The second day of January, besides once holding the honor of being the Octave of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, is, in 2015, First Friday as well. All Catholics are called to make an act of reparation on this and every First Friday, not only for their own sins but the sins of the whole world against the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. Lest one assume that such “superstitious piety” toward a “material object” is old hat, a remnant of a bygone age, it should be recalled that as recently as 1956, in his encyclical Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII defended devotion to the Sacred Heart. Contemplation of the Sacred Heart is contemplation of God’s divine love for us, and our acts of reparation honor that love.
But what offenses against the Sacred Heart does the Church have in mind when it speaks of the need for reparation? In the “Act of Repartition” accompanying the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI lists the following:
[I]mmodesty and shameful excesses in life and dress; the many snares of corruption laid for the souls of the innocent; the neglect of holy days; the hateful blasphemies that are hurled against Thee [Christ] and Thy Saints; the reproaches uttered against Thy Vicar on earth and all the priestly order; the neglect, also, of the very Sacrament of Thy love, as well as its profanation by horrifying sacrilege; and finally the public sins of the nations in rebellion against the just rights and the teaching authority of the Church established by Thee.
In an earlier post, “The Sacred Heart and the Fortnight,” I reflected on these words in the context of the American Catholic Church’s Fortnight for Freedom (FFF), an understandable, though perhaps misguided, attempt to protect the Church from the encroachments of secular liberalism in the name of religious liberty. By draping itself in the cloak of liberty, the FFF risks putting the innumerable false religious which populate the land on the same plane as the true religion which is found in Christ’s one Holy and Apostolic Church. While faithful Catholics know that this false worldview finds no support in the authentic magisterium of the Church, a distressing number of those charged with caring for Christ’s flock subscribe to, and unabashedly promote, religious indifferentism through their words and actions. No doubt reparation must be made as well for these terrible affronts against our most merciful and loving Savior.
If today were still the Octave of St. Stephen, perhaps we would find a moment or two to reflect on his heroic witness in the context of the Sacred Heart. The Collect of the day, which was once read out before thousands of tabernacles across the word, reads as follows: “O Almighty and everlasting God, Who hast dedicated the first-fruits of thy Martyrs with the blood of the Blessed Stephen; grant, we beseech thee, that the same may pray for us also, who prayed even for his murderers.”
And who were these murderers which stirred a Christ-like love in St. Stephen’s heart, even as they were violently putting him to death? They were men who denied that Jesus is the Christ. They were men consumed in heart and mind by false religion. And what did St. Stephen suffer a horrible end for? Was it the “liberty” of truth and falsehood to abide side by side? Or was it not rather for the Truth who is Christ Jesus our Lord?
St. Stephen’s prayer to God, that the sin of his murderers not be held against them, is a reflection of very love Christ holds within His Sacred Heart for each and every one of His children. We know that St. Stephen’s prayer did not go unheeded, for one of the men who approved of his execution, Saul, became St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles. How many others were brought to the Truth by St. Stephen’s supplication? How many thousands of souls today might be led out of falsehood and brought to that same Truth through our prayers?
Indifference is not an act of love. Turning a blind eye to error, whether promoted by adherents to false religions or, as is so common today, disciples of pernicious ideologies does not reflect the reality that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Although we are far removed from a time when nations of the earth could be expected to conform themselves to the reign of Christ the King, that does not mean that the peoples of the earth no longer need God. In fact, the current situation in the world and within the Church itself indicates how very few of us are even aware of that need.