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 Four: That Old Rugged Cross and Chapter Five: Of the Coming of John
These chapters were really painful reading, weren’t they? Yet, at the same time didn’t you feel uplifted as you read? I came close to tears as I read of the pain and suffering that our African-American brothers and sisters undergo at the hands of what passes for justice in our country. Bryan Stevenson has a way with words that lets readers experience what it is like for a man to face death by execution, an execution that even the all-white jury did not recommend. It was heart-wrenching to read of Herbert Richardson’s life and death in chapter four. And yet he found some hope and consolation when Stevenson took on his case and, we hope, when Stevenson remained with him as he died. Reading this book has let us have a visceral sense of what goes on in our country over and over again. When will we, as a people, say that there has been enough killing and speak out en masse to our elected representatives?
Chapter five reintroduces us to Walter McMillian, but now we find out that his whole extended family is not only devastated by his conviction but also feeling hopeless since many of them were with him at a picnic, and testified to this fact, at the very time he is accused of having killed a white woman. Stevenson lets us feel what it is like for them as they struggle with this massive injustice and realize that their situation is even worse than they had feared. Stevenson writes, “Everyone in the poor, black community who talked to me about the case had expressed hopelessness. This one massive miscarriage of justice had afflicted the whole community with despair and made it hard for me to be dispassionate.” I’m sure that all of us who have read the story of Mr. McMillian arrest and trial and this chapter on his family find it hard to be dispassionate. Bully for Bryan Stevenson! More of us white Americans need to find it hard to be dispassionate in the face of what so very many of our black brothers and sisters undergo almost daily in the country they call their country, too.
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.