Saturday, June 16, 2012

Making "reparation" for our sins?

When a non-Catholic Christian hears that Catholics believe in making acts and offering prayers in reparation for our sins and those of others, it sounds like we don't believe that Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient to atone for all sin.  That would certainly be a problem . . . if that's what we were saying.  But it isn't. 

Jesus received baptism, a baptism of repentance, as our representative.  He redeemed us by giving the Father the loving obedience we had denied him.  In the desert, he withstood temptations to which Adam and Israel had succumbed.  Jesus lived his identity as Son even when it meant being scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree, and pierced with a spear.  By saying “yes,” and enduring it all in obedience to God’s will, Jesus redeemed the “no” of our sins.  Let me be absolutely clear: the eternal punishment of sin, the separation from God that we call hell, was atoned for – totally, completely, even superabundantly – by the sacrifice of Jesus.  Having said that we Catholics also believe that, joined to Jesus, we are called to offer satisfaction, or reparation, both for our individual sins as well as other members of the Mystical Body.   I’ll do my best to explain why this is.

From time to time you hear of  a “jail house conversion.”  Someone was baptized in infancy but received no real formation in the Faith, and went from one bad decision in life to another.  He finally murdered someone and was jailed.  While in jail he experiences a profound conversion.  He understands that he has done something incredibly evil and vows to live a new life.  The visiting priest hears his confession and gives him absolution.  The convict’s sins are really and truly forgiven.  Jesus’ sacrificial death (pure love) atoned for the act of murder (hate) and reconciles the prisoner’s soul to God, saving him from hell.  Since the prisoner has been forgiven in this way, shouldn’t he be released?  Something tells me I’m not the only one out there saying “no.”

We understand that even though the eternal punishment of his sins have been atoned for by Jesus’ death and that heaven now stands open to the man, there is still an earthly penalty to be paid here in time and space.  It’s called the temporal punishment of sin; and it’s not just the state requiring this of the man, but God. 

 Analogously, this is why the Church insists that even though we’ve been absolved of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we need to perform an act of penance.  Penance is a concrete act meant both to repair, or when that is impossible, to make amends for, the harm we have done as well as to get us walking in the right direction again.  (You no doubt remember how Peter, who denied the Lord three times; was asked by the Risen Jesus to reaffirm his love three times.)  

Note, the Church says this to baptized Christians, members of Christ’s Mystical Body.  A state board of corrections will not recognize it, but the Church understands that Baptism wipes away eternal punishment, as well as all temporal punishment earned prior to Baptism.   The baptized soul has been regenerated by grace and made a child of God.  As a “newborn” it is completely free of all punishment!    

But when a Christian sins after Baptism, when she act out of selfishness instead of love, then her loving Father disciplines her. “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48).  Don’t’ be discouraged by this. “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him . . . God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?” (Heb.12:5,7).  And you’re not going through this discipline by yourself – you’re filled with the strength of Christ (Phil. 4:13).  Jesus’ love of the Father is so superabundant that it erupts into acts of love in our own lives, acts that make satisfaction for our sins.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (John 15:5).  The branches produce fruit because of the sap they receive from the vine, and we produce acts of love because of the Holy Spirit we receive from Jesus.

We also can’t forget that the Christian life isn’t just “me and Jesus.”  He isn’t at work just in us, but in the whole communion of saints!  In the Body of Christ, “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor.12:26).  That is why St. Paul went on to say, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). United to Jesus and empowered by his grace, Paul made reparation for the sins – the failures to love – of other members of the Body.  

We can consciously choose to enter into this great act of making reparation.  We intentionally ask Jesus to fill us with strength and allow us to express his love for the Father, in reparation both for our failings and those of his whole Body.  We can perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Perhaps we tighten our belts, literally through fasting or figuratively by almsgiving.[1] Like St. Paul we embrace and offer up the frustrations and sufferings God allows to come our way.  Reparation can be performing a kind act, additional Mass attendance during the week, or asking the Lord to forgive another person’s sins.[2]  Any element of the Divine Mercy is an incredible prayer of reparation!  All of this spring from the same love, the same Holy Spirit, that Jesus poured forth on the Cross. 

Almost everyone has heard the story of Fatima, how the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal during World War I.  Europe was experiencing the natural result, or the “temporal punishment,” of abandoning its love of God and neighbor.  Mary came to request a return to the Gospel and reparation for sin through the praying of the Rosary and acts of penance.  What many are unaware of was how the children were prepared for Mary’s visitation, over a year before, through the appearance of an angel and the prayer he taught them.   Prostrating themselves with their foreheads to the ground, he instructed them to pray three times, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you!  I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”  

 Pope Pius XI, who became pope shortly after the events at Fatima, made a profound connection between our prayers and acts of reparation and Jesus’ Passion.  In his encyclical On Reparation to the Sacred Heart, he speculated that the angel who “strengthened” Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane did so by crossing time and space to bring him our acts of reparation!

