Posted: 29 Nov 2011 09:00 PM PST
As Advent begins in the midst of some jarring changes and revisions in the Catholic Mass, I have been doing some thinking about the nature of change. In “February Tales,” an early post on These Stone Walls, I described growing up on the Massachusetts North Shore – the stretch of seacoast just north of Boston. My family had a long tradition of being “Sacrament Catholics.”
I once heard my father joke that he would enter a church only twice in his lifetime, and would be carried both times. I was seven years old, squirming into a hand-me-down white suit for my First Communion when I first heard that excuse for staying home. I didn’t catch on right away that my father was referring to his Baptism and his funeral. I pictured him, a very large man, slung over my mother’s shoulder on his way into church for Sunday Mass, and I laughed.
We were the most nominal of Catholics. Prior to my First Communion at age seven, I was last in a Catholic church at age five for the priesthood ordination of my uncle, the late Father George W. MacRae, a Jesuit and renowned Scripture scholar. My father and “Uncle Winsor,” as we called him, were brothers – just two years apart in age but light years apart in their experience of faith. I was often bewildered, as a boy, at this vast difference between the two brothers.
But my father’s blustering about his abstention from faith eventually collapsed under the weight of his own cross. It was a cross that was partly borne by me as well, and carried in equal measure by every member of my family. By the time I was ten – at the very start of that decade of social upheaval I described in “The Day the Earth stood Still” – life in our home had disintegrated. My father’s alcoholism raged beyond control, nearly destroying him and the very bonds of our family. We became children of the city streets as home and family faded away.
I have no doubt that many TSW readers can relate to the story of a home torn asunder by alcoholism, and some day soon I plan to write much more about this cross. But for now I want to write about conversion, so I’ll skip ahead.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD HOME
As a young teenager, I had a friend whose family attended a small Methodist church. I stayed with them from time to time. They knew I was estranged from my Catholic faith and Church, so one Sunday morning they invited me to theirs. As I sat through the Methodist service, I just felt empty inside. There was something crucial missing. So a week later, I attended Catholic Mass – secretly and alone – with a sense that I was making up for some vague betrayal. At some point sitting in this Mass alone at age 14, I discovered that I was home.
My father wasn’t far behind me. Two years later, when just about everyone we knew had given up any hope for him, my father underwent a radical conversion that changed his very core. He admitted himself to a treatment program, climbed the steep and arduous mountain of recovery, and became our father again after a long, turbulent absence. A high school dropout and machine shop laborer, my father’s transformation was miraculous. He went back to school, completed a college degree, earned his masters degree in social work, and became instrumental in transforming the lives of many other broken men. He also embraced his Catholic faith with love and devotion, and it embraced him in return. That, of course, is all a much longer story for another day.
My father died suddenly at the age of 52 just a few months after my ordination to priesthood in 1982. I remember laying on the floor during the Litany of the Saints at my ordination as I described in “Going My Way,” a Lenten post last year. I was conscious that my father stood on the aisle just a few feet away, and I was struck by the nature of the man whose impact on my life had so miraculously changed. Underneath the millstones of addiction and despair that once plagued him was a singular power that trumped all. It was the sheer courage necessary to be open to the grace of conversion and radical change. The most formative years of my young adulthood and priesthood were spent as a witness to the immensity of that courage. In time, I grew far less scarred by my father’s road to perdition, and far more inspired by his arduous and dogged pursuit of the road back. I have seen other such miracles, and learned long ago to never give up hope for another human being.
THE CONVERSION OF THE DUKE
A year ago this very week, I wrote “Holidays in the Hoosegow: Thanksgiving With Some Not-So-Just Desserts.” In that post, I mentioned that John Wayne is one of my life-long movie heroes and a man I have long admired. But all that I really ever knew of him was through the roles he played in great westerns like “The Searchers,” “The Comancheros,” “Rooster Cogburn,” and my all-time favorite historical war epic, “The Longest Day.”
