March 10, 2011 by Nicole
Now that Ash Wednesday is over and the Lenten season is in full swing, I have been doing some serious thinking about what it means when people talk about Lenten penance. I guess that I had never really thought about the meaning of the word “penance” other than understanding that it means showing you’re sorry for your sins. So to satisfy my curiosity, I poked around online to try to put together a more thorough explanation. After reading several explanations, penance in its simplest form is the genuine desire to be forgiven. I think that it really hit me that the last time I went to confession, which was about a month ago, might actually be the first genuine confession I have ever made.
But more importantly, when I think about penance in the context of Lent, I agree with what Fr. G said at mass yesterday afternoon during his homily: Lent requires you to do prayer and penance, but above and beyond what you do the rest of the year (or something to that effect; I think that was the spirit of what he meant. 🙂 ). It occurred to me also after sharing in the Eucharist, that Jesus’ suffering, his pain, and his death, were an incredible sacrifice. It overwhelms me to try and comprehend that God loves me so much that He would willingly sacrifice His only son to purchase me from death, all because–as flawed and contaminated (yes, I said contaminated) by sin as I am–He loves me. The most incomprehensible part is that God hates sin (or so I have heard 🙂 ) and still my human limitations and weaknesses continue to lead me into sin and temptation which I don’t always resist very well, and yet God loves me and thinks I am precious. I just can’t wrap my head around it.
Now, I am no theologian and I am certainly not a philosopher, but when I really think hard about it, no one has ever done or will do enough to earn or deserve love like that. I mean, how many times do we rebel against God, do things that He despises, and yet, He continues to love and forgive us, knowing who and what we are? It’s pretty humbling when you think about it. What I have come to realize is that I am incredibly fortunate and blessed, and I ought to make a more sincere effort to thank God, in essence, by doing penance.
So where does the spring cleaning come in? For me this Lent, it means rather than lamenting the fact that there’s too much “stuff” cluttering up my house, I could recognize that a lot of it can be useful to other people. I have a closet (okay, closets) full of extra coats and old clothes that I believe I am emotionally attached to, but I hardly ever wear, while there are people on the streets of the city where I live who could use a few extra layers to keep warm. I can skip watching TV and playing around on the internet (Try it sometime; it’s amazing how many hours you can spend doing absolutely nothing.) and put that time to better use by serving those who are less fortunate than me, especially because it’s out of my comfort zone. That’s a start.