Healing of Memories

Homily preached by Father Michael Lapsley, SSM

Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal Canada May, 2, 2021

The Fifth Sunday of Eastertide

In the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Life Giver. Amen

Good morning Church, members of the beloved community.

May I begin by honouring the first nations who first walked the sacred lands of where you are, and I am

My dear Sisters and Brothers. Warm greetings to you all from St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town where I am the Canon for Healing and Reconciliation. Also from the Instititute for Healing of Memories and our partner organisation in Montreal, CSJR….the Centre for Restorative Justice.

The Institute is a social healing organisation that works globally. We work with people of all faiths and those with no religious faith respecting all people equally. We believes that we all have a story to tell and that every story needs a listener.

Thank you dear Dean Bertrand Olivier for the invitation to preach here today. Thank you also to the Reverend Dr Deborah Meister and to Brenda Linn.

A few years ago we launched my memoir: Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer, here in the Cathedral.

As I preach to you virtually I am wondering how you are? Is it well with your souls? Has your story been heard.

I have read that in Canada, Covid 19 has claimed more than 24000 lives just as we have lost more than 54000 in South Africa. For more than a year death and dying has overshadowed the lives of all of us. Every one of us has a story to tell about how covid 19 has affected us, and our loved ones, with, I am sure, a kaleidoscope of emotions.

How has what we have experienced in the last year, affected your faith?

It felt like everyday was Good Friday with no sign of Easter Day

Revealed in plain sight is the woundedness of the human family and of our earthly home.

Mother Earth and all of us need healing

During the lockdown, with all its challenges, how many of us found that old, unhealed wounds, came back to bite us?

The murder of George Floyd in the US reverberated across the world from Minnesota to Montreal to Cape Town

Structural Racism and police brutality has taken centre stage.

Despite being a majority black government it is not uncommon for poor black people to be maltreated and even killed here in South Africa by police and soldiers.

I know that as a Cathedral you have embraced the long journey of unlearning racism. Sometimes as Christians we think it is enough to say that we are against racism and fail to do the hard working of fighting against it within ourselves and within the structures of society, including in the Church.

Black Lives Matter has also highlighted and made common cause wiith the continuing experiences of systematic oppression and its consequences for first nations and indigenous people.

In this regard, I wish to thank the Cathedral Family for supporting and helping sponsor a forthcoming healing of memories virtual workshop. The participants will include some Inuit people. Even as we speak I believe there are still spaces available for some of you to participate….an opportunity to take one step on the journey to healing.

The Dean has asked me to share with you a little more about healing of memories. I want to try briefly to connect the dots between yours and my story, the Jesus story of betrayal, suffering, crucifixion and resurrection and healing of memories.

The Healing of memories methodology emerges out of the intersection between the journey of the people of South Africa and my own journey.

Under apartheid the whole nation suffered from constitutionalised racism. Every significant aspect of our lives was decided by the colour of our skin.

As a Christian and as a priest, motivated by my faith, I chose to become part of the liberation struggle. After the killing of school children in 1976, I was exiled from South Africa and joined the liberation movement.

31 years ago, 3 months after the release of Nelson Mandela, I received a letter bomb hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines. I lost both hands, an eye and my ear drums were shattered.

That was my Good Friday….my crucifixion.

I felt God’s presence with me. I felt that Mary who watched her Son being crucified understood what I was going through.

The prayers and love of people across the world ….Christians, Moslem; Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, atheists and communists, all enabled me to make my bombing redemptive….to bring Good out of evil, life out of death…….a week before the bombing I had been in Canada. Many , many messages came from Canadians.

I realised that if I was filled with hatred, bitterness, self pity and desire for revenge, that they would have failed to kill the body but have killed the soul.

My story was acknowledged, reverenced, recognised and given a moral content. People said that what happened to me was wrong.

When terrible things happen to people, there is likely to be one of two responses: one is where victims become victimisers either of themselves or of others. This can cross generations and is true of individuals, communities and nations.

The other response is where victims become victorious.

That is at the heart of the Jesus story, which as people of faith, we are celebrating during these 50 days of Eastertide and indeed every Sunday.

What is the key to whether we become victorious or victimisers. Two important factors are whether our story and our pain is heard and acknowledged. And also if we are encouraged and supported on our journeys.

When I returned to South Africa in 1992, I discovered a damaged nation. Damaged by what we had done, by what had been done to us, and by what we failed to do.

I realised that for millions of South Africans, that unlike me, their stories had not been acknowledged, reverenced and recognised…no one had said that what had happened to them was wrong….all they had was their victimhood.

And so we created a process called a healing of memories workshop….safe and sacred spaces where people could tell each other their stories and receive emotional support.

Healing of memories is not magical, it is not quick fix. But it can become transformational. It can be the turning point where people begin to leave victimhood behind and begin to be victorious.

When we, or our loved ones, have been badly treated; hatred and bitterness are normal human responses. The problem is that when we keep these feelings inside us we are destroyed. But we cannot get rid of what we do not admit is there. So healing of memories is about detoxification, vomiting out the poison

To put it theologically, healing of memories is a vehicle to move from being a Good Friday people to becoming an Easter Day people

The more we heal, the more we are freed to be become agents for God’s transformative justice freeing individuals and communities from unjust structures and urgently addressing the wounds of Mother Earth.

You remember the story of the Risen Christ appearing to the disciples when Thomas was absent. Christ appears a second time and invites Thomas to place his hands on the marks of the nails. In the body of the Risen Christ the marks of crucifixion were still visible but the wounds were no longer bleeding.

The scars of what we have done to each other as a human family will always be visible but healing is possible for all of us.

Healing is a key part of the Christian message but covid 19 is a sharp reminder of the importance of healing for all people and for our earthly home.

The Institute for healing of memories although a modest organisation, now works globally with a network across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America including the Diocese of Edmonton and CSJR in Montreal.

For several years now under the auspices of CSJR we have been offering healing of memories workshops here in Montreal.

Now in the age of COVID, we have sought to offer healing of memories workshops on the zoom platform. CSJR will be offering such a workshop on May 15 and 16 which I will also be part of.

There is still a few places left but you need to register by this Tuesday.

We tell people who come to a workshop that we promise them one step on the road to healing. Please surround us with your love and prayers as we prepare for the workshop.

So dear Sisters and Brothers, let us all ask ourselves….are we a Good Friday or an Easter Day people? or oscillating between the two?

Do we have unhealed wounds, wounds that are toxic, preventing us from becoming God’s agents for transformative justice.

When we acknowledge our woundedness we can support one another on the journey of healing.

My prayer is that there could be a long term collaboration with CSJR in the journey of healing of memories and this Cathedral Family

I hear that in Quebec the majority of people my age are now vaccinated. On May 15 we will begin vaccinating people over 60 in South Africa. I cannot wait as I want to meet you all face to face.

Meanwhile let us continue our Eucharist. Whether through Spiritual or physical Communion may we become what we receive: The Body of Christ….food for our journey.

With God’s help as we listen with love and tenderness, to each others pain, without judging or trying to fix, we can become the healers of each other.



  1. Reply
    Greta Helmer says:

    Thank you for making clear the path of healing for pain through the transformation of the bleeding wounds of Good Friday with the scars of Easter. The process is not a simple forgiving and forgetting.

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