In his lifetime, John Wayne was awarded three Oscars and the Congressional Gold Medal. After his death from cancer in 1979, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But, for me, the most monumental and courageous of all of John Wayne’s achievements was his 1978 conversion to the Catholic faith.
Not many in Hollywood escape the life it promotes, and John Wayne was no exception. The best part of this story is that it was first told by Father Matthew Munoz, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, and John Wayne’s grandson.
Early in his film career in 1933, John Wayne married Josephine Saenz, a devout Catholic who had an enormous influence on his life. They gave birth to four children, the youngest of whom, Melinda, was the mother of Father Matthew Munoz. John Wayne and Josephine Saenz civilly divorced in 1945 as Hollywood absorbed more and more of the life and values of its denizens.
But Josephine never ceased to pray for John Wayne and his conversion, and she never married again until after his death. In 1978, a year before John Wayne died, her prayer was answered and he was received into the Catholic Church. His conversion came late in his life, but John Wayne stood before Hollywood and declared that the secular Hollywood portrayal of the Catholic Church and faith is a lie, and the truth is to be found in conversion.
That conversion had many repercussions. Not least among them was the depth to which it inspired John Wayne’s 14-year old grandson, Matthew, who today presents the story of his grandfather’s conversion as one of the proudest events of his life and the beginning of his vocation as a priest.
If John Wayne had lived to see what his conversion inspired, I imagine that he, too, would have stood on the aisle, a monument to the courage of conversion, as Matthew lay prostrate on the Cathedral floor praying the Litany of the Saints at priesthood ordination. The courage of conversion is John Wayne’s most enduring legacy.
PORNCHAI TAKES A ROAD LESS TRAVELED
The Japanese Catholic novelist, Shusaku Endo, wrote a novel entitled Silence (Monumenta Nipponica, 1969), a devastating historical account of the cost of discipleship. It’s a story of 17th Century Catholic priests who faced torture and torment for spreading the Gospel in Japan. The great Catholic writer, Graham Greene, wrote that Silence is “in my opinion, one of the finest novels of our time.”
Silence is the story of Father Sebastian Rodriguez, one of those priests, and the story is told through a series of his letters. Perhaps the most troubling part of the book was the courage of Father Rodriguez, a courage difficult to relate to in our world. Because of the fear of capture and torture, and the martyrdom of every priest who went before him, Father Rodriguez had to arrive in Japan for the first time by rowing a small boat alone in the pitch blackness of night from the comfort and safety of a Spanish ship to an isolated Japanese beach in 1638 – just 18 years after the Puritan Pilgrims landed the Mayflower at Squanto’s Pawtuxet, half a world away as I describe in “The True Story of Thanksgiving.”
In Japan, however, Father Rodriguez was a pilgrim alone. Choosing to be left on a Japanese beach in the middle of the night, he had no idea where he was, where he would go, or how he would survive. He had only the clothes on his back, and a small traveler’s pouch containing food for a day. I cannot fathom such courage. I don’t know that I could match it if it came down to it.
But I witness it every single day. Most TSW readers are very familiar with “Pornchai’s Story,” and with his conversion to Catholicism on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2010. Most know the struggles and special challenges he has faced as Ryan MacDonald described them in “Pornchai Moontri at the Narrow Gate” at his A Ram in the Thicket blog.
But the greatest challenge of Pornchai’s life is yet to come. In two years he will have served twenty-two years in prison – more than half his life, and half the original sentence of forty-five years imposed when he was 18 years old. In two years time, if many elements fall into place and he can find legal counsel, Pornchai will have an opportunity to seek some commutation of his remaining sentence based on rehabilitation and other factors.
It is a sort of Catch-22, however. Pornchai could then see freedom at the age of forty for the first time since he was a teen, but it will require entering a world entirely foreign to him. On the day Pornchai leaves prison – whether it is in two years or ten or twenty – he will be immediately taken into custody under the authority of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, flown to Bangkok, Thailand, and left there alone. It is a daunting, sometimes very frightening future, and I am a witness to the anxiety it evokes.
