THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE OF PENANCE
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