To respond to Love
Ways we do penance
Saturday MorningÖÖÖ.July 31,2004
Last night when we were considering the nature of penance, we spoke about how charity is really the essence of what penance is about. Now I need to make one distinction that I didnít make yesterday and that is when I was talking about how our Lord asked Peter if he loved Him and how the Lord was asking about agape kind of love. The word Ďagapeí in Greek is the same as the word Ďcharityí in Latin. It is the highest kind of love. By charity we donít mean giving money to the poor or something like that. That kind of charity is also essential but, by charity, what we mean is loving God and loving neighbor and it is loving in a completely selfless manner. Thatís the kind of charity that weíre talking about.
And so when Peter was asked if he loved the Lord and he was able to say that Ď I love you as a friendí itís because on the level of what he was getting out of it instead of simply what he was putting into it. And so Peter recognized that there was some great value of being with the Lord. All of us recognize the same thing. But St. Paul even talked about that, how there are some people for whom religion is something that they get involved in merely because of what they can get out of it. Thatís not what itís about. Undoubtedly there is great value in religion as St. Paul points out. But if we are looking for only ourselves, we have missed the boat.
The interesting thing about the Spiritual life is that everything is an irony. Just as our Lord can sayÖ.íthat unless you die to yourself you cannot liveí, the same is true with regard to this whole notion of penance. The more that we seek ourselves the less that weíre going to receive. But the more that we can get out of the way and the less that we are concerned about ourselves, the more that we will be able to receive. Thatís why when you see the saints praying for something; they get whatever they ask for and extraordinary things. That shouldnít surprise us.
Our Lady has told us that prayer can even change the laws of nature if we really truly believe. If we trust. But that means we must be seeking the will of God and the good of someone else. Not just what we want or what we think we need. Remember the principal in prayerÖthat God is there for you. You have to be there for God. Thatís the nature of what love is all about. Two people seeking the good of one another. And so if we place that into a marriage kind of situation you have two people that on the day that they get married they make a vow that they are going to love one another every single day for the rest of their lives. That means, as I like to tell the couples that what they have just vowed to one another is that they are never ever going to be selfish again. Good luck but, thatís the goal of what married life is. Itís not where it begins but itís certainly where it needs to end. That there are two people who have such an incredible respect for the dignity of the other that all that they want to do is serve one another.
Thatís why St. Paul would sayÖanticipate one another in doing good. You should be able to look out for the needs and even the wants of the other person and then anticipate those. When in marriage the couple grows together in love, often times they know what the other is thinking and what the other needs without a word ever being spoken. Well, if thatís true within marriage, how much more should that be true in prayer. That we would be able to know what it is that our Lord desires from us without His ever having to say a thing. Because, if we are focused on Him, our whole desire is to serve Him. Thatís what love is about.
God is love. He can never do anything other than love. So, He loves you absolutely and perfectly. Of course you can only receive His love to the degree that you are able. But the point of that is simply to say that unlike in a marriage, where you shouldnít have to worry about whether the other person is seeking only your good, the reality is that we do think about those things, which tells us how selfish we are rather than how selfish the other person is. Because weíre the ones thinking about how much the other person might not be serving us. But, with God we never even have to have a thought about that. God is there only to love us and so the question is Ďhow much do we love Him?í
And thatís what Peter was being asked. Do you love me? Well, Iím your friend. I like to be with you. I like what I get out of this. Sure, Iíll take care of your needs but itís for what I get out of it. Itís a two way street but, unlike marriage which is a two way street of two people who are supposed to be giving themselves to one another without thinking about what the other is giving in return, friendship doesnít always work that way. We size it up, we make judgments, we look at the way things are and there is good will toward the other person, but itís not necessarily the way things are in marriage. How much more with our Lord? He is there only for us and so the question that He is asking is Ďare we there for Himí? If the essence of penance is charity, that means seeking God with our whole heart and strength without worrying about ourselves because God will take care of us.
