Father James Wallace

Till We Have Faces

C.S. Lewis' fairy tale, which would be his last novel, Till We Have Faces, has a brilliant discourse towards the climax.  The main character, Orual, is confronting the gods, whom she feels have gravely wronged her.  She at last comes to the realization why she feels abandoned: 

I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

Orual understands the issue lies not so much with God, but with herself.  She has not allowed herself to have a specific face for the gods to engage with.  She has hidden herself.  She has not owned her true identity, with all of its blessings and pains.  She has forced herself to be almost anonymous, and so it is no fault of the gods that they cannot help her. 

This is a crucial reality to grasp when it comes to pain and suffering in our lives.  If we want to make some sense out of suffering, and particularly to have God speak to us and comfort us, we need to give ourselves a face.  If we do not acknowledge our specific pain, and resulting anger with God, we are faceless.  But if we do, then we are a real person and God can love us.  It is the same reason why a husband and wife must articulate to one another why they are hurt.

Meister Eckhart wrote, "To get at the core of God at his greatest, one must first get into the core of himself at his least." We, in a way, are the key to opening the door to God.

Thank You, President Washington

The Constitutional Convention got off to a slow start in May 1787.  Having met already for a week, on Sunday, May 20th, the group decided not to work, but instead to attend a religious service.  Interestingly, they decided on a Catholic Mass.  There were no Catholics present in the group (the Catholic delegate, Daniel Carroll, from Maryland, had not yet arrived in Philadelphia).  Besides, Philadelphia held the country's largest Episcopalian church and, this same week, the city was hosting a national convention for the Presbyterian church.

Catholics, up to this point in the American colonies and the young American nation, had been overtly persecuted.  Catholics were forbidden from voting or holding public office.  John Jay, who would go on to become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, procured a law in New York maintaining the ban on Catholic participation in politics.  In Massachusetts, it was a capital offense for a priest to preach or celebrate Mass publicly.  

When asked why they attended Mass, George Mason, a Protestant, wrote: "it was more out of Compliment than Religion, and more out of Curiosity than Compliment." Ah, the curiosity of Catholicism! Something that still draws people today.

Mason went on to describe what the experience was like: "While I was pleased with the Air of Solemnity so generally diffused through the Church, I was somewhat disgusted with the frequent tinkling of a little bell, which put me in mind of the drawing up of the curtain for a puppet-shew."  I guess the altar bells are not for everyone!

Nonetheless, the experience was powerful that enough George Washington led a group of Protestants the following Sunday once again to Catholic Mass at St. Mary's Parish in downtown Philadelphia.  His message was clear: bigotry against Catholicism would no longer stand.  Thank you, President Washington.

Love Your Enemies

Letters from a Pastor to His People- February 24, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

This, to me, is our Lord's hardest teaching, or at least one of the hardest.  "Love your enemies...turn the other cheek...stop judging." 

I once heard a priest say, "We love God as much as we love our least favorite person."  Ouch!

Yes, it's a hard saying, but "with God all things are possible."  That could be a simple prayer of yours this week.  Think of a person with whom you struggle and simply offer a Hail Mary (or some other prayer) for that person each day this week.  How powerful that could be!

This is the Commitment Weekend for the 2019 Annual Catholic Appeal. We are called to answer Jesus' call to follow Him and share the word by providing the necessary contribution to fund ministries and services to share God's love with many others in our parish and our Archdiocese.  The Archdiocese of Chicago does so much for the City of Chicago and for the universal Church, and we all know how important St. Juliana is to the lives of so many. Your contribution to the ACA allows us to continue to function and make a difference.  Please remember that the ACA is not a one-time special collection, but rather a pledge campaign where you can make a more generous gift payable in installments.  Cardinal Cupich and I are deeply grateful for your generosity. 

Complete Surrender

Letters from a Pastor to His People- February 17, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

The Beatitudes.  We're all familiar with these.  They come from Christ's Sermon on the Mount (or, in Luke's Gospel, the 'Sermon on the Plain', for he delivers it "on a stretch of level ground"). 

I find myself throughout periods and seasons of my life appreciating a beatitude in particular more than others.  Not that I don't appreciate the others; more than one beatitude just happens to resonate with me because of my life and spiritual circumstances.  Maybe that is the case with you?  Maybe something for you to at least pray about, if not?

“Blessed are you who are poor" is the beatitude that resonates with me right now.  I've preached on poverty before.  This doesn't have to mean material poverty.  Christ isn't necessarily calling us to give away all our money and drain our retirement funds.  He is calling us to spiritual poverty, or a dependence on him.   

A poor person depends on others.  He has to beg.  We are called not to self-reliance, but a complete surrender of ourselves to God.  It is blessed to beg Jesus!

