See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Penance, penance, penance.



The Holy Father is calling for it...
 ... as are the Bishops of England and Wales. 
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Many bloggers are mentioning it in their posts as well.  Although quite a few people today simply do not understand what it means or entails, especially since the only penance most of us know is the occasional Hail Mary and Our Father we get in confession - if we go at all.  Then there is the Lenten observance of course, giving up candy and stuff like that.  With the increasing awareness of social justice issues since the 1960's the progressive notion of penance has been activist oriented, in it's simplest expression; alms-giving and or volunteerism.  Such things are valid of course, but they are good works and not always a matter of self-denial - modern folks normally maintain a certain comfort level in the performance of good deeds and penance - We don't want it to cost us anything.  Kind of like not eating meat on Friday yet having a sumptuous lobster dinner instead.
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I've actually received comments and emails asking me what penance is, or what it means to perform penance.  Terry at Idle Speculations has a couple of superb posts on the subject, beginning with Pope Benedict's recent call to penance:
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"...Penance is a grace.
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There is a tendency in exegesis that says: Jesus in Galilee had announced a grace without condition, absolutely unconditional, therefore also without penance, grace as such, without human preconditions.
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But this is a false interpretation of grace.
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Penance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace that we know we need renewal, change, a transformation of our being.
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Penance, being able to do penance, is the gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance, it has seemed too harsh to us.
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Now, under the attacks of the world that speak to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for forgiveness, allow ourselves to be transformed.
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The suffering of penance, of purification, of transformation, this suffering is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of divine mercy". - Holy Father's Homily, Idle Speculations
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The idea that penance is a grace recalls for me the conversion of the Blessed Angela of Foligno, who actually prayed for the grace to do penance.  Her first Book in the Divine Consolations, "Of the Conversion and Penitence of the Blessed Angela of Folignosheds much light on the subject. 
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Sorrow for sin.
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The call to penance began with the ministry of John the Baptist and was mandated by Christ:  "Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  In his name, penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" [Luke 24:46-47]  Yet modern preaching, especially since the council has pretty much avoided the subject.  Even in religious life, the concept of corporal penance had almost disappeared.  The Lord's admonition, "It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice" may have been taken to the extreme in our days, yet the saints and the popes have taught that penance is a grace from the Divine Mercy.  Again Terry at Idle Speculation cites papal teaching regarding the call to penance.  First John XXIII:
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"1.Doing penance for one's sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation. That is the clear and explicit teaching of Christ, and no one can fail to see how justified and how right the Catholic Church has always been in constantly insisting on this. She is the spokesman for her divine Redeemer. No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance ...
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5. Now we have only to open the sacred books of the Old and New Testament to be assured of one thing: it was never God's will to reveal Himself in any solemn encounter with mortal men—to speak in human terms—without first calling them to prayer and penance. Indeed, Moses refused to give the Hebrews the tables of the Law until they had expiated their crime of idolatry and ingratitude.
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Speaking of the member of the Church, the stainless Bride of Christ, the Holy Father continues:  16. But of her children there are some who nevertheless forget the greatness of their calling and election. They mar their God-given beauty, and fail to mirror in themselves the image of Jesus Christ. We cannot find it in Us to threaten or abuse them, for the love We bear them is a father's love. Instead We appeal to them in the words of the Council of Trent—the best restorative for Catholic discipline." - PAENITENTIAM AGERE, Idle Speculations
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From John Paul II, Reconciliation and Penance:
"... Penance also means changing one's life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance. It is one's whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance.
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In this sense penance means, in the Christian theological and spiritual vocabulary, asceticism, that is to say, the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God's lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is."  - John Paul II taken from Idle Speculations
But how do we do penance?
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Fasting, prayer, alms giving - giving up candy, saying a hail Mary or two, and giving a homeless guy a dollar once in awhile.  Hey, but that's how we do Lent.  Okay - so follow the teaching of St. Benedict and adjust your life to "have the character of a lent" - works for monks, huh?  Or join the Third Order of Penance of St. Francis - the essence of the Franciscan vocation has always been penance...
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Truth is, modern people just do not know how to do penance, unless of course it is imposed upon us through the deprivation occasioned by calamity, disaster, and war.  Yet voluntary penance normally doesn't occur to us, despite the fact Our Lady herself came to places like Lourdes and Fatima calling us to repentance and the amendment of our lives.    Thankfully, the Holy Father is echoing that same call today.  In fact - the message of Fatima just may be an excellent resource for contemporary penitents to find some practical direction on the subject.
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In the first apparition preparing the children for the appearances of Our Lady, the angel instructed the seers;  "Pray!  Pray a great deal!"  And later, "Offer up prayers and sacrifices to the Most High."  Explaining,  "Make everything you do a sacrifice..."
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What does that mean?  Sr. Lucia explained it thus:  "I feel it would be good to impress upon people... the need for prayer and sacrifice - especially that one needs to avoid sin..."  Indeed, the avoidance of sin as a penance!
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In 1943, Sr. Lucia wrote;  "God wishes that it be made clear to souls that the true penance he now wants and requires consists first of all of the sacrifice each one must make to fulfill his own religious duties and daily duties."
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Later, in 1946 Sr. Lucia reaffirmed; "The penance which God now asks is this: the sacrifice which each person has to impose upon himself in order to lead a life of justice in the observance of his law.  He wishes this way to be made known to souls with clearness, for many consider the word 'penance' to be great austerities, and not feeling the strength or generosity for such, become discouraged and remain in a life of tepidity and sin." - Sr. Lucia of Fatima; Fatima Today - The Third Millennium, Fr. Robert J. Fox
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I hope all of the Bishops around the world unite with the Holy Father in calling us to do penance in reparation for sin.  Just think, if Our Lady's call at Fatima would have been heeded, we would never have found ourselves in this crises.  Think about it - how the failure to observe the duties of our state in life have led to such disaster.
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As for me, I'm praying for the grace to do penance.

