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This blog post from Fr. William Barry, SJ, is a reflection on Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, written by Bryan Stevenson.  Ignatian Volunteers across the country are reading and reflecting in community on this book this year.  This piece is written on Chapters Eight “All God’s Children” and Chapter Nine “I’m Here”.  
It nearly broke my heart to read about the three children in three different states who were among the hundreds of children condemned to life in prison without parole. It can’t be true in the United States, we want to say, but it is, and the great majority of those so condemned are Black or Latino/a. Thank God that Bryan Stevenson chose to include this chapter in his book, and that the Ignatian Volunteer program asked us to read his book. We need to have our hearts broken. I hope that we can join a rapidly growing number of our fellow citizens who will join together to bring a stop to this manifestly unjust and inhuman way of dealing with crime.

One of those children, Ian Manuel, had a photo shoot that gave him a short respite of human contact after the inhumanity of over fourteen years of continuous solitary imprisonment. The letter Ian wrote to Stevenson touched my heart. It revealed so much humanity, humanity that had not been destroyed by what he has suffered in his life. This humanity was also manifest in the courtroom where the appeal of Walter McMillian’s wrongful conviction was held, in the courage and dignity of all the Black people who came to support Walter against all odds, but especially in the courage and dignity of Mrs. Williams who refused to be cowed again by the presence of the police dog, in spite of what it represented to her. Tears came to my eyes as I heard her whisper to herself, over and over again, “I ain’t scared of no dog,” and then triumphantly sat down with a resounding “I ain’t scared of no dog” and beamed with all her compatriots.  I am grateful, as I’m sure all of us IVCers are, to Brian Stevenson for writing with such passion and for our own reactions of horror, compassion and even joy, because it is helping us to deepen our own humanity.

Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England.  He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, Contemplatives in Action, and A Friendship like No Other. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.

3 Responses to “January”

  1. Kathy Simisky

    Thank you, Fr. Bill, SJ for your moving
    Reflection. It is so heartbreaking to hear these
    Stories! As you said it moves you to tears.
    As Pope Francis said when the 12 yr
    Old homeless girl in Manila, Philippines asked him
    “Why did God let this happen to us?” He said,
    “Only when we too can cry about the things that you
    Told us about are we able to answer your question.”
    It is good that we cry for all the injustice. My prayers
    Are with your prayers and all these Dear people!
    Thanks, Fr. Bill!
    Kathy Simisky

  2. Camille Devaney

    Nice reflection, thanks. Bryan spoke last Monday at Rockefeller Chapel at U of Chicago. There was a free webcast making it easy for those of us living far from U of C to hear and enjoy. He spoke as part of a Chicago celebration of MLK. What he said was really a review of the book but he is a powerful speaker and he made the book come alive. One of my ministries is being a house mother at a woman’s shelter that is part of my ministry site. Most of our clients are Latina’s and all trying to survive violent relationships. I feel exceedingly blessed that IVC gives me these opportunities to serve. In my mind much of what Bryan said rings true to what Francis’s has called us to be and do, smell like sheep, imagine walking in another shoes and realizing we are all God’s children and should not be described or treated based on race and/or ethnic origins. Grateful for your reflection and for IVC.

  3. Dave Hinchen

    Thanks, Bill, for this reflection. I purposely did not read it until today. I wanted to have our monthly meetings first. I, too, was touched by that photo and the presence of the black community at the McMillian trial. The chocolate milkshake and the prison guard who could turn his attitude around were moving moments for me, also.


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