[1] As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sin” (Sirach 3:30).
[2] If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal” (1 John 5:16)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Corpus Christi Visitation

NO, not this kind of visitation - 

I was going for this one,
which is clearly far more awesome; God Himself was in Mary's womb!  And I love Elizabeth's reaction, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk.1:42-43)

So there's the Visitation part of my post, but where does Corpus Christi come in, the celebration of Christ's Body and Blood present in the Eucharist? Well, when you and I receive him in the Eucharist He comes into our bodies just as truly as He did the Blessed Mother's!  Take that in.  Throughout Mary's 75 mile journey to Elizabeth, she guarded and nurtured Jesus inside of her.  You and I are supposed to do the same!

And look at Elizabeth's reaction again.  Do we greet our friends at Mass with that kind of joy?!  They just received Jesus into themselves whole and entire in the Eucharist.  God Himself is dwelling inside of them!  So at Mass this weekend, when you hug those friends, try and have yourself a Corpus Christi Visitation.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"By What Authority?" A Lesson for American Catholics

I've always loved today's Gospel.  When I read it aloud today, it spoke to me in a different way though.  I'll share the passage and then what struck me:
 As he was walking in the temple area, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders approached him
and said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do them?"
Jesus said to them, "I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me."
They discussed this among themselves and said, "If we say, 'Of heavenly origin,' he will say, '(Then) why did you not believe him?'
But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?"--they feared the crowd, for they all thought John really was a prophet.
So they said to Jesus in reply,
"We do not know." Then Jesus said to them, "Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Now of course I had always enjoyed seeing Jesus verbally out-maneuver His opponents, but today I finally understood that what Jesus is saying to them is that faith is all a matter of authority - whose word you believe.  John came claiming to speak for the Lord, and calling people to a baptism of repentance.  Because the chief priests, scribes, and elders didn't believe that John had the authority to do this - that he really spoke God's word - they ignored what he said and did.  So when they ask Jesus by what authority he teaches and acts, it will not matter if He says "from God" or not, because they have already decided that His message, critical of them, could not possibly be from God.  It strikes me that something similar is playing out before our eyes on the evening news.

Watching CBS's national news last night, I saw an interview with Sr. Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the group recently criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  Sr. Pat has been a religious for the past 47 years and took great exception to the CDF's assessment.  The CDF is also requiring Archbishop Sartain of Seattle to meet with LCWR leaders, representing 80% of U.S. women religious, "in order to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church."

What issues did Sr. Pat take exception at being criticized for?  Sisters recommending birth control to low income women they minister to, and the sisters affirmations that homosexual acts are valid forms of affection in God's eyes.  Alright, if you're a person who really does accept the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, then those are not issues up for discussion.  Jesus, the Apostles, and all of her male and female saints, Bishops, and Popes throughout two thousand years have taught that birth control and homosexual acts are objectively - always objectively - wrong.  A person's ignorance of that obviously mitigates their culpability for engaging in these acts, but it does not change the fact that they are objectively disordered.  

The sisters should obviously continue reaching out to the people they have been serving - that is part of the Gospel imperative.  But in their service to these people they cannot say that parts of Jesus' teaching are not true.  It's the Truth that sets people free, that gives supernatural life, a life that lasts forever.  Otherwise, sisters who espouse the thoughts of Sr. Pat will be meeting needs that only pertain to this present, fallen world.  And it will soon pass away.  The U.S. already has plenty of social workers.  It needs Christian, faithful women religious, social workers, hospital administrators, teachers, doctors and nurses.

As we watch this play out on the evening news - the sisters "being bullied" by the big, bad Vatican - we need to ask, "By what authority?"  What authority are the sisters claiming for their disagreement with Church teaching, which is nothing but God's word?  

This shouldn't be a difficult issue for American Catholics.  If you believe Jesus spoke the Father's word, if you believe that the prophets and apostles were inspired to speak His Truth, then you embrace it 100%.  The sisters have given amazing service to God's people, and the Vatican praises them for it.  But there also appear to be a significant number, such as the LCWR's president on the evening news, who disagree with Jesus on significant moral issues.  This should not be and should be corrected.  And that is exactly what the shepherds of Christ's Church were given authority by Him to do! (Mt.18:15-18)