Father James Wallace

In Communion with Nellie

Nellie Organ was born in Waterford, Ireland on August 24, 1903. Nellie's father, William, wrote of his daughter, “When only two, she would clasp my hand and toddle off to Mass, prattling all the way about Holy God. That was the way she always spoke of God, and I do not know where she could have learned it.”

Poor Nellie was afflicted with severe scoliosis and would spend much of the nights coughing and crying. The toddler's comfort came, amazingly, from visits to church to see the Eucharist. She would point to the monstrance and whisper, “Mudder, there He is, there is Holy God!” Nellie desired to receive communion, but she was too young, as the age for First Communion at the time was twelve. Instead she would ask those who had just received communion to give her a kiss so she could have some contact with Jesus.

Good Friday Moonlight Sonata

From the Homily on Good Friday 2018

Behold a beautifully tragic proposition of our Catholic faith: in suffering and even evil, beauty and good are to be found. “At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon (Mk 15:33).” This Friday is ugly: mankind at our worst. And yet this Friday is beautiful. God died for love of us and mankind was restored.

The Good Shepherd

Dear Parishioners,

In the Gospel of John, there are seven “I am” sayings of Jesus. That is, our Lord says he is seven different things. They are, “I am...

  • the Bread of Life
  • the Light of the World
  • the Door
  • the Good Shepherd
  • the Resurrection and the Life
  • the Way, the Truth, and the Life
  • the True Vine

Ghostbusters

Dear Parishioners,

Jesus is no ghost! “But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37).

Our Lord on this third Sunday of Easter is conscientious of proving to the disciples that he is real; that he is not a phantom or some vague spirit conjured from the dead. In the Old Testament the ghost of the prophet Samuel was summoned by the witch of Endor at the request of Saul (cf. 1 Sam 28). Ghosts were not unheard of.

Nor was a resuscitated person. Jesus had raised Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:38-44), the daughter of Jairus (cf. Matt 9:18), and the son of the widow of Nain (cf. Lk 7:11-17) back to life The prophet Elijah in the Old Testament had also brought a person back from the realm of the dead (cf. 1 Kgs 17:17-24). Jesus was not a resuscitated human being. His resurrected body is different than it was before. He has a glorified body. He can pass through walls and appear in two places at once and vanish in an instant (see the Road to Emmaus).

Got faith? Have love.

Dear Parishioners,

Saint Thomas! Oh Thomas, how close you were to missing out on sainthood. How close you were to losing your identity and being consigned to an eternity of confusion and limitation, along with Judas, Pilate, and everyone else who could not step out into the beautiful dark and believe. Thanks be to God (and truly, to God, for he mercifully came to you), you were able to see the risen Christ and come to faith.

We know well the story from today's Gospel, the second Sunday of Easter. “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (Jn 20:24). When Thomas, who has missed Christ's appearance that Easter Sunday evening, is told by the ten of the resurrection, Thomas doesn't believe. It is not until a week later, when Jesus appears and allows the doubter to put his hands into his wounds, that Thomas believes, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” This prompts Jesus' response: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

The Bard

William Shakespeare's original patron was a Catholic and when Shakespeare came into his own he bought a house in London that housed and hid Catholic priests. When he retired to Stratford, one of Shakespeare's few visitors was John Robinson, a Catholic to whom Shakespeare had leased his London house, called the Blackfriars Gatehouse. An Anglican clergyman sighed upon Shakespeare's death that he had “dyed a papist.” All of this in addition to the many Catholic references and themes in Shakespeare's works, from Purgatory to the Mass, seem to indicate the greatest writer in human history was Catholic.

William's father, John, was a recusant—one who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy to Henry VIII, Elizabeth and the Church of England, and remained loyal to Catholicism. John Shakespeare was fined for his recusancy. William's daughter, Susanna, would also be fined. It is thought that William's father, John, spent time with the great St. Edmund Campion. Campion, of course, was that brilliant scholar and statesmen, coveted by Queen Elizabeth herself, who became a Catholic priest. Campion ministered clandestinely to Catholics all over England before being caught, tortured, and hung. John Shakespeare named one of his sons—William's younger brother—Edmund. And there is no question St. Edmund had an influence on William, as he had on so many other young Englishmen. Campion, by the way, had an interesting quote, which I take as my motto when it comes to politics, and which I think Shakespeare took as well: “I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.”

Keep it Short

There are multiple reasons I give brief homilies. It is not for lack of preparation. In fact, it takes me more time and effort to compose a five minute homily than it would a 15 minute homily. I am reminded of what Blase Pascal once wrote, “I am sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I did not have time to write a short one.”

But there is also an implicit message I am seeking to convey by means of a short homily: the homily is not the most important part of the Mass. The Eucharist is. I want you to be filled and satisfied not by my words, but by Jesus himself.

Baseball Season

Baseball season is underway and the Cubs' home opener is tomorrow, so allow me to reflect on the spirituality of baseball. Francis T. Vincent, Jr., the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, once said this:

Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often--those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.

Ready, set, sprint!

Dear Parishioners,

I can't tell you how many sprints I've done in my lifetime: sprints throughout grade school and high school for football, basketball, and baseball; sprints in college and then in seminary to arrive at class on time, as well as for sports training; sprints as pastor to answer a ringing phone, to beat traffic across Touhy, to turn on lights in church, to tag a St. Juliana student during capture-the-flag in gym class. So many sprints.

There is a certain level of abandonment when you sprint. You're not contained as when you're jogging. Your leg muscles are fully extended and your arms are literally reaching out as far as they can go. Just one more ounce of abandonment and you'll fall over.

There is also a sense of commitment when you sprint. You're completely in the moment. You can't stop casually. The finish line alone is the object of your focus.

So Much Duality

Dear Parishioners,

Triumph and Tragedy. I can't help but think of that phrase, the title of the sixth volume of Winston Churchill's narrative of the Second World War, in association with Palm Sunday. There are so many contradictions and paradoxes in the event of Christ's passion. So much beauty; so much ugliness. So much good; so much evil. So much love; so much hate. Yes, a triumphant and a tragic moment in the lexicon of human experiences.

Veronica, Simon of Cyrene, and Joseph of Arimathea—such beautiful, caring figures who supported our Lord. Caiphas, Herod, and Pilate—such ugly, cowardly, and jealous figures who trashed our Lord.

God the Father—such a good figure, the benevolent creator of the universe, consubstantial with his Son, who loved his son and all those given to his son, and loved them to the end. The Devil, Satan himself—such an evil figure who hated the Father so much he would do anything to attack him, even killing his innocent son.