Reparation and Love: From Me to Them
There’s a scene in the movie Jesus of Nazareth where He asks Barabbas, “You have come to follow me? I have come to take on the sins of the world. If you would follow me, then you must do the same.” He took on the sins of the world by His passion and cross. He overcame them by His resurrection. I lack the power to effect my own resurrection; however, I am more than capable of suffering, and that without shopping for it. It comes to me every day. All I have to do is wake up. I frequently encounter suffering all dressed up as my duty.
It’s not an idea that gets much play these days, the idea of taking on the sins of another. Talk about it and folks look at you funny. As I was reminded a couple days ago, the Church called it, in pre-Vatican II parlance, "redemptive suffering" and one was told to ‘offer it up’. The Rule of Life for the lay association Reparatrix explains it this way: “To offer reparation for our own sins is an issue of justice; to offer reparation for the sins of another can only be an issue of love." So we were being told to love.
Reparation is a word that means to repair. Penance is really repairing what is broken between God and the soul due to sin. One only repairs what one loves, what one wishes to retain. Otherwise one tosses it in the trash and moves on. So, what I am saying to God in offering reparation is that I am repairing our relationship because I love Him. (Oh, if only my motives were truly so pure…) And I want to show Him that love.
Now, see…here’s the thing…Love’s a funny word. It’s usually used as a verb, to start with, and hence, like all verbs, is about action. We are told, in Catholic theology, that love is a decision, made and remade, day in and day out. We are also told that to love means to will the best, the highest best for the Beloved. And that, we are told, is heaven. So, if I love an Other, then I will work for their highest best as Christ did for mine. He lived His love for me. So if I love Him and want to follow Him, I must live that love. I must will, through action, that others get to heaven.
All of which is OK when one is referring to one’s family, one’s friends and the like. But what if one is referring, as I am about to do, to the unknown other, the anonymous other, the stranger?
See, the thing is this: I woke up one day (in a manner of speaking) and was overwhelmed by the reality of my sins, my own need for conversion and the need to repair my relationship with God. In the process of repairing that relationship…of living that out loud…I looked around and realized that whoever they were, the people right in front of me…nameless, faceless, utterly unknown…were as familiar to me as my own hand. They were me, in my humanity, my wounded-ness, my brokenness, and in our shared concupiscence and affliction with original sin. I realized that there wasn’t a sin they’d committed that I hadn’t committed as well, and in my case, many times over, and, in a lot of cases, I’d probably done worse if only because I knew I was sinning. And, suddenly, they were no longer the anonymous others. They had become far too intimate for that. I knew them too well.
So I started praying this prayer: “…[T]hese are my brothers and sisters and I love them; and so, for these I pray.’ It’s a prayer I pray every day, every morning. And the next line goes: “And so for these I offer reparation, through my prayers, my works, my joys and sorrows. All that I am and all that I have I offer to You for them.”
But there was another reason that I came to understand later, that had been there all along; stunning in its implications. I make reparation because Jesus loves them, and I love Him; hence I want Him (now wait for it…) to have whatever He wants. And he wants them spending eternal life in heaven with Him.
Out of all this, I found a new prayer, arising from that realization: "I have never loved and I may never love as You do. But let me start today to live love, to be love and to give love. Let me love, and be the Lover; and seek no more to be the Beloved." Now I pray that while nodding my thanks to St. Francis who taught the world to pray so that we might give what we seek.By S.L.P. (Note: S.L.P. is a member of the Confraternity of Penitents.)