Fausto Gomez OP
Penance entails repentance of our sins and return to God. The practice of the three classical Lenten penances, namely prayer, fasting and almsgiving, can be significantly helpful on our pilgrimage of continuing conversion.
Almsgiving, an act of mercy or compassion, is closely connected with forgiveness, another act of the virtue of mercy. Mercy comprises not only the corporal work but also the spiritual work of mercy: the corporal work of mercy implies sharing with the needy what one can; and the spiritual work of mercy, or forgiving the one who offends us. St. Isidore of Seville(c. 560-636) comments: the first, that is the corporal work of almsgiving, is practiced with the indigent; and the second, that is the spiritual work of forgiving others,is practicedwith sinners. Thus, he adds, “You will always be able to give something: if not money, at least forgiveness.”
The three Lenten penances strengthen the virtue of penance in our repentant hearts and lead us to the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation: “The will to receive the Sacrament of the forgiveness of sins” (K. Rahner), of our sins against God, neighbors, the poor neighbor and creation.
Through penance and penances then to conversion and reconciliation. St. Paul asks us: “Be reconciled with God” (II Cor 5:20). All Christians are obliged to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year: “obliged” by God’s merciful love and Mother Church. We are invited by Mother Church to go to confession from time to time, especially during Advent and Lent. Pope Francis is helping us recover the central place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Christian life (cf. Misericordia et Misera, November 20, 2016). How wonderful: In the Sacrament of Penance “one discovers God’s mercy and becomes merciful” (T. Merton). How beautiful it is to hear Christ in the person of the priest saying to us: “I absolve you from your sins.”
Approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation properly will direct us to celebrate the Holy Eucharist more devoutly, to listen to the Word of God more attentively, to receive Holy Communion humbly, and to offer ourselves as sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
At the beginning of Lent, I usually make one concrete resolution with “determined determination” that I honestly strive to carry them out. I invite you fraternally to have your own resolution. Firm resolutions are spiritually helpful.
How do I plan to carry out my resolution regarding the three traditional penances? Concerning prayer, I will seriously try to pray better with my community and alone: more attentively and more devoutly. Alone with God, I shall meditate on my life, my vocation, my hope; on the fact, as Ash Wednesday reminded us, that You are dust and to dust you will return.”
Regarding fasting, I will attempt at mortifying my senses, at not wasting my time, at not over-using internet (“electronic fasting”), and will try hard to live a simple lifestyle, eat and drink less and give what I save to the poor. Moreover, I will faithfully fulfill the simple norms on fast and abstinence – and hopefully, some more!
Referring to almsgiving, I shall share a percentage of my monthly allowance with the poor around me. And I will forgive (and forget) in a more radical way the offenses of others – and ask their forgiveness. Most radically, I will ask for God’s forgiveness for my sins.
I remember the prophet’s advice: “Atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be prolonged” (Dan 4:27). The Lord keeps telling me through his prophet Isaiah the kind of penances God wants me to practice: God wants a “fasting that breaks the fetters of injustice, that shares food with the hungry, that brings to your house the unsheltered needy, that clothes the man you see naked, and does not turn away from your own kin” (Is 58:6-7). We remember the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31), and the parable of the last judgment (cf. Mt 25: 31-46).
Will I be able to fulfill my resolution/s? I will surely try, but knowing my weaknesses, I might not be able to carry all out. For sure, God will not fail me – or you.
The time of Lent is a pilgrimage to Easter. It is a pilgrimage to conversion through penance and penances. Lent leads us to Easter through celebration of the awesome passion, death and resurrection of Christ: through Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Through Lent – through life -, we do not forget that we are Easter people and alleluia is our song!
In closing, I highly recommend to you the Lenten devotion of The Way of the Cross. I love to pray with my community The Way of the Cross, always so inspiring and moving. In this context, let me share with you an enchanting story, the story of two female students in Manila: one, a Filipina Catholic, and the other a Chinese Buddhist. One day after the New Lunar Year they visited together a Buddhist Temple and a Catholic Church, in Binondo. After visiting the Buddhist temple, they proceeded to the nearby Church of Quiapo, the Church of the popular Cristo Nazareno. Near the entrance of the Church, there is a huge Crucifix. The Chinese student asked: “Who is this?” The Catholic student answered: “Jesus Christ; He died for us.” As they were going out of the emblematic Church, the Buddhist asked the Catholic: “What did you say? That He died for you?” “Yes!” “What have you done for him?”
I ask myself: What have I done for the crucified and Risen Lord? Lent is a good time for me to face the question once more: What am I – you – doing for Jesus?
May the Crucified and Risen Lord, whom we shall accompany through Lent and especially during Holy Week, move us to imitate, in a deeper manner, his prayerful and compassionate life, his loving humility, his simple lifestyle!
(Photo: cottonbro email@example.com)