“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” Colossians 1:24
(YOUCAT 230) Penance is making restitution or satisfaction for a wrong that has been committed. Penance must not take place exclusively in my head; I must express it in acts of charity and in solidarity with others. One does penance also by praying, fasting, and supporting the poor spiritually and materially. Penance is often misunderstood. It has nothing to do with low self-esteem or scrupulosity. Penance is not brooding over what a bad person I am. Penance frees and encourages us to make a new start.
Lent began today Wednesday, February 18. It is a gift from Holy Mother Church for us, her faithful. It is a time of increased prayer, sacrifice, voluntary self-denial, fasting and abstinence, penance and almsgiving. It is a time for all of us to grow closer to our Lord, His Blessed Mother and His Holy Church. It is the time of the liturgical year before Easter that we remember in a very special way and with increased effort our Lord’s suffering , passion and death . In this world of ours so steeped in tragedy and suffering not just in our own country but all around the world, I believe it is important for us all to remember that we are called to do our own part. As Christians, we are called to sacrifice for others in imitation of Christ who suffered so much for all of us. Christ gave His own life that we might live forever with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
Sacrifice is good for the soul. It is truly redemptive when we offer our sacrifices and trials and unite them to our Lord Jesus’ on the cross. There are countless bible verses, including the one I have quoted above, that remind us that we are called to sacrifice for others. We are called to suffer in imitation of our Lord. Jesus says to us, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Let us remember those words when life seems to be so rough and things just are not going the way we want them to or the way we as human beings think they should. Remember, God is good all the time. His ways are not our ways. He is continually faithful to His promises. He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Sacrifice is about ridding ourselves of our own selfishness and attachments to our sins. It is about depriving our earthly senses of pleasure so that we can turn ourselves to heavenly treasures. It is about putting God first and then others. We should always think of God and others before ourselves. After all, Jesus came to serve not to be served. And so I am going to try harder to make more sacrifices out of love for Jesus who sacrificed his life for all of us. I am going to try to make more sacrifices out of love for all of my family and friends and all the world.
We are all brothers and sisters because we are all children of the same God. We are all connected because we are all loved by the same Eternal and Loving God. Sacrifice is a form of penance and we all must continually do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. When Our Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Bernadette of Lourdes and the Children of Fatima, she told them in no uncertain terms that they were to pray for sinners and to make sacrifices. She told them to do penance for sinners. Sacrifice when offered up to God as a prayer is a form of penance. I am always trying to think of little sacrifices to do penance for my sins and the sins of the world. So instead of always doing what is pleasing to our senses as human beings why don’t we all try to sacrifice a little more, and, in doing that, we can help so many other people in their sufferings and trials. Remember, when we offer up our trials and our sufferings and unite them to Christ’s we too can change hearts, convert sinners, and bring souls to Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. Christ wants us to be his coworkers. We all know that by our prayers and works of charity we can help our fellow man. So, why wouldn’t our sacrifices on behalf of others do the same?
(CCC 2100) Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: ‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.’ The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor. Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father’s love and for our salvation. By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.
Instead of sitting on a comfortable, soft piece of furniture to pray—kneel on the hardwood floor.
Instead of adding salt to enhance the flavor in your food—don’t.
Instead of lying on one or two comfortable pillows to sleep—don’t sleep with any.
Instead of taking a hot shower which always feels good— take a cold one.
Instead of checking your email all throughout the day— just check it once.
Instead of updating Facebook every single day—just go on once a week.
Instead of adding butter to the food that just does not taste right without it—don’t.
Instead of talking to someone about why you are so upset—take it to the Lord in prayer.
Instead of listening to someone gossip maliciously about someone else—change the subject or leave the room.
Instead of raising your voice to your children when they are upsetting you— whisper.
Instead of reading your favorite author’s newest book—read the Bible or the Lives of the Saints.
Instead of being prideful—be humble.
Instead of eating until you feel full—only eat as much as you need for nourishment.
Instead of only giving up meat on Fridays during Lent—give meat up every Friday of the year.
Instead of complaining when times are tough—pray for those who are suffering far worse than you.
Instead of eating your every day favorite snack—eat something you don’t like that is healthier for you.
Instead of drinking your favorite morning coffee or tea—drink water.
Instead of leaving Mass as soon as it is over—stay and pray for a few minutes giving thanks to God for the gift of Himself He has just given you in the Holy Eucharist.
Instead of watching your favorite television show at night—say a Rosary with your family.
Instead of going out to see the newest movie that you just think you have to see—donate the money you would have spent to the poor.
Instead of yelling up the steps for someone to do something for you—go upstairs and do it yourself.
Instead of expecting someone else to help you with something—offer to help them instead.
Instead of listening to the radio or news on your way to work—pray or listen to an inspiring and uplifting CD which teaches about the Catholic Faith.
Instead of spending your free time on the internet—read a book to help you grow in the spiritual life.
Instead of climbing right into bed when you are so very tired—kneel beside the bed first and thank God for your day and for everything He has given you.
Instead of using a mop to clean your floors—scrub them on your hands and knees if you are able.
Instead of only saying one Hail Mary—pray an entire Rosary (it only takes 20-25 minutes of your time).
Instead of driving by a cemetery and not doing anything—pray for the souls in purgatory who desperately need your prayers.
Instead of only going to Mass once a week—go an additional day if you are able.
Instead of talking—be silent.
Instead of walking around in comfortable shoes—put a small stone or nail in one of them as a very small reminder of the pain Christ went through for you.
Instead of sleeping in on Sunday morning—attend Holy Mass and worship God who made Heaven and Earth; the way He commands us all to do.
Instead of eating your meal hot the way you like it—eat it cold.
Instead of thinking you can just tell God your sins—celebrate the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation which Jesus Christ Himself instituted when he walked this earth.
Instead of doing things your ‘own way’—obey the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
Instead of being selfish—be selfless.
Instead of calling someone a name—pray for them.
Instead of using the Lord’s name in vain—Praise the Lord for His goodness to you.
Instead of texting someone—call and talk to them personally and see how they are doing.
Instead of buying that impulse item at the checkout counter—don’t.
Instead of harboring a grudge against someone—forgive them and let it go (life is too short on this earth).
Instead of being bitter and angry with someone —pray to be at peace with God and your neighbor.
Instead of only praying to God when you ‘need’ something—adore, praise, thank and petition Him every day of your life in good times and in bad.
Instead of continuing to believe in misperceptions and falsehoods about the Catholic Faith—read and study the real teachings of the Church Christ came to found.
Instead of being greedy—give something away to someone who needs it more.
Instead of complaining—be grateful for all of your many blessings.
Instead of only giving up something for Lent—give it up for the rest of your life.
The list could go on. Only we ourselves can know what a sacrifice would be for us personally. We all have different likes and dislikes. We all have our own standard of what is pleasing or not pleasing to us. We all know what our weaknesses and strengths are. It is Lent, my brothers and sisters, and this is the time to embrace all of the biblical teachings on penance and mortification and to start anew. This is the time to make ourselves right with God and His Holy Church. We are not on this earth to always be happy and comfortable. We are on this earth to please God. I challenge you all as I am challenging myself this Lent. Do not do the same thing you always do. Do something different. Do something hard because it is not a sacrifice if it is not hard. Giving up your favorite food again is not a sacrifice if you do it every single year. Be original. Remember Christ gave up His life for us. He died the most horrible and excruciating death on the cross all for love of us. The least we can do is to search our hearts and souls and find something to give up that is truly a sacrifice out of love for Him.
Lastly, there are so many people out there that think to themselves that because they are not Catholic they do not have to or will not give up anything for Lent. I would like to ask them why not? Why do you have to be Catholic to give up something out of love for Jesus who suffered and died for you, too? So, I challenge everyone out there to embrace this Catholic tradition of sacrificing during this beautiful season of Lent. These ‘40 days’ before the greatest Feast Day of Easter in the life of the Church.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us all to have a very productive and blessed Lenten Season!