Here are some past posts:
As Holy Souls Hermitage readers know, I’ve gone on a 40 day Lenten retreat until Easter, so I’ve been trying to refrain from posting, much to the consternation of some readers! However, I do go through email and check comments on the blog. Father Gordon’s comment which just came in… and, well… I am speechless… Just read it!
Dear Fr. Byers,
I think you and your readers know that as a prisoner, I have no on-line access at all. I depend on some wonderful people who are my digital eyes and ears. At tonight’s prison mail call I received a hard copy of your posted “Open Letter.” I took my mail to my cell and sat down on my concrete stump to read it. I had a few nice letters from readers of These Stone Walls, then I came to your “Open Letter.”
I have passed through well over 17 years of wrongful imprisonment without ever shedding a tear. Some might consider that to be unnatural, and perhaps it is, but prisoners never cry. I have never seen one cry. However, I was reduced to tears by what I read. For those of us who live on the downside of justice, both in the Church and in the courts, being held up as “a priest’s priest” was the most healing moment I have ever experienced in prison. As I sat there sobbing, Pornchai came into the cell. He stared at me as though I was an alien from another planet. Then I handed him your “Open Letter.” As I left the cell, Pornchai was sitting on his side of the cell with his face in his hands. I thank you for having the courage that only the Holy Spirit could instill in a priest.
Your brother in Christ,
Here’s that “open letter” once again (and then an update further below):
I hope you don’t mind this open letter. I know we’ve privately corresponded, but I want the world to know that there are other priests who are proud to stand with you. All the apostles ran away when Jesus was crucified. But at least John came back to stand in the midst of the full onslaught of hell, in solidarity. You’ve discovered first hand how weak we priests can be, how fast we can run, how ready we can be to betray. So…
I want to thank you on behalf of all faithful priests.I want to thank you for being a priest’s priest, showing us priests the way, serving priests in this way, priests who will be falsely accused in time to come, showing them how to do it, how to be faithful to our Lord in the most adverse of circumstances, how to plead not guilty and suffer horrifically for it, how to be one with the priesthood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused before us, going to His death, and for showing us how to do this, as a great hero, for the youngsters who truly have been abused, and who have been doubly raped by those who falsely accuse others, cashing in as they do on the sufferings of the real victims. Thanks for being the hero of the real victims, in perfect solidarity with their great sufferings. Thanks, because of that, for being a hero for all us priests.
I know that Jesus brings good out of even the most diabolical evil so that as many get to heaven as possible. That is my hope for you and all my fellow priests who are suffering in any way. If only we could all recognize that it is such a great privilege to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ Name. If we could only see a bit of the glory veiled by the darkness of Calvary, why… why we might even be envious of you! Why was I passed by? Doesn’t Jesus love me too? I know that some of our fellow priests and bishops will gasp in their shock at such exclamatory questions, but that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Do they gasp as much at the suffering of Christ when they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
When being hit with horrific injustice, when one is facing it so very closely, does one not then know that experience is always a better teacher than conjecture? Is it not in the midst of such chaos that we find ourselves becoming the little children Jesus demands that we be in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven? Is it not in the midst of such hell that the simplicity of a trusting love is purified to the point of not so much putting ourselves forward to pray, but watching with joy as Jesus draws us closer to Himself? Do we not then find real transcendent joy, real beatitude in the ever so paradoxical beatitudes? Even as trusted friends cover their eyes in shame, turning away, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when they speak all sorts of evil against you! Rejoice and exult!” Jesus knows well the friendship in which He holds us.
Father! Thank you for your steadfast fidelity over so many years of adversity. I especially appreciate your faithfulness during those years when you could only long to celebrate the Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to adore Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, but were deprived of this. I am sure that this was the same longing you felt and continue to feel, desiring to once again be a Father of the Family of Faith in a parish, for love of God and love of neighbor are but one act of love for the Body of Christ.
There can be a perception of being rooted up every time one is moved about in prison, especially if this is done with frequency. Often parish priests can have a similar experience in being moved about from parish to parish, even if this may happen only once every six years or so. As soon as one gets to know a few people, one finds oneself in a different set of circumstances with a different set of people.
