Friday, March 11, 2022

Penance: for Catholic Answers

Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bridal chamber. (Joel 2.15-7)

My latest for Catholic answers.

Presented with the imperative to “do something” for Lent, a familiar response is to “give something up.” In itself, this is a healthy enough instinct. Depending on your lifestyle, giving up alcohol, or even chocolate, can be a reminder of the nature of the season and a noticeable sacrifice. Alternatively, people think of giving up something bad, trying to overcome a habitual sin. This is laudable, but penance is the sacrifice of something good, not something bad. Catholics should be able to go beyond both kinds of “giving up.”

The imperatives of Lent in particular, and of the Christian life in general, are the eminent good works of prayer, penance, and almsgiving. These really are good works—works that earn us merit. These works will cancel out temporal punishment we would otherwise suffer in purgatory, and add to our glory in heaven, and we can offer them for the good of the holy souls in purgatory and for the conversion of sinners. Good works in this sense are possible only if we are in a state of grace (sanctifying grace), and they will themselves be done in and through God’s assisting grace (actual grace). When we do them, we may say with St. Paul, it is not we who do them, but God who does them through us (Phil. 2:13). They are in fact a gift of God to us—but when God gives us something, we really do possess it.

Read it all there.

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