Beware of absurd penances in Lent

Lent is a time to fight against our sins, because it is the worst reality for us, it is a period of reflection, penance, spiritual conversion in preparation for the paschal mystery. The Catechism says: “In the eyes of faith, no evil is more serious than sin, and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church and for the whole world” (n. 1489).

Looking at Jesus, disfigured and destroyed on the cross, we understand the horror that is sin. It took Christ’s death to get rid of sin and eternal death, the separation of the soul from God. Then, the Church proposes to us 40 days of penance, of resistance against sin in Lent.

This practice is based on the life of God’s people. For 40 days and 40 nights, the flood fell, which inundated the earth and extinguished sinful humanity (cf. Gen 7,12). For 40 years, the chosen people wandered through the desert, in punishment for their ingratitude, before entering the promised land (cf. Dt 8,2). For 40 days, Ezekiel lay on his right side, representing the imminent punishment of God on the city of Jerusalem (cf. Eze 4,6). Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai before receiving God’s revelation (cf. Ex 24, 12-17). Elijah traveled for 40 days through the desert, to escape the vengeance of the idolatrous queen Jezebel and to be comforted and instructed by the Lord (cf. 1 Kings 19: 1-8). Jesus himself, after receiving baptism in the Jordan, and before starting public life, spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, praying and fasting (cf. Mt 4,2). It is a time of struggle against evil.

Saint Paul offers us a precise indication: “We exhort you not to receive his grace in vain”, because He says: “In a favorable time, I heard you; on the day of salvation I came to your aid. ” This is the “favorable time”, this is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6,1-2). The Church’s liturgy applies these words in a particular way to the time of Lent. “Convert and believe in the Gospel” and “Remember that you are dust and you will return to dust”.

Penances are an invitation to conversion

The first invitation is to conversion,  a warning against the superficiality of our way of life. To convert means to change direction in the path of life: a true and total reversal of course. Conversion is going against the current, against the superficial, incoherent and illusory life that often drags us, dominates us and makes us slaves to evil or, at least, prisoners of it.

Jesus Christ is the final goal and the profound meaning of conversion. He is the way we are called to go, letting ourselves be illuminated by his light and sustained by his strength. Conversion is a decision of faith, which involves us entirely in intimate communion with the living and concrete person of Jesus. Conversion is the total ‘yes’ of those who surrender their lives to Jesus by living the Gospel . “Time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel ”(Mk 1,15).

Penances are not to do harm

In order to overcome ourselves, our weaknesses and disordered passions, the Church recommends, especially in Lent, fasting, almsgiving and prayer as “remedies against sin”, in order to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh and come closer to God. . Therefore, one should not do exaggerated penances, a mortification that causes the person to become sick or feel bad. Yes, fasting requires a little hunger during the day, but without causing harm to the person, without taking away his condition of working, praying, etc.

Read more:
.: Lent, time of fasting and penance
.: The origin of Lent
.: Lenten conversion exercises

Knowing how to shut up can be a good penance

There are good ways of mortification, such as cutting off what we like, whether for the body or the spirit, but there are people who make excesses: pilgrimages too long, penances even with wounds, damaging health. God does not want this, He does not ask the impossible.

What mortification do I need to do? It is the one that takes away my sin. If I am proud, then my penance must be the exercise of humility: to overcome all pride, ostentation, vanity, exhibitionism, the desire to appear, to impose on others and to be silent.

If your sin is attachment to material goods and money, then you need to exercise a lot of good and abundant alms, detachment from the world and creatures. If your evil is lust and impurity, then you will exercise chastity in your eyes, ears, readings , thoughts and actions. If you are angry, you will conquer meekness; if he is envious, he seeks goodness; if lazy, you will work better and be diligent in serving others without interest.

Forgiving can be more important

St. Francis de Sales , doctor of the Church, said that the best penance is to accept, with resignation, the evils that God allows to reach us, because He knows what we need, and so our sins are overcome. The penances that God sends us are better than those imposed by ourselves. So, accept, especially in Lent, without complaining, without blaming anyone, all the evils, pains, annoyances and injuries that you suffer, and offer everything to God for your conversion. It may be that giving forgiveness to those who offended you is more important than going 40 days without doing this or that. A visit to a sick person, a prisoner, the comfort of someone in distress can be more important than a long pilgrimage. Everything is important, but it is necessary to observe the most important for the spiritual reality.


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