Hampshire State Prison for Men, so she wants to reach into the stone walls in each of us, cleaning us up, instructing us, and preparing us to stand with her at the foot of the Cross and worship and adore her Son, Jesus. That is what Mary is all about. She is all about Jesus, in the Love of the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we can contemplate how she was chosen from the beginning of time to be the Mother of God made man, and so was herself made perfectly clean and free of original sin in her Immaculate Conception.  Then we can ponder how Mary wants to teach us to do as she told the servants at the wedding feast at Cana in John 2:5:
Do whatever He tells you.









Friday, November 21, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of Mary

Today the Church celebrates the Presentation of Mary, the one who was to bear the Christ in her body.  Here is an excerpt from a sermon of St. Augustine and what follows it in the Office of Readings for today.

SECOND READING

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Sermo 25,7-8: PL 46, 937-938)

She who believed by faith, conceived by faith


Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her—did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.

Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power, and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.

The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent—the most eminent—member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine—our head is God.

Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? “Of Mother Church,” I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.

RESPONSORY
Isaiah 61:10; Luke 1:46-47


I will cry out with joy to the Lord;
my soul will rejoice in my God,
 for he has clothed me with the robe of salvation,
like a bride adorned with her jewels.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
 For he has clothed me with the robe of salvation,
like a bride adorned with her jewels.

CONCLUDING PRAYER

Let us pray.

Eternal Father,
we honor the holiness and glory of the Virgin Mary.
May her prayers bring us
the fullness of your life and love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
 Amen.

Or:

As we venerate the glorious memory
of the most holy Virgin Mary,
grant, we pray, O Lord, through her intercession,
that we, too, may merit to receive
from the fullness of your grace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
 Amen.

ACCLAMATION

Let us praise the Lord.
 And give him thanks.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

A CHRISTmas Poem

 
 Twas two months before Christmas
When all through our land,
 
 Not a Christian was praying
 
 Nor taking a stand.
 
 Why the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
 
  
 The  children were told by their schools not to sing
 
 About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and  things.
 
 It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would 

say
 
 December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
 
  
 Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and  credit
 
 Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
 
 CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
 
 Something was changing, something quite odd!
 
  
 Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
 
 In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
 
 As Targets were hanging their trees upside  down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was nowhere to be  found.
 
 At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't  hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
 
 Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
 
 Are words that were used to intimidate me.
 
 Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton,

Wolf Blitzen
 
 On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
 
 At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
 
 To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
 
  
 And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
 
 Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
 
 The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and  discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
 
  
 So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
 
 Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
 
 Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
 
 Shout MERRCHRISTMAS,
not Happy  Holiday !
 
  
 Please, all Christians join together and
wish everyone you meet
 
 MERRCHRISTMAS!
 
  
 Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable

The phrase "Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable" has been used by a few people over the years.  But, it originated in the fictional Mr. Dooley, created by Finley Peter Dunne, a Chicago journalist and humorist of the late 19th century and early 20th century, apparently in the so called muckraking period of journalism.  When he wrote it, his Mr. Dooley, a southside Irish pub owner was speaking about the self perceived power of the press, and so was a complaint against hypocrisy in contemporary journalism.

Writing as Dooley and mimicking his Irish brogue Dunne opined:
"Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward".
But, in truth there is in our society a noble task of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and that task is primarily the purview of Christianity, and in particular Catholic Christianity and the Vicar of Christ, our Holy Father the Pope.  In simple terms it is the responsibility of our earthly spiritual father to comfort our afflictions, while at the same time afflicting our comforts, as it is the task of every father to so do for his children.

