Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Retreat Report: Day 4 (or 5, depending how you count it)

My notes say " Day 4," but that's because my opening talk Friday night, was just "intro" and not really "Day 1," Any way you count it, though, we are more than halfway through the Spiritual Exercises here at the motherhouse!

The theme is "We Believe and So We Speak," drawn from St. Paul. It's a theme that happens to dovetail quite nicely with the Year of Faith, and also happens to be the theme for our 10th General Chapter (international meeting, held every 6 years), which I am scheduled to participate in come August 15. Until now, we were reflecting on the "believing" part of the equation. Yesterday's theme of "the Apostolate of Desires" was a kind of bridge, but today we are firmly in the "and so we speak" side. We believe--and so we speak, first of all to God in prayer. This is the beginning of "the Apostolate of Prayer," the most universal form of mission, so simple a little child can do it quite effectively.

Our Founder followed St. Peter Julian Eymard's school of thought in seeing prayer in four different "expressions": adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. In my talk this morning, I put adoration and thanksgiving together as one expression of "grateful praise." It's our first response to God as creatures: amazement, wonder, gratitude at finding ourselves not just "created" but free before our Creator. After about twenty minutes of reflecting on this, I moved into the second expression: reparation, atonement. This is something that doesn't get a lot of publicity, but it is not only valid as a form/"end" of prayer, it is also pretty motivating. At least I have found it so.

For your reading pleasure and edification, here is the section of my talk today on the dimension of reparation in Christian (and especially Pauline) prayer:

Love and praise: this is the life we are really called to. Giving priority to praise is an implicit act of trust: it means that I so totally rely on God in his goodness and power, his all-seeing providence and mercy, that there is no valid reason for me to put praise in second place. In fact, that seems like an unhealthy self-focus and (bottom line) lack of faith, the real, effective, rubber-meets-the-road kind of faith.

So, our first focus needs to be on the "state of blessing" we live in. God can draw me in more effectively and less tiringly to the extent that I praise the glory of his grace, than by me plodding dutifully along without taking the time to acknowledge "the Almighty has done great things for me." And when I acknowledge it to God, I am also witnessing to it before others.

But I rather suspect that there is a "debt" of praise that humanity owes to God. In the words of Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged" that "heaven and earth are full of your glory."
"Give him all the praise you know! He is more than you bestow! Never can you match his due!" These words are in the Corpus Christi sequence we'll pray on Sunday. Isn't there a need to repair for the sins of omission in regard to thanks and praise?  The Psalms call all creation to recognize the debt of praise; to make a sacrifice of praise. Isn't there a need to make reparation, to fill up in ourselves, to make up the "lost sabbaths" that the human race has failed to set apart for God's praise, and for delight in the things of God?

REPARATION is the second dimension of the apostolate of prayer.

In the Pauline Family, reparation corresponds to the "penitent heart" that we are called to have before Jesus Master. It is a taking on, in the Body of Christ, what is lacking, what falls short, in sorrow for sin, especially sins in which the media play a significant role. It is recognizing the offense to God, man and the created order--and offense that most of the world does not recognize, and doing something about it. It is noticing something that is missing, and attempting--out of love--to fill in the gap. Brother Aloysius Millela, SSP, commenting on the "penitent heart," said it especially means "have a heart!" Have a heart in the face of so many violations of human dignity; so many betrayals of God, of man, of the truth.

The story of the woman anointing Jesus' feet in Luke 7 is a wonderful picture of reparation. We are told that the woman was a sinner. She comes into a home where Jesus is a dinner guest and performs an outrageously familiar service, not only drenching Jesus' dusty feet with her tears, but drying them with her hair and then anointing them. You can just see the sputtering host. But it turns out that the woman wasn't just a repentant sinner--though she was that. And she wasn't just making reparation for her own sins--though you could say that, too. Jesus points out that she was making reparation for the host's negligence. She was supplying what a negligent (or maybe even arrogant) host had failed to provide.

Her reparation wasn't only the offsetting of a wrong, but a supplying of something missing that by all rights should have been addressed. Somebody dropped the ball. You don't go around like Sherlock Holmes to see where and why; you just go about addressing the unmet need.

So reparation is filling the gap; replenishing; supplying something good where there is a void, or providing something good in place of an evil. And it is done out of love: "The insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me" (Psl 69:10) because I am so close to you! But also it is an act of solidarity; it is acknowledging that I am somehow connected to, related to those who are doing the blaspheming; they are "my people." Jesus certainly didn't see much difference between Simon the negligent host and the tearful woman who was a sinner. But it was the woman who "loved much."

Reparation is not a transaction; it is an act of love that intervenes where there has been an offense. And in the Pauline Family, we take on a special commitment to (in the Founder's words) "make reparation for the sins committed with the press, cinema, radio, television: these are the most numerous, the most serious, the most scandalous" (SP Nov 19, 1950).

In our prayerbook, reparation is not just about the media, although this intention predominates, especially in the Pauline Offertory and the apostolic prayers. We also make reparation for "offenses against the pastors of the Church": things like false accusations; painting all priests with the brush of abuse; the Apostoline Sisters have their own "Vocational Offertory," offering a special intention of the Mass in reparation for the neglect or hindering of special vocations, and to supply what those called have failed to contribute to the Glory of God and peace of humanity and their own sanctity--the lost sabbaths.

And it is a special grace, a privilege and a source of joy to us that we are able to offer our specific apostolate in reparation for the sins in which the media play a part (and perhaps an ever-increasing part, since various forms of media are now omnipresent not just in our lives, but in the culture, in the hands of children and of babes--just count the iPhones in babies' hands during Mass!). We are able to "reverse" the harm, repair the evil, breach the gap, by using the same instruments ourselves. Ideally (but not likely) in an "equal and opposite reaction", though really "the children of darkness are more clever than the children of light" that we try to be. But we do our little part and trust God to multiply the fruits far beyond the efforts we are able to make.

If "apostolate" were just an achievement or task ("Job 1"), reparation would be irrelevant. But apostolate is relational--an apostle is one who has been sent, and so is response-ible to the sender; aware of the sender's plan, intention and desire--aware of the goodness the sender intended and which has been compromised through "innumerable sins, faults and negligences" (as the Founder liked to quote from the Liturgy--NB: "faults" here means not shortcomings but "things left undone"). Reparation is a form of apostolate because it is relational.

And we can apply to the apostolate of reparation what St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote concerning sorrow for sin: "Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary, but it should not be an endless preoccupation. You must dwell also on the glad remembrances of God's loving-kindness. Otherwise, sadness will harden the heart and lead it more deeply into despair" (Commentary on Song of Songs). Bringing us back to the fundamental role of praise!

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