Works of Penance
Acceptance of Crosses
The submissive, willing, and joyful acceptance of all the crosses Providence may see fit to send us. The Council of Trent teaches us that it is a great token of God’s love for us that He deigns to accept as satisfaction for our sins the patient endurance wherewith we suffer the temporal ills He visits upon us. Therefore, should we have any physical or moral trials to undergo, arising from the uncontrolled forces of nature or from reverses of fortune, from failure or from humiliation, let us, instead of breaking into bitter complaint as our tendencies would suggest, accept all such suffering in a spirit of gentle resignation, persuade that they are the just wages of sin, and that patience in adversity is one of the best means of atoning for it.
This acceptance, a mere resignation at first, will gradually grow into a manful, nay, a joyous endurance of ordeals, as we see our woes thereby assuaged and made fruitful. We should be glad thus to shorten our purgatory, to become more like Our Crucified Master and to glorify the God we have outraged. Then patience will bear all its fruits and cleanse our soul because it will be a work of love: “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.”
Duties of State
To patience we shall add the faithful discharge of our duties of state in a spirit of penance and reparation. The most acceptable sacrifice we can offer God is obedience: “Obedience is better than sacrifices.” Now, the duties of our state are the manifest expression of God’s will in our regard. To fulfil them as perfectly as we can is to offer God the most perfect sacrifice within our giving, a perpetual holocaust, since this duty rests upon us from morning until night.
This is assuredly true for such as live in community: faithful obedience to their rule, general or particular, and the courageous accomplishment of the orders or directions of their uperiors multiply their acts of obedience, of sacrifice and of love, and enable them to repeat with St. John Berchmans: “My greatest penance is community life.”
Such perfect discharge of the duties of state is likewise the best means of doing penance for persons in the world. Fathers and mothers who loyally observe all their obligations as husbands and wives and as parents have many occasions of offering God sacrifices that will work unto the purification of their souls. The one thing necessary is that they acquit themselves resolutely of their duties in a Christian manner, for God’s sake, and in a spirit of expiation and penance. …
Fasting was, in the Old Dispensation, one of the great means of making atonement; it was called “to afflict the soul;” but to be acceptable it had to be accompanied by sentiments of sorrow for sin and mercy towards others. Under the New Law, fasting is an earnest of grief and of penance. The Apostles do not fast as ong as the Bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when He is gone. Our Lord, wishing to expiat our sins, fasted forty days and forty nights, and taught His Apostles that certain evil spirits cannot be cast out except b prayer and fasting. True to His teachings, the Church has established the Lenten Fast, that of the Vigils and of the Ember Days to offer her children the opportunity of making expiation for their faults. Many a sin takes its rise directly or indirectly in the craving for pleasure, in excess in eating and drinking, and nothing is so effective in making atonement as mortification in eating, reaching as it does the very root of the evil by mortifying the craving for sensual pleasure. This is why the Saints have made a practice of fasting even outside the seasons appointed by the Church. Generous Christian souls imitate them and, if they cannot keep the strict fast, forego some food at each meal in order thus to curb their sensuality.
Almsgiving is both a work of mercy and a privation; from this double title it derives great power of atoning for our sins: “Redeem thou thy sins with alms.” When we deprive ourselves of some good to give it to Jesus Christ in the person of the poor, God does not allow Himself to be outdone in liberality, and He willingly remits part of the punishment due to our sins. The more generous we are, each according to his means, and the more perfect our intention in almsgiving, the more fully are our spiritual debts cancelled. What we say of almsgiving with regard to the things that minister to the body holds true even more of spiritual almsgiving. Which is calculated to promote the welfare of souls and thereby the glory of God. Thus it is one of the penitential acts the Psalmist promises to perform in reparation for his sin: “I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee.”
Lastly, there come the voluntary privations and the acts of mortification we impose upon ourselves in expiation for our faults, particularly those that reach the heart of the evil, by punishing the faculties that have had part in our sins…. The priest after absolving the penitent sums up in striking words the means by which we can atone fully for our sins and cleanse our souls from the remains of forgiven sins: “May whatever good you do and whatever ill you bear be to you unto the remission of sins…”