Salt + Light Media Home
Salt + Light Media Home

Sustaining the weary | Reflection for Palm Sunday

Matthew Neugebauer

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Indigenous Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, Edmonton, Alberta.
Isaiah 50:4-7
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday seems to be a series of non sequiturs, or sentences cobbled together like the collection of Proverbs. The “Servant of the Lord” goes from a teacher, to a listening and obedient student, to a victim of horrendous torture.
If we take the Suffering Servant to be a figure of Christ enduring the violence of Holy Week, we can begin to get a sense of how these verses might hold together. The hinge is v. 5 and into v. 6: the Servant asserts that “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me….”
To me, the logic of this whole reading goes like this: God has empowered His Servant to teach, and to "sustain the weary," because He has first learned and experienced the suffering of the weary and oppressed. His experience of suffering is an action, a choice that earns the trust of the weary and enables them to receive His words of sustaining comfort. The words of the Suffering Servant are not empty or rote, but are the credible words of a companion who knows what it’s like and what it takes to get through suffering.
The author to the Hebrews connects Christ’s suffering with the credibility of His ministry of mercy and grace:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15, 16)
The Church, in taking part in Christ’s ministry of mercy and grace, is called to follow Him in suffering with — and listening to — others. In Catholic social teaching, the term for this companionship is Solidarity. This active presence of Christians, standing with and listening to those who have experienced poverty, oppression, war, and environmental destruction, is the only way we can have a credible voice that addresses these situations of injustice, and the only way that people will believe that we are genuinely committed to truth, justice, and reconciliation. Solidarity is the only way to open weary people to the sustaining words of God’s love.
This past Thursday, the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development uttered a sustaining word of solidarity in their Joint Statement on the “Doctrine of Discovery:
The "doctrine of discovery" is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church….In no uncertain terms, the Church’s magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being. The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political "doctrine of discovery." (#6, 7)
The Prefect for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Canadian Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, told Vatican News that the Holy See released the Joint Statement “first and foremost because the Indigenous people of Canada have asked for it. They have asked for it over the years, and they asked for it again when the Holy Father was there last year.”
The Joint Statement itself first acknowledges this posture of listening:
In our own day, a renewed dialogue with Indigenous peoples, especially with those who profess the Catholic Faith, has helped the Church to understand better their values and cultures. With their help, the Church has acquired a greater awareness of their sufferings, past and present, due to the expropriation of their lands, which they consider a sacred gift from God and their ancestors, as well as the policies of forced assimilation, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, intended to eliminate their Indigenous cultures. (#4)
Pope Francis, members of the Curia, and Church leaders here in Canada came and allowed God to “open their ears” to Indigenous people, many of them fellow Catholics. They “did not turn backward,” but listened as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people described their experiences of horrible suffering at the hands of colonial powers, especially in the residential schools. The hierarchy heard and responded to the need to conclusively deny the "doctrine of discovery," and once again affirm the universal and personal dignity of all Indigenous peoples.
This past Thursday, the Holy See unambiguously uttered these words borne of truth and solidarity, words that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has welcomed and affirmed. This Joint Statement seeks to be an actively “sustaining word,” not an empty one: it commits Church leaders to further actions that will deepen our understanding and encounter with Indigenous peoples and their experiences:
As Pope Francis has emphasized, their sufferings constitute a powerful summons to abandon the colonizing mentality and to walk with them side by side, in mutual respect and dialogue, recognizing the rights and cultural values of all individuals and peoples. In this regard, the Church is committed to accompany Indigenous peoples and to foster efforts aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing. (Joint Statement #4)
This commitment “to accompany Indigenous peoples” includes the Holy See’s continued affirmation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which aims to “improve the living conditions and help protect the rights of Indigenous peoples as well as facilitate their development in a way that respects their identity, language, and culture.” (Joint Statement #9) This commitment also includes educational opportunities, such as a symposium proposed in the CCCB Statement, to further study the origins and disastrous effects of the “doctrine of discovery.”
This week, we journey with Christ to His arrest and trial, His torture, crucifixion, and death. We journey with our God who "gave His back..." in solidarity with us and with all who suffer. We behold our Saviour, enthroned in the glory and majesty of love, the beloved who has earned our trust that He has truly, actively “reconciled [us] in His fleshly Body through death, so as to present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him.” (Colossians 1:22)
May we adore Him, the redeemer of the world. And may we follow Him, and take part in His redeeming work. Amen.

Related Articles:


Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Receive our newsletters
Stay Connected
Copyright © 2024 Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Registered Charity # 88523 6000 RR0001