In working on the guide, I’m digging into the notion of reparation. Growing up Baptist, this was not a word that was used. Sure, there was plenty of guilt, but we just told God we were sorry and that was that. We were never asked to compensate the victim. In fact, we were told that was not possible because the victim was Jesus and nothing could make up for his suffering and death.
Pope Pius XI saw it differently:
The creature’s love should be given in return for the love of the Creator, another thing follows from this at once, namely that to the same uncreated Love, if so be it has been neglected by forgetfulness or violated by offense, some sort of compensation must be rendered for the injury, and this debt is commonly called by the name of reparation.
We owe a debt. One of the ways we can repay it is by taking this pilgrimage of prayer and meditating on Jesus’s suffering.
Now, I’m not sure I can buy the metaphysics that makes me responsible for something that happened 2000 years ago. However, it’s a powerful thing to contemplate the path to the cross. The way of the world is self-interest. Jesus spent his life exhorting people to choose God’s way, the way of compassion and justice. These two ways collide in Christ’s death.
Have things really changed in the last 2000 years? There is God’s way and the world’s way. Most of the time, we’re not even conscious of a choice between the two or the implications of that choice. Maybe our reparations are in choosing God’s way. Maybe we should compensate those who are suffering now because we do not have to suffer. Maybe our meditation should be imagining a world in which compassion and justice are the rule. Maybe we should, in the words of Pope John Paul II, make the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.”
Emmanuel Levinas, following Dostoyevsky, says that we are all guilty and bear a primordial responsibility for the other. We are born guilty and responsible. Responsiblity should be understood as response-able; that is, the very presence of the other makes us responsible. Even more radical, the only way we have any self awareness is by defining the boundary between self and other. No other…no I. Recognizing this situation makes our world Other centered instead of Self centered.
Reparation is a repsonse to the other but the Other sets the terms. We don’t come up with reparations to make for the other. That is only a veiled form of colonialism. The Other tells us how they have been wounded and how we can help facilitate healing. It requires courage to listen and act self-sacrificially.