What is penance?
Penance is an act of love for God out of sorrow for our sins and the sins of the world.
“Oh happy penance, which merited for me so great glory” -St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
There are three ways the word penance is used in Christianity which are:
- Confession: The sacrament of penance — an act of repentance: stating sorrow/regret for sinning and contrition: having at least some sorrow in ones heart for sinning with some desire/resolve to never commit the offence again, in which, grace is delivered to help us amend our ways, grow in contrition and if our contrition is true, to receive forgiveness of our sins (1 John 1:);
- Atonement/Making Satisfaction: something we do to make our or even others wrongs right. When we have sorrow for sinning, naturally we will want to make right our wrongs, and that is done by penance: making satisfaction for our sins.
Ex: If we spoke wrongly about someone, we can apologize and/or do an act of charity to correct the wrong we did (Daniel 4:24). But if nothing can be done to repair the damage our sins caused–especially if God was the one mostly offended, which is what really happens as a result of any sin, if we wish to pursue God towards Life (gain true hatred for our sin), the greatest act of charity we can give it to choose to suffer and deny ourselves of what we want for the cross to make amends for our offences against Him. (Matthew 16:24).
When we deny ourselves of our will/pleasure for the cross, like Christ did for us, grace can be sent by this act to help save our souls. First, the grace will help us grow into true contrition for our sins and then it will be used for atonement: to remove any satin on our wedding garment/soul. That is, if this sacrifice is done from having some fear of the Lord (filial or servile fear) for our sins or the sins of others.
Without having at least some fear of the Lord, our sacrifice won’t move our souls to Life. Our fear of the Lord doesn’t need to be true/perfect contrition/filial fear of the Lord, but to help us grow towards life, our sacrifice/penance must be moved by some degree of fear of the Lord (we must have some fear of sin).
However, sacrifices/penances made without any fear of sinning, isn’t all bad. It can help to make good habits and help bring an awareness to the need to sacrifice, but it won’t lead to Life without being move by some fear of the Lord (some fear of punishment or fear of offending God).
But, once filial fear (perfect contrition/a saving faith) is obtained, then our sacrifice/penance will become an act of love and it can make up for whatever is lacking in our bodies and atone for our sins, as we console God for all the sins committed against Him for the salvation of souls (Colossians 1:24).
- Punishment: action we must perform or consequence given that is delivered to us by ourselves, others, our confessor (the priest hearing our confession) or even God to motivate/move us to stop our sins, and move us towards true godliness. This punishment can be used to help us atone for our sins. However, not all “punishment” can be used as a penance to pay the price for our sin (atone) for the salvation of souls as was briefly explained above and will be further explained later in this article. (John 5:14). To learn more please read, “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Punishment?”
“Penance–The MEDICINE for the soul” –Baltimore Catechism #379
All penance is done in an attempt to repair the damage of sin. As mentioned above, penance can be done in the form of performing “good deeds” through a humble self-less heart who must sacrifice to give.
“Atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor [by surrendering to care for ourselves and care for others instead.” (Daniel 4:24)
Giving out of our pride (so we can feel like we are good people), surplus (only what won’t effect our lives) or convenience (when it is best/easiest for us) is not the heart we are looking for. We must give through self-denial: giving up of what we have for ourselves–pride (humble/embarrass ourselves to give), material things/money, time, comfort–to love another.
Penance should be performed by rejecting pleasure for the cross (choosing to suffer), with a humble heart that seeks to make amends to love God and neighbor. Both means God can use to send grace to help transform our hardened hearts, which still desire many sins, into hearts of perfect love for Him. Through this cross/penance (suffering) is where MUCH grace is given.
“We can not obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions.” –St. Rose of Lima
Yes, penance is most necessary to help us pay the price that is necessary to convert our hearts from the damage all our sins has caused. But no act of suffering can really “atone” for a single sin, since the smallest sin is of infinite injury to God. That is why, “[the Father] sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Whatever penance God deems necessary for us to heal our hearts is really an act of mercy, since an infinite payment is needed to atone for just one sin. But God’s mercy only asks us to love Him enough to where we are willing to suffer, so we can lose our love/attachment to sin and truly attach ourselves to Him and His pure atoning sacrifice.
Love to Suffer
For those of us, who understand the cross (suffering) and its blessings, we love our penances/sufferings and allow God to use them to send grace for ourselves and for the sake of others so to love God and save souls.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake [since it is sending you grace], and in my flesh [through the suffering] I am filling up [in more grace] what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
However, misunderstanding what penance is and what is an acceptable penance is common place in the Church today and throughout the history of the faith. We are a people that like to do everything to extremes, and we swing from one end of extreme to the other. Then from our misguided love we go about losing the faith all together.
“Consider how very necessary it is for you to set your face against yourself [against your will of seeking pleasure], and walk in the way of penance [self-denial]…if anyone temps you with lax opinions and should even confirm them by miracles, trust him NOT; but rely rather upon penance [choosing the cross] and perfect detachment from creatures [the people of the world]…”
–St. John of the Cross, (Spiritual Maxims, #338- 339)
The Way of The Cross
When we commit a sin, after we tell God how sorry we are and humbly confess our sins with our words in the Sacrament of Penance, if we have a heart that truly loves God with true sorrow for our sins, we want to do penance for our offences committed against God, and when our love reaches out to our neighbor, we will want to do penance (carry the cross/suffer) for them too. We will want to make right our wrongs.