An important area of comforting and afflicting is in our human sexuality, for it is in our sexuality that our humanness, and our brokenness is often most profoundly encountered.  Pope Paul VI tried to comfort and afflict with his powerful encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.  He did not fail but he was failed by those who were empowered to proclaim the beauty and power of this particular encyclical letter.  Pope John Paul II wrote and presented the Theology of the Body, in a series of 129 short homilies, and this too has largely sat on the shelf.  In turn, Pope Benedict XVI taught with authority and all three of these Holy Fathers were ignored by their children much as happens in homes around the world, and particularly in the western world.  However, unlike in the western culture of the 21st century where many fathers are using helicopter parenting on a perceived needs basis, we have had before us daily, if we so chose, the teachings, affirmations, and guidance of our Holy Fathers through the ages, but have turned our backs on them.

But, such is not the case with our current pope, Pope Francis.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, as with his predecessors he was chosen to be our Papa, a man for this particular time and space.  His charism is that when he speaks people hear what he says and it echoes around the world in moments of internet time.

However, there is an apparent problem in communication, the difference between hearing and listening, and the media, those to whom the fictional Mr. Dooley, tongue in cheek, ascribed the duty of afflicting and comforting are largely to blame.  The truth is that the media has not been ascribed this duty, but has usurped it.

When it comes to matters of morality, particular with sexual morality, the media, in general, has taken upon itself to be the voice of liberalism.  In so doing, they take sound bites translated into English, since our Holy Father speaks in Italian or Portuguese, and create great fiction with them in support of their liberal causes.  Most of what is reported from Our Holy Father is out of context, and translated such that the whole of the content is often lost.

Of course, there is a two way street, and conservative writers look to do the same with the sound bites that catch their fancy.

And so, the comfortable pew sitter, or closet Catholic is left conflicted and afflicted.  For the liberals in the Catholic Church who know that they are right, our Papa is too conservative sometimes, and for the conservatives in our midst, who know they are right, our Papa is too liberal.

A beautiful prayer I say daily goes like this:
Father all Merciful, let those who hear and hear again yet never understand, hear Your Voice this time and understand that it is You, the Holy of Holies; open the eyes of those who see and see, yet never perceive, to see with their eyes this time Your Holy Face and Your Glory, place Your Finger on their heart so that their heart may open and understand Your Faithfulness, I pray and ask you all these things, Righteous Father, so that all the nations be converted and be healed through the Wounds of Your Beloved Son, Jesus Christ; amen;
As Father Gordon MacRae said the other day at These Stone Walls in Pope Francis and the Scandal of Listening, the recent Synod on the Family is a beautiful case in point.  Pope Francis wanted all voices heard, not because they were correct, but because they are the voices of the faithful.  If I cannot speak what I believe to be true, how will I ever understand if, or why I might be in error? So, Pope Francis gathered many voices together so that he and the Church fathers could listen, and listen they did.

I have long considered myself to be a conservative, in matters of politics and faith.  In other words I lean to the right.  It happens that I KNOW that I am right, meaning CORRECT.  However, I know a large number of folks who are liberal in their leaning, and I have discovered that they too KNOW that they are CORRECT.

Consequently, we do not discuss our differences.  Since I write from a conservative perspective I have from time to time offended liberal leaners who I care for, by my dogged conservatism in my writing.  Until recently, I did not perceive this to be a problem since what I wrote was consistent with Church teaching.  In other words I was CORRECT. Get over it.

But, I saw the train approaching and then it hit me.  Though I was hit by the train, I had missed the boat.  I have been afflicting the comfortable, but have not been comforting the afflicted.

It is an oversimplification to say that conservatives afflict the comfortable and that liberals comfort the afflicted, but there is some truth in both statements.  What Our Holy Father is trying to do is to pastorally afflict us where we are comfortable, while simultaneously binding our wounds, as a "field hospital" which was one of his recent analogies.  How often have we gone to a doctor with a particular malady, and left frustrated in the end.  Our doctors, at least in Canada, are so stressed by the demands of the system that they hear what we say, and react to it, rather than listen to us and respond to that.  And so it is in the rest of society.

The media is doing our Pope a great disservice, while serving him and his aims very well.  God wants us to dig deep into our faith or lack thereof, and our Holy Father, armed not with a hammer but with a compass as his tool of choice, per Father Gordon, is charting the course for the Church of today.

