Fr. James' Letters

Soul Searching

Our nation is bleeding. She is shedding tears because of what has happened in our country over the last few days. She is weeping because of what happened in Minneapolis last week – the callous extinguishing of George Floyd’s life. She is in tears also because while some are expressing their legitimate concerns and grievances peacefully, others are looting and destroying. All this is happening in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic that is ravaging our world. As people of faith, how are we to make sense of all this?

Over the last thirty-five years when I have lived in the US, in spite of the color of my skin I have always felt that I belong. Not a single person has made me feel that I was an outsider. I don’t believe anyone treated me differently because I was born in another country. Maybe because I am a priest and I spend my life trying to serve others, I have only received much love and kindness.

I did not have the feeling of totally belonging when I lived in Europe. Even though I spoke Italian and integrated myself into the Italian culture, I knew I would not be fully accepted. Every time I would come to the US – at least twice a year – as I landed at O’Hare I would say to myself, “I am home.” That was not a feeling I had in Italy.

I felt sometimes as an outsider even in my native country. My own brothers and sisters have suffered discrimination because of our faith. There is more prejudice in India than anywhere else (as far as I know). The system of discrimination and prejudice known as the caste system is enshrined in the holy books of Hinduism. The present nationalist party in power has declared a war against minorities. It has gone so far as to say that Christians and Muslims are not Indians because they follow foreign religions.

I have told my friends and family back in India that Americans treat everyone well. I firmly believe that the US is the beacon on the hill that welcomes the huddled masses to offer them new avenues for life and prosperity. I feel encouraged by the promises enshrined in our Constitution and the oath of allegiance – “justice and liberty for all.” Over the last several decades, we have made much progress towards equality and justice.

In spite of all this, every now and then something unfortunately happens in our society that tears at the very heart of America. That is what happened last week in Minneapolis. The video of George Floyd being slowly asphyxiated is difficult to watch. I kept asking myself: “How can a human being be so callous towards another? How can the life of a fellow American be disposable?” We should condemn that act as reprehensible. These incidents of violence tarnish the burnished image of America and they must stop.

As people of good will, all of us express solidarity with those who protest. We want things to get better. We raise our voices on behalf of the victims of discrimination. We want all our fellow Americans to have the same rights and opportunities, the same recourse to justice and due process. We call on everyone to dialogue with each other peacefully and find amicable solutions.

We are, however, outraged by some of the things that happened in those protests. The looting and burning are totally unacceptable. When protesters begin to resort to violence, they discredit their cause. Instead of inviting others to join in their fight, they turn them off. Even Martin Luther King, Jr., who knows a thing or two about protesting, condemned violence. These opportunists who use these peaceful protests to create anarchy and destruction must be stopped.

A moment in history like this challenges all of us to do some soul searching. Merely adhering to the expectations of political correctness does not eradicate racism or other forms of discrimination. We need to look into our hearts and souls and sincerely ask ourselves whether we consider every human being to be worthy of dignity and respect. Jesus said, “What makes a man unclean is what comes out of him. It is not what goes into him.” In other words, Jesus tells us that we need to monitor the way we think. It is not enough to monitor our words. We need to dig deeper and ensure that we truly think of everyone as our equals, worthy of our genuine respect.

We respect every human person not because discrimination is unacceptable in polite society. We do it not because our Constitution declares that “all men are created equal.” We extend our total respect to everyone because every human being – with absolutely no exceptions – is created in the image and likeness of God Himself. Moreover, Jesus has categorically stated: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do it to Me.” Our motivations for rooting out every form of discrimination are pure and simple, and they spring from our Christian faith.

Our tendency to discriminate and to exclude is deeply rooted in our human nature. We would like to decide who does and does not deserve our respect and love. Grace embraces but sin pushes people away. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges every disciple to love perfectly just as the Father loves. Just as the Father makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust, we cannot exclude anyone; we cannot discriminate against anyone. No one should be denied their civil rights for whatever reason. Unfortunately the dream of Dr King is not yet a reality.

Let us join hands with all those who champion the rights of everyone under any kind of oppression or discrimination. At the same time, let us implore the Father that all of God’s children will learn to respect, support and love one another.

Who is Fr. James?

Father James Wallace grew up in Winnetka, Illinois and attended Sts. Faith Hope and Charity grammar school, New Trier High School, and then The George Washington University in Washington DC, where he earned his undergraduate degree in Political Science in 2007. He attended seminary at The Pontifical North American College in Rome and was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In addition to being the pastor of Saint Paul of the Cross Parish, he serves as a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese, a dean in Vicariate II, and a professor of canon law and spiritual director at Mundelein Seminary. He is also one of the featured Mercy Home Sunday Mass celebrants, airing Sundays at 9:30am on WGN.

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