Deacon Jim Wall remembered for pro-life service and devotion

Deacon Jim Wall passed away in the early hours of the morning August 31.  He had just turned 87 years old.  His diaconal ministry took him to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Wheatridge, CO and St. Bernadette Parish in Lakewood, CO.

James Robert Wall was born on August 9, 1933 to Lusius and Theresa Wall in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Two weeks later, he was baptized at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls.  His mother and father were very devout, “Irish-Catholics,” attending daily Mass and routinely inviting priests and religious to the house for dinner and fun.  He went to Catholic school at the Cathedral where he was baptized, until they moved to Denver.  In Denver,  Jim went to Regis Jesuit High School.  Still, it was his parents who were his primary examples of holiness and devotion.  Ingrained in his memory, he remembered his mother coming out of daily Mass and speaking with the homeless, handing them food and rosaries. He also recalled peeking in his parent’s bedroom and seeing his father kneeling down to pray before retiring for the night.

After graduating from high school, he went to Regis University and finished at New York University, where he received a degree in History. He then volunteered for the draft and entered the Army.  After getting out of the Army, three years later, he began working in banks in New York City.

As he made trips back to Denver to see his parents, he met Harriet (Joey) Fish, whom he claims was the biggest influence in his life.  He and Joey were married at Christ the King Parish in Denver on September 5, 1960.  The couple’s 60 years of marriage included the blessings of six children, Brenda, Katie, James, Cecilia, Eileen, Mary; 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

In 1965, the family moved back to Denver and Wall started working as a financial broker.  Eventually, he would start his own company, known as Wall and Company.  Soon after his return to Denver, his father passed away.  His father’s death caused Jim to reflect on the strength of his parents and his wife’s faith which ignited a passion to get very serious over building a strong relationship with God.  His quest took him back to Mass and the Sacraments.  He also became a member of the School Board at St. Fatima Parish, joined the Knights of Columbus, and volunteered with the Teens Encounter Christ and Pro-Life Programs.

According to Wall, it was the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Lady that led him to the diaconate.  On June 6, 1996, Archbishop Francis Stafford ordained Deacon Wall at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  He was immediately assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul in Wheatridge, Colorado and then later assigned to St. Bernadette’s Parish in Lakewood, Colorado.  He formally retired from ministry on December 1, 2011 but continued to minister as his health allowed.  During his ministry, he was the first Deacon to receive the Legatus Pro-life award for his efforts in helping raise awareness of the plight of the unborn.  He also was very involved with the Deacon Formation program, Operation Rescue and the Legions of Mary.

“My mind always goes to Deacon Jim when I think about the pro-life activities of the Diaconate,” stated Deacon Joseph Donohoe, Director of Deacon Personnel. “But my heart rejoices in knowing that the unborn have a deacon advocate, more powerful than before, that intercedes at the throne of Our Lord.  He will be missed by his brother deacons.”

A Vigil Service for Deacon Wall was held at St. Fatima Parish on September 8.  The Mass for Christian Burial was held on September 9at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with Bishop Jorge Rodriquez presiding.  The interment was conducted at Mount Olivet after the funeral Mass.  Deacon Wall had requested that, in lieu of flowers, all donations be sent to: Catholic Charities – Respect Life Ministry, Attn: Accounting Dept., 6240 Smith Road, Denver, CO 80216

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.