The Church of today is the same as the Church of yesterday, and also of tomorrow.  In other words, conservatives do not have to worry that Pope Francis will redefine some long held dogma.  The divorced will not be invited to the communion table without regularizing their situation, nor will homosexuals be married or have their commitments recognized by the Church.  But the Church must love them and invite them in, as it loves every one of us who comes, because their sin, though currently topica,l is in no way greater than yours or mine.

Jesus said that He was "the Way, the Truth and the Life".

Then, he pointed out the Way.  He gave us 2 commandments to live by.  We are to love God with our whole hearts, minds, souls and bodies, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  So, the Way is the way of love. "Love one another as I have loved you."

But, he also is the Truth.  So, the way is love, but love must be complemented by Truth.

If in loving someone you are not really honest with them, then are you really setting an example of love for them?  In Canada, political correctness is in vogue.  It is becoming illegal to tell the truth if it might hurt someone's feelings, which is akin to not telling your child he/she is about to touch the hot stove because they might have hurt feelings.  Hurt feelings sure beat the pain of burnt fingers, so we would not consider it unloving to warn them, possibly in firm tones, of the imminent danger.

But, the problem so often with the Truth, is that we have to differentiate the Truth objectively, rather than subjectively, and also must dispense it with love, so that it is not lost.

In our western society of today, truth has become relative.  "Well, that might be true for you, but for me it is not." This is the curse of relativism that must be fought against, but still in love.

Truth is bounded by natural law, but that is a completely different topic.

Those who have faith in Jesus have available to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one of those is the gift of Wisdom, which should not be confused with knowledge.  Knowledge is not always the truth, but may be on a path to the truth.  Wisdom on the other hand speaks only Truth.

But, Wisdom speaks truth in love.

And where Truth and Love (Way) meet, there is Life.  So, Jesus is the. Way, the Truth, and the Life, and they are inseparable.

As Pornchai Moontri said to Father Gordon, Pope Francis "is the Pope of the lost, my Pope."  Well, he is my Pope too, as in many ways I am every bit as lost as Pornchai, Father Gordon and you.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Women Who Touch the Heart of Father Gordon MacRae

Father Gordon MacRae, the author of the very Catholic These Stone Walls blog, a priest falsely imprisoned for over 20 years is, in my opinion, a man's man. But, to call him just that would be to limit him, and as we have come to know, if prison walls do not limit his reach into the world, then who would we be to attempt to describe him in limiting terms?

But, his life has also been touched by many women, and One Woman in Particular, the Woman Clothed with the Sun.  But, this week, he writes about other women who have touched his life in one way or another in Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and the Gift of Life.

It is fitting for him to write about women in a piece with the partial title "Gift of Life" since women are the central point of the gift of life that we all enjoy, and it is also fitting that Saint Therese be a focus of his article since she was proclaimed, in 1997, as "the greatest saint of modern times" by none other than Saint John Paul II, and is a Doctor of the Church.

Gift of Life permeates Father Gordon's latest missive, as he writes of Miriam Ibrahim, Saint Therese, Michelle, and a young woman named Andrea McCormick.

As I pondered the Gift of Life and the brief stories of the women in this article, I was caught up in how they fought for life in one way or another.  It also was not lost on me that where men (though not all of us) will more likely fight to the death for something we believe in, women (though very sadly not all women) will most often fight for the life of something they believe in.

The women profiled in Father Gordon's article fight for life in various non violent ways, as Our Blessed Mother fights for our lives every day, and yet we men particularly do not see it as a fight.

Miriam Ibrahim fought for life by standing up for it, by giving birth to it in her baby child while chained in a prison cell for her faith.

Like Father Gordon my spirit leapt when I saw the exchange she had with Megan Kelly from Fox
News:
Megan Kelly: “But why not just say what they wanted to hear to save your life?”
Miriam: “If I did that it would mean I gave up. It’s not possible because it’s not true. I have committed no crime.”

