Fr. James' Letters

January 23, 2022

Dear Parishioners,

I didn't have much religious formation prior to entering seminary immediately upon graduating college. So, when I first heard about the priest Ezra in our introduction to the Old Testament course, I immediately shouted out, interrupting the professor, "Better than Ezra! Uh, wahha, it's good, oh oh oh, wahha!" The professor, a priest in his 70s, looked at me from his glasses perched on the end of his nose, and continued lecturing.

You're probably giving me the same look that professor did. What the heck is this guy saying? Very few people would understand this reference. Ask your son or daughter if they're between ages 30-40.

For those who don't know, Better Than Ezra was the one-hit-wonder rock band that produced the above song, Good, in 1993. I still, to this day, pastor much more mature than I was my first year in seminary (doubtful), will think of this song when we hear about Ezra in the Bible. He's mentioned in our first reading from Nehemiah. Uh, wahha...

At any rate, you're probably as familiar with the actual Ezra as you are with the 90s rock band. Ezra is so important though. Let me explain.

Ezra is a post-exilic figure. That is, he is around when the Jews return from the Babylonian captivity in 500BC (to use a round number). Remember, the temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587BC, one million Jews killed, and a portion of the Jewish people taken into captivity in Babylon. Eventually the Jews return. But not only have they lost the temple, they've lost the law and much of their history. 

Ezra leads a group of Jews back to Jerusalem and, in the midst of the rubble where the temple was, finds hidden a copy of the Torah. He reads it to the people. At first they all start crying because they realize, by their actions they've been doing while in exile, they've violated the law. But Ezra tells them it's not their fault — they didn't know — and that instead they should be rejoicing. They once again have the law. They can once again behave appropriately and grow close to God. Ezra is sometimes referred to as "the second Moses," as he gave the law to the people.

Now, if I was in the crowd that day I would have been weeping regardless of Ezra's instruction. Wait, you mean we can't eat pulled-pork sandwiches anymore?! Ignorance was bliss! I digress.

But not really. This is Ezra's whole point about the law, and why he's significant, especially to lawyers. The law might appear to inhibit our freedom, but it's actually for our good. We follow the (religious) law because the law was made for us to help us flourish. "The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul," says the psalmist in our responsorial (Psalm 19:8).

Please trust in this, especially when we bristle at a law in the church. The law might not make sense to us, we might even disagree with it, but we should respect the law. The word 'respect,' by the way, comes from the Latin respicere, which means "to look twice at." We should give the law and its purpose a second look when we don't like it. It's for our own good.

Yes, the law of the Church, and Ezra, one of its primordial proponents, is good, uh wahhahah...

I think my seminary professor would be proud. Sort of.

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First Reconciliation for the second graders is this Tuesday and Wednesday evening in the Upper Church at 7pm. Parents, please check your email for the special instruction, as the procedure is slightly different to ensure everyone's health and safety. Thank you, Anna Mae and team, for your preparation. And best of luck students. We will be praying for you.

Martin Nyberg, one of our seminarians, will be starting his semester-long internship in the parish this week. The program at Mundelein Seminary has every second-year seminarian go on "internship" the spring semester of their second year. Normally the seminarians are just here on the weekends, as they are up at the seminary for class during the week. But Martin will be with us full-time now until May. FYI, Kevin, in his third year, was with me on internship last year at Saint Juliana for the spring (Kevin, by the way, will himself be away in the Holy Land for 12 weeks, as that is the program for the 3rd Year seminarians, so you won't be seeing him around). Martin will be staying at the rectory and you'll see him at Mass and in school and so forth. Please say hi to Martin and keep him in your prayers.

Yours in Christ,

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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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605

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UC = Upper Church

HFC = Holy Family Chapel

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