We won’t want a life of pleasure, but one of seeking out the cross, what we sinners deserve. We will want to live The Word and deny ourselves of our will/pleasure and never complain about any inconvenience or suffering God allows, by offering them all as a penance for the conversion of sinners (us and others).
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself [of pleasure], take up his cross [never complain/trust in all God allows], and follow me [truly live The Word]. For whoever wishes to save his life [keep what he loves] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [surrenders the pleasure] for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Nobody will need to force us to make sacrifices when we truly hate our sins/love God, we will want to and look for ways to sacrifice. When we truly hate our sins, we won’t want our life of comfort with worldly pleasures, as I said, we will want the cross.
“To labor and to suffer for the one we love is the greatest proof of our love…I, dear Lord, wish to be nailed to the cross for Thee. So may it be. Amen.”
–St. Anthony Mary Claret
This is The Way of the Cross. This is how we love how Christ loves and how we emulate the saints who atoned for their sins and obtained Eternal Life. Sure, it seems wrong or unnecessary to those who have been deceived, but this life of sacrifical love (suffering to love God) is The True Way. This is how we follow the examples of the saints.
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
It is from this love–rejection of pleasure for the cross–in which so much grace is sent to help us and others amend our ways, so we can grow in faith into perfect love of God and of course, for the salvation of our souls. Yes, a life of sacrifice is how a Christian is supposed to live.
“The thirst for pleasure that thrives in a man…one who seeks refined food, rich clothing, and lustful satisfaction. It is not only wrong to consent to these things willfully; it is also wrong not to shun them at their very first appeal.”
–St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church
Thirst for Penance
Like I said, when someone is with a saving faith of true love for God and true contrition for all of our sins or even has true contrition for just one sin, we have a thirst for penance…all three forms of penance.
“A life of ease and pleasure on this earth cannot be the life of a Christian. If we have not fervor to mortify the body [deny ourselves of what we want] by great penances, let us at least practice some little mortification: let us bear with patience the pains that happen to us.”
There is a girl of 16 years in age who murdered her father. She went to prison for her crime and the prison staff said she was a model inmate full of remorse. She always volunteered to do the most deplorable tasks and wouldn’t even allow herself basic comforts. When asked why she did that, she said, “I don’t deserve any better…but I will be alright.”
This young lady is the model of a truly penitent (sorrowful) sinner, what we all want to be like. But we don’t just want to have this contrition for our large sins but for ALL of them. And our sorrow can’t be driven merely from personal guilt, but it must be driven from having such great sorrow for OFFENDING GOD.
On top of that, our sorrow can also be driven from being sorry ourselves and others who have to suffer now because of our sins, since by justice all sin is punished on earth (if we can see the punishment or not) and must be atoned for before we can enter into Heaven.
“[Ahab] He became completely abominable by following idols [looking for happiness with something other than God], just as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD [punished and] drove out before the children of Israel. When Ahab heard these words, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth over his bare flesh [as a penance]. He fasted, slept in the sackcloth, and went about subdued [in sorrow for his sin].
Then the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Have you seen that Ahab has humbled himself before me? Since he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil [punish] in his time. I will bring the evil [as justice and to teach others not to sin] upon his house during the reign of his son.” (1 Kings 21:25-29)
All of our sins, even the least of them, are horrible offences against Perfect Goodness, whom we should be loving. Our penance can calm God’s just anger towards us and help us atone for our sins.
Therefore, if we were truly sorry for sinning or even want to become truly sorry for sinning, we would seek a life of penance–according to God’s will–for all our crimes and the sins of the world. If Christ, perfect as He was, bore the cross, as a penance for us, shouldn’t we, great sinners that we are, who are supposed to be following Him, want to do the same.
“Who can look upon Our Lord, covered with wounds and bowed down under persecutions, without accepting, loving and longing for them too?”
–St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
From understanding the gravity of sin and how we don’t deserve anything because of our life of offences against Our Lord, we will want to atone for our sins, desire to console God for all of the offences He received by all His children and live for His will alone so God can use us to help save His children from Eternal Doom.
But tragically most don’t have a horror for sin, since we think lightly of most of our trespasses against God and have little contrition. We go to church and do our works, but we prove we have such little sorrow for offending God, because we put forth little effort into amending our sin, and we don’t seek any kind of real penance to atone for them : choosing pain, discomfort, ridicule, rejection, rejecting pleasure for the cross, etc.
“Holiness means overcoming ourselves. It means having perfect victory over all our passions. It means truly and constantly disregarding ourselves and despising the thing of this world to the point of preferring poverty to riches, humiliation to glory, and pain to pleasure”
–St. Padre Pio
But sadly, most have been deceived into thinking an acceptable penance is saying three Our Father’s and Two Hail Mary’s, but those aren’t the penances true saints, who have the light of true knowledge, performed. Their penance we done to make right their wrongs, to help them to never commit the sins again.
Penance is to be the medicine to cure the illness…To find a cure, we need to learn how to illness (sin) was acquired and what would move the penitant to never want to repeat it again or at the very lease to recommend the opposite of the sin, which is always a possible cure. Then an acceptable penance, that could truly help save the soul, could be found.
We need to learn what the saint have done and seek to obtain a heart of love and desire to amend that can do the same. Below, I list various penances of the saints. True penances is what helps to deliver us to a saving faith; we need our penances.
