FAITH is both deeply personal and deeply communal, so I thought it would feed us to begin by hearing from each other about how we individually define faith. ……….. You may have already filled out the place in the bulletin that invites you to define what faith is for YOU. I’ll give you another moment or so to fill it out, in case you haven’t yet done that…. … who would be willing to share? [several responses]
LET’S PRAY TOGETHER. …. Holy One, we are listening for your word about how to live, and how to be faithful to your call to love you, to love our neighbor, to love the world, and to love ourselves. Please help us. GUIDE us as we walk the life of faith together. We’re counting on you. Amen.
My husband Chris and I travelled to Minnesota and back in our van earlier this summer. And on our return home we drove through southern Canada. While we were in Edmonton, Alberta, we heard the news that the Pope would be coming soon to visit several native communities. He was coming — at the request of several tribes – to apologize in person for the church’s role in the residential schools in Canada.
Scrolling on my phone in the van as we drove I happened upon a story about the Vatican’s search for a “liturgical coordinator” for the Pope’s time in Canada. Someone who would be sensitive to and informed about the ceremonies of the native people and who would know how to honor the rituals of the church. The Vatican had qualifications for this position. This coordinator would 1) ideally be indigenous. And 2) they would have some experience of the residential schools. And 3) they would speak Italian! So they could converse w/ the Pope’s entourage. And, by God, they found 1 candidate who matched all 3 criteria: a 36yo priest in Edmonton, Fr. Cristino Bouvette. Fr Cristino’s mother is Italian, and so he speaks Italian. His father is Cree-Metis. The Cree are native, in the US and Canada, and we learned that the Metis are people who are descended from French & Scottish traders and native women, such as the Cree, and Ojibway. The Metis have become a distinct culture in their own right. So Fr Bouvette’s indigenous background comes from his father. His grandmother had been in a residential school and had, before she died, shared with him her own path of reconciliation with the church. This young priest was clearly “uniquely qualified” for his role as liturgical coordinator. … Even more interesting to me about this priest was his confession that, when he was first asked to participate, the “one thing he knew,” was that he didn’t want to do it. He was afraid, he said, afraid that he would make a mistake. It was important work, and a lot was at stake. My heart went out to this man, because I could identify with his fear. The Fear of not being up to the task—is my Achilles heel, the vulnerability of my faith. The part that I very much count on God to overcome in me. WHAT ABOUT YOU? What is your vulnerability in faith? What gets in the way of faith? [several responses]
He must have gotten plenty of support when he confessed his fear to his colleagues. Because he warmed to his role. He said, “It’s just surreal to be, in Italian, explaining to some monsignors what the smudge is or why praying in the four directions has significance. All of these things are blending into one.” Can you imagine being in that room with them? All of the monsignors I’m sure much older than this fervent young guy. The phrase from Hebrews about God bringing “strength out of weakness” comes to mind…..WE’LL COME BACK TO THE THEME of faith…. After we imagine what Jeremiah would say about the residential schools.
About 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend Canadian residential schools whose mission was to strip those children of their culture. These schools lasted into the 1960s and some until the ‘70s in Canada and the United States. As I’m sure you’ve heard, children were forced to give up speaking their native languages and practicing rituals that reminded them of who they were. Many of them were physically and sexually abused, and they are still finding mass graves of children who died in those schools. Living survivors report that the trauma from those times lives on in their bodies and their psyches. For over a century the Roman Catholic Church ran about one third of the US schools and about 60 per cent of the schools in Canada.
Have any of you visited Fort Spokane? It’s 60 miles west & north of Spokane, adjacent to the Spokane reservation, and was the site of a residential school. There is no program or people there. But you can look in through the door of one of the remaining buildings and see the manifesto of the residential school. The overt racism of their purpose was stunning to read. Jeremiah would condemn the religious institutions of that time in our history, and our ancestors’ dream of a “racially purified” nation. As well as how that dream still lives on in our midst.
How do we even repent of such a thing? How do we apologize and seek forgiveness and reconciliation? Major symbolic figures like Pope Francis have their work cut out for them. He was criticized for not saying enough or doing enough and for not doing it sooner. And that seems valid, having read a bit about it. But that Francis did respond and he did go and he did condemn the evil that the church propagated is a powerful symbol. And… he did it while in a wheelchair most of the time because his knees hurt badly. There are a lot of Catholic indigenous people in Canada. Some of them were skeptical or cynical, some were hopeful and many were appreciative of his coming and of his spirit and of his words. Fr Cristino said it was good that Pope Francis came and apologized, good but not sufficient for healing. The work of reconciliation needs to continue.
Now, how do we, us ordinary people, deal with such monumental issues? How do we contribute to acknowledgement of wrong doing? How do we confess our role? How do we say we are sorry and contribute to healing? Well…., we deal with these issues on a smaller scale. We are called to deal with them in situations where WE, like Fr Cristino, are “uniquely qualified.” Lots of times, we are called to clean up messes that we’ve made or contributed to. Hence our unique qualifications. We may feel like it’s gotten really complicated and there’s no way out. But simple phrases like, “I’m sorry. I was mean and it hurt you,” they go a long way when we have the grace to face our mistakes and summon the voice to admit them. Speaking up really matters. Acknowledging where we’ve caused harm really matters. Calling on God, asking for help in such times is critical. Really, on my own, I wouldn’t have the grace to say anything a lot of the time. I would just sit and pout. Or be resentful. Or both.
And/Or our work may be on a wider community level. Your pastor is uniquely qualified to create a farm church. ISN’T SHE??! I got trained as an Our Whole Lives sexuality facilitator for elementary aged kids after my granddaughter was molested at the age of 8. Since the pandemic shut that down, I’ve been led to start writing a book about what it will take to end the sexual abuse of children. Among others, I interviewed my granddaughter for the book. She is now 15. And I was delighted to learn that she shared what happened to her with her closest friends. Shame isn’t shutting her down. And, she’s adamant that parents be educated on how to caution their kids. I’m aware that your congregation, your community is addressing climate change, racism, supporting an Afghan family and feeding the poor. As well as paying rent to the Duwamish people on whose lands we reside.
The passage from Hebrews reminds us that as we pray to grow in faith we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” By those who have gone before and who “would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” I wonder if this is a call to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, of our parents and those who came before them, and to appreciate the ways they equipped us for this race. It’s a call to do the work we can do // to acknowledge our mistakes, both personal and societal. So that we may know ourselves and one another as whole and perfect. As good enough, with God’s grace, to contribute to healing our world.