“Thus says the Lord: Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
What a sublime passage from Isaiah about the fasting that God desires! Certainly its message is echoed in much of what Pope Francis has taught since becoming Pope. Those of us who are living a penitential lifestyle have much to ponder here. We fast regularly. Does this passage negate the fasts we observe as part of our Rule? Not at all, but it does warn us that without charity, our fasting cannot please God. The fact that our Rule also requires that we give to the poor, testifies to the Scriptural solidity of our Rule. Thanks be to God for the great gift he has given us through St. Francis.
I have recently begun to read a book called Spirit of Penance: Path to God by Dom Hubert Van Zeller. This is a book that cannot be rushed through. It is so full of solid teaching about penance that each paragraph must be digested on its own. I find it affirms me on the path of penance, but it also challenges me and expands my understanding of the way of life to which we have been called. I would like to share with you a few of the lights that I have found in my reading thus far.
Van Zeller explains that the way of penance is the way of total surrender to God. Someone who is surrendered to God in the way of penance does not make lists of what he will give to God, but “gives himself as completely as he can, and that is all there is to it. For him, the problem is not what to give next, or even how to give more, but simply how to go on in the disposition of letting God take. There is no more generous giving than this, no sharper penance.”1
If we are called to live the Rule of 1221, it is God’s doing, for no one can live this Rule unless God wills it. The more we surrender to our call, the more we surrender to God, and the more we surrender to God, the more grace we will receive to live our call. The above quote also gives dignity to the daily penances that fall outside the specifics of the Rule–a man who hands over his entire paycheck to support the family; a woman who is sleep-deprived for years as she raises her children; a single person looking after aging parents because the rest of her siblings are busy with families of their own; an aged person who carries the cross of having to be looked after at the end of a productive life; a young person who has to babysit his siblings instead of going out with friends. The list is long. These are the penances that God chooses. It is not for us to wish them away or to refuse them, but to “take up our cross and follow him.”
Penance is for everyone, a truth that has been forgotten by many in this age, to the detriment of society as a whole. How many today have heard the exhortation to “offer it up?” Too few, unfortunately. A society that loses its ability to pray and offer penance cannot survive long, for the spiritual sustains the physical. And prayer and penance work together to sustain the spiritual life, as is beautifully described in another passage of the book:
“Unless prayer informs penance, and penance expresses prayer, each is incomplete. Just as in the act of respiration, there is the dual process of inhalation and exhalation, so in the act of religion there is the dual activity of mystical receiving and ascetical giving. Neither inhalation nor exhalation is the whole of breathing or the whole of life; neither mysticism nor asceticism is the whole of religion or the whole of life. But in order to keep alive physically, you have to breathe in and out; in order to keep alive spiritually, you have to pray and do penance.”2
The Rule is once again affirmed in this passage from the book. What a blessing to have a Rule that gives us what is necessary to stay alive spiritually—prayer and penance! We need not wonder why God has resurrected this Rule over 700 years after it was written. In the beginning it was written to inject life back into the Church; today it has the same mission and we are the missionaries.
“Francis”, our Lord said, “rebuild my Church which you see has fallen into ruins.” Through prayer, penance, and almsgiving, let us go now and do the same.
1.Van Zeller, Dom Hubert. Spirit of Penance, Path to God, p. 10.
- Ibid., p. 13-14.
From my other blog: https://pelianitoblog.wordpress.com/
Ezekiel 13:13 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: In my fury I will let loose stormwinds; because of my anger there shall be a flooding rain, and hailstones shall fall with destructive wrath.
Lord have mercy on us for we have sinned!
“My child, there is much reparation to be made for the great sins of this age. That is why I have called so many to a life of penance. Without my servants, the world would have already been destroyed. Then do not begrudge anything you are asked to forgo for the sake of souls. There is nothing too small to be used if it is offered in love. Child, give me all you can. The need is great.”
Lord Jesus I am so weak. Without your grace I will not accomplish what you desire. Full of Grace, pray for me and for all sinners. Amen.
Obadiah 1:12, 15 …Exult not over the children of Judah on the day of their ruin. [. . .] For near is the day of the LORD for all the nations! As you have done, so shall it be done to you, your deed shall come back upon your own head.
“My children take special care, in these perilous times, not to exult int he misfortunes of others. Do I rejoice in the death of the sinner, or do I rather rejoice in his conversion? When you hear of great evil taking place, regard it as a call to increased prayer and penance. My humble soldiers must bear upon their shoulders the burden of my sorrow for lost souls. Do all you can to be instruments of Divine Mercy while there is still time. Much, much more is on the horizon. Those who live in the Divine Mercy will die in Divine Mercy. Love, my children, and do not count the cost.”
Jesus, lover of souls, only in you can we love perfectly. Then in your mercy give us every grace we need to ease your burden of sorrow with our prayers and penances for souls. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world! Amen.