Father James Wallace

Create Your Own Prayer

It can be beneficial, every now and again, to create your own blessing or prayer.  We do not always need to rotely recite the ones provided by the Church.  Creating your own prayer, which is certainly a valid thing to do, puts you in the company of the Trinity.  God, of course, is a creator and a ‘blesser’.  If we are called to be like God, then we can create our prayers.

Here is an example of someone's created prayer.  Maybe it can inspire you.  It is "A Blessing for March's Saints" by Andrew Greeley:

May you dance a reel for St. Paddy's sake

And toast the many united in one

May St. Joseph guard you as soon as you wake

And safely lead you home when day is done

From Aquinas may you learn wisdom and truth

And from Gregory tradition's faithful way

May Casimir teach you courage and hope

And Gabriel surprise you each new day

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Or, "A Blessing for March Seventeenth" by the same:

May it be a grand day for all of you

Be ye Irish or as Patrick as you'd like to be

May your jars be limited to just a few

May you revel in God's great diversity

In a land where Moslem, Protestant, Catholic, Jew

Enjoy a constitutional variety

Modestly raise a quiet cry and hue

To give thanks for peaceful ethnicity

And praise for pluralism's brightest jewel

Drink joyous toasts, in all sobriety

To the one from many ‘neath red, white and blue

And may God bless you this glorious day

The Father who holds the world together

The Son who walked among us

And the spirit who makes each of us unique

The Contemplative Life

Dear Parishioners,

There are some who think there is no place for the contemplative life in Christianity.  Quiet, interior prayer is an aberration.  To be a Christian, they would say, means to serve our brothers and sisters.  Jesus did remark, after all, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  When we are just praying like monks, we are not serving anyone.  Hence, there is no room for recollected prayer.  That takes us away from the mission of Christ.  Such is the claim.

I brought up this argument in my first talk on prayer a couple weeks ago.  There are many flaws in that argument; many ways to rebut it.  The Transfiguration, which we read about this weekend, is one such way.

Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with his apostles, Peter, James and John (the three whom he will take apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane). He is elevated and experiences a mystical encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Yes, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, but they also both represent interior, contemplative prayer.  Moses for 40 days was on Mount Sinai, communing silently with God.  He was immersed in a sort of luminous cloud, which the Hebrews called the shekinah.  When Moses comes down the mountain after 40 days, his countenance is changed.

Accept Your Discipline in Life

Dear Parishioners,

A 12th-Century Cistercian spiritual writer, William of St. Thierry, wrote this of us:

O image of God, recognize your dignity,

allow the imprint of your Maker to shine out from you.

To yourself you may appear mean

but in fact you are precious.

To the extent that you have fallen short

of him whose image you are

you have become stamped with foreign images.

But if only you begin to breathe again

to live as you were created,

if only you accept a discipline of life,

then you will quickly shed and part company with

those adulterous images

which are like stains clinging to the surface.

I read this recently and find it to be a fitting reflection as we begin the season of Lent.         

The first two lines: we are made in the image of God and have inherent and invaluable dignity.  Pause on that truth.  We've heard it before, but let it sink in.  We are made in the image of God.  God is good.  We are good.  Yes, we may sin and do things that are ungodly, but that does not change our fundamental identity.

Be Aware

Dear Parishioners,

"For every tree is known by its own fruit" (Lk 6:44).  A simple, but powerful statement from our Lord from today's Gospel!

This is so important to help with our discernment.  We can judge a tree by its fruits.  That is, we can judge an activity by the resulting experiences.  I tell this to the children all the time.  How do you feel after playing video games for a long period of time?  Are you irritable, impatient, disobedient, quarrelsome, edgy until you can get back to playing?  If so, those would be "bad fruits" and the "tree", then (playing video games excessively) is probably bad as well.

This applies for adults equally.  TV shows, use of the phone, some other addictive behavior leaving you with an empty feeling or not putting you in a place of love and peace?  Then that would be a bad tree and we should probably limit our interaction with it.

The key to utilizing this little discernment trick from our Lord is being aware.  We have to be attuned to our inner state.  We need to catch ourselves when we're in a bad mood.  Only then can we determine what perhaps is the source of that bad mood and take steps to correct it.  Remember, Jesus doesn't want us to feel bad, but fulfilled.  He knows what is best for us.

Death Comes For the Archbishop

Death Comes For the Archbishop is one of my favorite novels.  It was written in 1927 by Willa Cather, and it tells the story of a young priest, Father Jean Marie Latour, who is made bishop of the 'New Mexico Territory' in the 1850s.  We hear about Latour's encounters with the rebellious local clergy, his travels on horseback through harsh terrain and storms and so forth, his dealings with the Indian population, and much else.  The story is captivating, the descriptions of nature are beautiful, and the witness of the missionary priest is inspiring.

Allow me to provide a little sample.  The story appears to end just as it is beginning.  The bishop is lost in the desert and has run out of water.  We read:

The traveler dismounted, drew from his pocket a much-worn book, and baring his head, knelt at the foot of the cruciform tree.

Under his buckskin riding-coat he wore a black vest and the cravat and collar of a churchman. A young priest, at his devotions; and a priest in a thousand, one knew at a glance. His bowed head was not that of an ordinary man,--it was built for the seat of a fine intelligence. His brow as open, generous, reflective, his features handsome and somewhat severe. There was a singular elegance about the hands below the fringed cuffs of the buckskin jacket. Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth--brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy towards himself, towards his beasts, toward the juniper tree before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

The book, while a joy to read, has a melancholic tenor.  It affirms the statement that the priesthood, and Catholicism in general, is hauntingly beautiful

 

Ruth Pfau

Ruth Pfau was a German medical student. Inspired by a concentration camp survivor who dedicated her life to promoting forgiveness, Ruth converted to Catholicism.  In 1957, she joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a medical missionary order.  In 1960 she visited a leper colony in Karachi, Pakistan.  Struck by the site of the inhabitants, she made the decision to remain in Pakistan and serve the lepers.  "Not all of us can prevent a war," she said, "but most of us can help ease sufferings of the body and the soul."

Ruth would go on to treat over 50,000 patients over the next 35 years. Her work in Pakistan was finally over when, in 1996, the World Health Organization declared leprosy in Pakistan to be 'under control.'  Ruth did not ease into retirement, however. She migrated on to Afghanistan, where she tended to victims of land mines and other disabilities.  "Leading a life committed to service does protect the soul from wounds," she wrote. "These are the workings of God." 

When Ruth Pfau at last passed to her eternal reward in 2017, she was given a state funeral and hailed as a national hero in Pakistan. 

There are parallels we can make between this modern-day Ruth and the Ruth of the Bible.  When Ruth's husband dies and her mother-in-law Naomi returns to Bethlehem, Ruth accompanies her, though the land is foreign to her.  Ruth will literally labor in the field, alongside men, to provide for Naomi.  The owner, Boaz, notices Ruth and her virtue, and marries her.  They will be the great-grandparents of King David, and the ancestors of Christ himself. 

The name 'Ruth' means 'companion.'  These Ruths, like the Blessed Mother who inspired them, brought God's comfort to many souls. 

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

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!