Front and center, surrounded by friends and fellow graduates.
I know that a certain Godmother of Pornchai will be wondering how I was able to get this picture, but she’ll just have to ask a certain Father Gordon MacRae about that. Now, before going on about Pornchai, let me reminisce just a bit about yours truly. It’s actually not a digression, completely anyway.
I know a very, very sharp witted Irish priest who can always make a wise crack on the spot, always appropriate, always incisively ironic, always geared to lifting one back into reality should one have slipped off into some corner of narrow-minded perspective. I would sometimes privately say that so-and-so seemed to be doing well in the parish in this way or that, and he would immediately scowl and reprimand me should there have been any danger that my happy demeanor was in danger of complimenting so-and-so in such a way that he or she would fall into such complacency that I would surely be sealing their fate of sliding down into hell with such words of praise! And… and… he was right, of course. One has to be discerning in the encouragement one doles out! We always need to know that we haven’t “arrived” yet, that we can do better.
Having said that, when I was in highschool, I always despised getting a lower grade than I thought I objectively deserved from this or that teacher. Asking him or her about this I would get the response that I had done very well indeed, but that the grade I had received, artificially marked lower than it should have been, would stand as an incentive for me to realize the potential that they saw in me. A compliment, I suppose. But, the idea of being marked on a curve, not against one’s class, but against the potential that another subjectively saw in me…? Honestly! But, it worked, after the shock wore off. I did not attend a very normal highschool.
At any rate, considering all that, why oh why would I compliment Pornchai (and not just this once) by providing the appelative “Great” before his name? Well, you have to know that there are those who are false heroes and those who are truly heroes:
On the one hand, the false heroes have mere grit determination to do something, a fallible will power that somehow they’ve manipulated for whatever self-serving reasons. They are bound to crash. It’s gotta happen.
On the other hand, the true heroes are such because the right thing to do is not something they imagine, but is rather provided to them with the wherewithal do carry out what is needed, even despite themselves, and they know it. Remember the fellow in New York who jumped off the subway platform onto the tracks just seconds before a train came speeding through, doing this so as to knock down in between the tracks a disabled person who had fallen down, and both were saved unscathed as the train sped over them? But this can is also be the case for the one who has a long road ahead on so many levels.
Pornchai has come a long way…
- … from being stolen from Thailand as a little boy, being raped almost daily for years, being involved in the violent death of another, turning in on himself for years and years and years and years in solitary confinement, bitter, frustrated, angry, in a vortex of impossible anguish with zero hope at all…
- … to being a high school graduate and impossibly brilliant mathematician and interlocutor of Father Gordon MacRae (no mean feat there!).
But that’s not good enough. Sorry. I mean, you know, sure, it’s inspiring in some way, but it can also be an occasion for getting depressed by someone else who doesn’t think that he or she is up to the impossible task of self-betterment, especially with the bar now set so very high by Pornchai, who, at one time, was so very low. Right? People running away from good example happens all the time.
But Father! But Father! Pornchai’s great at encouraging others!
Still not good enough. Did our Lord encourage us by saying that we are to love God and love neighbor and pray always and be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect while leaving us with nothing more than a good example and a word of encouragement? No! We would know that this is impossible for us and we would simply fall into despair at such mockery of ourselves by God Himself. Yikes!
Instead, our Lord provides us with the wherewithal, the grace, friendship with Him, so that we can follow Him, He providing our weak hearts with the solidarity of His Sacred Heart. It is that and only that which makes a hero into a true hero.
Being a hero is not about mind games of being nice. Being a hero is about being taken up into the life of Him who is the only hero ever, Christ our God, Divine Son of the Immaculate Virgin, who willingly took on what we deserve, the worst we can give out, death, so that, remaining innocent in all this, He would have the right in justice to have mercy on us, forgiving us both original sin and whatever we ourselves might have done, and… and… bringing us into a whole new life: “Father, forgive them!” and “I came to give you life to the full.”
When anyone is in reverence before Him, Jesus, when anyone has even a smidgen of humble thanksgiving before Him, when anyone is not putting oneself forward as a hero, but is instead pointing to Christ our God even if only by one’s actions of real respect for others, this is immediately sensed by these others, and they are already by that fact encouraged to be true heroes themselves in Christ Jesus, no matter how far from that they are at any given moment.
When someone takes up the invitation of our Lord’s friendship, one knows that there is no hero but Him. This takes all the pressure off. This means that no complacency is possible. One knows quite starkly, and with humble thankfulness, what our Lord does for us in giving us the graced strength to do what is right in the charity of truth and solidarity when all the while we know that on our own we would fall apart. The hero knows that it’s not about him, but about Him, Christ Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords and Prince of the Most Profound Peace.
So, if I say — “the Great Pornchai Maximilian Moontri” — it is not to give Pornchai a damnable sense of complacency, of having arrived or having accomplished something himself. Instead, it is to point to the work of Christ Jesus in him, the work of The Hero within him, the work of the intercession of the saints, like his hero, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, OFM.Conv., within him.
It is the work of Mary’s Son, Jesus, which makes Pornchai into the Great Pornchai. It is this grace which makes sense of becoming a great mathematician and highschool graduate when this would have been considered abolutely impossible by all who knew him. These things may show that we all have great potential, but it is the work of the Son of God within us which would bring those things to be used for others, for love of God and neighbor in all solidarity with those who have little hope in any way. And that’s what it’s all about. Everyone knows this deep down. The help Pornchai brings to others is indeed helpful because others sense the work of the Son of God in him. When others are eager to learn from him, it is not so much to be able to have this or that skill, but to be able to come to know the One Pornchai knows, Christ Jesus. That’s how it always works. Always.
The Son of God, Christ Jesus, wants all of us, and gives us all a living hope, which is realized not only looking to the future, but from what we know of His love for us right now. Pornchai has come to know all this behind bars. And that, my friends, is cause for rejoicing, with Pornchai, before the Son of the Living God, ever present to us.