Obedience of Will is the Greatest Penance
Now we can perform the great penances of the saints but if we don’t have a heart that truly desires to obey perfectly, all will be in vain.
This life of penance–living by way of the cross–is most wonderful, that is, if it is done from a heart of great love for God and neighbor.
If penance is done from a heart just seeking to be saved or to grow holy through ones penances alone, then little or no grace will be obtained. This really isn’t a problem so much today, as it was in the past when great penances were performed but for the wrong reasons. Today, bodily penance is rarely performed at all…never mind for the wrong reason.
Yet, penance is most needed for helping us to obtain a saving faith. But for penance to be effective, it must be done out of at least some amount of fear of the Lord (servial or filial). If we can grow in faith and perform a peancnce not only from needing grace to avoid punishment but also to love God, then the much grace will be sent/received.
And how do we love God? By seeking to perfectly obey Him. We simply can’t love God if we don’t whole heartedly strive to stop offending Him (seek to become a true saint). This relenting of our will–striving to become perfect self-sacrificing saint–through surrendering our wants and desires for God’s is a penance of its own, and is most necessary for other penances to have any real effect.
“[Many] feeling that the word penance implies great austerities, and not feeling that they have the strength for great sacrifices, become discouraged and continue a life of lukewarmness and sin. [However, if this grace from God isn’t within us] the sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life [no laziness/procrastination] and the observance of My law [sacrifice what we want to live The Word]. This is the penance that I now seek and require.” (Fatima)
Even though one may begin to perform simple penances mostly out of fear of punishment (fear of suffering in hell or even purgatory or on earth, if we don’t change), from receiving grace through our willingness to suffer, our love needs to grow into finial fear/perfect love, which is where the great miracles come from. But again, all penance must be derived from a great desire to turn from sin.
“Works of penance performed alone without the above-mentioned virtues [love of God/turning from sin] would please Me little; often, indeed, if the soul perform not her penance with discretion, that is to say, if her affection [hope for salvation] be placed principally in the penance she has undertaken, her perfection [purifying of her soul] will be impeded; she should rather place reliance on the affection of love, with a holy hatred of her[sinful]self, accompanied by true humility [knowledge of ones sinfulness-need for mercy] and perfect patience [in working with God to change], together with the other intrinsic virtues of the soul, with hunger and desire for My honor and the salvation of souls.”
–God the Father to St. Catherine of Sienna
When we have such a heart of love, penance is life changing, as we can see with the saints who performed vast penances for the conversion of sinner. They didn’t perform them because they thought many penances saved or made them holy; they performed them because their hearts grew in such love of God, they couldn’t do enough to love Him. Their hearts burned to make sacrifices and more sacrifices to love God and help save His children. They craved the cross.
We should seek to grow in faith to do the same, because great penances performed from a heart of little love (little desire to stop sinning) are only a mockery to our Lord…He wants a heart of true love to sacrifice.
“To do what is right and just [don’t sin] is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
Therefore, when our love is little our (bodily) penances should be little too, as I explain later. But as I also explain later, not all little penances are from a weak faith. God didn’t make everyone strong to suffer great penances for love of Him and the salvation of souls. Therefore some small penances are exactly what God desires; they are perfect if done from the same heart of love burning to suffer for the love of Him too.
However, if we don’t have real contrition or love right now to move us to perform real penances, the desire to become a saint–to perfectly obey–so to not perish in Hell is a good enough reason to begin.
“The Bodily penance, without obedience, is a most imperfect thing; beginners practice it out of a desire for it, and for the pleasure they find in it’ and therefore because they herein do their own will, they grow in vice, rather than in virtue.”
–St. John of The Cross
Therefore, without seeking to become a true saint, penance or anything else we do that we think is “good” is for not; without a true desire to perfectly obey–live for God’s will perfectly–we reject grace and choose sin instead. We must mortify our will above all.
This kind of true contrition–true love for God–that brings such a great desire for penance, only comes from God. It is a gift. We can want to have this kind of desire for penance–burning desire to suffer–but we simply can’t have it without much grace. Therefore, seeing how much we need grace should cause us to run to God for the grace we need to obtain it.
Hopefully, from this article and the others on this web-site, we are gaining ears that can hear and a real desire to seek out Our Savior, with all of our hearts, for the grace we need to be saved.
The Blessed Mother’s Guidance to a Life of Penance
God sends us so much help to guide us to Heaven. From His Word, His Church, His saints, and His Mother, we have very specific directions on what to do. But the devil makes us stupid; he gets us to think we are the ones’ with the wisdom or they are speaking about some other great sinner…not I, and then we ignore the guidance and warnings from God’s chosen ones.
In Fatima, Portugal, in the early 1900’s when the Mother of God appeared to three children giving them guidance on how to find a saving faith. An angel came and taught the children to “ALWAYS give to the Most High prayers and penance.”
Lucia (one of the visionary children) asked, “How must we do penance?” The Angel answered: “Do penance out of ALL what you will be able [in everything you can do], give a sacrifice [self-denial of pleasure] to God in act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of plea for the conversion of sinners.”
Then a couple of months later Our Lady reiterated the need for penance saying, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say often to Jesus, especially whenever you do penance [giving up something to atone for our sins]: “O Jesus, it [my sacrifice] is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation of the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Yes, our offences against her Son even effect God’s Mother too.
