I had not heard the now famous sermon that Roman Catholic priest Father Paul Bringleson preached to his congregation in Flin Flon, Manitoba on June 6 before I preached my own sermon in Oak Bay yesterday morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBQ3RKBhJDw

I wish I had read Father Bringleson’s words before I spoke. In fact, I might have done well just to read aloud his entire sermon. It is a model of courage, honesty, insight and truth-telling from a Roman Catholic priest addressing his own community.

Father Bringleson calls out his own church, the leadership of his church and his colleagues with the kind of clarity and truthfulness that, in days gone by, we would have called “prophetic.”

Father Bringleson’s sermon gives me cause to think there might yet be hope for the church in the face of the sins of our past.

He suggests to the leaders of his church:

Take off your robes, your shoes, and your rings and your crosses. Sit yourself in a chair. And listen.

He  goes on to issue a stinging rebuke to his own church:

One of the expressions that was found to be discovered in the early days of the residential school inquiries that took place over 20 years ago, was a recurrent phrase in both church and government documents that the goal was to take the Indian out of the child. Charles Adler commented that it seems that the priests took the Christ out of Christian….

I can’t help but think that even though I don’t fly airplanes, and I’m not a pilot, if I see a plane in a tree, I know something went wrong. I don’t have to be an expert in church history, with the mission of Christ, to see that we as priests, and as religious, as a church, we did it wrong. And we’re still doing it wrong, in many ways….

Father Bringleson offers a simple but powerful vision of what priesthood might be, should be, could be:

all I ever wanted to do was to make God real in people’s lives, to show people what I discovered.

But he then acknowledges what it is that makes the fulfillment of this vision so challenging:

part of being able to do that requires us to be very rigorously honest about who it is we really are as people in the church, that we are as sinful and as flawed as the people we consistently call out and condemn. That’s been a steep learning curve.

The kind of honesty, courage and vulnerability Father Paul Bringleson demonstrates in his sermon can only come from a person who has seen his own dark side and faced it honestly. Why am I not surprised to learn that Father Bringleson is an alcoholic?

My alcoholism gave me a great gift of reminding me when I had to take a moral inventory of my own life, and then share it with someone else. That that was the beginning of a real change. And I call upon priests in our country to do that moral inventory, where you can with courage, and you’re going to find shame. …

And then he suggests:

It is not for us to tell Indigenous peoples, it’s time to move on. You don’t tell a victim when their suffering is over. You sit with that pain. And despite every human instinct, you have to respond to it and to say something to all the what-about-isms, shut your mouth, and just listen.

When will we learn to do the hard work that our forebears should have done when they first came to this land? When will we make space for the other and allow the other to speak? When will put down our agendas, surrender our arrogance and let go of our simplistic certainties so that we might encounter the other with a gentle and open heart?

Until we heed Father Bringleson’s advice and stop, sit still and pay attention, we should not be surprised that the credibility of the church continues to crash into the abyss.