But here is where the Fatherliness of Jesus’ good friend, His priest, is manifested. The same steadfast love for Jesus in the Eucharist is provided in a simultaneous act of love for whatever member of the Body of Christ it is that Jesus has placed before one at any given time, whether this be a long time friend or a total stranger. The unfathomable mystery of our Heavenly Father bringing us more, always more into the universality of His Fatherliness cannot but bring us into ongoing, humble thankfulness. Being thankful always and everywhere, in whatever circumstances, is this not a taste of heaven?
I do hope you are well. I do hope you get out soon. I do hope that those who need to learn some lessons in solidarity will learn them.
You have my prayers and blessings. Do send a Fatherly blessing with your prayers for me! What a wonderful family of faith!
May Jesus continue to bless you abundantly according to the perfect intercession of the Immaculate Conception.
Your fellow priest in this Church Militant,
Father George David Byers
UPDATE: Father Gordon’s response left me speechless… But now, I will speak!
To Father Gordon: Our Lord arranges all things in His providence. My letter was only a tiny contribution amidst a sea of prayers before the Divine Healer. Someone made the comment that I merely gave voice to what so very, very many have been thinking all along, that not only are you a priest for us, but that you are, indeed, for us priests, truly a priest’s priest. You are certainly my priest. Your whole life magnificently, quietly, with great serenity, overwhelms the deafening, ongoing, often hellish clamor of prison, that we might listen attentively to the soft-spoken though intense, lively conversation of hearts on Calvary, where, although all hell had broken loose, one can still hear to this moment our Heavenly Father speaking that one eternal Word of His into our own hearts. We can see the radiance of the glory of Christ’s love on the Cross for us shining through your priesthood. Of course we can! You give me a great example of being patient with those who have often kicked me in the face in my own priesthood. I haven’t always taken your example of utter patience in adversity, but you give me hope in seeing the grace of God working in you so powerfully. Thank you, Father.
To my fellow priests and bishops: Of course there are logistical difficulties, but Father Gordon would be happy to receive your visits. When you are on the list, you get one year to make frequent visits before giving your place to another priest or bishop. Have ye all who live in New England arranged a list among yourselves to be the ones who have the privilege of paying Father a visit? No? Nevertheless, you will benefit from his witness upon his resurrection from the dead, his being exonerated with the upcoming appeal, just as Saint Thomas the Apostle benefitted from meeting the risen Lord Jesus, putting his fingers into the nail marks and his hand right into the side of our Lord, feeling then, as he did, that beating Heart, still pierced open for our salvation. Although it would take a super-human effort, perhaps Father Gordon will be able to give clergy-conferences in all dioceses in the United States, taking your questions, introducing you to what your priestly ministry is all about. Don’t wait. See if you can visit him now. What’s that I hear from some of you… “Any accused priest is a guilty priest, and I feel dirty just at the thought of it; of course I will not visit him!” For shame. You should be there, ensuring that your fellow priest is able to offer the Holy Sacrifice that he lives, and otherwise receive the sacraments. Chaplainesses or deacons cannot do this latter bit. You can. Only you. Show yourselves to be priests!
To the laity: Is it not high time (as always) to stand up for abused children, showing them that priests like Father Gordon are their heroes, suffering in perfect solidarity with them? Yes, it’s high time, when the Lord was crucified. This would bring them a great deal of healing. If they knew how much and in what ways he has suffered for them…
Upon further reflection: As an exegete, I’ve been trained to analyze texts. While reading Father Gordon’s response a few times, the same sentence kept jumping out at me:
“For those of us who live on the downside of justice, both in the Church and in the courts, being held up as ‘a priest’s priest’ was the most healing moment I have ever experienced in prison.”
Notice how he starts in the first person plural, then brings it down into the first person singular, but without losing sight of those with him. In other words, Father MacRae has, in prison, rejoiced with those who rejoiced, suffered with those who suffered, suffering in their suffering, but rejoicing in their rejoicing. In this case, there was something in which he himself could rejoice, and rightly so. Note how quick he was to point out those who likewise, for their part (Pornchai) were rejoicing with him in his joy. What a succinct proclamation of the Mystical Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12,4-27)! No one can fake such statements. Father MacRae is authentically a Father’s Father in his being a Priest’s Priest as you can get.