Miriam Ibrahim displayed the faith that we may all be called on to display in the near future of this tumultuous world we live in.  Father Gordon can relate to both the question and the answer that Miriam gave, for he gave the same one over 20 years ago, and has paid the price ever since.

Part of the "Gift of Life" that Father Gordon writes about is the truth, for Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Life and truth are inextricably linked for eternity.  As the song goes: "You can't have one without the other."

Father Gordon called his post a two parter, which does not do it justice.  It is more like a diamond. On first reading I looked at one facet of it.  On second another, and on third the light shone on it in still another way, exposing its inner beauty.

One neat thing Father Gordon does is draw us back and forth across time to other posts he has written, and they form a panoply, as it were, which in totality is overwhelming, but in bite sized chunks is able to be absorbed by his readers.  That lets us take the current post as a piece, and then at our leisure and as prompted by the Holy Spirit, move about the links to get the deeper meaning.

When he invites us to go back in time to September 30, 2009, to his post A Shower of Roses, the story of Michelle and the linkage to Saint Therese of Lisieux, the diamond grows brighter as more light hits it many angles and faces.

He was touched by Michelle and her painful death, the love of her friends and family for her and she for them, and her release of herself into the custody of Saint Therese to escort her to the loving arms of Our Saviour.  Saint Therese might have only spent 24 years on this planet, but her way of love is monumental, and Michelle is a part of that way of love for eternity as well.

In her autobiography The Story of a Soul Therese comes to the conclusion of the purpose of her life, and also of her eternal life as she says:
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.
This was a quote in the Office of Readings for today.

His final woman of faith is Andrea McCormick, a student from Pennsylvania, who wrote an award winning and thought provoking article on "Why Abortion Should End", which is available in Father Gordon's blog post.

But, where she grabbed me particularly was when she quoted my favorite document of American history, the Declaration of Independence.
“All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We are ALL created equal, not born, not hatched, but created.  And when are we created?  At the moment of our conception.

So, Saint Therese and her way of love permeates this posting about women of faith, and that is how it should be for we are all created by Love and for love.

Miriam suffered for a time and lives to tell the story of God and His Mercy.  Michelle lived for a time, suffered greatly and is in the company of the angels and saints interceding for us now.  St. Therese lived for a short time as well, and left us with her Little Way, the way of  love, and comes to many souls in many ways to make known the love of God for them.

Andrea McCormick is a continuing story.  Like Miriam Ibrahim, she is destined to suffer for her faith, in the midst of a world of unbelief, but like Miriam Ibrahim she and her faith will prevail because it is rooted in Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

Father Gordon is another continuing story, and though he suffers for his faith daily, he is pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned as the song below Trading My Sorrows says:





Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Parable of the Prisoner

There once was a little boy, born in a far off land.  While he was still very young, his mother left him and moved to a distant country, and he was placed into the prison of abandonment.  And the Father wept for His little beloved.

The little boy was taken in by family, but was put to work at a very early age, and so received no formal education.  He was placed in a prison of ignorance.  And the Father wept for His little beloved.

After many years, his mother returned with her husband from a distant country and took the little boy away with her to the distant country where he did not know the language, the customs or any of its people.  He was placed in a prison of fear and confusion. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

His step father was an evil man and sexually abused him.  Though he tried to run away he was brought back to the home of his step father, where he was continually abused.  He was placed in a prison of revulsion and anger.

Finally, he escaped and lived on the streets until one night he was involved in the death of another man.  He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison.  He was first in a prison of remorse, sadness, and hatred, and then was placed in a prison of the body. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

He was moved from prison to prison from cell to cell. So, added to the prisons of his life thus far, his circumstances had placed him into a prison of loneliness. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

But, unbeknownst to him, another man had been sentenced, for crimes that never happened, to the prison where he was finally settled.  This man was a Catholic priest, and even though he himself knew the prison of abandonment, he did not allow it to define his life and so he befriended the young man from the far off land, and led him to relationship with Jesus Christ. And the Father leaped for joy to see His little beloved on the path to freedom, the path for which He had sent His Son to bleed and die, and then to rise again.

