“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned!”
We have begun the Season of Lent and we know that the Gospel calls us to some type of penance in a special way during this holy season. While this is a good and worthwhile practice, doing penance is not an end in itself.
What is the purpose of penance? It is not meant to undo the past, as the past is done and cannot be changed. Nor is penance meant to persuade God to erase our sins and forego the punishment we deserve for them.
The first thing we do when we undertake penance is to acknowledge that we are sinners. The second thing we are doing is expressing our desire to change our lives. The whole purpose behind doing penance is to repent and change a sinful way of life.
Penance, when practiced with the right attitude and intention, is an exercise in saying “no” to ourselves. It is intended to show that we have within ourselves the potential of being better persons, and a burning desire to do just that. We want to reform our lives but know we cannot do it without the help of God’s grace. Penance helps us to take a step in the right direction.
A good example for us to reflect on to understand what the purpose of penance is all about is a fruit tree. Why does a person prune the branches of a fruit tree? They are not doing it to punish the tree, but to make it more fruitful. Our penances are meant to prune us, so as to remove those things which are obstacles in our relationship with God, leading us to live a more abundant life.
It is a lot easier to undertake penances, even more rigorous ones, than to try to change sinful attitudes or habits. For our acts of penance to bear fruit they must result in a sincere effort to change our lives.
Lent provides us with the opportunity to look deep within ourselves, no matter how painful it may be, and see how we can become better disciples of Christ. The example of Jesus in today’s Gospel account battling with Satan acts to spur us on. Jesus, the victorious One, will help us to be victorious in our struggles with sin and evil.
May we all be blessed with a fruitful Season of Lent through our encounter with the power of the Word!
— Fr. Dennis, March 1, 2020