Sunday, April 14, 2013

The ‘Reparation’ of Simon Peter: An Example for Us


(Third Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 14, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 21: 1-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Easter 2013]


John steals $25 from his brother, Michael.  The next day John feels guilty for what he’s done, and he tells Michael that he’s sorry.  Michael says to John, “I forgive you.”  John says, “Thank you, Michael,” then turns around and starts to walk away.

If you were Michael, what would you do at that point?

I’ll tell you what I would do.  I’d yell out, “Hey, John, where are you going?  Come back here right now and give me my $25!”

And I’d have every right to do that.

12-year-old Tim is told by his dad not to play baseball too close to the house.  Well, Tim doesn’t listen to his father, and later that day he hits a long fly ball through the living room window.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Tim immediately regrets what he’s done and goes to his dad to apologize.

If you were Tim’s father, and you really cared about the moral and spiritual development of your son, what would you do at that point?

Once again, I’ll tell you what I would do.  I’d say, “Apology accepted; but you can forget about getting any allowance money for the next several weeks.  That cash will be used to help pay for a new window to replace the one you just broke!”

Those two little stories, my brothers and sisters, illustrate the idea of “reparation.”  Catholics used to talk about reparation—and specifically about “the need to make reparation”—all the time.  However, nowadays you rarely hear the concept even mentioned—although the Church still teaches it, and most people (even non-religious people) believe in a form of it, as those two stories make clear.  Even non-believers would agree that John should give the $25 back to his brother, Michael, and that Tim should use his allowance money to help to pay for the window he broke on his house.

That is to say, they would agree that these two boys need to repair the damage they caused by making some concrete acts of “reparation.”

If you are a member of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or some other 12-step group, then you are definitely familiar with this idea and practice.  For the benefit of those who may not be aware of it, Step 8 of AA’s recovery program reads as follows: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed [through our abuse of alcohol], and became willing to make amends to them all.” And then we have step 9, which is: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

That’s reparation.

The need for reparation also explains why we are asked to do some kind of penance after we go to confession.  In paragraph 1491 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says this: “The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest's absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.”

During a confession, when I give a penitent prayers to say for his or her penance, I almost always tell the penitent to pray those prayers for specific people—usually the people (or at least some of the people) who were mentioned during the confession (people, in other words, who were hurt by the sins the penitent committed!).

That’s one way they can make reparation for what they’ve done: by praying for the people they’ve sinned against.

Here it’s important to note that reparation is rooted in justice, and is different from forgiveness.  Michael, for example, forgave his brother John when John said he was sorry for stealing Michael’s $25, but John still needed to give that money back to his brother—out of justice.  In the same way, Tim’s dad forgave his son immediately when Tim apologized for breaking the living room window.  But, out of justice, Tim still needed to help with the cost of getting the window fixed. 

The Catechism puts it this way: “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. . . . Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’”  (CCC, 1459)

I mention all this this morning because we have, in today’s gospel reading, a biblical precedent for this idea of reparation.  It comes from Simon Peter’s verbal exchange with the risen Christ at the Sea of Tiberias.  As we heard a few moments ago, three times in this post-resurrection scene Jesus says the same thing to Peter. 

He asks him, “Do you love me?”

Now Jesus was (and is!) God, so he obviously already knew the answer to that question!  He knew the love (and the repentance) that were in Peter’s heart—so why did he ask the question at all, let alone three times?

It’s because, only a few days earlier, Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus!  You remember the story, I’m sure; no need to recount it here. 

That means the questions were for Peter’s benefit; they were not designed to enlighten Jesus as to how Peter felt about him!  The three questions of Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius gave Peter three separate opportunities to make three separate acts of reparation for his three terrible sins of Holy Thursday night.

And make no mistake about it, answering those questions was definitely a penance for Peter—especially after Jesus said, “Simon, do you love me?” for the third time!  In fact, the text explicitly tells us that Peter at that point was “distressed”.  He was visibly upset.  He was also probably more than a little bit embarrassed at having to answer the same question three times in front of the other apostles!

I ask you this morning to think of the people whom you regularly hurt by your sins—starting with the people in your family: your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your brothers and sisters, your co-workers, your fellow students, your friends—and the many other people with whom you share your life.

How often do you think of making reparation—through prayer or through various acts of charity—to these individuals for the sins you commit against them?

Hopefully you think of it often—and hopefully the thought often leads you to prayer and to some kind of concrete action.

Because remember, if we don’t make reparation for our sins here on this earth, we will need to do it after death—in that place we call purgatory—before we will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.