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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories: Living with Our Past – Journeying to Our Future

Most often, the greatest wounds are those that hurt our relationships - with family, with friends and with colleagues. The primary wounds are those that do not honour and acknowledge the goodness and wonder of who they are as persons. We may differ from each other in many ways. But each of us has a goodness and giftedness that is a special gift of God.

As much as we face this reality in our personal lives, we face it as well in our social, cultural, religious and national life. Our Catholic Christian church has a long history, some 2000 years of it. In that long history we can acknowledge that our faith has made significant contributions to the family of humanity. At the same time, our Catholic faith often fails to live up to the catholicity that names our faith community. In some of our story, our faith community has been closed and narrow, even abusive in our relationships, and in how we encounter the many peoples and cultures of the family of humanity.

In meeting other cultures we have not been open to them, not acknowledging that they, like us hold a true and wondrous relationship with God. This has led us to be domineering, demeaning and even violent as we encounter them. We speak as wanting to share our faith with them. But frequently this has taken the form of imposing our faith upon them,… not honouring the good they already hold.

Our Canadian history is part of the broader European colonial story. The expansion of Europe into the Americas is like much of human history. When cultures encounter one another, it is often a story of conquest. Rather than building a mutual relationship which can enrich both, a colonializing power overruns the other and attempts to assimilate the other into its culture. The story reveals an effort to dominate and change the culture into which it has moved.

This has been the story of the residential schools that are part of our Canadian history, an effort to assimilate First Nations into Canadian society of the time. Our Catholic Church joined in this effort, seeing an opportunity to share the faith we held. Unfortunately, beyond a few isolated instances, there has been little recognition, that the peoples of the First Nations already have a deep and rich spiritual tradition and that we can meet in mutual relationship.

Mark’s Gospel reveals Jesus speaking with parables. In Mark 4:26-34, we hear of a farmer planting seed. The contact of the seed with the soil leads to growth. In the story, beyond the sowing of the seed, the sower cannot control the growth. He has to trust in the coming together of the two elements. “Controlling” does not produce growth. Encounter does.

Faith and love are shared through respectful encounter, a meeting in which a life-giving relationship is planted and nurtured. In the shadow of the residential school experience perhaps it is time to discover our encounter of cultures, honouring both, sharing each and respecting all.

Apologies are certainly needed. As a priest in the Catholic community, my own apologies go out to our sisters and brothers in the First Nations for the many hurts we have brought upon you. But more is demanded. Our society needs to let go of control. This is a national conversion/change of heart. We need to learn to “listen” deeply to each other in a relationship that is open, and honours and respects all. We cannot, must not forget the past hurts. But we can, we must grow a more open relationship, sowing seeds of new life together, honouring the cultures we share.

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