For every long term prisoner, there comes a point in which prison itself is the known world and freedom is a foreign land. Pornchai has spent more than half his life in prison.
Even I, after seventeen years here, sometimes find myself at the tipping point, that precipice in which a prisoner cannot readily define which feels more like the undiscovered country – remaining in prison or trying to be free. I had a dream one night in which I had won my freedom, but entered a hostile world and Church in which I was a pariah, living alone and homeless in a rented room in hiding, pursued by mobs of angry Catholics. I described one such dream in “Nightmares and Dreamscapes in the Desert” during Lent last year. I know well the anxious fears of all the prisons of men.
Pornchai was brought to the United States against his will at the age of eleven. That story is told in deeply moving prose by Pornchai himself in “Pornchai’s Story.” I think we became friends because by the strangeness of grace I knew only too well the experience of having the very foundations of life and family and all security fall out from under me. Pornchai spoke a language that I understood clearly. The transformation of pain and sorrow into the experience of grace is the realm of God, and enduring it to one day lead another out of darkness is a great gift. In the end, who can ever say what is good and what is bad? It is not suffering that is our problem, but rather what we do with it when it finds us.
But what Pornchai faces in the future is daunting. With no opportunity for schooling as an abandoned child in Thailand, he never learned to read and write in Thai and hasn’t heard the Thai language spoken since he was eleven. He remembers little of Thai culture, has no prospects to support himself, no home there, no contacts, and no solace at all. Like Father Rodriguez in Silence, Pornchai will be dropped off in a foreign country, and left to fend for himself with no preparation at all beyond what he can scrape up from behind prison walls in another continent. Welcome to the new America!
Pornchai’s options are limited. He can try to bring about this trauma sooner by seeking commutation of his sentence at an age at which he may still somehow build a life in Thailand. Or he can remain quietly in prison another decade or more, postponing this transition until he is much older, with fewer chances for employment, but perhaps can find connections in Thailand.
These are not great choices. “Pornchai’s Story” got the attention of the Thai government and the Cardinal Archbishop of Bangkok two years ago, but the Thai government has been in chaos since, and the Archbishop has retired. All overtures to both since 2009 have been met by silence.
So in the midst of all this dismal foreboding, and in the face of a future entirely unknown, and perhaps even bleak, Pornchai Moontri became a Catholic. He embraced a faith practiced by less than one percent of the people who will one day be his countrymen again, and in so doing, he piled alienation upon alienation.
And yet this man who has no earthly reason to trust anything to fate, trusts faith itself. I have never met a man more determined to live the faith he has professed than Pornchai Moontri. In the darkness and aloneness of a prison cell night after night for the last two of his twenty years in prison, Pornchai stares down the anxiety of uncertainty, struggles for reasons to believe, and finds them.
I am at a loss for more concrete sources of hope for Pornchai. But like Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, whom I have quoted so often, I believe that “I am a link in a chain; a bond of connection between persons.”
Someone out there holds good news for Pornchai – something he can cling to in hope. I await it with as much patience as I can summon. Pornchai awaits it with a singular courage – the courage of conversion that seeks the spring of hope in the winter of despair.
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.
