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The command to do penance was uttered by Jesus Christ in no uncertain terms: Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish,” (Luke 13, 3-5).

While the external circumstances of penance have changed in this modern age, the burden of fasting having been lightened and dispensations multiplied to fit the less physically strong but more hurried and strained modern day lifestyle, we are still called by our Master to deny ourselves and take up the Cross to follow Him, praying with Him in the desert. The materialistic notion that many have of penance often leads to its entire neglect or unworthy performance. The superficial is satisfied with the external act of penance; the self-indulgent find it too burdensome to even attempt. This is why penance has lost its proper place and many have wandered away from it.

The primary purpose of penance is a closer union of the soul with God. Man was made for God and sin frustrates this purpose. True penance is a turning away from sin and a returning unto God. The external act of penance is a means to an end which should not just be the self-satisfaction we feel for the expiation of personal sin, but the impulse of love to remove all that is obnoxious or offensive to our Blessed Lord. The external acts are very necessary, but if it lacks this true spirit, it is as dust.
Holy Church instructs us, during Lent, to turn away from sinful pursuits and even harmless and legitimate ones as well, in order to have more time for God, to enter more fully into the life of Christ, and to participate in His Passion as willing disciples and explore the depths of His love. We frustrate the interior purpose of penance when we find ready excuses for frequenting time- consuming entertainments that are often fatiguing and that leave us less time & taste for prayer, Stations of the Cross, daily Mass, and even an unreadiness for receiving Holy Communion.
Fasting and abstinence cultivates strength in unselfishness, subordinating our lusts to reason and will. These laws of Holy Moth- er Church will help us cultivate temperance and preserve life, and in the practical cultivation of this spirit, the letter of the law will acquire new meaning–and even attraction. Continue reading

Conflict of Investitures

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Conflict of Investitures

(German Investiturstreit.)

The terminus technicus for the great struggle between the popes and the German kings Henry IV and Henry V, during the period 1075-1122. The prohibition of investiture was in truth only the occasion of this conflict; the real issue, at least at the height of the contest, was whether the imperial or the papal power was to be supreme in Christendom. The powerful and ardent pope, Gregory VII, sought in all earnestness to realize the Kingdom of God on earth under the guidance of the papacy. As successor of the Apostles of Christ, he claimed supreme authority in both spiritual and secular affairs. It seemed to this noble idealism that the successor of Peter could never act otherwise than according to the dictates of justice, goodness, and truth. In this spirit he claimed for the papacy supremacy over emperor, kings, and princes. But during the Middle Ages a rivalry had always existed between the popes and the emperors, twin representatives, so to speak, of authority. Henry III, the father of the young king, had even reduced the papacy to complete submission, a situation which Gregory now strove to reverse by crushing the imperial power and setting in its place the papacy. A long and bitter struggle was therefore unavoidable. Continue reading

St. Thomas Aquinas on Fasting

St. Thomas Aquinas on Fasting

From Summa Theologiæ II-II 147 and In IV Sent. d. 15, q. 3, a. 1, qa. 2

Is fasting a virtue?

1. It seems that fasting is not a virtue, since every, both good and bad persons, are fasting before they eat. But virtue is done only by good persons. Therefore fasting is not a virtue.

2. Further, fasting means not only abstaining from superfluity of food, but also from what is necessary. But he who withholds from himself necessary food, gives himself an occasion of death; for there is no difference, as Jerome says, whether you kill yourself in a long or a short time. Therefore since no one is permitted to kill himself, it seems to no way is permitted to fast, and so fasting is not virtuous.

I respond, an action is virtuous due to its being directed by reason to a noble good. And this is true of fasting. For we fast for three purposes: (1) to restrain the desires of the flesh; (2) to raise the mind to contemplate sublime things; (3) to make satisfaction for our sins. These are good and noble things, and so fasting is virtuous.

To the first objection it should be said that the “fast of nature”, which everyone is said to be doing before they eat, consists simply in a negation (i.e., that someone hasn’t eaten yet, and isn’t eating now). So this fasting cannot be called a virtuous act, but only that fasting by which a person somehow abstains from food for a reasonable purpose.

To the second objection it should be said that food can be necessary in two ways. First, for preserving life. And food necessary in this way one may not abstain from by fasting, just as one may not kill oneself. But this necessary is very little, since nature is content with small amounts. In another way food is necessary for preserving the strength of the body. And this may be understood in two ways: (1) in one way, as sufficient strength with respect to the things that one must do because of one’s position, or because of the company of those with whom one lives; and we may also not abstain from food necessary in this way, since this would be to offer a fast of theft (from those to whom one is obliged), if someone on account of fasting were hindered from doing to the works to which he would otherwise be obliged. Hence Jerome says, “he who immoderately afflicts his body either by eating too little food, or by taking too little sleep, offers a sacrifice of theft.” Also if a man’s abstains so much from food that he is hindered from more useful deeds, even if he is not bound to do them, his fasting is injudicious, even if not forbidden. Hence Jerome says, “rational man loses dignity, if he prefers fasting to charity, or vigils to integrity of the senses.” (2) Strength of body may be taken in the sense of the body’s being disposed as well as possible; and since the flesh in its vigor is only with difficulty subjected to the spirit, it may be praiseworthy to withhold from the body what is necessary for strength in this sense, even if one could licitly take it. And withholding this nourishment does not significantly (multum) hasten death, since the human body more frequently becomes deathly ill due to superfluity than due to a deficiency. Hence Galen says that abstinence is the supreme medicine. It is also a matter of experience that those who abstain from food frequently live longer; hence this abstaining from food cannot be called an occasion of death, since it may do either: i.e., prolong or shorten life. But abstaining from what is unnecessary in either of these senses mentioned above, is obligatory by the virtue of temperance.