Now there are ways we do penance too. We can mortify the external senses. For instance we all know what happens when we start feeling hungry and our first inclination is to head toward the refrigerator. Well, we can decide that we arenít going to do that. That we are going to limit the amount of food. That if there is something that we really like we will deny ourselves of something thatís really good, that is in taste anyway.
There are ways that we can mortify the sense of sight. There are some people that like everything around them to be really pretty and beautiful and flowery and so on and so to mortify our sense of sight we could simplify things. Itís to be able to take away some of those things of the senses in order that we might set our sight on God rather than on the things around us. Now of course we need to make sure that we are keeping the proper distinctions.
If you are raising a family it would not be appropriate to live like a nun. Might be nice to do so but, it would not be appropriate. You have to provide a proper place for your family. And so if you said Ďweíre going to live simply so weíre getting rid of all of the furniture. That wouldnít necessarily be the best thing for your kids so you have to think about that. For those of you who are married and your spouse is not necessarily on the same page as you, you also have to consider that. You canít go home this afternoon and decide youíre going to detach from everything in the house and throw it all away. That might not meet with the best reaction from your spouse. That becomes the penance.
You see, what we look at sometimes is that the penance is the things that we want to do, the things that weíve decided to do but when you canít. Thatís the penance.
There are some people for whom it is a penance to not fast. There is someone for instance that I have to constantly put under obedience to say Ďyour fasting is to eat! I am commanding you under obedience to eat at least three times a day and eat full meals!Ē, because the person is not well. The person wants to fast. The person recognizes the importance of fasting but the health situation for this person is such that this individual ought not to be fasting and itís something that drives this person crazy because they want to fast. And so I just flip it the other way and I say Ďwell, the penance that you are offering to God then is to eatí. For most of us, thatís not the problem. For some of us, we hold these truths to be self-evident! (humor) But the reality is that for some the penance is exactly the opposite of what they want.
I know for instance, a woman who called her Spiritual Director one day and said Ďyou know, Iíve decided that what Iím going to do is give up chocolate because I like it too much and her spiritual director said, ĎIím putting you under obedience to eat a Snickers bar every single day!Ē. She said,í Father, you donít understand. I mean I really like these things ya knowí. He said, ĎI understand, but you are under obedience to eat one every day.Ē After a couple of months she was on the phone saying, ĎFather, please canít I stop eating these Snickers bars? I canít stand them anymore!Ē He understood exactly what the thing was all about. And so sometimes the penance winds up being exactly the opposite of what we think that it ought to be. And we can look at all of the senses this way.
How much comfort we like, oh the easy things, the pleasant things and so on. Are they really necessary? In and of themselves, there is nothing evil about them but these are things that we can deny ourselves. There are lots of things that we can do without drawing much attention. We like fancy foods that taste real good, why not eat simply when you have the opportunity. Again it may be that if you are eating dinner with your family, to eat bread and water would kind of draw attention to yourself and would not be the proper thing to do. You eat whatís placed in front of you. Maybe youíre the one who has to make the meal, while you could look at yourself and say Ďhey, look at what the saints didí and make some kind of slop and throw it in front of everybody for dinner. That would not be appropriate. Youíre forcing your penance on the rest of the family. You just have to keep in mind that the fact that youíre doing penance is a penance for the rest of the family. You donít need to do anything else.
There is an old saying that it is impossible to live with a saint. Now, I have changed that to say ĎItís impossible to live with somebody who prays!í. That is if the rest of the people donít pray. And I donít mean, say some prayers. I mean pray deep in the heart because the way that you are going to live is not the way that most people do. I talked a little bit about that last night in the homily. And you just simply have to live it. Donít try and explain it, donít try and talk your way out of it, donít try and do anything different, just live it. Just pray and let the Lord change you the way He wants to change you and you will have plenty of penance right in your own home because people wonít understand.
