The necessity of Penance and acts of Reparation has, for the most part, been ignored in the last fifty years. This stems from a theological confusion as to the relationship between the punishment for sin and Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was meant to take away the eternal punishment for sin, but the temporal punishment for sin remains. United to Christ, we are given the currency by which we are able to pay to Divine Justice our temporal debts. Not only is this a matter of justice, but more importantly, without an eye of reparation, our love for God grows cold. In fact, this is at the foundation of the words of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque when He revealed to her the need for a special devotion to His Sacred Heart. He told her, “Behold this Heart which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of a more special love.” With her eyes on this “debt and duty of a more special love” the Church offers us the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which we celebrate tomorrow.
In his 1928 encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI reminded the faithful of “the duty of honorable satisfaction which we all owe to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus” and attempted to dispense with the most common difficulty associated with making acts of reparation to the Sacred Heart; namely “if Jesus offered His once and for all sacrifice and is now seated in heaven, how can we console His Sacred Heart?”. In order to “stir up” the Church to put this into practice, the Pope offered two theological explanations as to how this is possible.
The first is based upon a sort of retroactivity. Our Lord, because He is God, during His Passion received consolation for all the acts of reparation He foresaw we would make to Him. We accept unquestionably that the intense agony that Our Lord suffered during His prayer in Gethsemane was due to taking on the guilt for all the sins that He could foresee. But there is a flip-side of this as well that we all too easily overlook. He could also see all the acts of love and reparation that would flow from His suffering. It was this fruit that the angel offered to Him as part of His consolation (c.f. Luke 22:43). Each act of reparation allows us to participate more fully in the angel’s act of love and mercy to God Himself.
The second has to do with Christ’s relationship with the Church. The Passion of Christ is “renewed and in a manner continued and fulfilled in His mystical body, which is the Church” (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 14). Many of us take this to mean that when the Church suffers, Christ too suffers vicariously. But this does not truly capture the mysterious relationship between Christ and the Church revealed in His words to Saul when He asks him “why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:5). Instead what it means is that “when persecutions are stirred up against the Church, the Divine Head of the Church is Himself attacked and troubled” (MR 14).
In a mysterious manner, despite “being in Heaven” Christ can still be troubled. This flows from the fact that Christ is still fully human. With a human nature, He must be capable of the full gamut of emotions. Certainly the emotions share in the glorified state of His humanity and are in some manner fuller, but this does not mean they no longer exist. This is why He reveals His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. It is meant to remind us that He is fully human and capable of loving us both as God and man (with emotions as well as intellect and will). That He experiences some form of distress when those He loves are suffering on earth should go without saying. That is what love does—suffers with those they love. Christ’s human nature allows Him to mysteriously suffer even now. Our Lady in her apparitions at Fatima spoke as well of the sorrow of her Immaculate Heart which shows that she too suffers in some way.
In my mind this is why devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary is so vitally important for us. Chronologically removed from the great acts of love of Our Lord and Our Lady on Calvary, we can easily treat them as mere historic facts that somehow affect us. By acknowledging that they still are capable of “feeling” our acts of love, it enflames us with an active charity. With that in mind, we ought to actively seek to console them for the wounds they suffer because of mankind’s collective acts of ingratitude.
Through the mouth of the Psalmist, Our Lord complains “My Heart hath expected reproach and misery, and I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Ps 68:21). Transformed in our way of thinking of reparation, let us offer ourselves to Jesus as living sacrifices to battle the evils which grievously injure the majesty of God and the welfare of souls. Let us offer the prayer that Pope Pius XI gave to the Church during this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart:
O sweetest Jesus, whose overflowing charity towards men is most ungratefully repaid by such great forgetfulness, neglect and contempt, see, prostrate before Thy altars, we strive by special honor to make amends for the wicked coldness of men and the contumely with which Thy most loving Heart is everywhere treated. At the same time, mindful of the fact that we too have sometimes not been free from unworthiness, and moved therefore with most vehement sorrow, in the first place we implore Thy mercy on us, being prepared by voluntary expiation to make amends for the sins we have ourselves committed, and also for the sins of those who wander far from the way of salvation, whether because, being obstinate in their unbelief, they refuse to follow Thee as their shepherd and leader, or because, spurning the promises of their Baptism, they have cast off the most sweet yoke of Thy law. We now endeavor to expiate all these lamentable crimes together, and it is also our purpose to make amends for each one of them severally: for the want of modesty in life and dress, for impurities, for so many snares set for the minds of the innocent, for the violation of feast days, for the horrid blasphemies against Thee and Thy saints, for the insults offered to Thy Vicar and to the priestly order, for the neglect of the Sacrament of Divine love or its profanation by horrible sacrileges, and lastly for the public sins of nations which resist the rights and the teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast instituted. Would that we could wash away these crimes with our own blood! And now, to make amends for the outrage offered to the Divine honor, we offer to Thee the same satisfaction which Thou didst once offer to Thy Father on the Cross and which Thou dost continually renew on our altars, we offer this conjoined with the expiations of the Virgin Mother and of all the Saints, and of all pious Christians, promising from our heart that so far as in us lies, with the help of Thy grace, we will make amends for our own past sins, and for the sins of others, and for the neglect of Thy boundless love, by firm faith, by a pure way of life, and by a perfect observance of the Gospel law, especially that of charity; we will also strive with all our strength to prevent injuries being offered to Thee, and gather as many as we can to become Thy followers. Receive, we beseech Thee, O most benign Jesus, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Reparatress, the voluntary homage of this expiation, and vouchsafe, by that great gift of final perseverance, to keep us most faithful until death in our duty and in Thy service, so that at length we may all come to that fatherland, where Thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen.