It was January 23rd, the night before my trial, and my wife and I were about to enter into some deep prayer. We arranged for an all night adoration at our parish. We did not know the love that would be poured out upon us through the men and women that would join us in prayer. Our Lord fed us with His body and blood and then we stayed and adored all through the night. At no point, did I ever feel left alone. So many of our fellow parishioners and friends came to pray with us throughout the night. What a tremendous witness.
My attorneys begged me not to do this. They feared I would be fatigued and not focused. I assured them I would be so. I said this fight was just as much a spiritual battle as it is a legal one. I insisted that I must do this and that I would be praying for them. They reluctantly relented in asking me to discontinue with this plan.
When I left adoration at 5:30 AM on January 24th, I was energized and ready to go. The Lord had filled me with his love and grace. I believed that whatever happened would truly be for the best. I had great trust and confidence in God’s abiding love for me and so with that consolation I entered into Station X–Jesus is Stripped of His Garments.
After a tough first day of jury selection, I felt a bit deflated. In a sense, while I was not flogged or stripped of my dignity, I did feel like a victim. With not much say, the jury of my peers was selected and I was now before those who would judge me. I had no ability to change the selection of the jury, but only to accept their roles and mine. A lamb to the slaughter was something that I reminded myself of frequently. I wanted to stay composed, silent, and allow the Lord to receive my offering. To suffer for the Lord in this way brought me great joy and comfort.
Opening arguments began. Here came the true stripping. What I heard crushed my inner spirit, but I allowed myself to receive it. Say nothing and trust that you are blessed to be persecuted in such ways. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
This scripture came to my mind when it came time for my attorneys to do their opening arguments: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to remain still” (Exodus 14:14). Boy did He ever. Through my attorney, Brian McMonagle, I felt the Lord’s hammer. It did my heart good as well as for my children who watched and cried through this. As the prosecution presented their case, I observed how God fought for me through his servants called into this battle. Through the Thomas More Society, I had a tremendous legal team. Our team was more than ready as day two seemed to go better than day one. That said, I knew Station XI was soon to come.
Station XI – Jesus is Nailed to the Cross. As day three of my trial began I knew that this would be a particularly hard day. My accuser would take the stand and I would receive the nails in my body. I would be pierced by the false claims and, in a certain sense, endure a spiritual stigmata. These false accusations and tough words heard in the courtroom would penetrate my being and I know would hurt those who love me. I knew I would carry these verbal wounds for the rest of my life. While I also knew much of what was said was not true, they still crushed my spirit. Again, I reminded myself to just receive and be silent. While I tried my best to stay composed, I’ll admit I was a bit rattled interiorly.
Station XII – Jesus is crucified. It was day four of the trial, Mark Jr. and I would take the stand. We would ascend to the wooden witness stand just as Jesus was raised up on the wood of the cross. We would be naked and without shame. We would expose ourselves to potential ridicule and we would expose the truth in the process. I believed, or probably better said hoped, that the truth would set us free.
Mark Jr. was tremendous on the stand. He did a great job listening and honestly answering all the questions that both my attorney and the prosecuting attorney asked him. He made me so proud. He was steady and calm. His eloquence and demeanor was incredible. I could not fathom how difficult this might be for a 14 year-old boy giving testimony in a trial that would determine his father’s future.
Mark Sr, a.k.a. me, took the stand. I wanted to confidently approach the witness box and give testimony to the truth. My attorney’s questions led me to reveal exactly as the events transpired, which refuted the prosecution’s portrayal. I had prayed for a spirit of confusion on the part of the prosecutor as I know others did, and don’t you know it, I could see this play out with the questions and manner in which the prosecution cross examined me. I had tremendous peace and calm on the witness stand. I admitted and owned my part in the incident, which brought us here, but I did not cower to the reality that my actions were justified. I was naked and without shame on that witness stand. I descended from the wood and rested in the arms of my Lord and Mother. It was finished. I fought the good fight and I completed the race. These words I echoed to my attorney after his closing arguments. Truly, I had arrived at Station XIII- The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross and Placed in the Arms of His Mother.
Station XIV – Jesus is Buried in the Tomb. After four days of trial, the jury now had the opportunity to deliberate and render their judgment. After two hours of deliberation, they were deadlocked, and the Judge dismissed them for the weekend. For three days, just as Jesus was in the tomb, they would ponder the case, as would I, and return for a final attempt at a judgment. These events and occurrences were not lost on me. I knew that the burial of Jesus was a gift for me. I had to bury the past events and resign myself to the prospects of a future that may include a time of imprisonment. I had peace.
As we gathered early Monday January 30th, I knew this was arguably one of the most important days of my life. The jury communicated that there was a problem. The judge needed to interview each jury member in his private chambers. Apparently there was a problem with one juror. We did not know what exactly was the problem. But the Judge dismissed a jury member after these interviews. The alternate juror was called in and the jury went back to deliberation. The hand of God literally took out a juror and replaced him with another. At 3 PM, the hour of mercy, the jury gave their verdict. It was the first time I was nervous. My palms were sweaty and I read the scriptures.
“In the shadow of your wings I take refuge till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:2b). The shadow of God’s wings is the shadow of the cross on which are the outstretched arms of my Lord and savior. Christ the King crucified and risen, is the shelter in which I was now dwelling secure. The verdict was unanimously NOT GUILTY.
Judge Gerald Pappert said, “Mr. Houck you are free to go.” I said, “Thank you Judge.” To which he replied, “Thank you Mr. Houck,” I was overjoyed in this resurrection moment. I am a truly blessed man and I pray you are blessed by this story. My family and I know that God has made and called us for such a time as this (Book of Esther reference). I thank you for journeying with us and I thank you for all your prayers, support and love.
Your brother in Christ,