(Note to those who are new to the Joy of Penance blog…I started this blog in 2014 as a place to post past newsletter articles I wrote for the Franciscan lay association I belong to, The Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. As providence would have it, I am nearly caught up on past articles with just a few more to go. I’m not sure what form this blog will take in future, only it will be as God wills. I will continue in the same vein until things change. Fiat!)
Luke 9:59-60 To another (Jesus) said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Sentiment. The world is bursting with sentiment. Social media especially thrives on it. When a cause du jour goes viral and you examine the outcome of all the social media “activism”, what is really accomplished? Very little usually. That is because sentiment, in the romantic or nostalgic sense, is a fraud, a flimsy counterfeit of the agape love taught and lived by Jesus Christ. One is a marshmallow, the other is a rare and tender cut of steak. I say rare because with agape love, there is a cost, and often the cost is blood.
John 15:12-13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I’m afraid there are valuable lessons from my childhood that are lost forever. But, by the grace of God and the prayers of the Sisters who taught me, there are some that have stayed with me and helped shaped me. For instance, I clearly recall the Sisters telling us that we were never supposed to put ourselves first. To reinforce the lesson Sister Charles Henry read us a true story called, “Janice” about a girl who when she found out she was dying decided to donate her corneas to the blind upon her death. That story has stayed with me for nearly 50 years. I admired Janice for thinking of others even when faced with her own untimely death.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mark 1:31-38)
“For this purpose I have come…” And for what purpose have we come? For what purpose are we called to a life of penance? Is it penance for the sake of penance or is it something more?
Each of us is called to the penitential lifestyle for a unique reason. Jesus spent time in prayer, penitentially in the middle of the night, in order to be strengthened for mission. That he lived in poverty and simplicity was not accidental, but essential. He knew that if he did not die to self every day, he would be unable to die at the appointed time. If our Lord practiced these mortifications, and so many more that we do not know about, how much more does the mission of sinners require that we live a life of penance.
I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:33)
Don’t you love those “God moments” when He uses you in a way you do not expect? One memorable day I had a brief but unusual conversation with a teenager that left me feeling uplifted. At the time this occurred, I was working in a small town in a small school as librarian. The school was small enough that I knew each student by name. One day a new girl about 14 years old came to be with us.
Lily (not her real name), was extremely bright, but she had had a very unfortunate upbringing. Consequently she moved from the city to live with relatives in our small town. It was an extreme understatement to say she was not happy about this. She refused to make friends and was sullen most of the time. I often saw her sitting alone on the floor in the hallway, sketching in her book. I had not seen her smile much. Until one day in January.