As time passed, the young man and his priest friend consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  They also discovered two very dear friends among the saints, Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Padre Pio.

Under the protection of Our Holy Mother, the Blood of Jesus Christ and with the intercession of their dear friends the saints, the prison walls of both of their lives have been disintegrating, because they cannot stand against the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

This parable, like all parables is meant for each of us to ponder for we too have been placed in the prisons of our emotions by our circumstances, whether we were misled by others, or consciously took paths that led to these prisons.  How we came to be in the prisons of our lives is far less important than how we can leave them behind.

You see, some of these prisons, the prisons of our minds are prisons that we have willingly entered in the hope of escaping the other prisons of our lives.  But, exchanging one prison for another or adding another prison to our already tortured lives is not the answer.

Whatever the question, the answer is Jesus Christ.  He was and is the perfect gift from the Father to you and to me, because He took on all our prisons and allowed them to be nailed to the Cross with Him.  He returned them to their rightful place, Hell, and then He rose again from the dead.

Unlike most parables, this one is based on the true story of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, and his mentor and best friend Father Gordon MacRae.

So, unlike most parables this one is before us every day for us to ponder, pray on, and then to accept the love of Christ, and the love of His Blessed Mother that has been bringing salvation to both Pornchai and to Father Gordon.

Let the Father leap for joy at your acceptance of His Son as your Saviour.  Let the Father leap for joy as you give your heart to Jesus to repair and heal, and to Mary to love you as only a perfect mother can.

And turn to These Stone Walls and read as the parable continues to unfold.




Thursday, September 11, 2014

From Fear and Humility to Hope and Love

Once again, a blockbuster article appeared over at These Stone Walls, this one titled "Travesty of Justice: The Ordeal of Fr. Gordon MacRae".  Every week I await the Wednesday morning posting on These Stone Walls, with some of the anticipation of a young child for Christmas, and every week I am not disappointed.  The gift given is always just what I needed, never too much and never too little. And it is probably so for many of the other readers of TSW postings, and so it is a unique gift for each of us.

And isn't anticipation of Christmas a good thing?  At that first Christmas we received the greatest gift mankind every received, the birth of Our Saviour; God became man for us.  And that gift too is unique for each and every one of us.  The same Jesus, the same manger, the same outward appearance, but he comes to each and every one of us where we are geographically and in our state in life.

The giving of gifts at Christmas was always meant to symbolize that greatest of all gifts, but has come more to mean conspicuous consumption.  But, the underlying meaning of Christmas is still there, even if hidden from the eyes of most. So, when we receive our weekly gift from Father Gordon at These Stone Walls, we are there too receiving the original intent of Christmas, the gift of Christ. In this particular case we receive the gift of Christ from an alter christus, a man ordained to bring Christ to us.

Yesterday our gift though was a little different.  It was a recounting of the case, life and trials of Father MacRae, by a very respected leader of the laity in America, Dr. William Donohue.  If you have been on the TSW site, or have come across articles or books by Ryan A. MacDonald or Dorothy Rabinowitz to name two of many you have had access to the story of cruelty and manipulation that resulted in the false imprisonment of Father MacRae.

The available information on his case is voluminous, and with the different perspectives of the various writers focusing on particular aspects of the injustice of it all, and official documents, it is a challenge to put into a single perspective.  However, Dr. Donohue does just that and for that TSW readers should be grateful.

Dr. Donahue highlights the confluence of evil that was required for our friend and priest Father Gordon to end up behind bars in such an incongruous set of lies, deceptions, hatred, greed, and malevolence.  The devil is in the details, and in this case we can see the devil in the details.

