Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
It is not my intention to beat a dead horse, as my mom used to say, but I think we could continue our meditation from Masses last weekend on the nature of reparation and how we can help one another during Lent and all the year. (By the way, the word “Mass” should always be capitalized!)
As I work with other Christians and come to know Catholicism better, I realize that there are some basic things we probably take for granted. One of these things is our ability to “offer up” something for the good of others. We heard this a lot when we complained about something at home: “Offer it up!” Whenever I have a particularly menial task or an experience of suffering, I was taught as a small child, you can offer up the tedium, or discomfort or suffering for the poor souls in purgatory. Everything is offerable. The perfect example is when we offer the sacrifice of the Mass for one particular intention named for each Mass—of course, there can only be one announced intention and stipend, but we can personally add any number of intentions because the value of the Mass is infinite.
Because of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints (something all Christians claim in the Creed), we are profoundly connected. The church triumphant in heaven is able to help us, the church militant on earth, as well as the poor souls in purgatory. Those in purgatory are helpless, themselves, and rely entirely upon the Communion of Saints for their purification—upon us and the saints in heaven.
Such offerings aren’t a way to buy our way into heaven, as had been misunderstood and misrepresented by many at the time of the Reformation, but they are surely effective ways to care for one another by making reparation—repair—for the damage we ourselves have done by sin, and the damage of others. Most Christians will admit to the benefit of praying for one another, but will not dig any deeper than that. Catholics believe that our prayers, sacrifices, offerings and sufferings may be intentionally applied for the benefit of others, and bring about real healing and salvation.
Remember? When we break our our neighbor’s window he might forgive, but someone has yet to pay for the repair of the window. Because of the confusion in the late Middle Ages due to the abusive sale of indulgences, the theology behind the practice was also thrown out—as they say, the baby was thrown out with the bath water.
I was starkly aware of this one time I was at a Catholic funeral with a Protestant pastor friend. When the awkward moment of Communion comes, when you feel the pain of separation because we are unable to receive Communion together because of our differences in faith and life. I turned to my friend and said that, when I received Communion, my intention would be to receive it for both of us, to offer up whatever grace I would receive and ask God to apply it to him. He looked at me with utter incomprehension. I realized then that this idea has been lost to entire families of Christianity.
If you think about it, this is a deep, powerful loss. We have a potential here we seldom use. We must always remember that when we receive Communion we can ask God to apply the grace to our children who no longer practice the faith. We can willingly accept suffering as an effective remedy of reparation for anyone—the soul in purgatory who needs it the most, for those who harm us, for those who are lost in addiction and despair, for the hopeless, for the “nones” and the indifferent, for the poor lost person who somehow thought it necessary to do violent harm at a school or acts of terror anywhere in the world. We can pray them out of their darkness, and use our own grace to help make reparation for the damages they have done.
This is the point I want to make most clearly today: in the face of all this senseless genocide, terrorism, violence, shooting and inhumanity that people unleash on one another, we may be individually powerless to change their choices, but we are powerful in tipping the scales from evil back to good by our own prayers, sacrifices, and acts of charity. This idea of making reparation for others is a very selfless act in itself, an act of charity, because we would most often likely pray for our the reparation of our own sins. But to offer it up for others is most like Christ, himself. The heart of the Church.
This finds its most perfect expression when we pray for those who don’t even realize they need our prayers the most. Those who are most lost, or in distress, who see no other course than sin. Let us use this valuable time in Lent to do something about it through Christ’s redeeming love.
God bless you.