Father MacRae, before going to prison, was very much the priest’s priest, helping suffering priests. He’s intensified that ministry by being where’s he’s been all these years. I can’t wait to see the great things that he will do for us priests when he gets out. Go Father MacRae!
Pueri Hebraeorum – Tomás Luis de Victoria
This video was just sent in be a faithful young reader, for whom I have a great deal of respect, a rambunctuous saint, that one! She said that in seeing this video, she could not stop thinking of me. The reason for that, unknown to the merely casual reader of this blog, is the abundance of donkeys: every picture in the video sports a donkey upon which our Lord is riding into Jerusalem to be crucified. The music was composed in 1585, a period to which I’ve dedicated a great deal of my life. I’m wondering if her thoughts that this donkey in the video just has to be me right here, right now, is a prophesy of times to come for yours truly: having the privilege of carrying our Lord into Jerusalem! That would be very wonderful indeed! Our Lord rides into the world of today by way of our souls, having us be crucified to the world in Him.
Father Ben Wolf, whom I’m convinced went straight to heaven when he died some years ago, had inducted me into the “Jackass Club”, of which he was also a proud member. He even had a certificate hanging on the wall of his office proclaiming the fact. He said the only ones allowed into this exclusive club are those priests who prove themselves to be so faithful to our Lord that they are held to be but mere Jackasses by some of our fellow clergy, those in-name-only clergy who give themselves to sycophantic slaving for whatever is the politically correct fashion of the day. And there are some. Ever since then, decades ago, I’ve been proud to be a “Jackass”.
Whenever I am going to be honored in this way or that, I sometimes protest that I am but a mere Jackass, just to see the reaction and use this as a teaching moment about the fools we must be for Christ. I once protested in this way with a famous Cardinal, himself having much to do with the “Reformation” and Counter-”Reformation” period of time and its fallout still today. He is surely one of if not the most intelligent among all Cardinals living today. Upon my protest of being but a mere Jackass, he exclaimed quite loudly and without and hesitation that I must be proud to be a Jackass, for it is upon just such a beast that our Lord rode into Jerusalem to be crucified. Indeed. It is Saint Augustine who said: Asinus es, sed Christum portas! (You are a Jackass, but you carry Christ!)
Some time ago, a small Syrian terrorist group detonated a donkey hauling 200 Kgs of explosives across the Gaza/Israeli border. The donkey died. You have to know that the Jews have been known since time immemorial — long before Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem — as the Jackasses of the world, that is, among all the nations. Countless ancient of days writers of whatever nation mention this. This is why Jesus — himself a Jew, indeed, of Judea — was depicted during the early Chrisitian persecutions by the Roman Empire in Rome itself, depicted as a crucified Jackass (a detail of which you can see in the header of this blog, though the etchings are rather faint). In the larger grafito, a young lad, Alexamenos, surely a Jewish convert to the Catholic Church, is depicted as saying “Worship ye God!” as he beholds the crucified Donkey before him. Alexamenos is the hero-protagonist of an ecclesiastical thriller novel of some 750 pages, which I wrote while doing my doctorate on Genesis 2,4–3,24 (very successfully defended in 2007). I think it to be extremely likely that Alexamenos was an early martyr, himself becoming a crucified Jackass for the Lord.
All priests should be proud to render humble thanksgiving should they be given the opportunity to be manifested as total Jackasses for the Lord of all, the greatest of all “donkeys”, the Prince of the Most Profound Peace, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, God among us, the Son of the Immaculate Conception! There are those, however, as I’ve noted above, who run from being numbered in the Jackass Club, those who think that being accounted a Jackass is the very end of their lives, a humiliation. I think being accounted a Jackass is a badge of honor.
Remember, this life is very, very, very short, and eternity is truly forever… that is… without end… Those condemning the Jackasses of our Lord will have to answer to Him, and that judgment for going against the Lord’s anointed will be most severe unless they repent. I forgive those who have condemned me as a mere Jackass in my years as a priest. The accusations have been many: “Father George is pastorally insensitive in not accepting that abortion is a good thing!” or how about “Father George isn’t like the rest of us; he won’t do ‘internal forum solutions’ for difficult marriage situations.” Etc., etc., etc. ” Now, being a Jackass, how could I do otherwise than forgive such accusers? I forgive them and pray for their conversion, that they might also know the greatest love of my own life, the Son of the Immaculate Conception.