For further reflection we have the words of Saint Bernard an abbot and the author of the Memorare prayer that you can find at the bottom of the TSW web page.  Saint Bernard, like Father Gordon was a lover of Our Holy Mother.  In the Office of the Readings for September 10, we find that he wrote:
The whole of the spiritual life consists of these two elements.  When we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with a salutary sadness.  And when we think of Our Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love.
Father Gordon did not commit the crimes for which he was placed in prison, in no large part because they never happened.  But, he is a sinner like you and me.  Our Lord knew who he was, and also how he, like you and like me, is the very apple of His eye.  He has allowed all that has happened to Father Gordon to occur for His Glory, in ways we can not understand, in ways that are way above our pay grade.

I do not know anything about the depth of Father Gordon's spiritual life before going to prison, but I read and see it becoming as deep as the ocean now.  He has been taken to the places of fear and humility; it is evident in his writings.  But, as I wrote last week in Unchained Melody: Hope in the Hoosegow, there is evidence of hope in the life of Father Gordon and Pornchai and those with them in the NH Pen for Men.  But, hope is incomplete without love, and the hope in the pen is not incomplete.

Father Gordon's gift of himself to us each week comes from the same place as the gift Jesus gave to us in His Birth, but also in His Death and Resurrection.  That gift and every good gift emanates from the heart of the Father, and as God is love, so too these gifts are gifts of love.

Cherish the gift that is Jesus, and cherish the gift from his alter christus, Father Gordon as if it comes from the depths of the heart of Jesus, for it does.  The gift we receive weekly from Father Gordon is a sign of God's love for us.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Unchained Melody: Hope in the Hoosegow

I have wondered why it is that Father Gordon MacRae, a priest falsely imprisoned in The New Hampshire State Prison for Men has become such a beacon in the lives of the many believers who read his weekly postings from Behind These Stone Walls.

This week as Father wrote his post entitled The Shawshank Redemption and the Crime of Innocence it hit me.

Father Gordon MacRae and Pornchai Maximilium Moontri are living parables.  They are in essence living the stories of our own lives but in a more dramatic and graphic fashion.  We wander about our daily lives, carrying the burdens of our own sins on our backs, free in our bodies, yet not free in our spirit.  They are stuck in stir at the NH Pen for Men, but are a witness to spiritual freedom in their daily life.

Father Gordon this week, gives us a glimpse into life in the prison system that is at once chilling and reminiscent of how the devil plays with us in our own daily lives of confinement. He tells of solitary confinement, and of time spent confined to a prison cell built for 4 men but housing 8.  It is only a glimpse, but it is an example of man's inhumanity to man. In the world outside prisons, we might look at legislation that makes things we know to be depravities legal as a form of confining believers to small and shrinking domains.

The potential hopelessness that can be generated in prisoners, by how we, as a society, handle our brothers and sisters, who are like us in general, except that they got caught, struck me as I pondered Father Gordon's article.  I am not trying to diminish the seriousness of the deeds of most prisoners. They have committed serious criminal acts, but in truth are they greater sinners than we are, if all sin is abhorrent to God?  As Pope Francis said, though the context is lost in translation: "Who am I to judge?"

I find that I have to absorb what Father Gordon says for a couple of days. Though sometimes I am able to write my own thoughts about it more quickly, his writing stays inside my breast for a lengthy period and percolates, often aided by readings from the Bible or Liturgy of the Hours or articles by other Catholic writers that I regularly pay attention to.  It amazes me how the points that I am to get from Father Gordon's writings usually come to me in multiple ways to make sure that the point is made.

So, I pondered on what life would be like with another person in less than 100 square feet of living space.  Our family room in Canada is about 3 times that size and looks over our gardens, and a forested park just beyond our property.  Not a very good comparison.  But, in Arizona, we live in a park model trailer, a "candominium" as we like to call our little metal mansions down there.  Even there we have 700 square feet of living space, with exposure to the sunshine and the desert daily. BUT, what would life be like if we were confined to our bedroom there for most of every day, which is about the size of the cell that Father Gordon and Pornchai share?  My wife and I need space from each other to keep us from going "stir" crazy.

