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 Chapter Sixteen: “The Stonecatchers’ Song of Sorrow,” “Epilogue,” and “Postscript”.
I fell in love with the Stonecatcher, as I’m sure happens to most readers of Bryan Stevenson’s book. What we need in this world are more people who catch the stones thrown at others and less and less people who throw stones. This woman’s story of grief for her beloved grandson, gunned down by other boys, gradually transformed by God’s grace into great compassion for both the killed, the killers, and all the grief-stricken people who come to our courts of law, is a glimpse of the “light that shines in the darkness,” a light that “the darkness did not overcome” (John 1:5). Just Mercy as a whole witnesses to that light, doesn’t it? Over and over again we read of massive darkness, but throughout the book we meet people, mostly the very people who suffer under the powers of darkness, who continue to live as human beings, images of God, in spite of what is done to them and to their loved ones. It is the measure of Stevenson’s brilliance as a writer and his compassion as a human being that he introduces the Stonecatcher in his last chapter. Admittedly, she appeared to him near the end of the journey he has taken us on, but I sense the finger of God’s providence that he and she found each other at that moment. I believe that Stevenson wrote his book so that more people would become stonecatchers rather than stone throwers.
Ignatian Volunteers show by their willingness to work for others that they want to be part of the solution to the darkness that plagues our world. Like Stevenson’s Stonecatcher we have been touched by grief and sorrow but have not been overcome by them, thanks to the grace of God and the help of others. Like her, too, we want to be people whom others can lean on because we have found people on whom we can lean. By the grace of God we have grown in compassion even for the undeserving, because we ourselves have received undeserved compassion, from God and from others. When Stevenson spoke at Walter McMillian’s funeral, he told the people that Walter had taught him a great deal about mercy (compassion). “Walter genuinely forgave the people who unfairly accused him, the people who convicted him, and the people who had judged him unworthy of mercy. And in the end, it was just mercy toward others that allowed him to recover a life worth celebrating, a life that rediscovered the love and freedom that all humans desire, a life that overcame death and condemnation until it was time to die on God’s schedule. “
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.