Jesus needs help. He cannot accomplish the work God has set him alone—and I would think that is by design. The very intention of this is to incorporate us into the life of Christ by doing his work.
The gospel story today shows us how Jesus enlists others to spread the Good News, to heal and exorcize demons, to carry out his ministry. He sends the twelve out, two-by-two, to minister to the fractured and disheartened people of Israel.
We understand that he has, as God incarnate, submitted himself to the limitations of human existence: he can only be in one place at any given time; he can be only active so many hours of the day—he must eat and sleep; he can only travel as fast as his feet can carry him.
I mentioned in a past homily that it is quite clear that Christ did not come among us to heal the sick as the purpose of his coming; that this was only a sign of his power, and indication of who he is. If he truly was only here for that, he would have willed that all the sick and the lame of the world be restored in an instant. Rather, their need for health brings them into contact with him; and something more important comes of the encounter than freedom from leprosy and other diseases and disabilities. People come to faith, and are by it relieved of fear of death, slavery to sin, but more importantly, they become agents of healing themselves, and a personal means by which the world might find forgiveness and reconciliation, both among people, and with God.
Now he does this work in the world of the Roman Empire. We need to appreciate that while the ancient world did not have the internet, or mass media (radio, television, daily newspapers, etc.) there were technologies of communication and information, of what we might call propaganda and indoctrination. Most of these were firmly in the hands of the powerful. When we go to a museum and wander through a sculpture gallery of ancient statues and busts of Roman emperors and empresses, we need to remember we’re not looking at “art” for their purpose was not strictly decorative. These were placed in public buildings, in public squares around the empire to communicate the reality of imperial power to the subject peoples; they provided a proxy in marble of the emperor’s presence among those who were to fear him—they said to the onlooker: “I am the ultimate power in your life.” These carved images were so numerous that almost every major city in the world today has examples of them in their museums.
I won’t get into the other means by which the powerful communicated and thereby shaped opinion among the population of the empire, suffice to say, they held the high ground in this regard.
What Jesus had, what we have, is each other, and the power of our personal witness to Christ, our knowledge of the faith, and quite necessarily, an education in what the world is about and how the Gospel is the answer to it. We can be yanked off YouTube, deplatformed from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. All we truly control is ourselves, and our power to speak, to share person-to-person the faith, information and our experiences.
This dependence upon each other; yes too, of pastor upon the parishioners, was made apparent to me last week following the masses. Never be shy about speaking to me of things you regard as of real importance.
We’ve all been immersed in the issue of the residential schools, and when in making small talk with a family I had asked if they have participated in any celebration of the national day, one person made the comment that surely there would be many in mourning, and so this Canada Day is understandably, appropriately muted in its celebration.
In that I learned something, and so the body of Christ, this community became an important source of information to me about where people are at, overcoming my limitations as but one man in one place, of my time.
For me, the issue of the residential schools is in no way new. I’ve known about it for 30 years and more. When a student in Ottawa, I had contact with many indigenous people attending the universities there, and so learned about it then. As an Anglican I was very familiar with the financial settlement reached in 2006, first with the Catholic entities, those dioceses and religious orders that had been involved in the running of schools. That settlement served as the model with respect to the other churches. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, which included an appendix identifying all of the cemeteries, with maps and aerial photographs, was published in 2016 – so, none of theses graves we’ve heard about have been “discovered” but rather, they are now being investigated belatedly.
So, for me, I am not shocked, or grieved, or in mourning because these are all things I’ve already emotionally and psychologically, and spiritually processed over decades.
It does not make me indifferent, but rather impatient to get on with dealing with the issue at the heart of this tragedy of history, the problem of how we have related to indigenous peoples through the blundering apparatus that is the federal government.
So, Christ at work through his followers, in person-to-person connection, made me aware of how little most know about the history of this issue; and so, I better understand how this has all come as shocking news for so many.
I had another encounter, and in this instance a longer conversation with a faithful disciple of our Lord who asked why the Church seemed to be doing so little, other than, at the institutional level acting defensively? More importantly, this person asked, what can we do?