The real tragic part about it is even when you read the lives of the saints, look at where most of their penance came from. The other nuns and monks, right in the monastery!! The ones who were supposed to be praying right along with them and they didnít get it. When I give retreats to the nuns I just look at them and I say Ď you know the worst thing in the world, the most tragic thing that I can think of, is a nun who doesnít want to be a saint. And they all look at me kind of funny and I say Ďlet me explain that to youĒ. You donít really want to give your whole heart to God because it hurts too much. Itís too vulnerable, itís too difficult, itís too painful and so you just want to live a mediocre religious life.
How about those in the world, living a mediocre married life? Not wanting to open your heart to your spouse, not wanting to give yourself entirely, not wanting to be vulnerable because itís too frightening and it hurts too much. God wants you to be a saint. There is no such thing as a mediocre saint. I havenít read one yet. The saints have to choose it all and thatís what the Lord is asking of us. And so itís a question then of how we are going to live our lives. There are those exterior penances that we can do; we can also mortify the interior things, the curiosities.
Just think how much nicer prayer would be if you didnít open your eyes with each person that walked in the chapel to see who it was. Think how much more efficacious your Communion would be if you focused on Jesus in your heart rather than on the people who are in the line. We can mortify our intellects, by trying to watch about how much we are analyzing everybody. The judgments that weíre making. We can catch those things and pray for the person instead. We can mortify the will when it has all of itís little desires and we can say Ďnoí. Or we can mortify the will when the desire is the opposite, when we can choose to be diligent instead of being lazy. When we can get up and do one more thing even though we donít necessarily feel like it. Wouldnít it be nice to sit on the couch and vegetate for awhile but, this person could use this or it would be good to be able to do that. And, itís not that the person would even notice that you didnít do it but itís something again where you can mortify yourself. Where the will is saying , just sit down and take care of you. You can say, I can do one more thing before I sit down.
The diligence that we can have. The imagination in all of us needs to be mortified. Some people have far more vivid imaginations than others, then it needs to be checked rather than allowing ourselves to be daydreaming and spending our lives in some sort of never-never land. We can call ourselves back to reality and we can pray instead of escaping because sometimes there is no pain in our imaginary world but there is in our real world. So itís these sorts of things that we can do.
The memory as well, if you find yourself thinking back to different memories in your life. Just cut it off. When you catch it, just stop it and pull it back so that you can mortify the memory. Again, itís not that there is anything wrong with the memories. Iím assuming that your not thinking about sinful things that you did in the past but you just have to ask yourself if itís something thatís necessary and important. Some are, there are times when you need to recall things of the past but so many are not. They are just frivolous things that we are doing to waste time.
Now there is another element that we can look at as far as making a distinction and this is where the really important distinction comes in and those are between active penances and passive penances. Iíve already really spoken about both.
The active penances are the things that we ourselves have chosen to do. Iím going to fast. Iím going to give up eating something. Iím going to decide to sleep on the floor. Iím going to put a pebble in my shoe. Iím going to do this or that or the other thing whatever it might be. Now one warning about this, is to NOT try to imitate the saints!
St. Francis for instance you may recall when he was being tempted sorely against purity decided to jump into a thorn bush. Not a good idea. Now God took care of St. Francis and he removed all the thorns. I know somebody who tried to do exactly that. She was a nun. Thankfully she kept her habit on when she jumped into the thorn bush but she still recognizes even to this day that it was not a good idea. Sounds like a pretty interesting concept. Strip down naked and run through the brambles out in the woods. Dumb. Be a heck of a penance. Or, the monk who felt so rotten that he swatted a mosquito that he decided that he would strip down naked and sit in swamp and let the mosquitoes bite him for a couple of hours. For what? Thatís not penance, thatís stupidity.
But there are things that we can learn from the saints. Itís the spirit of the things that they were doing rather than the extraordinary things that they were doing and thatís what we need to look at. The saints if they are led by the Holy Spirit and by grace are going to do extraordinary things and the same is true for yourself. IF and only IF it is Godís will and it is made very clear to you that it is Godís will then you can do all the extraordinary things that God wants you to do. Otherwise, you can do the penance of NOT doing extraordinary things, if thatís what you really want to do. So the penance is to NOT do them. So these are the active penances. Those things that we have chosen for ourselves.