Then again the Blessed Mothers said, “Pray, pray a great deal and make many sacrifices, for many souls go to Hell because they have no one to make sacrifices and to pray for them [and they never receive the graces needed to truly hate all of their sins to embrace forgiving mercy].”
Sadly, even after so many years since the Mother of God’s guidance and help, we still ignore her plea. Oh, many love the Fatima messages, but what are we loving? Do we think she is asking us to pray for other’s conversion? No. She is asking for us to pray for everyone’s conversion (OURSELVES included).
We are a people who simply don’t want to obey. Sadly, we have been deceived so greatly, we don’t agree, understand or think the cross is necessary, and from our pride, we simply don’t humbly listen. Christ gave us His Word. He sent His saints and His Mother to tell us what we must do, and we just don’t listen. We are dying.
The Blessed Mother came to help save our souls. Why are we deaf to her cry? We need to repent and change and listen to her. She wants to guide us to Life. Don’t live a life of pleasure, live a life of suffering and sacrificing for the salvation of souls. Obey the Blessed Mother.
How Do We Obtain a Real Desire for Penance
The grace we need to want to perform penances for the right reasons is given to us from God. Sometimes God sends some grace to us through, lets say, this article. Then little by little we build up a greater desire from making one sacrifice after another. But then other times we are flooded with great sorrow for our sins or sorrow over someone’s need for help and then we run to a life of suffering.
For some of us to grow quickly into a life of penance or to even see our need for penance, we might need to see what our sin has done to ourselves (suffer from our sins) or another (have someone else suffer from our sins). How horrible it is to see what our malice or neglect has done to us or others! When we sin, who suffers the most? Sometimes it is ourselves, but much of the time it is the people God brought into our lives for us to love: our own children, our family, our neighbors, someone God called us to help, but we didn’t. Oh, the punishment of seeing others suffer because of us, is a great deterant from sin and towards a life of penance, as we try to make right our wrongs.
Sadly, much of the time, we don’t change simply from seeing God’s love for us or from the cry from the saints and the Blessed Mother to live a life of prayer and penance, we will only move if we suffer or cause someone else to suffer. Sadly, this is how little we love God…we are moved by pain and suffering. But when we chose a life of penance, from being punished or from any reason, we can receive grace and grow in greater love with God.
Learn How to Sacrifice Pleasure
We can clearly see what a horrible atrocity sin is against God and the horrific punishment even one sin deserves, when we see how all humanity now suffers horrible consequences and deserves death over Adam and Eve’s ONE prideful act of disobedience. We should know the effects of sin. But sadly, most don’t really understand. We greatly lack a horror for sinning.
But even though we deserve death from our sins and no penance could possibly atone for our life time of sins, God doesn’t will us to perform penances beyond our capabilities. But penances He wants from us nonetheless, done for the love of Him/sorrow for sinning and the salvation of souls…not just with the hopes to get out of Hell because of them (even though we can begin our penances with this desire, but it must grow into being done out of love).
This life of penance is The Way. Unfathomable grace is sent to transform our hearts and minds through acts of penance. To help promote this act of love, Lifting Our Values provides “Sacrificial Beads of Love” called a “Piacular Beads” that are stringed beads used to help motivate self-denial of pleasure/our will for the cross and the carrying our crosses God does allow with joy in atonement for our sins for the salvation of souls. They work very well; please buy one or they can be easily made as our instructional videos explains. Please see www.LiftingOurValues.com
When we confess and perform true penances, we will not only be helping our souls, we will be helping the souls of others. Since from God’s mercy, penance sends much grace, when penance is repeatedly performed it is for a continuous interior conversion, so we and others may grow in holiness to gain a:
- Saving faith: to gain enough grace to come to have a continuous truly humble contrite heart that hates all sins so much we would rather suffer death than commit a single sin again against God, whom we should be loving;
- Sanctity: to grow in wonderful love of God so much so we accept enough of God’s grace to remove our punishment which was due for each sin committed after baptism;
- Perfection: to accept the fullness of God’s grace so Our Lord’s love continuously fills us with His complete love making us unable to chose sin.
“Having lost paradise [from sin]…[there is] no other way to enter Heaven except a way of penance and tears [for our sins].”
–St. Anthony Mary Claret
Since we are riddled with sin from Adam and Eve’s sin and our own personal sins, we need penance to Live.
Performing penances throughout one’s life is a beautiful act of love for God and most beneficial, if not absolutely necessary, for salvation. Since we are constantly rejecting so much grace, I don’t see how anyone can obtain enough grace to grow from just a weak faith into a mature saving faith with true contrition for all of our sins–to make our last confession/our last penance at our death with a sincere humble contrite heart that accepts God’s complete forgiveness (becomes justified)–without partaking in all three types of penance during one’s life.
Yet, from the devil’s deception, today, penance–all of its forms–is practically lost.
“Practice a suitable medicine of penance, that a soul for which Christ died may not (which God forbid) die in sin.”
–St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church
Penance — Make Right Our Wrongs
A truly contrite heart wants to make right our wrong. When we do something wrong, and we are really sorry, not just in thought or word alone, but if we have true contrition, we naturally want to make our wrongs right…as best as we can. We want to take responsibility for our errors and correct them.
