Little Ones Should Not Be Lost
Last week was Pope Francis’ pilgrimage of sorrow and apology among the indigenous peoples of Canada. Each of us are healed and share in the healing of one another during life’s pilgrimage. It is part of our conversation when we dine at the table of the Eucharist: Lord, have mercy; Our Father forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us; Lamb of God, have mercy; Lord, I am not worthy. We can add the penitential seasons, the beautiful Eucharistic Prayers and Prefaces of Reconciliation, and Scripture readings.
Our Gospel tells us to become like little children and never harm one of the little ones. Pope Francis asking forgiveness on behalf of the church focused on the Residential Schools, where children were taken from their families and forced to live in boarding schools in order to ‘take the Indian out of the children’. The children were taught a new language and deprived of their culture. Now we know that destroyed families as well as a way of life with its culture and spirituality and was an insult to the wisdom of the elders, the grandparents, the keepers and sharers of the treasures of culture. Lives were disrupted, a culture damaged, and a bad harvest was sown in the plowed proud bodies of a people who bear those scars. On the plane returning home the Pope used the word ‘genocide’. Good he did not use that word during his visit. At a burial we need not remind one another that our loved one is dead. Francis was pulling weeds, attending to living wheat so it can grow to produce an abundant crop.
Why is this gospel so linked to the Pope’s visit? Could it be the gift giving? Francis always, with a timid smile, offered little red boxes which I think held rosaries to all who approached to offer him their ‘special’ gifts. There is something so humble in giving and receiving a gift. There is a language of childhood in gift-giving. We want to make someone happy. The gospel is reflected too in the beautiful, humble church of the Sacred Heart of the First Peoples in Edmonton with the large poles of a teepee, framed the image of the crucifix. God has pitched his tent among us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” were words above the altar. The Incarnation that began in Mary’s womb and was a baby in Bethlehem. Also, the rituals that were presented and shared with delight and dignity, call forth our gentle reverence to children. Even if they were beyond our understanding, we could appreciate the child within, caught up in sharing something sacred, ritual makers sharing with us invisible things that they can see.
But finally, our gospel speaks of the Good Shepherd who goes off searching for a sheep separated from the flock. The Pope took us with him to people far away, but not too far; different, but not too different. People who suffer and have suffered, but whose lives in this present moment offer something enlivening to us. Francis says, go and find the sheep, be among them. Many of us have had our stuffed lambs when we were children, older we might still count sheep on occasion. What speaks of the child in the visit of Pope Francis, the Shepherd, may be his hope and trust that as children have a remarkable ability to forgive, the ‘child’ so damaged in times past but still living among these good people can forgive. May new seeds, reconciliation seeds, grow now along with the wheat freed from many weeds, to be a rich, beautiful, nourishing harvest.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Jamaica, New York.