Assumption Catholic Church
  323 West Illinois Street - Chicago IL 60654
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Fr. Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.


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4/15/2018 Fr. Joseph Chamblain, OSM    


A priest I knew in St. Louis had been very active in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960’s. He was a long-time pastor in the African-American community, had marched with Dr. King, and had been on the front lines at other public demonstrations. When he turned eighty he received in the mail a plain brown envelope from the FBI. It contained a file that the Bureau had complied on him decades ago. He said “There was no letter of explanation with the file; so, I’m not sure why they sent it to me. Are they admitting they were wrong about my being a communist sympathizer or do they think I’m just too old now to start a revolution?”

National Security. We hear about that a lot. I remember how FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was often criticized for his heavy- handed approach to security and his seemingly whimsical decisions to start files on certain individuals that he considered personal enemies or enemies of the United States. But all that pales compared to the kinds of information that can now be compiled on us electronically. I was reminded of that last weekend, when I made a quick trip to Memphis to officiate at the wedding of my cousin’s youngest son. Passing through airport security at O’Hare on Thursday, the TSA officer spotted a handkerchief in my pocket. Yes, I had removed everything that could possibly set off a metal detector, but I forgot about the handkerchief in my back pocket. This meant that the handkerchief had to be scrutinized thoroughly (I wish I had washed it before I left Assumption). Next I had to undergo a full body search to see if I was carrying any other potential weapons of mass destruction. Leaving Memphis early Sunday morning, I was given a boarding pass with pre-check privileges (even though I had not paid for the privilege). It was nice to go through the fast line, not having to remove my shoes or belt or take my laptop out of my bag. But then, after passing through the scanner (no handkerchief this time), I was told that they were “randomly” examining laptops and that mine would have to be removed from the bag. It was returned to me about a minute later.

I try to be as polite and cooperative with TSA as I can because I realize they are just doing their job and may feel as foolish about some of what they ask passengers to do as the passengers do themselves. Someone in an office in Washington may have decreed that on this particular Sunday agents must check an electronic device belonging to every tenth passenger in the Pre-Check line. The problem I have is that the greater the focus on such unlikely threats to national security (like a handkerchief), the less secure I actually feel. Yes, thanks to TSA and all the screening we do, airplane terrorism is almost non-existent. In the big picture, though, terrorism and violence have not slowed down one bit. Trucks and cars drive into busy shopping areas and explode, sometimes killing and injuring more people than you could jam on an airplane. Absolutely awful things are going on in Syria and elsewhere. People are shooting up schools and businesses at an accelerating rate. It is ironic that even the most hardcore gun rights activists (those who oppose any restrictions on an individual’s right to purchase a weapon) cannot evade being fingerprinted (if the TSA agent decides to fingerprint them) and undergoing a background check to get on an airplane.

National security and global security will always be a work in progress. Try as we might, with the greatest technical minds in the world and all the money in the world and all the personnel in the world, we cannot come up with a security system that is effective 100% of the time. The only security system that is absolutely foolproof is the one that Jesus summarized in a few short words: Love of God and love of neighbor. If we practice those two commandments consistently, we will never have to worry about our future security. And that might free us up to live life with less fear. During the liturgies of the Easter season, we hear many stories about the early Church from the Acts of the Apostles. The first followers of Jesus realized that they had little earthly security. They were being persecuted by the Romans and being thrown out of synagogues by their fellow Jews; yet they did not hunker down in seclusion. Instead, they took enormous risks to spread the Gospel, knowing that they had loads of heavenly security. We could do well to imitate them. It would be good for our faith and good for our country.

                                                                                           Fr. Joe    


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