“You [sinner] have lived on the earth…in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter [by pulling yourself from God, rewarding your sinful self, when you should have been living a life of penance (self-denial) from sorrow for your sins]” (James 5:5).
For example: Lets say your child saved his money to buy himself a new video game player, and you weren’t careful enough and spilled your drink right onto his player ruining it. Wouldn’t anyone (even an athiest) who cared about their error and their child more than him self, want to repair the damage they have made? Nobody with a heart of real love for another would just say, “sorry” and then do nothing more.
If we are really sorry and really care about God, and the great offences we have committed against Him, we will most certainly want to make right our wrongs too. We will want to do penance (all forms of penance).
“Since You allow me time to repair the evil which I have done, behold me, Lord, ready to perform whatever You require of me, whatever You please.”
–St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church
Our nation even does this with its judicial system. Sadly, most of the time, we have to force people to take responsibility for their wrongs so to correct the damage they have done. But if we are truly sorry for our wrongs, we shouldn’t have to be forced to repair whatever damage our sins have made, we will want to do it.
This is what someone does, who has a real heart of sorrow for our sins against God. We don’t just “say” sorry to God and then go on as if we did nothing wrong…doing nothing to try to repair the damage our sins have made. We will humble ourselves, use our energy, make the time and do what is needed…we will embrace God’s forgiveness and seek to repair the damage to God and man.
“We are not exempt from the obligation of doing penance, even after our sins are forgiven.”
–St. John Vienney
But, we can clearly see, the evil one has snuck into our lives and convinced us, that by just saying a prayer or having some feeling of sorrow, we have true love for God and true sorrow for our sins, when by our actions (lack of penances), we have proven, we clearly don’t have that kind of saving faith yet.
No wonder the saints performed such great penances…their sorrow for sin and love for God was great.
“We should not desire any pleasure in this present, mortal and physical life but rather to mourn, bewail and lament our offence, faults, and sins without ceasing.”
–St. Albert the Great
The Consequences of Sin
“What damage do our sins cause to God,” we might ask, as many have been deceived into thinking our sins can’t harm our invincible God. Yet, our sins harm us, others and God so very greatly; we simply can’t even comprehend this reality.
“We shall never, during this life, be able fully to comprehend the entire malice even of a [single] venial sin.”
–St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church
God isn’t just some heartless deity. No, He is all love. He created us in His image with the same heart of love, which has emotions and can most certainly be injured, even in Heaven. Unlike us though, His Sacred Heart is of infinite love, so the injury a single sin causes God is of infinite malice (in different degrees based on the severity of the sin).
“I am more deeply wounded by the small imperfections of chosen souls than by the sins of those living in the world.” –Jesus to St. Faustina
The problem is we have allowed the devil to hardened our hearts, and we don’t understand sin. Now, we have such little love for God and little, if any, fear of sin. When in reality, each and every sin has great effects upon all humanity and Our Creator.
The Consequences of Each Sin:
- Crushes God’s Sacred Heart of Love in Heaven,
- Caused additional suffering for Our Savior at His crucifixion,
- Rejects God’s Way to holiness/Heaven–and chooses evil instead,
- Pushes away God’s love–rejects His grace–hurts our relationship with Him,
- Gains or keeps us in blindness, to The Way, from a lack of grace,
- Keeps us from properly loving/serving God and our neighbor, since from our lack of grace (the means to do good), we can’t properly love or serve God or others,
- Rejects some, if not all, of God’s help in this life,
- Causes untold suffering on Earth, in Purgatory (for the few who obtain a saving faith), and in Hell (for the unfortunate majority),
- Damns us, if we don’t obtain enough grace to grow in faith to gain TRUE sorrow for each and every sin (don’t gain a saving faith).
“God heals the wounds of sin through penance.”
–Pope St. John Paul II
Without growing in faith to obtain true love for God and true sorrow for all of our sins, the effects of sin are unfathomable.
Penance, being done out of, at least, some sorrow and love or even fear of suffering from our sins (desire to stop sinning), delivers much help (grace) so we can desire to leave our attachments and sins of this world and grow into perfect love of God, perfect sorrow and perfect atonement for all of our sins.
“Bear fruits [do penance] worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8)
Types of Penances
There are different ways we can perform acts of penance such as:
- Works of Charity
For any of these to become a means to atone for our sins or to grow in faith so we can one day be able to atone for our sins, they all must be done from having sorrow for our sins (wanting to stop sinning) out of love or fear.
“By decree of the king and his nobles, no man or beast, no cattle or sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast alike must be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; they all must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands. Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 5:8)
To walk towards the Path of Life, penance must be done from a conscious intention of either desiring to love of God (finial fear) or from fear of suffering from God’s just punishments (servile fear) driving our actions.
Penance can also be done to come to know God, to need His help or to obey the Church, but we must desire to stop sinning if we are to hope for grace to be sent to help us at all. However, if we want to be walking towards Life, it must be driven from Fear of the Lord (finial or servile fear). To learn more please read “What is Fear of the Lord).
When driven by Fear of the Lord and our love for God is great enough, our sins are atoned for based on the degree of our love for God.
There are different kinds and degrees of penances we can perform, out of sorrow and love or even fear, to help make right our wrongs. We can do something so simple as pray a prayer or seek great mortification (punishment of our bodies). The saints, who understood well the horror of sin, knew a simple prayer wasn’t satisfactory to atone for their (or others) life time of sins and sought great penances, even though merit comes from our great love for God not necessarily the “act” of penance its self, and that can be from even the least act of charity, if it is done from a heart with great love. But those of great love for God want to suffer greatly, like Jesus did for us, to send much grace, from our act of love, for others salvation.