The problem with Active penances is that we either choose the things that weíre really good at, those things that really arenít that much of a penance to us at all because we do them well already, or we tend to choose to do the things that we really want selfishly. As I mentioned last night the typical thing isÖI need to lose weight so Iím going to fast.
Youíre not fasting for the Lord if youíre doing that, youíre doing it to lose weight. But God, who has an infinite sense of humor always looks at that and you donít lose the weight anyway so itís kind of humorous and so you get to fast but you put on weight.
Imagine you know what someone like Padre Pio must have had to deal with. The poor man would go into the hospital and he wouldnít eat for days and he would come out heavier than he was when he went in. And all the stuff that he had to put up with. People who would accuse him of not eating much at mealtime but then he must be sneaking into the kitchen in between, when nobodyís looking, because how can you be that rotund and not eat! And so there are different penances that will come about just because people donít understand them. God will use them for your humility.
And, so thatís the problem with the active penances. Itís usually something about the self. Itís not that there is anything wrong with it and we can look at the areas where weíre weak and that we know that we are weak and those are the penances that we really need to take on. The areas that need to be strengthened. While we need to remain strong in the areas that weíre good at, we need to strengthen the things that weíre not good at. But the best penances of all are the Passive penances.
Those are the ones that God gives us. God knows exactly what we need and therefore, He never gives us penances that weíre good at but always at the things that we are the worst at. And He knows exactly your personality and He knows what is going to provide the best penance in the whole wide world just for you because He loves you that much. And so you can be always sure that if God sends something along, that all of the penances that youíve chosen to do, all the mortifications, all the fasting, all the little difficulties that youíve taken on, they are as nothing compared to the one that God sends.
Itís pretty rare that God sends just one but at any rate, you can look at the ones that He sends you. Sometimes again, itís the personality of the people in your own house, the little things that irritate you to no end. Sometimes itís the neighbor who decides to start a rock and roll band in his garage. That would be quite a penance. In my neighborhood itís the neighbors with their rap music and their domestic fights that they take out to the streets and all the other interesting things that happen. There are lots of little penances that are constantly there.
Having to deal with other personalities, little illnesses that come along, the pains and the struggles and the difficulties. When we look at the saints and the way that they handle things, I havenít quite figured out how they do this yet, but I find it fascinating to read one saint after the next where when everything goes well they go before the Blessed Sacrament and say Ďdonít you love me anymore?í Everything went perfectly well. There were no problems. I on the other hand still have the problem that when everything goes perfectly well I go before the Blessed Sacrament and go Ďthank you, thank you, thank you, it all went well!í So I see how far I have to go. But there are constantly little penances that are given by God to test us in the ways that we need them the most.
All you have to do is get into your car these days and you find lots of penance. Try driving down the freeway! Four way stops are wonderful opportunities for penance. You wonder where these people got their drivers licenses. The tragedy of course, and Iíve heard this in many confessions, and I have to confess that Iíve done it myself, is that you can be sitting there at the corner at the four-way stop, driving along and praying your rosary and in the middle of a Hail Mary some idiot comes out! As you look at the person whoís driving and cut you off and did some foolish thing out on the road, and then you look at the rosary and go Öoh yah, Holy Mary, Mother of God. Yah well, you just see where we can mortify ourselves.
How many traffic jams have you sat in angry? Beating on the steering wheel and getting upset? How many people going 40 mph down the freeway have you have gotten stuck behind when all the traffic is on either side of you and you canít get around them? I remember going down a two-way road one day and there was this guy that came up behind me and it was a no-passing zone. It was in northern Minnesota, winding roads and you couldnít pass. About every several miles they have one of these pull off lanes donít you know. You can pull to the side and let people pass you and this guy came roaring up on me going about 70 miles an hour and well, lets just say his digital communication was pretty evident. He was screaming and hollering, his arms were flailing and so on. I was going over the speed limit trying to help him. Itís a 55 zone, I was going about 60. Well that wasnít enough for him. Till finally we got to an area where I could pull off and he ripped on by and that was the last I saw of him. I just thought, you know, here I am providing penance for this poor guy. There he has an opportunity for virtue but he wasnít practicing it very well. But, maybe I wasnít either if I was judging him that way. And so you see these little times are opportunities for penance.
