It was the spring of 1994. I and three other companions travelled the Spanish River from Espanola. Eventually, five days later, we made our way back to Whitefish Falls, over the waters of the North Channel. The four of us landed here at this very site for a break, and then we paddled onward, to camp somewhere out on one of the islands in Georgian Bay, the great waters of Huron. I wanted to camp at this site, but the others were afraid that the bears would attack us. They figured that the islands out in the Northern Channel were our safest bet. Little did I know that some eighteen years later, I would return to this place.(This time, I would have had to do some winter camping.)
I remember being struck by how the river made a channel through the land; how, when we got tired from paddling, its waters carried us effortlessly downstream. Since then, I have grown up somewhat. And since then, two things were told to me as an adult. The first thing was this: as we grow up to become adults, each of us has to make a choice along the way, asking ourselves, “Where do I find the grace of God?”
Another way of asking the question is, “Where am I to be and with whom am I to be, in order to be a God-loving person, a forgiving, encouraging, helpful, and honest person?”
Now, none of our life situations are ideal. The elders among us can attest to this: and so we have to learn how to discover the presence of God, how to read the signs of the loving Creator’s presence. Where do I go to find traces/signs of God’s grace? …To find traces of the Creator’s love for me?
Any hunter knows that one doesn’t set a trap in an area where there are no tracks or traces of the animal which he is hoping to catch. Otherwise, he is not a good and smart hunter, a wise hunter, not a responsible hunter if one’s family is dependent on that food. Or a blueberry picker does not go walking over land that has no blueberry plants growing on it and expect to find blueberries. Nor does an experienced berry-picker naively ignore the poison ivy.
Likewise, we do not situate our lives forever in a place where we are not going to be respected, cared for and loved, and then expect to live a long life. Nor do we stay in that place if we are not becoming good, respectful, caring, and responsible people. We do not stay in a relationship where we are abused, not able to become a good person, a forgiving and healthy person. We will become poisoned.
Where we are as 30 year-olds is not where we are as 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 year-olds. Along the way, each of us has made choices to move and/or change. Some good and some not-so-good choices have been made. The question is: “Did our move help us to see love; or did others channel more of God’s love to me, or not?”
For those who know me, they know I like to grow food. I like to grow a garden. I know that some plants do not grow in certain soil conditions. Turnip grows better in cooler soil, while corn grows better in hotter soil. An apple tree does not grow in a desert; a cactus does. Likewise, if it is in the wrong place, we need the powers of the Creator to help in some measure. If there is water channeled into the desert, then that apple tree can grow. Likewise, we are not meant to live life without the loving water of the Creator, without the Healing power of Christ and the Sustaining power of the Spirit.
This brings me to the second thing I was told as an adult: If we do not find the grace or the love of God, (or extending the metaphor–drink up this further measure of spiritual water), then the best bet is to find other places, friends, family, and community who are in the business of channeling the grace of God. If we stay in that place where God’s grace is not present, nor is able to be channeled to us through others, then we will become very wounded persons, and, as adults, lack some of the essentials in keeping us spiritually healthy. We will pass on this same spiritual sickness to others. And what is more, our legitimate acknowledgements of having been wounded become chronic and repetitive mantras. These very mantras discredit our genuine cry for healing and help. These mantras of being wounded and sick can turn us into hypochondriacs, more specifically spiritual hypochondriacs. Unfortunately, when we get to this state, we may never move on and be healed.
We are here this weekend because some wise adults among us have been blessed with that insight: as it was written in the opening letter by Pauline Toulouse and Roger Daybutch, “based on previous evaluations and comments from past events that were hosted, the direction we are going is geared towards the more memorable happy times we shared at these schools.” In other words, this weekend had to be about the business of channeling the grace of God and of moving on.
So we are here this weekend, on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, to let the love of God be channeled in a different way when it comes to our collective history. It is fitting to be here in Lent. For Lent is the time we set aside to look carefully at how we can change—a time to change our ways of acting and thinking that will no longer perpetuate the sins of the past, but will promote the grace of hope for the future.
We can do this because we are Christians. We might be seen as fools, coming back to a place that is known to have been a place of hurt, loneliness, confusion and wrong-doing. But as Christians, we are always grateful to God. As Catholics, we are Eucharistic people, which means, people of gratitude, people who “remember with gratitude.” We are not naïve and stupid, but rooted in the wisdom of the Creator, healed by the selfless love of Jesus and forever growing up (and for some of us, also growing out) with the Holy Spirit always as our guide.
First, we thank God the Creator for our lives (as Margaret Toulouse led us to do in the opening morning prayer); second, for the gift of his Son Jesus, who is the channel of the Creator’s healing love for us; and third, for how we are shown daily, through the Spirit, to find the love of God in all things, if we choose to live in the wisdom of God.
We believe that, like Jesus, the Creator can channel His love or grace through us to others.
We believe that if we do not heal along the way, then we cannot channel this love to our families, friends and others.