This made clear to me that many, both Catholic and non-Catholic, don’t understand the structure of the Church; or why the Pope really bears no responsibility such that an apology makes sense – his pastoral leadership is indeed relevant and necessary, and it has been exercised by past popes, and is being exercised by His Holiness Pope Francis toward a constructive process to lead to true reconciliation.
To the first question, what are we doing? What have we done? I offered information that I hope will be shared.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) of 2006 obligated the Roman Catholic entities involved in the residential schools’ system to pay upfront $29 million, to provide $25 million in in-kind services (which an independent assessment carried out by the courts indicates has been done), and up to $25 million in a “best-effort” fundraising campaign. The first two commitments were met. The third was not.
None of this involved our diocese. However, in the wake of this and other events, our diocese entered into a “twinning” agreement with the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay, a vast diocese that encompasses almost the whole of the territory of Nunavut. We provide financial, material and pastoral support to this diocese whose membership is in the majority indigenous peoples, principally the Inuit and Northern Cree.
There is more I could share, but I will leave it there for now.
The second question: What can you and I do?
Well, I think we first need to recall to ourselves that we are disciples of Christ. It is from this identity that we must do our work. Not as “Catholics” or persons of European descent who bear some burden of guilt by virtue of our skin colour. Our obligation to serve and so facilitate healing and reconciliation must not proceed from guilt or shame but rather from thanksgiving for the redemption we have in Jesus Christ.
Our actions cannot be predicated on guilt; we should not engage in actions that are insincere even as they are demanded by some elements in our society who want to see us debased, humiliated, in sack-cloth and ashes, public penitents.
Consider that this would be retribution aimed at people who are dead, but striking the innocent of today. What complicity in the schools do Italian Catholics who arrived in Canada in the 1950s have, or Poles, Czech, Hungarians and Croatians who arrived in the 60s and the 70s? Vietnamese Catholics, the famous “boat people” who arrived in the 1980s? Filipinos who first began arriving in significant numbers here in the 90s? And so on.
Do they bear the guilt of this by virtue of their devotion to Jesus Christ, their Catholic faith that in no way teaches violence or abuse or prejudice or racism?
Now there most certainly are Catholics who are guilty of these things, but that is in contradiction to their creed. Were we the Church of Fascism, then within its doctrines you would find such evil ideas. But we preach the Gospel, and by the Gospel we know that a wrong has been done; and by the Gospel we know what must be done now.
As of last week, there have been at least 23 attacks against churches—including at least five completely destroyed by fires, at least three damaged by fires, and more than 15 vandalized to varying degrees. Most of them were Catholic.
Prime Minister Trudeau has said, “I understand the anger that’s out there … against institutions like the Catholic Church. It is real, and it is fully understandable given the shameful history that we’re all becoming more and more aware of.”
To speak of these attacks as “understandable” is hardly a condemnation of this unacceptable behaviour – this is the kind of the leadership that feeds the fires of division and deepens resentment. Nonetheless, this is the narrative you will find in the major media, feeding the flames by excusing these acts of revenge as “understandable.”
We do not command any significant media. Yes, there are Catholic websites and cable channels, a few sympathetic, balanced and reasonable voices in the major media, but they are few and have limited audiences.
It is down to us to work against the forces of division and destruction.
The story of the coming of Christianity to the indigenous peoples of Canada should not be reduced to the experience of government-mandated residential schools. We need to have the whole of the story told, both the good and the bad of it. We need to remember that often the Church proved a force militating against cultural assimilation, that it worked to preserve native languages, even in defiance of government directives.
I mentioned that the fundraising efforts in the dioceses that were parties to the financial settlement have fallen way short of their goal of $25 million dollars. Is this where we can help?
Prompted by the two conversations I had last week, I began this work of investigation and reflection, but I most assuredly cannot complete it. These are but two areas of initiative to be explored. Among us today, both here present, but in the larger parish there are those waiting to be sent, to be sent out, as our Lord says elsewhere in the gospels, “among wolves” to do this vital work: to cast out the demons of revenge and retribution, to anoint with the oil of healing, to cure the sickened soul of our land.
23 Canadian Churches and counting
Another perspective on the Residential Schools (Catholic Education Resource Centre article)
Link to Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay website page featuring the Hamilton diocese
Text of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (2006) in English