First Interior Conversion
However, performing great or any penances means nothing to God if we haven’t converted in our heart. Frankly, great outward penances are a mockery to God if our hearts don’t truly want to stop sinning. So one MUST focus on obtaining a heart that desperately wants to love God–to sin no more–before we can even expect to receive any grace from penance.
“Jesus’ call to conversion and penance…does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such [outward] penances remain sterile and false.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1430)
Our first penance must be the conversion of the will. Our hearts must desire to relent our will for God’s as a first step. If we desire to abandon all that leads us away from God (to stop all sin) and do what God desires, then we have a heart that can profit from all forms of penance. The greater our sorrow for our sins and desire we have to become a perfect saint, the greater our will to follow Christ will be, and the greater penances we will be able to perform with real love for God.
“He, who desires for My sake to mortify his body with many penances, and not his own will, did not give Me much pleasure.”
–God the Father to St. Catherine of Sienna
Saving Faith is Needed to Atone for Sin
If we haven’t grown wonderfully in our faith from some faith into a saving faith, from successfully removing sin after sin, growing in fantastic love of God from having a great horror for sin, then from our lack of true love for God, our penances won’t yet send the grace to atone for any sins. To learn more please read, “How to Become a Saint.”
However, our acts of penance are very much needed and will send wonderful, much needed, grace depending upon God’s will, our desire and our willingness to accept the grace. This merciful grace is a gift from God, which is meant to help move us towards a saving faith, sanctity and then perfection.
Sacrament of Penance –Confession
The sacrament of penance, also known as the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), is the main sacrament God gave us to help us to “sin no more” (John 8:11). This sacrament provides us with so much grace that a magnitude of saints such as: St. Pope John Paul II, St. John of the Cross, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Borgia, St. Charles Borromeo, and St. Alphonsus, to name a few, partook in confession daily to receive its blessings.
I’m not suggesting all of us run to the sacrament daily as most don’t have such contrition and awareness of our sins to even benefit from daily confession. However, it is a magnificent gift from God to assist us in the steps we must take to find the Path of Life and grow in holiness.
“It is called the sacrament of Penance [confession], since it consecrates [makes] the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial [the body of faith’s] steps of conversion, penance [to atone], and satisfaction [made into a saint]” (CCC #1423).
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, this conversion everyone needs to undertake in order to gain satisfaction–forgiveness of all of our sins–is accomplished through advancing in holiness through PENANCE–seeking the forgiveness and atonement of our sins.
The sacrament of reconciliation sends us, who are open to receive God’s grace, wonderful help to obtain a saving faith, and then moves us into sanctity and then perfection like the other acts of penance. However, this act is the most valuable of them all.
Confession is so wonderful, Jesus told St. Faustina, as noted in her Diary #1448, that “the greatest miracles” occur in this sacrament. Wow! The transformation from death to life of a soul, can occur in the sacrament of reconciliation, which is the greatest of all miracles. We don’t want to miss out on God’s blessings from penance/confession as they are fantastic and just the medicine we need to heal our brokenness.
However, the sacrament of penance won’t do us much good if we partake in it improperly.To learn more please read the article “How Can I Make A Good Confession.” Properly partaking in confession is how we gain “knowledge of [how to obtain] salvation” since when we are successfully using the grace from confession to remove sin after sin. We are removing the veil that keeps us from understanding The Way by obtaining the “forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Thenwe gain the knowledge we need to seek a saving faith and sanctification.
However, sadly most and I truly mean most of us…even the faithful, don’t partake in the sacrament correctly. To learn how we don’t properly participate in confession please read the article “How Can Bad Confession Damn Us” so we can begin to understand where we are going wrong, change and receive the grace God wants to give us in this most merciful sacrament.
“Be converted, do penance, return to me, live, why dost thou die.”
–Jesus to St. Bridget of Sweden
We Love Our Will
If we want to see how little we really love God and His will, all we need to do is look into how we seek pleasure (our will) and not the cross (God’s will) in our life.
If we only understood our misery and the consequence of sin, we would greatly desire punishment–the cross–for our crimes against God. We wouldn’t dare seek to indulge in the world’s pleasures…wanting a yummy meal, a great vacation or even to watch a fun sporting event, etc…oh, the pleasures of the flesh we desire, they are great–who can count them all!
Yet, we deserve nothing. How can we want all of those pleasures if we have so greatly offended Our Beloved Lord? Even our perfect/sinless Lord didn’t chose that kind of self-indulging life. He chose a life of poverty and self-denial to give us an example of how we are to live to sanctify ourselves. We are supposed to follow Him.
However, we don’t need to crucify ourselves greater than He suffered, but we must crucify ourselves from the desires of sin and the world like He did. Our poverty doesn’t need to be greater than His, but we do need to deny ourselves of the worlds comforts and pleasures for the cross like Our Lord did. He gave us the example to follow…follow Him.
“The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:58)
If we truly had “fear of the Lord” we wouldn’t desire anything of pleasure, not the most comfy pillow or bed–just the cross of Christ…only what we truly need…not what our appetite for comfort wants.