8 comments:

  1. My retreat mast a couple of weeks ago had some excellent words on this very topic...

    Often we do penance with either a grumbling spirit--poor poor pitiful me, fasting or no meat makes me crabby, or I'm on caffeine withdrawels so that gives me permission to be nasty--or we do penace "because its the right thing to do" ie volunteer Saturdays at the soup kitchen, or do something "because my friends are doing it."

    St Therese had it right when she said "offer up little things with great love." These penance that Terry is suggesting don't have to be HUGE rites of mortification, or bread and water fasts, etc. How about going out of your way to be geniunely NICE to someone, a stranger or a family member or coworker. Make that pot of coffee that always seems to be empty when you get a cup, or hold a door open or give up your parking space. Part of penance is getting rid of the "selfish" attitude of "me me me" and extending your self to others. How about saying "God Bless you" to the person that cuts you off in traffic?? There are LOTS of things that we can do.

    My dear beloved grandma had a wonderful daily practice...she had an agreement with God that she would offer up all her daily prayers,little sacrifices, etc, for some nameless person out there in the big world that needed prayers, and God alone knew who this person was. She would also include this person in her mealtime blessings.

    I think this world would be a much better place if we quit being so selfish..

    Great topic Terry!!

    Sara

    Peace.. Sara

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  3. Maria3:10 PM

    Terry--Wonderful post. One of my favorite topics.
    Sara--little things with great love, of course. Little sacrifices throughout the day are often the hardest, letting others in front o of me while rushing on the metro to work etc...
    Sara--sacrificial suffering pleases His Sacred Heart...

    Two wonderful articles on penance and reparation/expiation:

    1) Hardon SJ

    http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Lent/Lent_002.htm

    2) Pope Pius XI Miserentissimus
    1928

    www.vatican.va/.../hf_p-xi_enc_08051928_miserentissimus-redemptor_en.html -

    I just love these posts of yours, Terry...Funny how no one wants to even consider the merits of reparation and expiation of sins as a means of redeeming priests who abuse children...

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  4. Maria3:25 PM

    Sorry--that is: MISERENTISSIMUS REDEMPTOR (above)

    ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XI
    ON REPARATION TO THE SACRED HEART

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  5. Maria - I was going to post on Fr. Hardon as well - thanks for providing the link.

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  6. Terry

    Many thanks for the kind words. And for the links.

    I wondered why the viewing figures had gone up a great deal : )

    Terry

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  7. I was watching EWTN yesterday for the first time in a looong time and "Life is Worth Living" came on. I love that show. Anyway, in the episode, Abp. Sheen talked about Elisabeth LeSeur who, if you haven't read her diary, you need to, stat.
    The way Abp. Sheen told the story of her husband finding her will, etc. moved me to tears. He had such a gift for storytelling.
    She had a pretty complete understanding of penance and sacrifice.
    What an amazing woman.

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  8. Terry - you have a fine blog which should be read by more people.

    Cathy - I have read bits and pieces of Elizabeth LeSeur - you're right, I must read more.

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