Pastor’s Pen – July 7, 2023

The Promise of the Future
I want to convey, on behalf of the entire parish, an enormous THANK YOU to the many volunteers and staff who labored with such commitment to make possible the wonderful celebration of our 175th Anniversary on the parish feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul on June 25. Everything went as well as I could have hoped,  from the prayerful and musical experience of the liturgy, to the food and entertainment at the block party, to the many activities that delighted the children throughout the afternoon. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making it all happen!  We had hundreds of visitors, and we pray that they were touched by the presence of Christ here in our parish community. Check out my article from that weekend about the spiritual implications of our parish history for what lies before us today, we who are here to carry forward the good work of God at this particular place and time in the kingdom.

We are excited to welcome the City of Detroit’s historian, Jamon Jordan, on July 18 at 6:30 PM to spend the evening with us exploring the history of our church and the city. (Be sure to register HERE.) In light of that event, I want to go deeper into the peculiar contemporary perspective on the past’s demands of the present.

The Shadows of the Past
Part of our unavoidable reality today is a growing awareness of the darker sides of institutional and societal histories that have heretofore been ignored, denied, or simply not seen. The worship aid for the feast day included this acknowledgement of our parish’s historical connections to Native Americans and their enslavement:

Ss. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church rests on ancestral land of the Anishinaabeg Three Fires Confederacy: the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations. In the early 1700s, French colonial settlers appropriated the land, and in the 1840s, the Diocese of Detroit received this property as a gift from the estate of Antoine Beaubien, a settler descendant whose family’s wealth was built in part by the labor of indigenous people they held in slavery.

Contemporary Catholic and Jesuit commitments to justice and reconciliation prompt this acknowledgment about the land as a way of showing respect, and as a small step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase indigenous people’s history and culture. It calls us to understand the history that led to our parish’s presence on this land and demands that we strengthen our parish commitment to equity and advancement for all people in our community today.

Today I want to set that acknowledgement in the context of larger movements in society, in the Catholic Church, and in the Jesuit order. I have written here before about the public recognition in recent years of the holding and sale of 272 enslaved African-Americans by the Jesuits at Georgetown University in the colonial period. An organization of their descendants, in partnership with the Jesuits, is now addressing what kind of reparations the Jesuits can make, and how reconciliation can be furthered. Those involved testify that this is truly spiritual work, very difficult and challenging but absolutely required of us. The work has also led to a greater awareness of the sad Jesuit involvement in slaveholding in many places throughout the world in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

In a similar vein, both Canada and the U.S. are coming to terms with the legacy of the Indian boarding schools, a symbol of the larger tragedy of the colonizer assault on the lives and cultures of Native Americans. Our own Jesuit Province (region) includes the Jesuit missions among the Lakota (Sioux) in South Dakota, where we are engaged in a Truth and Healing process at today’s Red Cloud Indian School (Mahpiya Luta), formerly a Jesuit-run boarding school.

These movements in the Jesuit world are part of the whole church coming to terms with aspects of its past. Pope Francis traveled to Canada last year to formally apologize to the indigenous First Nations for the church’s complicity in the boarding school system; subsequently the Vatican made a long-overdue disavowal of what has been termed the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

Our Hope in Christ
So what does all this have to do with you and me here at Ss. Peter and Paul today? The call in our Catholic faith to reconciliation, forgiveness, reparation and redemption is as old as the Gospel, and even older, going back to the Old Testament. This is not a merely human or political movement. It is what the work of God in this world, the mission of Jesus in this world, is all about: forgiving and repairing and healing the damage done by humans to one another, to God’s intentions for our human family.

We may find ourselves confused by the present moment – ashamed of or angry at the past actions of institutions and groups we are part of today, and at the same time feeling both innocent of and judged by that past. Large segments of American society are resistant and reactive to what’s emerging; personal prejudice and systemic racism against Black and Native Americans are still very much alive. But the fundamental, unavoidable truth is that harm and damage done to human beings over generations cries out for healing and reconciliation. Even though we who are alive today may not have committed the misdeeds of the past, or may be the victims of that past, our life of faith moves us as disciples of Jesus, the Christ of all history, the great Healer – no matter who or where we are in this social history – to co-labor with Him in his universal mission to heal every wound and right every wrong with God’s love.