Desire to Atone
We deserve nothing, but coming to this level of faith–to understanding of our misery and truly desiring to atone for our sins and the sins of the world–is a blessing for only a few. Yet, we want to be with the few.
To receive enough grace to seek to atone for our crimes against God (pay the price for our sins committed after baptism), we need to grow in much love of God and in horror for our sins. This is done by examining our conscience, confessing our sins and contemplating God’s passion while praying very much so to gain a burning “fear of the Lord.” The devotion the Precious Blood of Jesus can also assist in gaining such a faith.
“Once I [St. Faustina] was summoned to the judgment [seat] of God. I stood alone before the Lord. Jesus appeared such as we know Him during His Passion. After a moment, His wounds disappeared except for five, those in His hands, His feet and His side.
Suddenly I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it. I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God. I did not know that even the smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for. What a moment! Who can describe it? To stand before the Thrice-Holy God!
Jesus asked me, Who are you? I answered, ‘I am Your servant, Lord.’ ‘You are guilty of one day of fire in purgatory [because your heart hasn’t grown enough in love to atone for all of your sins].’
I wanted to throw myself immediately into the flames of purgatory, but Jesus stopped me and said, ‘Which do you prefer, suffer now for one day in purgatory or for a short while on earth?’
I replied, ‘Jesus, I want to suffer in purgatory, and I want to suffer also the greatest pains on earth, even if it were until the end of the world.’
Jesus said, ‘One [of the two] is enough; you will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish My will and My desires, and a faithful servant of Mine will help you to do this. Now, rest your head on My bosom, on My heart, and draw from its strength and power for these sufferings because you will find neither relief nor help nor comfort anywhere else.
Know that you will have much, much to suffer, but don’t let this frighten you; I am with you'” –Jesus to St. Faustina
Will to Suffer
Desiring penance–seeking a punishment, which we deserve, in an attempt to make right the wrong we or others have made against Perfect Goodness–is a grace from God.
We see many saints, like St. Faustina, who performed great penances for their and even others sins committed against Our Lord, but for most of us, we simply don’t have the grace to want to do that…but we need to want that desire and seek God to obtain it.
St. Margreat Mary Alacorque in her autobiography declared that she was “naturally drawn to the love of pleasure and amusement.” To guilt St. Margret Mary into rejecting pleasure to love God–to bring upon sorrow for her life of indulgence–Our Lord told her, “Wouldst thou take this pleasure, whereas I never had any and delivered Myself up to every kind of bitterness for the love of thee and to win thy heart?”
How can we indulge? Are we worthy of such a life? Our Lord, whom we are to follow, chose a life of no pleasure. Oh, how many countless pleasures do we desire and partake in instead of rejecting them to return love to God? Oh, we of little love.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
The more our heart of love grows in real love with God, the greater our desire for penance will be. We will understand the cross and desire it. When we finally decide we don’t want to live for the world any longer, that we truly want to become a saint.
Then with our efforts to leave the world, we will accept more and more of God’s grace and grow in strength to surrender pleasure for the cross–one pleasure at a time until we don’t desire any of them any more and only desire God. To learn more please read “How to Reject the World and Live for Heaven” (link at bottom of article).
Truly we will hate our life in this world and have a thirst to love God; we want to make right any wrong done against Him, and we know the Cross–which paid the price for our wrongs–is the way to Christ’s Heart of Love.
“To love one’s life in this world means to surrender oneself to bodily pleasure and sin…To hate one’s life means to practice (dutiful) mortification [penance] generously, to deny one’s self-will, to hunt contempt [look for the cross] (when to do so is in accord with duty,) to return good for evil.”
–St. Anthony Mary Claret
Those who truly love God will want to suffer and serve Him with every morsel of our being and are drawn to give their all to God and suffer great crosses.
As we grow in faith and gain more comprehension of the atrocity of sin–and more fully understand the true injury it causes to God’s Tender Heart of Love and the pains of His crucifixion–to show Him our love and console Him for all of the crimes committed against Perfect Goodness, we will seek greater and greater suffering bearing it all with joy.
“What a joy to suffer for Him who loves us” (St. Theresa of Lisieux)
Save Souls Through the Cross–Penance
This act of suffering (act of love) not only loves God and consoles Him, but just like Christ’s sacrifice did for us–God uses our sacrifice to send grace to others–the grace they need to grow in faith for the salvation of their soul.
This is how we save souls–through the cross of Christ. Therefore, penance (mortification)–leaving the world’s pleasures to desire God alone–is necessary for salvation since it moves us to true and then perfect love for God.
Without the suffering of God’s saints, countless souls would never obtain the grace they need at the moment of death to truly hate their sins and would be lost. It is through love (the way Christ loved us)–suffering for our neighbor–that so many souls are saved.
We can do penance for our sin and the sins of the world, from our love, God sends grace to help assist us in our exile so we can move toward the gates of Heaven. Most penance is in the form of a sacrifice/self-denial done for the love of God but it can even be in the form of physical discomfort or even corporal punishment too.
Some people are all confused and prefer some act of physical punishment to their bodies or great fast and think they are pleasing God, when they are’t even living their earthly duties or obeying God’s Word correctly because they don’t want to sacrificing doing what they want to obey God (they love their will)…oh, how foolish these people are. This isn’t want God desires. For some, corporal punishment or some great fast might be a beautiful act of love, but not if they haven’t even disciplined and trained their bodies in love of God through obedience. That penance would be a mockery of sorts and merit no benefit from God. How can we truly love God if we aren’t even trying to surrender our will to perfectly obey Him?