But, if Father Gordon, Pornchai and the other prisoners in the New Hampshire hoosegow can survive their confinement, then something must be afoot behind These Stone Walls.  And if it is afoot for them, then surely it must be afoot for us on the outside.

The clue came in this quote from Father Gordon, including the words of the fictional Andy Dufresne from the Shawshank Redemption:
Most important of all to our survival, Andy Dufresne and I both had hope, that one necessary thing that Andy bestowed upon his friend, Red, at Shawshank: “Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.  We can certainly argue that the Bible ranking of the three primary virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity is correct in a global sense, Charity (Love) being the greatest, but when your back is against the wall, Hope might just be the "best of things."

A clue to the importance of Hope is found here in the Bible:
Romans 12:12: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."
Hope is what we see in Father Gordon and Pornchai, and which we must find and see in ourselves as well.  Their tribulations and trials probably bother them as much or more than our own trials bother us, but Hope pervades their existence.  I have witnessed in them both an uptick on the Dow Jones of Hope this past year, and I attribute that to their Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Here is a link to one of many articles that touch on their Consecration at These Stone Walls.  In a world quickly going to Hell in a hand basket, I too, in no small measure because of their example, have consecrated myself to Our Dear Mother, and note that my own Hope has risen.

Locutions to the World is a Catholic blog site that contains prophetic words from Jesus and His Beloved Mother Mary to a person in Pennsylvania and has been reporting those words since late 2010.  The spiritual director of this individual has been instructed to disseminate these words from heaven. In a prophecy received on August 3, 2014, the Blessed Virgin Mary had this to say:
I see the world in such anguish. Never before have I so desired to pour out my gifts. I must always repeat the message. The heavenly Father has placed all of his treasures for the world in my Immaculate Heart because he foresaw this moment in human history when the fires of hell would break forth from beneath the earth.
He placed them there because my heart is so easily broken open and his gifts can fall like raindrops upon the fires. When fires are burning out of control, are not rain clouds a joyous sight? Do they not hold out hope that soon the fires will be overcome? 
The Church must see my heart in this way, filled with heavenly rain, waiting to quench these demonic forces that are evident everywhere and to everyone. Is there not a demonic source to all the wars, to all the diseases, to all the acts of terrorism, to all the hopelessness?
Within a few short weeks on August 21, 2014 Jesus gave these words of prophecy to a person in Ridgetown Ontario under the direction of a retired priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London. The prophecies received by this individual are located on the Life in the Spirit blog site:
I am forming you today that you may see truly the merits of Heaven for all eternity, versus the deceit and lies of the world and all its views. 
Mindful of the great deception that has been perpetrated against My people to be lead down the path of destruction, I now snatch you back to Myself. 
You will not be taken out of the world, but made to live in the freedom of love and not the captivity of hate and self destruction.
Yes, the evil one would see you destroyed and incapacitated forever. 
I am giving you the opportunity of allowing you to serve your brothers and sisters now through My love now living in you, it will be Me working through you. 
For now, you who follow Me have been raised with Me into a newness of life, rejoice My followers, hold high your heads. 
Do not assume the downcast appearance of those who have no hope, for your hope is in your Saviour.
I am here and have never left you, but in these times of turmoil as you now find yourselves, be sure I am empowering you in all that you need and will need.
Both of these prophecies that predate Father Gordon's words of Hope by moments in the heavenly realm remind us to have hope, and the last one makes it clear that our Hope is in Our Saviour.

All over the world the message from heaven is to Hope in Our Saviour, that Hope is an essential characteristic of those who wish to follow Jesus,

As we read from Father Gordon there is Hope in the Hoosegow, but there is Hope outside the Hoosegow as well.

Have Hope always.