SAMPLE LENTEN PENANCES
Some people find it almost impossible to select penitential observances for Lent, and indeed other times and occasions. Here now are some ideas. They are intended only as aids and it would be good if those who peruse them would select their own penances not from these lists but from ideas of their own that would indicate what is the best penance to undertake.
The best penances are those that God sends us. These include his commandments and other directives that are consequent on obligations we undertake, e.g. promises we might make to him, obligations we might undertake in the home to help, duties we have undertaken e.g. homework, morning and night prayers, etc.
Then there are certain set-backs, perhaps illness, accident, loss of work, bad fortune and so forth. God is aware of these and of the help that he gives to overcome them.
Fundamentally the principal reason for penance is to overcome sin. that should put the sin ‘antivirus’ high on the priority list, e.g. one with a problem of drunkenness might give up indulging in alcohol altogether. One should use the same technique when thinking of other sins.
While the Church became lenient concerning fast and abstinence we might not rush in to take advantage of the Church’s attitude. The Church did not forbid people to fast and abstain. One way of observing this in a voluntary manner would be not to indulge in snacks and drinks between meals.
Many of the above are negative (“I will not do this or that”). Positive undertakings are excellent, e.g. I will offer my morning and evening prayers, pray-a-rosary-a-day, make a visit to a church daily, perhaps attend a Mass each day, weekly confession, etc.
Fathers and mother might undertake to spend some quality time with their children, do the little things the children have been asking them to fix or get in working order, perhaps read a story promised for a long time.
Husbands could listen more to their wives and try a little harder to understand their needs, fears, and concerns. Wives might refrain from criticising their husbands in front of others.
Children might refrain from murmuring when given directives or corrections but be prompt and willing to respond. A very pleasant suggestion is to do little things to surprise each or both parents.
The ordinary penances of daily living are so obvious that it is difficult to see them. For example, refrain from angry words when provoked, accept insults and uncharitable remarks, never be bitter or resentful, be kind in speech and helpful to those who are in opposition.
As the title indicates what appears above is meant to be but suggestions. It is always best when individuals choose what is most beneficial for themselves to overcome sin and to live penances that will help them to live closer to Jesus as he did during his own preparation for his death on the cross.
This year we are observing the Year of Mercy. It is amazing the number of homilies preached by Pope Francis on this theme. The year opened on December 8th 2015 and already we have been presented with a very large number. This is a subject very close to the heart of the Pope. He recognises that the highest form of love is mercy and he is doing his utmost to instill mercy in the hearts of all Catholics.
One subject he has proclaimed on several occasions is the works of mercy. These belong to two categories: the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. They are seen in each of the two categories and people of my generation knew them off by heart when attending Primary School.
These fourteen Works of Mercy make ideal penances for Lent and the Pope mentioned that a week or two ago,
Speaking about the Corporal and Spiritual Works o Mercy to bishops and priests in Rome not so long ago Pope Francis said, “We are in the Holy Year of Mercy. I hope that in this Jubilee all the members of the Church will renew their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the face of the Father’s mercy, the way that unites God and man.” His Holiness continued with this question, “How can we Anot desire, then, that the whole Christian people — pastors and faithful — rediscover and put at the center, during the Jubilee, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?… This attention to the works of mercy is important: they are not a devotion. It is the concreteness of how Christians must carry forward the spirit of mercy.”
These words of the Holy Father are very strong and they certainly encourage us to practise the Works of Mercy this Lent. I now share these fourteen works with you in the exceptionally strong hope that you may use as many as you can to formulate your Lenten Penances and in that way practise Christ’s love of friendship with your Father in heaven and his beloved here on earth.
CORPOREAL WORKS OF MERCY:
The seven corporeal works of mercy are:
First, to feed the hungry;
Second, to give drink to the thirsty;
Third, to cloth the naked;
Fourth, to shelter the homeless;
Fifth to visit the sick,
Sixth to ransom the captive and
Seventh to bury the dead.
SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY:
The seven spiritual works of mercy are:
First, to instruct the ignorant;
Second, to counsel the doubtful;
Third, to admonish the sinner;
Fourth, to bear wrongs patiently;
Fifth, to forgive offences;
Sixth, to comfort the afflicted and
Seventh to pray for the living and the dead.