Revolutionary act of reparative love

  • (Unsplash/Tim Bish)

    (Unsplash/Tim Bish)

This story appears in the Crisis in the Church feature series. View the full series.

Maybe the time has come. For over 10 years, I have been researching, speaking about, writing about and praying with the topic of reparation as an outgrowth of my religious community's charism and mission. Because of its somewhat persistent antiquated and negative connotations, it never was a topic I felt I should write about for an audience beyond folks already familiar with my community, despite multiple suggestions to do so. Until now.

Oblate Fr. Ronald Rolheiser recently wrote, "Sometimes darkness just has its hour." Without allowing for a complacency that borders on a that's-just-the-way-it-is mentality, this statement of Rolheiser's recognizes that evil is in our midst: Evil acts have been perpetrated against the innocents, who have been ignored by the very shepherds ordained to care for the flock. There is something very, very wrong in this church entrusted with the mission of Jesus Christ. The body of Christ is suffering — and the heart of Christ is broken.

Reparation is an aspect of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that focuses on this heartbrokenness of Christ. A common prayer intention spoken aloud in my religious community is: "in reparation for all the ways we break Christ's heart."

Reparation is a tender response of love motivated by recognizing the heartbrokenness of my beloved. Right here and right now, the broken heart of Christ is evident in the wounded members of his body, most especially the victims of sexual abuse and the victims of abuse of ecclesial power.

A reparative response to these victims is a response that first sees the beloved. Before anything else, before any attempt to understand or converse or tend or triage, I first see, and in seeing someone I love who is hurting, I do not make a decision to tend. I do not even discern whether it is right or wrong for me to be the one to reach out. When I see the heartbrokenness of my beloved, I simply respond with a tender, reflexive love so that my beloved is not alone in her pain. It is the reflex of the mother seeing her child fall off the jungle gym, the reflex of the teacher scooping up the bullied child, the reflex of the nurse catching the fainting patient before they hit the ground.

Reparation does not calculate or measure — an act of reparative love recognizes the heartbrokenness of someone I love and responds always and only with tender love. I may not be the cause of the suffering, nor may I be the one who can best tend to her injury. There is a time for justice, which will address the former, and a time for treatment, which will address the latter. What reparative love does is to look my brother in the eye and see the hurt he has experienced. And not look away. The reparative heart doesn't flinch; the reparative heart remains in the pain, the sorrow, the anger and the isolation experienced by the beloved so she is not left alone again.

This can easily devolve into poetry or theory. Our church — our world — needs nothing less at this moment than words that are beautiful and hollow. I believe what is needed right now perhaps more than anything else is a commitment to be people of reparation. To be a church who doesn't just hear about the atrocities within our ranks, who doesn't just see the truth before us, who isn't just listening for all the voices that need to be heard. But to be a church who sees our hurting brothers and sisters and doesn't flinch at the sight of their pain and the sound of their suffering — to be a church who refuses to contribute to the broken-heartedness of Christ by adding yet more pain to the lives of his people.

As I read news article after Facebook post after private email after official diocesan statement, the multiplicity of voices crying out in pain, anger, desperation and confusion threatens to deafen me — threatens to deafen us all. No doubt some words are more comforting to us than others, some more helpful, some more goading, some more hopeless. And it is becoming increasingly clear with each passing day that everyone from the pope to dear Aunt Marge are being cast on one of at least two "sides."

To speak of what is currently crystallizing in our church as dividing lines is an understatement. The body of Christ is being torn from limb to limb from the inside: bishops naming other bishops liars and frauds; religious congregations splintering over what is true and what is political agenda; lay faithful turning on their heels and walking away from an institution whose moral leadership has lost all authority. The divisiveness marking our current reality, our conversations, our attitudes and our choices is as clear as it is pervasive.

One thing I know for certain: Divisiveness is the victory lap of evil. The divisiveness to which we are succumbing is only doing more damage to the already-scourged body of Christ — and it is perpetrating yet another violation against the victims of abuse by using their pain as fodder for whichever "manifesto" we care to endorse. Shame on us for adding yet more pain to the already suffering members of our body. Shame on us — again.

The time has come. The time has come for us to stop with the divisiveness of speech and action and start with the commitments that will initiate healing and conversion. Today is the first Friday of the month, a day dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Maybe today is the day to start a revolution of reparation, that brokenness might always and only be answered with tender, transformative love.

[Virginia Herbers is an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She has master's degree in pastoral studies and has ministered in education at both the elementary and high school levels in Connecticut, New York, Missouri and Taiwan. She currently serves as the vice-provincial for the United States province of her community.]