LifeNews.com Pro-Life News Report
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
|For pro-life news updated throughout the day, visit LifeNews.com.|
• Pro-Abortion Groups Push Abortions at Military Base Hospitals
• Nurse Pressured to Assist Abortion: Just Catch the Baby s Head
• NARAL Complains to Apple About Siri iPhone Abortion Results
• Houston Democrats Throw Christmas Party at Planned Parenthood
More Pro-Life News
• Writer: Mitt Romney s Pro-Life Conversion Was Legitimate
• Planned Parenthood s Mythomania: Big Abortion and Big Lies
• Gender and Race-Based Abortions a Problem the U.S. Must Fix
• Surgeon Says Obamacare Will Nix Brain Operations for Elderly
• Media Still Ignores Studies Showing Abortion Hurts Women
• Abolish Abortion Web Site Helps Pro-Life Student Activists
• India s Proposed Two-Child Policy Would Push Abortions
• United Nations Wrong to Pressure Peru to Legalize Abortion
• Rhode Island Pro-Lifers Sue Chafee Over Obamacare, Abortion
• Illinois Supreme Court to Take Parental Notification Case
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Pro-Abortion Groups Push Abortions at Military Base Hospitals
Leading pro-abortion groups are pushing members of the Senate to support an amendment to legislation that would overturn the ban on abortions at taxpayer-funded U.S. military base hospitals.
Instead of focusing on care for military personnel and their families, abortion activists want to ensure the taxpayer-funded hospitals and staff are required to do abortions. As is frequently the case, pro-abortion groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood are focusing on hard cases in order to push through their abortion agenda.
Titled End Abortion Ban for Military Rape Survivors, an email NARAL sent to its supporters yesterday presented the longstanding policy in a different light.
It s outrageous. Women in the military who become pregnant from rape cannot use their health insurance to cover abortion care. Servicewomen s health insurance doesn t cover abortion in these tragic circumstances simply because of anti-choice politics, NARAL claimed.
Current law in effect since 1996 prohibits the performance of abortion by Department of Defense medical personnel or at DOD medical facilities. A separate provision prohibits the use of DOD funds for abortion except to save the life of the mother.
The issue of abortions done at military base medical centers has been around for two decades. When ex-President Clinton allowed abortions in military facilities from 1993 to 1996, all military physicians (as well as many nurses and supporting personnel) refused to perform or assist in elective abortions. In response, the Clinton administration attempted to hire civilians to do abortions. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/pro-abortion-groups-push-abortions-at-military-base-hospitals/
Nurse Pressured to Assist Abortion: Just Catch the Baby s Head
More than a dozen nurses in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against a hospital that has been pressuring them to assist in abortions. One of the nurses in the case has spoken out about the pressure she faced and shared a gruesome comment.
As LifeNews has reported, some of the nurses in New Jersey who have faced pressure to do abortions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have spoken out about their ordeal. of the nurses in New Jersey who have faced pressure to do abortions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey two weeks ago.
One of the nurses, Fe Esperanza R. Vinoya, talked with the Washington Post and said a manager at the hospital told her: You just have to catch the baby s head. Don t worry, it s already dead.
Thomas Peters, a writer at the Live Action blog, caught the quote and said it stopped me in my tracks when I read it.
Can you imagine anything more horrific than being forced to catch a dead baby s head? A baby who only minutes before was alive in its mother s womb? he said. Pro-abort writers and bloggers are hysterically (I don t use the word lightly) attempting to attack these women s motives. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/nurse-pressured-to-assist-abortion-just-catch-the-babys-head/
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NARAL Complains to Apple About Siri iPhone Abortion Results
NARAL is not happy about the results on iPhones across the country with the new Siri technology that has come under fire for not including abortion clinics in results of questions related to abortion.
As LifeNews reporter Andrew Bair noted yesterday, abortion advocates were outraged to find that when Siri was asked questions related to abortion the phone responded with a list of pregnancy resource centers instead of local abortion facilities.
The story broke after abortion advocates tested the phone in New York City, the city New York magazine labeled The Abortion Capital of America, where over 40% of pregnancies end in abortion (according to the Department of Health). Despite the persistent efforts of abortion advocates to drown out the positive alternatives to abortion provided by pregnancy centers, the iPhone 4S has chosen to highlight them.
Although some pro-life advocates informed LifeNews after the news broke that their phones showed results for abortion clinics, the lack of results for some people and in some areas was enough for NARAL to launch an official complaint. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/naral-complains-to-apple-about-siri-iphone-abortion-results/
Houston Democrats Throw Christmas Party at Planned Parenthood
Democrats in Houston have decided on a location for their annual Christmas party and have decided to hold it at a local Houston Planned Parenthood facility.
