WEST VALLEY CITY — "Justice is one of those virtues, imagined by God, that we find difficult to understand," said Bishop Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago in his homily at a Mass for the Black Catholics of Utah at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Jan. 12. "We do not always understand what justice is, and we often translate justice in terms of vengeance."
Bishop Perry concelebrated Mass with Bishop John C. Wester, of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, and Father Javier Virgen, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, West Valley City. Deacon Rick Huffman assisted at the altar.
As part of the annual observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Bishop Perry accepted multiple invitations to share his reflections on the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King. Bishop Perry also celebrated Mass with students at Judge Memorial Catholic High School Jan. 11 at 9 a.m., and with students at Juan Diego Catholic High School Jan. 11 at 1:30 p.m.
"When something happens and someone suffers, we want justice," said Bishop Perry. "What does justice mean – prison, the electric chair, or hanging. Maybe it did in the Wild West Days, I’m not sure. But when God imagines justice, he talks about suffering. Justice comes out of suffering. That is the biblical definition of justice."
This weekend the Catholic Church celebrated the baptism of Jesus. Bishop Perry said, "Baptism for Jesus probably meant a fundamental transition in his life; a consciousness about his mission of God. Up to this point, it seems Jesus was a respectable and unnoticed carpenter. Scripture indicates that both relatives and neighbors were both quite surprised once Jesus began his ministry. Jesus claimed a special closeness to God, yet his first public act was to have himself baptized."
Bishop Perry said the Catholic Church has reflected upon Jesus’ baptism over the centuries as his solidarity with all that we know and experience as human beings with suffering, with struggle, and the consequences of our own sin. The fact that we live in the land of injustice, the Bible tells us God sent his son for our justice."
In Jesus’ time, there was discrimination and impartiality based on whether one was Jewish or Gentile, circumcised or not circumcised.
"Today the challenge is a matter of ethnic and racial origin," said Bishop Perry. "Social sins found in the world today are often from racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination that have erupted in things like slavery, degrading poverty, war, and genocide.
"That brings us to today and the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. King gave his life for this nation," said Bishop Perry.
"King gave his life for the freedom we all deserve," said Bishop Perry. "King was not just a leader for African Americans. His heart was much larger than that. If you examine his words, you will see his all embracive conception of the goodness of humanity, not only for Blacks, but for anyone deemed inferior by our social practice with one another."
Bishop Perry said his own grandmother left the Catholic Church because in her day Blacks could not receive Communion along side a white person. They were roped off in the back pews, and were often not allowed to receive Communion.
"That was the extent of segregation in the Church," said Bishop Perry. "That was the social ignorance of the time."
Bishop Perry said one issue before us today is immigration. People are being arrested and sent back to their place of origin, families are being broken up, and children are being left behind. All because people have crossed our southern borders and come into this part of America looking for the same thing our ancestors were looking for – freedom to worship God, freedom to provide for their families, and survival.
Bishop Perry said he thinks the root is fear of scarcity and shortages. Shortages of opportunity and shortages of control or power over our lives. When these shortages occur, then sometimes ugly behaviors occur in response to what we fear.
"Sometimes we fear people because they are different, or speak a language we do not understand, or have a skin color that is darker than ours," said Bishop Perry. "We need to be aware of these kinds of ugly thoughts and ugly words. We all have suffered and experienced prejudice and discrimination of one sort or another whether we came to the United States voluntarily or in chains. We all have stories to tell and our tears are the same."
Bishop Perry challenged the students and those gathered at the Mass for the Black Catholics by saying, "As we honor Martin Luther King’s birthday these coming days, we can give honor to him by being friends with all kinds of people.
"Whenever you gather together as a group for any effort, recreation, school, or otherwise, look out for those who seem to be the underdog, the person who has been forgotten or left behind. Maybe left behind because they have freckles, or are wearing glasses, have a different skin color, or are from the opposite side of town. Use inclusion as a virtue and include them in your group.
"The Christian story is one of diversity. The three kings were all different and Jesus embraced them all," said Bishop Perry. "We are a variety of all kinds of people indicative of a remarkable diversity. Reach out and help each other for Jesus’ sake and for Martin Luther King’s sake."
Following the Mass at Judge Memorial, Illa Wright was presented with the John Sparks Memorial Peace and Justice Award. Wright has been the volunteer coordinator of the Catholic Ministry for Incarcerated Youth and Adults for more than 30 years.