When is the last time that instead of running to the medicine cabinet when you got a headache that you just decided to endure it? And in fact, rejoiced in it and offered it up to God. You see when a person gets accustomed to the interior suffering and even some of the exterior things, when it goes away, you miss it. Most of us, if we get a little bit sick weíre so grateful when itís over that we donít ever want it back. But if you talk to some of the people who have actually learned how to deal with this stuff, when the ailment goes away, they go back to prayer and they pray that God will give it back to them because they miss it. Because this was a way that they could show God how much they love him. This was something that they could accept as a gift from the Lord.
So those are the passive kinds of penances. The things that are out of our control, the things that we just have to accept. Being patient when things donít go right. When they fall apart in our hands, when they break right in front of us. Little humiliations. Itís the best thing in the world and one of the hardest. God provides all kinds of interesting things for this and He even allows the devil to do the same. God will employ Satan to help us to grow in a variety of ways, patience, and humility. He will test our meekness. The old jerk is pretty good at doing things that are going to provide lots of anger. And we just have to be patient and meek and humble. It is not easy to be able to accept these sorts of things but they are the very best penances of all. And so rather than looking at what we can do, the real challenge is what can we accept.
And if you can look at penance from that kind of a perspective while not failing to do the things that you ought to be doing, to make sure that you are focusing on what God is doing and on how you are responding to the gift that God is giving. Remember, Godís gifts are not like the ones that we give. Imagine how you spouse would feel if you gave to them a gift that God would give to you. They probably wouldnít be too amused. We try to go out and we pick out the thing that is the nicest, the best, the thing this person would really want and enjoy. God on the other hand, looks and says, Iím going to give to this person what they really truly need. Not necessarily what they would want or enjoy but what they truly need in order to become a saint. In order to be holy. And so those are the things that He provides and we just have to keep working to accept them.
Now with regard also to penance we need to make a couple of other things, of distinctions about how to do it. How much penance ought we to do. How do we know that the penance is real? Well, first and foremost, the rule has to be obedience. Obedience cannot be stressed too heavily and it is the greatest penance in the world because it is no longer your will but itís doing the will of someone else and ultimately itís about doing the will of God. If you have a director then you can know that the voice of God is being spoken through the mouth of the director. For someone in religious life, itís pretty evident. All they have to do is look to their superior and if the superior tells them to do something that is the penance. That is the obedience. If you have a director, every penance that you choose should be bounced off the director before you do them. Every last one of the active penances that you choose. Now there are a few, and Iíll talk about that in a minute that you donít necessarily have to check with a director about. But, if you decide that you are going to take on some active penance you need to check with your director first to make sure that it is under obedience. And if the director says Ďnoí that is the penance. To accept it gratefully. To be able to recognize that that is Godís will for you to deny you the very thing that you wanted to do. And if the director does tell you to do something that may be different than what you wanted to do then that is the penance.
Obedience is a very, very difficult penance and yet it is the greatest freedom in the whole world. Most of us donít want to bring things up to our directors because weíre afraid that theyíre going to tell us Ďnoí. because they might not want the same thing that we think that we want. Again, notice the self. Itís all about me. Our focus needs to be on God and if we really trust that God is going to work through the director than we can go humbly before the director and lay out what it is that we have inwardly decided and the director can make the decision. And if we really trust God, then we trust that He is going to speak through the director. Now, you can be absolutely convinced in your heart that this is what God wants you to do and the director can say Ďnoí. And then it may be that a month or two up the road the director is going to change his mind and say ĎI want you to do thisí. But, God was going to test your obedience. Remember even when the saints had visions of our Lord, He would tell them straight out ĎIf I tell you to do something and your superior tells you to do something different, you do what your superior tells you to do.í Imagine that. Jesus Himself telling them. If I tell you to do something and your superior tells you to do something different, you do what your superior tells you to do. So if you are completely convinced out of prayer that you are to do something and itís the Lordís will for you and your superior tells you something different, it is the voice of the superior that is the voice of God.
