November Remembrance, Reparation, and Thanksgiving

By Chris Sparks

"I experience a desire to make reparation to the Lord Jesus in a way which corresponds [to the offense]. … For sins of the flesh, I mortify the body and fast to the degree that I am permitted. For sins of pride, I pray with my forehead touching the floor. For sins of hatred, I pray and do some good deed for a person whom I find difficult. And thus I make amends according to the nature of the sin of which I am aware" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1248).

Recently, we marked the Nov. 3 feast of one of the great miracle workers in the history of the Church, St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639). Like St. Padre Pio (1887-1968), he was renowned in his own lifetime for bilocation (being in two places at once). Saint Martin was also known for levitating while in prayer, miracles of healing, and his ability to communicate with animals. He was famous for his humility, his works of mercy, and his love of God and neighbor.

He truly was a heroic witness to the truth of the Catholic faith.

But he also bore a burden that many saints did not have to bear. He endured the brunt of the racism of his time, a mixed-race man in an age when race-based slavery was a going concern.

Now, our Catholic faith is unambiguously clear that racism is a sin. Archbishop Charles Chaput, for example, famously said, “Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.”

Of course, St. Martin de Porres was born and died in Lima, Peru — the racism he confronted in his lifetime occurred in Peru, not the United States of America. And yet, of course, that same racism, that same trans-Atlantic slave trade that caused so much suffering and death for so many of our brethren over the centuries, shaped society in many parts of the New World.


There’s something unfathomably wise about the Catholic practice of praying for the dead, and the Communion of Saints. We both honor our ancestors, remembering them with reverence and commemorating the good they have done, while at the same time acknowledging that they were sinners, that the past is not the realm of the perfect (save of course in the cases of Jesus, Mary, and, toward the end of their lives, a few of the greatest saints) and so even the most revered of our fallible human ancestors still need prayer, still might need graces offered by grateful descendants.


In November, this month that we spend praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge this sin of our forefathers and consciously choosing to offer Masses, prayers, and suffrages in spiritual reparation.

I was told to do everything with the pure intention of reparation for poor sinners. This keeps me in continual union with God, and this intention perfects my actions, because everything I do is done for immortal souls. All hardships and fatigue are as nothing when I think that they reconcile sinful souls with God (Diary, 619).

There’s something unfathomably wise about the Catholic practice of praying for the dead, and the Communion of Saints. We both honor our ancestors, remembering them with reverence and commemorating the good they have done, while at the same time acknowledging that they were sinners, that the past is not the realm of the perfect (save of course in the cases of Jesus, Mary, and, toward the end of their lives, a few of the greatest saints) and so even the most revered of our fallible human ancestors still need prayer, still might need graces offered by grateful descendants.

Here in the transcendent wisdom of our Catholic faith is the cure for the all too human habit either to want to rewrite history so that our forefathers were flawless and the past a golden age, or to deal with the tragedies, sins, and wickedness of past generations simply by repudiating what came before us and our supposedly more enlightened age. Catholics know by our Liturgy, our Scripture, and our faith that since Adam and Eve, humanity has generally been capable of the greatest sanctity and the greatest sin, usually in the same generation. Sometimes, that comes in the same lives — look at David and Bathsheba, or Solomon, or Samson, or Saul who became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. We know that we owe God thanks and praise for the past, but also a great deal of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Our God is Jesus Christ, true God and true, perfect, sinless man, not (for instance) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or other extraordinary figures from our nation’s history. That means we can both recognize the genius of the Founders of America and also acknowledge that Masses, devotions, and works of mercy need to be done in order to make spiritual reparation for the sins of the Founders, particularly for the racism that was wrapped up with the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

The sins of the past may well be a spiritual impediment to true healing and reconciliation between neighbors today. After all, that same racism helped give rise in this country to the culture of death. Racism inspired the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the most threatening expressions of the race-based nativism and anti-Catholicism that has been all too common in America’s life. Racism, in many ways, set the stage for the eugenics movement of which Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) was such an active member, and which has influenced and inspired the spread of the culture of death around the world, helping cause the present catastrophic international rates of abortion.

So to be Catholic is to be pro-life, and to be pro-life is, of course, inevitably and intrinsically, to be anti-racism. Human life is sacred, and we are all brethren, descended from our first parents in one great, common human family. We see that truth presented clearly in Scripture, in Tradition, and in the magisterial teaching of the Church. Look at the teachings of Pope Pius XI, especially the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety). We see that in the encyclicals of Ven. Pius XII, especially Summi Pontificatus (On the Unity of Human Society), Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ), and Humani Generis (Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine). We see that in the heroic magisterium of St. John Paul II, rallying all people of good will to the defense of the defenseless, to promote human rights beginning with the right to life from conception to natural death, all without regard for race, ethnicity, or any other secondary consideration.

Our faith is clear: Racism is a sin (Catechism, 1935). As we see in the Divine Mercy message and devotion, God summons us to unite ourselves to Jesus and offer prayers and reparation “in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world” (Diary, 476).

So as we honor St. Martin de Porres and pray for the Holy Souls this November, let us remember, make reparation, and give thanks. Let us remember the great works of the Founders and our forebears, as well as their sins. Let us make spiritual reparation for those sins, turning with the spiritual treasures of our faith to make satisfaction, offering Masses, Rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets, and other forms of prayer for the souls of the departed. And let us give thanks for the gifts we have been given by those who came before us, including all those Americans who devoted their lives, in some cases even to death, to overcoming and healing the scourge of racism in America, including many of the Union soldiers in the Civil War who fought precisely to free the slaves; Abraham Lincoln; civil rights activists such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others.

Maintain the Catholic balance: We give thanks for the lives of our forebears, and we obtain indulgences, knowing those lives to be imperfect, knowing that we are fallen humans descended from fallen humans, and that grace is needed if we are all to meet again in happier circumstances.

Saint Martin de Porres, pray for us!

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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