And so we are here in this specific place where these two one-time residential schools, St Charles Garnier and St Joseph, existed, because you believe that this place can still channel God’s love to you as a community of alumni, and beyond. And we, who are your family and friends and who are here, also believe this.
You are saying by your presence here that this place will not be the property where evil has its last word. This place will not be where the good times never existed, where learning never happened, where friends were never found and where fun was never experienced. This place will not be owned by wrong-doing, untruth and revenge, in the end, but it will be owned by right-doing, truth, forgiveness and gratitude within our hearts so that future gatherings of people can come to enjoy this land given to us by the Creator. (I hope it is not the place for future rivalry.) This place is the land of the commons, being reclaimed as a meeting place where the common good is to be upheld by all.
You will not let this place be forgotten, or desecrated. The sacredness of the Creator is still here, despite what human beings tried to do here at one time, which, in part, reflects an unfortunate period of a history of injustice.
In faith, you are the living example of the message of the Cross, which Saint Paul refers us to in the Scripture. Your faith allows you to see that this place can be transformed and restored in your memories as a location of life.
Those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ, his suffering, passion and death, will not be able to see the wisdom of the resurrection. Nor will they see the wisdom of coming together and celebrating and“remembering the good times” as you have done this weekend.
By this faith, we are rising above that sinful history of the past and living out the resurrection. We are not waiting for the next life. We are living it now. Jesus tells us many times, “the Kingdom of God is near at hand.” And this weekend is the proof of that exhortation.
As we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus saw the temple being desecrated, brought to ruin by the money changers, and marketers. He overturned their tables and chased them out. The temple was no longer the place that channeled God’s grace, the sacredness of the Creator. This invasion had distracted people from God. Less and less of the sacredness of life was remembered and encouraged by those who busied themselves with the vendors.
Likewise with ourselves, each of us is that temple, where the Spirit dwells. And we have to take care of that place within us to protect its sacredness. From the past, we know how it can be desecrated by others. And so we are all the more wise to care for it today and in the future. The Jewish people had the Ten Commandments to remind them. We, as Christians, have those same Commandments, along with the teachings of Jesus and the teachings from the ancestors to help us.
Like you, as alumni, I, as a Jesuit priest, have to move forward from a time of history that has marked my generation of priests and brothers, and burdened us. I, too, have to find traces of God’s grace in all of this and work to build a new kind of community that will not become part of an unjust system of education, creating tiers of privileges.
We, together, need to channel our efforts to build new communities and institutions, where all people are respected. We can do this because we profess that each of us is a child of God, a child of the Creator–the One who made us all equal.
I, too, have to be a channel of God’s grace, to do what Christ calls us to do: build up the Kingdom of God, the Kinship of God, where we are brothers and sisters, and not enemies. The Creator’s world has a diversity of creatures in it: many, many varieties of plants and animals co-existing…we all have a place, here, too.
Again, I come back to the wisdom and spirit of this gathering: “Remembering the Good Times”. To remember is to focus on the traces of memories, the good moments, and the fruit that has come from those past years of being at St Charles Garnier and St Joseph’s Schools (eg. the leaders, the great athletes, the faithful elders). To want to move on and move forward is making a bold statement of faith: “we will not be held captive by the past, we will rise above it. We, like the wise hunter or trapper, will catch the Good Spirit and feed off of that Good Spirit to go on living.”
We will not let “victimhood”, that is, seeing ourselves as a victim all the time, desecrate our spirit, turn us into bitter, revengeful and unforgiving people, and become ugly temples of God.
This is so much like what Jesus did. He was never a victim; he was a Saviour—our Saviour, channeling the merciful love of the Creator.
We want to follow Jesus, who was thought to be a victim, but in the end was totally free because he loved, and, therefore, became transformed into a new person and transformed others. We want to be a people who will be transformed daily by the healing love of God. And we want to witness to others that the love of the Creator is the only way that generations after us–if wrong has been done to them–will be healthy people, Anishinabe and non-Anishinabe. Let us thank our elders who throughout all these years have not chosen a godless way, but have chosen the way of Christ: “You keep inspiring us!”
Yes, we might be fools in the eyes of the faithless ones as we move forward, but as St Paul reminds us,
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
Let us always choose God’s foolishness and God’s weakness, no matter the cost.
As this Spanish River channels its waters through the land and out into the great waters of the Huron for thousands of years, let us take courage and do the same: be channels of God’s forgiving, healing and just love to each other; forgive, heal, and love each other. All of this is our shared legacy for the future.
Let us develop into wise hunters or berry pickers, so as to identify the real traces and signs of the Creator’s presence among us, working on our behalf through Christ Jesus to bring forth new life.
Ch’Miigwech, Ch’Miigwech, Ch’Miigwech, Ch’Miigwech.
Homily given by Fr. David Shulist, S.J.,
Director of the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre,
11 March 2012, the day Daylight Saving Time began.