Inconveniences Are Good

Dear Parishioners,

This is a beautiful Gospel scene.  There is a lot to unpack, a lot upon which to reflect.  One thing immediately comes to my mind is inconvenience.  Jesus does not mind inconveniencing people. 

First, the crowd.  The crowd is "pressing in on Jesus." They obviously want to be close to Jesus—to hear him more clearly and perhaps even touch him.  Jesus leaves the throng and continues his lessons from a boat in the lake.  'Where are you going, Lord? Don't leave us!'

Second, the fishermen.  They had just finished their long day of labor.  They had secured their boats, were washing their nets, and ready to go home for the day.  They must have thought, when Jesus chose their two boats, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" The day's not over yet, fisherman.  They drag back the clean nets, unhinge the boat, and set off into the lake, as if it was morning already for the next day of work.

Third, the fishermen, part 2.  Not only are the workers back out on the lake when they thought they were finished for the day, they are now instructed to throw the nets back in to resume their fishing.  Not only was this laborious, it was emotionally draining.  They were already demoralized, having caught nothing for the day.  Being told to try fishing again must have been hard to swallow.  It's like a father insisting to his boy to continue hitting the golf ball when he just can't get it right.  'Can't we just try again another day?' No!

God Has a Plan For Each One Of Us...

Dear Parishioners,

Jeremiah's opening, in our first reading, is perhaps one of the most heart-warming lines in all of Scripture:  "The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:4-5).

I don't know about you, but I find this very consoling.  Pray on that line.  God knows exactly who we are.  He formed us in our mother's womb.  He designed us and is with us always.

It's easy when we're discouraged about our failures to think we're alone.  If we do see God (and the temptation is just not to think about him at all--he's ignored us when we're in darkness, we think), we feel God sees us as a failure, a disappointment.

But it's not true. God is with us, knows what's going on, and has a plan for us. 

Ezra, Man of Law

Dear Parishioners,

I have to mention Ezra from our first reading, being the canon lawyer that I am.  Because, you see, Ezra is connected to the law and quite significant when it comes to establishing the foundation for church law.

Ezra lives about 450 BC during the Diaspora, or when the Jews were dispersed throughout the Middle East.  Jerusalem had been destroyed and many of the Jews taken into captivity in Babylon.  He is a scribe and priest (remember how Jesus confronts the scribes?).  He is sent by Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, who has conquered the area, back to Jerusalem to reestablish the Torah or the law to the Jews who were now living back in Israel. 

Ezra was commissioned for this project because he was a man of the law.  He had introduced to Jewish communities living outside of Israel to the customs of the faith.  These weren't just haphazard practices created by Ezra, but practices outlined in the law.  Following the law, therefore, connected these scattered Jewish peoples to the true faith.  They couldn't physically worship in Jerusalem.  But this didn't mean they still couldn't be Hebrews.  If they followed the law, their identity was established.  So, it wasn't political nationality, ethnic background, or even regular participation in the Jerusalem temple cult, but following the law that made them God's chosen people. 

A Thousand Bottles of Wine

Dear Parishioners,

There is so much to reflect upon with the Wedding Feast of Cana.  This is our Gospel reading this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  Yes, we are officially back in Ordinary Time.  We will climb all the way up to the 8th week in Ordinary Time before switching to Lent at the beginning of March.

The water is symbolic of the Old Covenant.  Notice the water is specifically mentioned to be in "six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings." The relationship of the Jews to God in the Old Testament was not as vibrant as it could be.  Jesus transforms the water into wine; he transforms the faith.  Our relationship with God in the New Covenant is now something totally exhilarating and fulfilling.  This is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Notice our second reading is a description of all the gifts or charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

What's the Significance of the Dove?

Letters from a Pastor to His People- January 13, 2019

Dear Parishioners,

"And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" (Lk 3:22).  What's the significance of the dove?

We know now that the dove is one of the forms or images of the Holy Spirit. But for the crowd witnessing Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, they would not have picked up on this.  They simply would have seen a bird flying in the sky that happened to hover above this young adult.  The Old Testament made no mention of God being a bird.  But there are, however, some Old Testament references to the dove, and I'd like to use these to unpack the dove's significance in the Baptism of our Lord.

Noah releases a dove during the flood to determine if dry land has appeared; if the flood waters have begun to recede (cf. Gen 8:8).  It first returns with an olive branch and then, at last, it never returns, indicating to Noah that the land is once again habitable, as the dove is able to settle on it.    

Christ is the new man, representative of the new creation.  He emerges from the waters, just as that new land upon which Noah's dove settled emerged from the flood waters.  Jesus is the new people of God, emerging from water as Moses and the Israelites emerged from the Red Sea waters free from sin.