Pope Francis looks on during an exclusive interview with Reuters at the Vatican, July 2, 2022. CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

Editorial: Forgive us our sins

By 
  • July 21, 2022

The moment of humility and contrition Pope Francis ushers in with his visit to Canada may seem an unpropitious time to remind ourselves how great we art.

Francis’ apology on Canadian soil for the sins of the Church during its participation in the darkness of the residential school system is in equal measure historic and heartfelt. Here, on the land we all share, is the Bishop of Rome giving voice to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, through the medium of a 2,000-year-old religious institution, expressing sorrow and asking forgiveness for what was done to Indigenous children and their families as far back as a century or more ago.

Failure to see such an encounter as history in motion is to miss the meaning of historic. Just so, inability to experience its effect on the deep core of the human heart is to require a refresher course in Our Lord’s words: “What you have done to the least of these, you have done also to me.”

Elaboration can be found by reaching across the Reformation aisle to read in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s General Confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.”

Francis, in Canada, is present to invoke precisely those sentiments to call out all of us miserable offenders, including himself, who, through history’s failures of omission and commission, took part in, benefitted from, ignored, discounted or turned a blind eye to, what was done to the least of those children and their families and so, directly not just by extension, to Our Lord.

But through the mystery of our faith, in the very pit of ignominy, we find how great we art, or at least have hope to become. For in Francis’ submission to authentic contrition and sorrow, in his concrete act of coming to meet Indigenous people here, where they live, and asking their forgiveness for what has been done, and what has not been done; for the lack of health in us to historically accord the justice, the equality, the charity they deserve as children of God; he opens the moment for all of us to confess our faults, to ask God to forgive us our failures, our wrongs against our brothers and sisters, and so our sins directly against Our Lord.

This is the greatness of the Church in history, which is a qualitatively different thing from greatness in the history of the world.

Worldly history, of course, is human action measured against earthly revolutions around the sun.

The history of the Church, by contrast, is the indivisible stitching of all our earthly moments into Eternity, where the great and inexhaustible well of God’s mercy lives forever and ever, world without end, amen.

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