Now the only distinction in that is obedience is in all things but sin. If your superior ever tells you to do something sinful, get out! Get a new director. Obviously there is something seriously wrong with this individual if they are going to tell you to do something sinful. So, you need not ever do anything like sinful, but otherwise, obedience in all things and there is great freedom in obedience.
And that requires great humility to be able to just lay things out before your director, but thatís the rule that we all have to follow and we can be confident in that. And if you do not have a director, and you are not in religious life with a superior, then check with your confessor. Bring things up in confession. You donít have to go on and on and on about it but just ask the confessor and be obedient.
Now your state in life also has to be taken into consideration and you can look at the different things that happen for instance, in marriage. You can ask your spouse. If you are married and you decide that it would be a great thing to sleep on the floor, check with your spouse before you do that. Depending on your marriage your spouse might think that thatís a great idea too. Who knows, but for a different reason than what you think. But, it may be that your spouse doesnít think itís such a great idea and you cannot again enforce your penances on someone else. And so again you need to consider and balance things out. The spiritual life always tends toward balance and thatís what we need to look at. Now, as I was mentioning a few minutes ago, there are certain things that we donít need any obedience to do them and they are astounding mortifications.
They are things like custody of the eyes. The obvious would be if there is a pretty girl walking down the street and there is a guy driving along, he should not be staring at her. But, there are lots of ways that we can practice custody of the eyes, Itís to look away from things that might be very attractive to us that we donít need. And so thatís whether thatís looking at magazines, or catalogs. Keeping our eyes focused where they belong when weíre in stores so that weíre not looking at everything. Itís not just looking lustfully at someone but itís looking selfishly at anything. Keeping our eyes down.
There is this friend of mine who I was driving over to this persons house and I said Ďman, that billboard over by your area a block awayí, and he said, what billboard? I said the one right down the street. Ah well, I never look at the billboards. I said Ďdonít you drive by it everyday? Yep, I just look at the road. Okay~ A good reminder to me that I need to work on a little more mortification.
Custody of the eyes. I donít need to be looking at all that stuff. Our curiosity, our eyes, theyíre going all over the place. Keep them focused on where they belong. Donít need to be looking around at everybody. As I mentioned earlier at church, Jesus is right there, why do we have to worry about everybody else. We donít need to be looking at what their hair-do is or what their clothes look like, or who is there or who is not. Let the Lord worry about that, you donít have to. You should be focused on Him. Custody of the eyes, keep them where they belong. You can keep them shut for that matter. So, those are things that we can do that we donít need permission to do.
Practicing patience, like youíre doing now. Sitting patiently instead of looking at your watches and wondering when this guy is going to shut up. Yah, if you having to talk to somebody who you find particularly boring, rather than seeing if you can find some way to escape, sit there. Be bored. Itís great penance. The better penance is to not let the person know that you are bored. To not allow it to be on your face.
If you have ever gone to a monastery or a convent of really good nuns, there are always people that hang around there that drive them crazy and if you ever listen to them, one of the most astounding things is that they never let on that there is anything about that person that is driving them bonkers. You would think that our Lord or our Lady just walked into the monastery by the way that they treat these people. I sometimes have listened to that and I think, man if I could do that with some of the people who come into the rectory. If I could have that same disposition. So the kindness toward other people, the patience in dealing with people, those are things that we donít need any kind of permission to have to do.
