Imitating Saint Rose, penance and reparation

Originally Appeared in : 9818-8/30/18

Saint Rose of Lima was known for her unmatchable beauty, her intense prayer, her untiring service, and rigorous penitential lifestyle. When I was a child my mother took my sister and me to visit her sanctuary in downtown Lima. Of the various things I saw that day, the one that struck me the most is no longer on display. I remember that hanging from a wall were various items Saint Rose used to inflict penances on her body. A nun explained how the saint would hang herself from her hair to sleep, wore a hair shirt, and often put on a belt with thorns on the inside. Tradition tells that at one point she locked the belt of thorns around her waist and tossed the key into the well of the house.


Saint Rose led a penitential life. She felt called to make reparation for the sins of others before God. To many this may seem unnecessary and perhaps even absurd. How can the pain and suffering of one person somehow atone for the sins of another? This may seem strange until we consider one of the foundational understandings of the Christian faith: that Jesus freely took upon himself the guilt of humanity, which in turn led him to the cross. The innocent one suffered for the guilty, making atonement before God the Father. The redeeming value of penance is at the heart of the Christian message. The spirituality of Saint Rose which centered on the spousal relationship between her and Jesus, allowed her to unite herself intimately with Jesus the bridegroom. This union was not just in his glory and joy, but also in his pain. Through penance, she was united in his suffering.


Not all are called to live a life of extreme penance like Saint Rose, but we, the baptized, can offer sacrifices to God the Father in atonement for our sins and those of others. The prayer recited during the Divine Mercy Chaplet taught by Jesus to Saint Faustina portrays this reality: Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement of our sins and the sins of the whole world. Suffering does not point to a meaningless existence, but rather, it is imbued with value and redemption.


Recently on an invitation extended to priests to a day of prayer and fasting in reparation for the grievous sins and crimes committed by priests and bishops, someone criticized, “only a day? It should be every day that we all fast for the victims of abuse and pray for them.” Much atonement and reparation that keeps the victims of abuse on the forefront must be made, in concert with concrete action by those in authority within the Church. Both the invitation to priests and its critique are invitations to us all to imitate the spirit of Saint Rose of Lima who recognized the great need to make atonement by uniting more intimately to Jesus through penance. The Catholic Church in the United States must enter a penitential season that is as evident and concrete as those items I saw hanging on the wall at the sanctuary of Saint Rose. The Body of the Christ is hurting tremendously in the victims of abuse, and the whole Church hurts with them: In what concrete ways is this to be manifested?


Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.

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