Lent and the Works of Penance
February 17, 2013 Lent and the Works of Penance
Lent is a time characterized by works of penance, and I would like to talk about its meaning.
The works of penance are a necessary means in the Christian life, in our path towards holiness. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16,24). But to understand the necessity, we must first know two things.
- First, that holiness is not something for priests, monks or nuns, but for everyone. For young and old, for mothers and fathers, for soldiers or workers. God calls everyone to be a saint. Holiness is not a strange activity that can only be done by certain people, but for everyone.
- Second, holiness is human happiness, because it is communion with God in this life. All creatures are limited, finite, God is infinite: the possession of God through faith and love is the only thing that can satisfy a human heart, as St. Augustine says: “You made us for you, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.
Now it may be easier for us to see the meaning of penance, and the meaning of the renouncements we must undertake for this communion with God.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:44-46). These people had to get rid of their possessions in order to get something much better. Penance is something like this. If we want to reach the beatifying communion with God, if we want to find love, an eternal love, we need to sell everything.
Nothing is worthy of our love but only God. So nothing on earth should be loved by itself, but only in God and for him. And because we find sometimes that, out of love for a creature, we depart from the law of God, we need to willingly deprive ourselves of creatures in order to purify our hearts and make them able to enter in communion with God. “You cannot serve God and Mammon”, said Jesus.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer.29:13). Penance allows us to find God, to enter in communion with him, because it takes away from our hearts those things that are not according to God, our sins, our disorders. And it is so perfect that communion, that any sacrifice is little. It is like a treasure hidden, like a fine pearl. It is worthy.
I guess the Psalm 16 may give an idea of what we have just said. It is a song of David. It is the song of a heart that abides in God alone:
Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: "You are my God.
My happiness lies in you alone."
Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows.
Never will I offer their offerings of blood.
Never will I take their name upon my lips.
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.
The lot market out for me is my delight:
welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let you beloved know decay.
You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever.
May we seek God with all our hearts. God wants to be our all, our complete happiness in this life and in the life to come. May the Lenten practices of prayer, almsgiving and penance, help us to come closer to that communion with God, which is the happiness of our heart.