In the teachings of Sylvanus, a wisdom teacher from the 2nd century, we read that humility of heart is the gift of Christ,who is our light within. On this 150th Canada Day, we need to acknowledge the possibility of light within, although as a nation it has often been clouded and dimmed. For the future, if we hope to celebrate as a nation, with integrity and with one voice, I think we need humility of heart. All of our self-promotion talks about us as a nation that shields the vulnerable, that acts with justice, that has equality within diversity. These are our goals, perhaps, but they are not our complete history. “In the early times, when Cartier first came to these shores, he discovered not an empty land, but a land rich in diverse cultures, religions, languages, industry,” shared University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair.
Unfortunately, Cartier and those who followed, were mostly interested in how to use the land and its peoples. There was no room for cultural appreciation or diplomacy. The reservations on which many First Nations people were confined became a symbol of a real problem in Canadian culture. We deplored South Africa in the time of apartheid, but the creators of that system came to Canada to study our reserves. We welcome refugees now but after the gold rush, we placed a head tax on Chinese people who wanted to emigrate, although it was due to that labour of Chinese workers that much of our railways were built. During World War 2, we turned away Jewish refugees and interned Japanese Canadians. We look judgementally on what has happened to the Palestinian people since the Israeli occupation, but we avert our eyes from the legacy of the residential school system, the polluted waters, the impossible cost of living, the despair in many indigenous communities.
What we need now is humility of heart, a humility that acknowledges the sins of the past, as a harsh lesson in doing a better job of being human beings. We need to mend what has been broken, look to the possibilities of a new covenant for all people who live on this land. Ed Broadbent said, “A country’s true worth is measured by how it provides for each of its citizens. The best way to celebrate Canada Day is to rededicate ourselves to making good on this promise — for all.”
And how do we do that? The gospel Matthew 10:40-42 is instructive in this. When we have humble and clear hearts, we can hear the prophet. When justice motivates our decisions, the well-being of all will take precedence over wealth. And when we acknowledge our own vulnerability, fallibility, limitation, then we will not be able to turn away from the vulnerable. That cup of water will be relationship, hospitality, solidarity, compassion. The reward will be unity, and shared purpose. Then we will be a great nation, not because of our power, but because of the joy of our people, the health of our land, and the safety of our shores.
Broadbent quoted Rosemary Brown, who in 1972 became the first Black Canadian woman elected to a legislature in Canada. “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” In this land of many waters, let us make sure there is a cup for each of us and joy at the end.