Day Nine: Penance

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Fridays in Lent should be days of penance. Why? What is penance? What’s the value of penance? First of all, Fridays are days of penance because our Lord died on the Cross on a Friday. We should see every Friday as a commemoration of that saving sacrifice. By doing penance on Fridays, we willingly participate in the penance Jesus did through His passion and death. So every Friday is a day on which we should more fully share in Jesus’ Cross, just as every Sunday should be celebrated with great solemnity as we rejoice in His Resurrection.

Penance can be mysterious. Why would we deny ourselves pleasures? Why wouldn’t God want us to enjoy everything this life has to offer every day of our lives? Jesus already destroyed sin and death, so one might conclude that we should only focus on the joy of the Resurrection, always!

The problem with this thinking is that Jesus Himself said numerous times that if we are to rise with Him, we must die with Him. We will save our lives only by losing our lives for Christ’s sake. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Penance is necessary in this life because our human nature remains in a state of Original Sin. As a result, our desires, appetites, passions, and emotions are not easily aligned with the will of God. These good human qualities are subject to confusion, indulgence, and sin. Penance is a way of helping every part of our humanity to enter into submission to God’s will by overcoming those inordinate tendencies that lead us to sin. Penance helps those disorders within us to die so that every part of our humanity may rise with Christ, conform to His humanity, and be set free from the sins and temptations that keep us bound.

On a personal level, Jesus did not need to enter into the penitential state of the desert to curb His appetites, desires, and passions. His soul was already perfect in every way, and He always felt, desired, and chose only the eternal goods. Jesus’ choice to embrace the penitential state of the desert was not for Him; it was for us. By doing penance in the desert, by denying his appetites and human desires, He endowed penitential acts with power. For that reason, when we choose to imitate Jesus’ penance in the desert and choose to embrace His Cross as our own, we receive that power and grace that are now hidden within penitential acts, waiting to be discovered and received.

Ponder your attitude and approach to penance. Though the Church only prescribes abstinence from meat today, our penance should go much further if we are serious about becoming more like Christ. Think about ways in which you can live more sacrificially today. Make concrete choices to do so. As you do, offer them to the Father in Heaven, in union with the penitential life of Jesus in the desert, and anticipate the blessings of grace you will discover in this holy act.

My penitential Lord, by doing penance within Your human nature, You endowed penitential acts with Your grace. Please fill my heart with a burning desire for that grace, as well as with a desire for how Your grace is received. Give me a desire to live a penitential life. Help me to find You, dwelling within those acts of love, to be strengthened to overcome the disorders and temptations I endure every day. Jesus, I trust in You.

See also: Reflection Nine – 40 Days at the Foot of the Cross

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