And so there are just some typical little things that we can all practice, we can put into our daily lives. Mother Theresa used to tell her nuns, never ever leave the table without having denied yourself at least one thing. So, do you need to put salt on the food? Do you need that extra glass of milk or water or coffee. Do you need to put everything into it or do you need to take the second spoonful of something to put it on your plate? Itís something that you do not draw attention to yourself. That again is one of the points of penance; you never, ever, draw attention to yourself with your penances. They should be hidden. Itís not a matter of hiding them from people because you have to bring them to your director anyway, but itís a matter of hiding them in, not from, the Lord and in His Sacred Heart. So, itís not a matter of hiding things from everybody else, they donít need to know about it anyway but itís a matter of hiding in the Lord.
Again, itís a matter of love. Thatís what penance is about. Itís a matter of loving God so theyíre hidden in Christ. But thatís what our whole life is supposed to be according to St. Paul. Hidden in Christ. So, we can look at the things that we do and how we do them. To make sure that we arenĎt complaining about our penances or saying anything about them and again to keep in mind that the greater penance at times is to do the things that we wouldnít want to. If you go to an extreme, and say you went to a nice dinner with a whole group of people, and you said, Ďoh, I canít order anything off the menu because Iím fasting in certain ways and that really wouldnít be appropriate for me to do that.í Well, thatís just simply calling attention to yourself. And so at that point you have to say to yourself, Ďno the greater thing in this case will be simply to eat. Keep it simple, you donít need to say Ďwell, as long as weíre here, letís go for the lobster.í But keep it simple and eat.
If you have decided that youíre going to do some kind of penance, donít moan and groan and grumble about it. ďOh, Iím so hungry!Ē There goes your penance! What good is it? So there are things like that, that we just canít be drawing attention to ourselves. Keep them quiet. Keep them hidden in Christ. We need to be willing, again, to give all to the Lord. The whole goal of penance, and weíll talk about this next time, is to conform ourselves to Christ. To be united with Him. And so itís not just hidden, itís to become one with Him. And the only way that thatís going to happen is if we give ourselves completely and whole heartedly to Him and that again is an astounding penance. All we have to do is ask ourselves how easy is it to give it all. Itís easy to go to prayer and say ĎLord, take it all. Whatever you want, itís yoursí. He isnít going to do that, He is going to look at you and say, ĎCan I have this?í and He will never do anything without your permission. He is such a gentleman. He will never ever violate you in any way and so He will always want you to say Ďyesí at every single step.
So, itís easy in the objective and theoretical to say Ďtake it allí but to put that into practice is very difficult and an immense penance. To be able to say Ďyes, Lord, you can have this, and you can have that, and remember He is going to ask you for the things that are most difficult for you, not the things that are going to be the easiest. He isnít going to look at you and say Ď is it OK if you give up rap music for the rest of your life?í Please! He is going to ask you sometimes the things that are most precious to you. Are you willing to give it all? Thatís the measure.
So, we have to always consider practical things, again health issues, you donít take on severe fasts if itís going to cause you a problem. If you are somebody that is hypoglycemic, you donít decide that you are not going to eat. You're going to wind up in the hospital! If your somebody who has diabetes you donít decide that you are going to eat sugar for a penance. There are practical things that we can consider. It would be foolish to decide, after reading some of the desert fathers that decided that they shouldnít sleep because sleep was too pleasurable, not to allow yourselves to sleep. That again would be total foolishness. So again you have to consider your health; you have to consider practicalities; you have to consider the people around you; and thatís again where the obedience comes in. As long as you are under obedience and your director understands your situation whatever it might be then you can be assured that you are within the proper boundaries that the Lord would ask and donít go beyond that. So, that Ďs what we can consider when we think about the nature of penance. How much should we be doing?
Give it all to the Lord. On the practical level as far as the act of penance, within the proper boundaries of prudence and obedience but with Jesus Himself, it is complete generosity, total giving. Let Him take what He wants because He knows what will be the best and He knows how to do it in the way that it will be the best. And since thatís out of your control then itís simply a matter of accepting. So, those are the things that we have to consider when we look at penance. Now with that, well I guess I better shut up here because weíre running out of time.
May the Lord be with you! And may the Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit descend upon you and remain with you forever. Amen