I went to confession once and the priest didn't give me a penance for a very serious sin that I had committed many times. I asked him for a penance and he said, "you ARE the penance." I was very puzzled by that so I looked up the definition of penance and it said it was voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. He was right - I had been punishing and tormenting myself for 25 years over this even though I had confessed it at least 3 times. Maybe that's not what you were getting at but it just reminded me of that "non-penance".
That was insightful. I've been through that too. I think I'm doing it now.
Sometimes the hardest thing is the flashbacks. I can just be sitting here doing nothing and BAM - a memory blasts me from nowhere. I tell myself I have confessed it, I am absolved, I've done the penance, I look at my crucifix and thank Him for what He did for me - but it's still hard to know I did bad things and not dwell on it. Sometimes I look around at Mass and I think - if you people only knew the real me you wouldn't even look at me. Your post had me pulling out Heather King's Shirt of Flame last night. One of the reviewers said "this book brings out the grit of sanctity, how it is a continuous, no-holds-barred full-on contact engagement with reality." Oh so true! I fool myself into thinking if I am holy enough life will get easier. Then you look at the Cross. Perfect obedience, no sin, Love personified - and there He is mangled, scourged and splayed on a cross. There is a lesson there!
The same reason artists do self-portraits: the model is readily available and costs nothing.
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