To close the Year of the Priest, the pope is hosting an “encounter” with priests from all over the world in Rome at the end of this week.
Fittingly, the event will end with a papal Mass on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In numerous documents and addresses, Benedict XVI has called for a recovery of devotion to the Sacred Heart, and rediscovery in particular of the practice of making reparation to the Sacred Heart for sin.
Does reparation to the Sacred Heart seem old-fashioned, perhaps a little tacky? It is much more than breathless prayers and saccharine art work. It is an opportunity to console Christ’s human heart and to exercise the priesthood of all believers.
To illustrate consolation consider the experience a priest friend of mine recently had while waiting for a flight at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
This friend is a beautiful priest. He’s blessed with a gregarious personality, a huge heart that would do anything for a person in need –and integral to our story, too, is that he is a man’s man.
His departure gate was near an airport bar, and a group of men traveling together seized the occasion of a flight delay to avail themselves of its services. As time passed they became increasingly… well-lubricated, shall we say.
The more liquor flowed, the louder and cruder became the gentlemen’s conversation, and they chose to begin taunting my priest-friend.
It began with a loud but more or less reasonable question: “You one of them priests?”
An answer in the affirmative was met with puerile giggles about not being able to touch women, and degenerated over the course of several minutes into raucous and insulting remarks about all priests being pedophiles and there being something wrong with him. The jibes were accompanied by scornful looks and laughter, naturally.
My friend tried to respond to questions calmly and to taunts with a sense of humor, but it was quite abusive.
Eventually, though, other fellow passengers intervened on his behalf and shut the drunken fellows up.
“Don’t you realize how offensive you’re being?”
And later: “Father, I’m so sorry you had to endure that.”
“Keep your chin up. Most people know that most priests are good.”
“Everyone doesn’t think like them. Thank you for your service.”
My friend said he’d never experienced at one and the same time such a profound sense of offense on the one hand coupled with deep reaffirmation on the other.
It gave him a clearer understanding of how people who are themselves innocent of offenses can nonetheless help repair the damage caused by others by offering love and consolation.
The Sacred Heart is an icon of Christ’s love for us, which is both human and divine. In his humanity, Christ’s heart can be broken. He is a real human person who can be hurt by offenses and touched by acts of love – as it hurt him when Simon the Pharisee neglected ordinary courtesies, but consoled him when the sinful woman entered and washed his feet with costly perfume.
When we make acts of reparation to Christ’s Heart, it has little to do with fusty paintings and everything to do with loving Jesus, telling him, “I’m sorry that happened…but I love you and want to praise you.”
In his divinity, Christ’s love has the power to change us. So when we take the sins of the world to him, we not only console him, we are calling down his grace on ourselves,and on the people and situations we lift up in prayer.
There are so many sorrows in the world we are helpless to repair. But grace is not helpless to repair them.
Did you see, for example, the reaction of the abuse victims who met with the Pope in Malta? They went into the meeting wounded, disaffected, broken, angry – and who could blame them?
What was the Pope supposed to say to these men? What words could possibly repair the damage done or give them back their lost innocence and trust?
No words could, but grace did.
The spokesman for the group said the moment the Holy Father put his hands on his head and cried with him, he felt the weight of 30 years almost physically lift from his shoulders and he was reconciled with the Church.
I believe that profound emotional healing was a fruit of the Year of the Priest – and the prayers of reparation to the Sacred Heart the Church throughout the world has been praying.