Necessity and Manner of doing Penance – Lenten Meditation


Necessity and Manner of doing Penance, especially during Lent

1st Prelude. Look at Jesus Christ saying these words: “Except you do penance, ye shall all perish.”

2nd Prelude. Beg the spirit of penance, united to deep feelings of humility and compunction.

POINT I. God imposes penance on us as a duty.

CONSIDERATION. The command that God gives us to do penance is formal and universal. He does not say “Except you do penance, you shall perish, perhaps or probably,” but simply “you shall all perish.” And why shall we perish? Because we are sinners, and after the loss of baptismal innocence there is no other road to heaven but that of penance. Again, why? Because the flesh rebels against the spirit, and continually inclines us towards sin; consequently, says St. Paul, “If by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” — Si autem spiritu facta carnis mortificaveritis, vivetis.

APPLICATION. We are, then, obliged to do penance, and a penance proportioned, says the Council of Trent, to the number and gravity of our sins. We are obliged to do it at all times, but especially in the holy time of Lent; and all of us, whatever may be our age or our strength, we can all do penance in one way or another. The Fathers of the desert, men eminent for their penance, made it consist principally in fasting, vigils, and austerities. We shall see, in the three points of this meditation, how we can practice these three kinds of penance. And first as regards fasting. If we cannot observe it in all its rigour, we can observe it in part; we can retrench our ordinary food, and confine ourselves with due discretion to what is absolutely necessary; we can mortify our taste in eating and drinking by depriving ourselves habitually of dainties. Consider before God what you can and will do during these days of penance, and be faithful to what you resolve upon.


POINT II. Our vocation makes penance a duty.

CONSIDERATION. In virtue of our vows and of the double end of our vocation, we are obliged to tend to perfection by continually contradicting our natural inclinations, and obtaining the salvation of our neighbour at the expense of our comfort, often of our health; and all this evidently requires the spirit of sacrifice and mortification, or of a continual penance.

APPLICATION. The penitents of the desert united to their fasts, vigils and hard labour. If, like them, or like many religious at this day, we are not obliged to break our sleep at midnight to watch in the Sanctuary, let us at least rise quickly from sleep always at the first sound of the bell, whatever fatigue or difficulty we may experience; let us at least watch in our meditation, and in all our spiritual exercises, never giving way to sleep or spiritual torpor. This will be a very painful struggle.


POINT III. Our own interest makes penance a duty.

CONSIDERATION. It is an article of Faith that all that we have not expiated in this world by penance will be expiated rigorously by the fire of purgatory, therefore, said St. Augustine, do penance, or burn — Aut poenitendum, aut urendum. We must choose. Can we hesitate, if we value our dearest interests? If we do, we shall be very blind, and our own enemies; and the more so, because we have so many fruitful means of doing penance and of paying off our debts.

APPLICATION. Besides the means already pointed out, can we not, by the continual mortification of our senses and our bodies, imitate, at least at a distance, the corporal mortifications of the Fathers of the desert? To habituate ourselves to kneel or sit without a comfortable support; to pass through the streets or public places without ever satisfying our curiosity; to observe silence and other points of rule most exactly and constantly, is to do penance, and, if continuous, it becomes a severe one. This is to live in the practice of a continual abnegation of ourselves.

COLLOQUY with Jesus Christ.

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