I’ve been thinking much about the solidarity we must have with those who number in the Jackass Club, those priests who have suffered the crucifixion known to our Lord Himself, the false accusation, the ridicule, the “certainty of guilt” in the sensationalistic sycophantic media, and, indeed, in much of the Catholic blogosphere, especially as regards accusations of sexual abuse, before which everyone freezes and then runs away. I’ve been thinking about the kind of solidarity we must have with these Jackasses so beloved of our Lord. I’ve been thinking about the fate of the likes of Father Gordon MacRae. So, another open letter to our favorite priest of priests (for the first letter and its response: HERE):
Dear Father Gordon!
I know that your eyes and ears outside of those stone walls in which you live will provide you with a copy of this post. Should you agree, I would like the honor of proclaiming you to be a member of the Jackass Club. It is an honor to belong to this Club, and I believe that you will be our most prominent member. I once said that you are a priest’s priest. Of course! Forgive me if I go one step further and say that you are also a Jackass’ Jackass! I hope you don’t take offence at this. A sense of humor faced with the paradoxes of the glory of the Cross is essential to Christianity and to being a faithful priest. I think you know this more than most any of us, for which I thank you. Being thought of as a mere jackass by some of your fellow priests is not easy, but then we begin to understand that this is necessarily the Way: as the Master, so the disciple. Our Lord was terribly mistreated, and thought of and depicted as a mere crucified Jackass, so, what of us!?! Thank you for showing us the Way, most improbable…
I’m sure you know the old cliché poster depicting two sets of footprints on a beach, though one set of footprints disappears suddenly. The story is one of complaint to our Lord, asking why He no longer walks alongside us, with the answer being that those footsteps are His, for He is now carrying us. It is our footsteps which disappeared, not His.
Well, I’d like to change that around a bit, so that the lone set of footprints on the way into Jerusalem are from one set of donkey hooves, for we carry Christ to the glorious manifestation of His love for us on the Cross. Of course, such a faithful donkey is not going run away very far when his Divine Cargo is delivered, but will return to see such a hero Jackass crucified before all the world. Being seen as a donkey near the crucified Jackass will endanger one’s own life, and one will end up being crucified with the Lord of glory, in solidarity with Him. Total, complete solidarity. Many are called to do this, but few are chosen to have the opportunity to carry our Lord to the glory of His crucifixion. You’re just one such chosen soul, a priest’s priest, a Jackass’ Jackass, showing us the Way, the Way that is marked by only one set of hoofprints, at our Lord’s own bidding.
I mentioned before how wonderful it would be, how healing to true victims of abuse, if, after you get out of prison, you would be able to speak to entire presbyterates of how you came to be in a most improbable manner in total solidarity with true victims of abuse, with yourself having been raped, as it were, with the false accusations of those bringing false accusations, of those doubly raping real abuse victims, using the suffering of real victims for their own monetary gain. Real victims must be able to take note of hero-priests, those who have suffered in solidarity with abuse victims.
Forgive me, Father, but I’ve mentioned this idea to a bishop, and he immediately saw the great good that it would do in bringing the entire abuse saga full circle, bringing good out of the most diabolical evil. I think our fellow priests need to hear your story; they need to see what our Lord can call on any of us to do at any time, how we, in our priesthood, are to fill up what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ, that is, in manifesting His tender mercies in our own lives in the most improbable of ways, permitting us to be crucified with Him.
I’d even like to go one step further, one hoofprint further, and at least pose a question: What if there were a group, perhaps tiny at first, of real abuse victims, who see the great good that falsely accused priests are doing in their suffering of solidarity with true victims? What if they were to be the ones who would spearhead your engagement with clergy conferences of various (arch)dioceses? What if…
Father! Please send a much appreciated priestly blessing my way, and a Hail Mary, and I will do the same for you.
A fellow Jackass for the Lord,