Last week, as part of my own preparation for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I read the novel Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese. I have been thinking about the multigenerational harm that was done in the name of our faith by those who represented our Church. Even as I was growing up in a Catholic community that fostered my sense of self-worth and unconditional love, Indigenous children were experiencing a Catholicism that stripped them of dignity and made God’s love conditional upon the abandonment of their culture. At its root, the word “reconciliation” means to flow together again. But what does it mean to flow together when something that has been life giving for me has been life destroying for others? How can I continue to say “I believe in … the holy catholic Church” when so much that is evil has been done in the name of that same church?
There are times when I cry out with the disciples in today’s gospel, “increase my faith.” Without more faith, I don’t know how I will continue to be part of the church. There are days when I am on the brink of following the multitudes who have left the church because of all the harm that has been done in the name of faith or by those who were trusted because of their position within the faith community. But then I hear Jesus’ response to the disciples’ cry, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” The problem is not that I need more faith to stay in the church. The problem is that I need to act on my faith and be church as church should be.
Faith is not a commodity that I can run out of. It is an action and or an attitude that must be completed. This is the message of the second half of today’s gospel. After telling the disciples that faith the size of a mustard tree is more than enough, Jesus launches into a metaphor about servants. A servant is expected to do what is commanded without needing additional thanks or recognition part way through, because that is what it means to serve. In our culture, we might think of it this way: if we go to a restaurant and a server does a wonderful job of explaining the menu and taking our order, but then never brings the food, they did not really serve us. So too, if I say that I have faith in God, but those who meet me do not experience God through my actions, I am not really a person of faith.
So, when I say, as part of the Apostles’ Creed each Sunday, that I believe in the “holy catholic Church,” I am not saying that I believe in what was done in the name of that Church, or that I believe in the system that allowed those things to happen. I am saying that I am committed to working with the community of believers to build a world in which the image of God is recognized and honoured in all people and all cultures. I am saying that even if I do not clearly see how it will be achieved, I believe reconciliation is possible if each of us individually, and all of us communally, keep moving toward it.