The women s auxiliary of the Harris County Democratic Party will hold their politically correct-named Holiday Party on December 8 at the late-term abortion business Planned Parenthood runs in the southeast party of Houston that has gained national attention and controversy.
The location is no surprise given the close relationship the Democratic Party has with abortion advocates, especially in Houston. Houston Mayor Annise Parker spoke at the opening of the massive new Planned Parenthood abortion business (the location of the party) in June 2010, saying, It s not about the building; it s about people s lives; it is not about women, it is about families; and it s not about what we do here today, it s about our future. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/houston-democrats-throw-christmas-party-at-planned-parenthood/
Writer: Mitt Romney s Pro-Life Conversion Was Legitimate
When Mitt Romney converted to the pro-life position in 2005 as the governor of Massachusetts, some pro-life advocates questioned the legitimacy of that conversion and whether it was done for political expediency in preparation for a run for the GOP nomination for president in 2008.
In a new column today in the Washington Post, conservative writer Kathleen Parker tackles that question and says she believes his decision to become pro-life on abortion is a heartfelt one.
So how does a person change from one position to the polar opposite on such a core issue as abortion? Easy. Countless women have changed their minds, thanks to pregnancy and birth. Countless others have suffered the agony of revelation too late following an abortion. Men overjoyed by fatherhood, or crushed by the loss of a child through abortion, have also changed their minds, Parker writes. . http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/writer-mitt-romneys-pro-life-conversion-was-legitimate/
Planned Parenthood s Mythomania: Big Abortion and Big Lies
If Planned Parenthood were a patient (at least one they haven t aborted), it could be diagnosed with one of many behavioral disorders. But the primary diagnosis would be mythomania. This psychological disorder is marked by an excessive or abnormal propensity for lying and exaggerating.
The billion-dollar abortion giant blatantly lies about basic biology and human development, peer-reviewed medical studies on birth control s increased risk of breast cancer, overpopulation, and deliberate racial targeting. But the pathological lying, fed by billions of our tax dollars over the years, knows no end.
Women s history has to be radically altered for the abortion-centered nonprofit to generate millions in profit. One would think that Planned Parenthood s President, Cecile Richards, with a degree in History, would easily know the claims made on their site are ludicrously false. But this is what it means to Richards and others, who make a living off of abortions, to trust women . They fear people knowing the truth of their racist eugenic origins and their primary mission of population control that their mythomania kicks into high gear. Every machination shows how much they truly distrust women to make informed decisions. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/planned-parenthoods-mythomania-big-abortion-and-big-lies/
Gender and Race-Based Abortions a Problem the U.S. Must Fix
There is little that is more tragic than when a baby is aborted merely because it is perceived to be the wrong gender or race. And yet, this exact scenario is playing out all over the world, including in the United States. In fact, the situation in the United States may be the worst of all, because it is happening in full compliance with the law.