The penance which we all must do is to let go of our will and choose the cross (avoid worldly pleasures when it’s God’s will) from obedience out of love for God and our neighbor. That is a great penance. It is removing our laziness and self-will and choosing to live the “fulfillment of one’s own duty [performing our daily responsibilities correctly] and the observance of my law [obeying the entire Word], here is the penance for which I ask and for which I demand now“ (Jesus to Sister Lucia of Fatima). And Sister Lucia goes on in saying, “He [Jesus] wishes that we make the souls understand that the real penance which He asks for and demands now consists above all in the sacrifice that each one has to impose oneself to fulfill one’s own religious and material duties.”
We don’t have to go out looking for great penances; God has already provided them to us right in our very lives. We just have to look to see them. Oh, how lazy and neglectful we are in our own calling in life from our daily chores to our prayers. We don’t do everything to our best for God’s honor and glory, and we aren’t trying to improve and love perfectly. We even skip prayers and works and don’t properly care for those God gives us to love. We refuse our penances.
Sadly, we run from the cross and want respect. We want to be cared for from those we are supposed to care for. We are looking for love and comfort, not seeking to give love and serve. Sadly, as a result, we don’t even know what true love really is. We think it is making other “feel” happy and loved, but it is showing them the Way. Oh, we fail in living our life’s duties in so many ways. And don’t even know true love from worldly love any more, from rejecting our penances.
What a life of procrastination we choose, as we run from the things we don’t want to do (our crosses-penances). It is shameful. These are the crosses that are ment to grow us towards great holiness, but we reject them. However, if we can’t sacrifice our will, to serve others, suffer as God has allowed, then what kind of penitent are we? What good would any outward penance of great punishment (great fasting, physical discomfort, etc.) be if we don’t even what to obey God’s Word of love? If we don’t desire to love God by seeking to sin no more in every aspect of our life, there is no benefit from some saintly penance?
“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
Truly, without an interior conversion and the grace that delivers, what good is it to greatly fast from food or rest because from a lack of grace, we become horribly grumpy and poorly treat those around us from our hunger or exhaustion? What an abomination of the faith! If we can’t live the faith by loving everyone, even when we are hungry, tired or without something we have become dependent upon, what good will fasting do? We need the faith first. Without God’s grace, we will act so outside of the faith when discomforted, we will disgrace God’s name.
We must want to obey. Fasting plays no benefit for the soul that doesn’t want to discipline their bodies to truly live the Word: that of true love no matter what is occurring in life…especially if we are being mistreated by others. We need to reduce our fast and do something that keeps us living the faith. Then receive the grace from that (what we can do) and then little by little, after much grace is received, grow to perform great fasts out of true love for God and neighbor.
“Bodily penance, without obedience [striving to be perfect according to God’s will], is a most imperfect thing; beginners practice it out of a desire for it…[but] because they herein do their own will, they grow in vice [they will grow in sin from their penance], rather than in virtue” (St. John of the Cross).
Even if we believe we are filling God’s will in our life and obeying His Word then we must know, if we wish to be God’s disciples and follow Him to Heaven, as the Word says, we “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), which really means God is calling us to a LIFE OF PENANCE. We are called to live our entire life–every moment–with some form of self-denial, as the Mother of God and the Word tells us.
Hidden Treasures from Penance
Penance doesn’t atone for our sins until we gain a continuous saving faith, prior to that there are hidden treasures given to us through penance.
These treasures God gives us can be a great surprise. Penance, when done from a heart of real faith, can send bountiful grace to remove habitual sins. Sins we have progressed with removing but still have some remaining desire in our hearts, acts of penance such as fasting, self-denial, etc. God can use to enter deep in our souls to strip us of all liking for the sin…even sinful personalities we have had our entire lives….God can use various penance to bring us to our nothingness for the removal of those sins.
Penance (Punishment for our Sins After Confession)
Technically all penance is a “punishment” for our sins. It is something we must do because of our sins…a consequence.
After we confess our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest is supposed to give us a penance: something we are to do to help make right our wrongs and help us from committing the sin again.
“These [who have arrived at the attainment of general light] feed their souls at the table of penance, and are good and perfect, if their penance be illuminated by discretion, and founded on Me, if , that is to say, they act with true knowledge of themselves and of Me, with great humility, and wholly conformed to the judgement of My Will and not to that of the will of man” –God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena
“Penance should be but the means to increase virtue according to the needs of the individual, and according to what the souls sees she can do in the measure of her own possibility” –God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena
“However, no one should judge that he has greater perfection, because he “performs great penances” –God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena
“You see all this penance [Catherine of Cordova], but verily I esteem your obedience [to your Confessor] as a yet greater virtue” Jesus to St. Teresa of Avila
“Oh, what peril attaches to sin willfully committed! For it is so difficult for man to bring himself to penance, and without penitence guilt remains and will ever remain, so long as man retains unchanged the will to sin, or is intent uponcommiting it. ” –St. Catherine of Genova
“I shall inflict a penance upon you that you will not speedily forget” God to St. Catherine of Genova
“Almsgiving [donating money] atones for sins” (Sirach 3:30)
“For godly grief [guilt/sorrow] produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
more coming soon