by Father Mark Goldasich
Someone’s gotta be the fool.
This was one of my Grandma Modrcin’s pearls of wisdom. (It sounds more exotic in Croatian.)
Whenever someone had an argument, Grandma encouraged one of those parties to be the “fool.” That is, to be humble enough to take the first step at reconciliation — no matter if the “fool” was the injured or the injurer.
Grandma understood that anger festers inside a person and then spreads to poison other relationships. The “wise fool,” if I can coin such a phrase, doesn’t give anger a chance to take root in one’s heart.
I’ve been reflecting on Pope Francis’ recent “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada that was featured in the July 29 issue of The Leaven. “I humbly beg forgiveness,” the pope said, “for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.
“I am sorry . . . in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”
I had no idea the magnitude of this injustice. Priests and nuns ran about 60% of these residential schools for the Canadian government. At least 150,000 children were taken from their families and communities between 1870 and 1997(!) and forced to attend these schools. And to add tragedy to tragedy, at least 4,120 children died at those schools and several thousand others (emphasis mine) vanished without a trace.
Recently, I came across this story about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian and theologian, found in a letter by Andrew C. Davison who was visiting him in Africa:
“It was about 11 a.m. The equatorial sun was bearing down mercilessly, and we were walking up a hill with Dr. Schweitzer. Suddenly, he left us and strode across the slope of the hill to where an African woman was struggling upward with a huge armload of wood. I watched with admiration and concern as the 85-year-old doctor took the entire load of wood and carried it up the hill for the relieved woman.
“When asked by one of the members of our group why he did things like that, implying that in that heat and at his age he should not, Dr. Schweitzer pointed to the woman and replied, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.” (Story adapted from “illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewitt.)
I felt like our 85-year-old pope was doing the same thing in Canada, reaching out to those scarred by the abuses of the residential schools and saying, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.” The church that had hurt others so deeply was there now, in the humble figure of an aged man in a wheelchair, to begin a long and long-overdue process of healing.
Pope Francis was living words from early in his pontificate: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. . . . You have to heal wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. . . . And you have to start from the ground up.”
Thank God that Pope Francis is willing to be a “fool” — a fool, as St. Paul says, “on Christ’s account.”