In places like India and China, gender-based abortions have long been a significant problem due to the cultural bias toward males. China s restrictions on family size have further exacerbated the problem. However, even in these countries, the horror of aborting a baby because of its gender has been recognized, and complete bans on gender-based abortions have been enacted. Most of the international community, including the United Nations, now favor a ban on gender-based abortions. By virtue of continuing to allow such a barbaric practice, the U.S. is lagging well behind on this fundamental human right, and is running the risk of becoming the destination of choice for those who would seek an abortion because their baby is not the preferred gender. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/gender-and-race-based-abortions-a-problem-the-u-s-must-fix/
Surgeon Says Obamacare Will Nix Brain Operations for Elderly
Are you an elderly American? Well get ready to be determined a non-essential medical expenditure if Obamacare has any say in the matter which it will if its allowed to become fully implemented. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/surgeon-says-obamacare-will-nix-brain-operations-for-elderly/
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Media Still Ignores Studies Showing Abortion Hurts Women
You would think that when researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania determine that something nearly TRIPLES a woman s breast cancer risk, it would be big news. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/media-still-ignores-studies-showing-abortion-hurts-women/
Abolish Abortion Web Site Helps Pro-Life Student Activists
After months of building, testing, and soliciting your feedback, I m excited to announce that TODAY Students for Life s new grassroots action website, www.abolishabortion.com, is officially launching. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/abolish-abortion-web-site-helps-pro-life-student-activists/
India s Proposed Two-Child Policy Would Push Abortions
The southern Indian state of Kerala might be the next in a long line of governments attempting to destroy their own greatest resource: their people. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/indias-proposed-two-child-policy-would-push-abortions/
United Nations Wrong to Pressure Peru to Legalize Abortion
In one of the most recent acts of social imperialism by the United Nations, the CEDAW Committee determined that Peru must compensate a girl for being denied an abortion and liberalize its abortion policies. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/united-nations-wrong-to-pressure-peru-to-legalize-abortion/
Rhode Island Pro-Lifers Sue Chafee Over Obamacare, Abortion
The state pro-life group in Rhode Island and two dozen state legislators are preparing to file a lawsuit against pro-abortion Gov. Lincoln Chafee concerning his attempt to force state residents to pay for abortions via their tax dollars. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/rhode-island-pro-lifers-sue-chafee-over-obamacare-abortion/
Illinois Supreme Court to Take Parental Notification Case
Today, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 violates the Illinois State Constitution of 1970. http://www.lifenews.com/2011/11/30/illinois-supreme-court-to-take-parental-notification-case/
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Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 Will Go Before the Illinois Supreme Court
Posted by Thomas More Society (November 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm)
Thomas More Society’s Attempt to Intervene in Defense of the Act Also To Be Reviewed
The Attorney General had argued that the Illinois Constitution of 1970 – even though adopted years before Roe v. Wade upheld a federal abortion right in 1973 – also had guaranteed a right to abort, but that the Illinois abortion right was no stronger than the federal abortion right. Thus she contended, and the Circuit Court agreed, that the prior defeat of the ACLU’s federal challenge also barred its state law-based challenge.
On the other hand, Thomas More Society argued on behalf of the county prosecutors (for over twenty of whom, as amici curiae, it also filed a brief on the merits) that the record of the Constitutional Convention flatly refuted any claim that the Framers prescribed or guaranteed any abortion rights. On the contrary, the Framers clearly decided to leave the issue for legislative determination. Moreover, one stray reference by the Illinois Supreme Court to Roe v. Wade in a case involving access to abortion records related only to privacy of data, and not to any Illinois right to abortion, let alone one stronger than the federal right established in Roe. Indeed, abortion was illegal – indeed, criminal – in Illinois from the time when the State Constitution was adopted until the Roe decision.
Paul Linton, Special Counsel for Thomas More Society, welcomed the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to review the Act. ”The Illinois Supreme Court’s action ensures that there will be a prompt, definitive, and final resolution of the law’s constitutionality, and we believe that the high Court will uphold the law. Similar laws in other States have been associated with significant declines in the numbers of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, births, and abortions among minors. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the vital interests that States have in protecting pregnant minors and the rights of their parents to provide guidance and counsel in this very sensitive area.”
Subject to exceptions allowing for confidential “bypassing” of parental notice in cases of abuse, or on showing of the minor’s maturity and best interests, etc., the Illinois Parental Notice Act requires that an unemancipated minor notify one of her parents, her legal guardian, a step-parent residing in the same household, or a grandparent of her intention to obtain an abortion. The Act does not require parental consent, only notice. Illinois is the only midwest state without either a parental notice of consent law, so that out of state cars driven by adults escorting young girls and women here are a very common sight at Illinois abortion providers, whose patrons thus avoid – or evade – their own state laws.
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