Once I read the theme was Penance, my stomach started to churn. Every day a calendar reminder would come up, and every day I would reset it for another day. Finally on Monday, I decided to explore why I was having such a difficult time with writing the post. I mulled it over for hours, while going about my regular daily business, and finally went to bed at 8:30 - unheard of - totally depressed and nauseaus.
Tuesday morning I awoke and told myself this post needed to get done. I realized the reason I was balking at writing about "Penance", is because the thing that came to mind is a story a fellow RCIA classmate told me about her thoughts on penance. Her mother told her how before confession, her grandmother would make all the siblings walk about on their KNEES until it was time to go to the church. That story has never left me. From that point on, even though I was never required to do anything of the sort, I have always been reluctant to go to confession. Even though the penance given by the priest was always a number of Hail Marys, Our Fathers and the instruction to "sin no more", confession has always been very difficult for me.
It's not that I committed any heinous sins, I had no reason to fear confession. The damage had already been done, my mind had that picture etched in it.
So, in my reading up on the subject of penance (prayers, fasting and almsgiving) and the whole concept of Lent, I was happy to find a publication in my family library dated 1995 that echoed my sentiment on the subject of penance. It is entitled 40 Days to New Life: A Gentle Passage from Ashes to Easter. It was written by Diane M. Houdek, and published by St. Meinrad Archabbey.
It speaks of an alternative to "giving up" something for Lent and instead "enriching your prayer life" and "lifting your heart to God". Which all seems so much more productive than walking around on ones knees.
She suggests also "It's not enough merely to turn away from those things that represent death and destruction in our lives. Conversion is also a turning toward new and unexpected challenges to grow." This gave me hope, and echoed a sentiment I have long had in my heart. It paved the way to seeing and feeling "penance" in a new, more loving way.
The booklet goes on to say "Past mistakes need not trap us in a cycle of despair. We can resolve this Lent to make a new beginning, knowing that God wants us to accept forgiveness so that we can be open to the new life in store for us." Now, was this something I needed to hear. I can be my own worst enemy sometimes, and I will bully myself to death when I make a mistake, or use harsh words, or treat someone unfairly. After all, I am human, and I can be nasty at times, especially to myself.
"...If we are struggling with low self-esteem, with patterns of punishing ourselves needlessly, or with issues of grief or loss, we need to try to be especially good to ourselves this Lent." Wow! I have suffered from clinical depression for years, and after the death of the father of my children several years ago, I have sometimes not made the best decisions and choices, all in the aftermath of grief and loss.
"We do not need to punish ourselves in order to be worthy of the feast. We are invited because we are loved." A wonderful sentiment to take to heart, and to remember each and every day - even beyond Lent and Easter. The world around us is judgmental enough, undeservedly so. The only One we should be concerned with is Our Heavenly Father, and He loves us unconditionally. We need only ask for forgiveness.
"If we cultivate a patient and hopeful heart, and trust the good changes going on in our lives, we will find God bringing us out of our own forms of slavery and into a holier way of life - the Promised Land." Relief. Forgiveness. Hope. This year I can look at the idea of penance in a completely different way. I don't recall if I read this little booklet back in 1995. If I did, it obviously didn't affect me the same way, as my life was much different then. I am glad that I ran across it this year. I wish that I could link to it, or tell you where to get it, but it seems it is no longer in publication.
I hope that it's words, combined with mine affect someone else in a positive way too.
Peace be with you,
The Rosary Lady
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