10 Thoughts to Deepen Your Living of Lent – Tips on Penance from Pope John Paul IIPosted by in Faith & Culture | Holiness & Prayer
Now that we are well into Lent it is high time to double our efforts to live it to the full, including the area of penance. We sow what we reap. If we sow properly now, we will reap the fruits of a personal renewal and a grace-imbued transformation of our lives come Easter. This is what our Lord and the Church desire for us in proposing the season of Lent.
Of course the core of Lent is growing in charity by strengthening our prayer, increasing our works of mercy, and practicing penance.
This last idea–penance–seems to be the least understood. What is penance and what is its purpose?
In attempting to explain penance CatholicCulture.com says this:
The gold standard on this issue is [Pope John Paul II’s] masterful Apostolic Exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance . This lengthy document, which grew out of an earlier Synod of Bishops devoted to the same topic, provides a rich theological and ecclesial background for not only the Sacrament [of Penance] itself but the very concepts of penance and reconciliation in the Christian life. It may be read all at once or used for spiritual reading, a little at a time.
Or to whet your appetite first, here are 10 single-line quotes from the Exhortation. Most come from one paragraph in #4 and are simply separated into single lines below. It may help to read each one slowly in a spirit of reflection, meditation and prayer. “The term and the very concept of penance are very complex,” John Paul II tells us. Let’s do our part to understand them this Lent:
1. If we link penance with the metanoia which the synoptics [the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke] refer to, it means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom.
2. But penance also means changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance.
3. It is one’s whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better.
4. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance.
5. In this sense penance means, in the Christian theological and spiritual vocabulary, asceticism, that is to say:
a. the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace, to lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it;
b. an effort to put off the old man or woman and put on the new;
c. an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh [sinful or tending toward sin] in order that what is spiritual may prevail;
d. a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is.
6. Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds and then to the Christian’s whole life.
7. In each of these meanings penance is closely connected with reconciliation, for reconciliation with God, with oneself and with others implies overcoming that radical break which is sin.
8. And this is achieved only through the interior transformation or conversion which bears fruit in a person’s life through acts of penance.
9. The Church’s charism and likewise her unique nature vis-a-vis reconciliation, at whatever level it needs to be achieved, lie in the fact that she always goes back to that reconciliation at the source.
10. For by reason of her essential mission, the church feels an obligation to go to the roots of that original wound of sin in order to bring healing and to re-establish, so to speak, an equally original reconciliation which will be the effective principle of all true reconciliation.
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