As we begin the Lenten Season of the Church’s year if you attend Mass today you will have your forehead signed with an ash cross. Here we have a reminder that we are not just to live by faith but that repentance and penance are a very important aspect of growing in faith and love of God.

We live in a world that places a very high premium on being comfortable. We do not like inconvenience and we certainly do not freely choose to be inconvenienced if we can avoid it! This is simply a sign of the times and the more wealthy a person gets, the more likely they will be to ascribe to the aforementioned set of values. There is nothing wrong with these attitudes in themselves so long as we remember that we are sinners and are willing to repent and do penance for our sins. Penance is not just God punishing us for doing the wrong thing. In fact, God is not interested in punishing us at all! Penance has everything to do with teaching ourselves that lasting conversion only comes hen we are willing to die to ourselves and submit ourselves totally to the Spirit of God.

Penance has been an essential aspect of the Church’s spiritual heritage from the beginning. Sin has effects that damage the communion of the Church and our relationships with one another. Sometimes penances can directly address such damage such as righting slanderous accusations or repaying money that was stolen. When such direct reparation is not possible, the Church teaches us that spiritual reparation will suffice. This can involve an act of charity or even physical denial such as fasting.

There are numerous ways in which penances can be formed but the most important aspect is always the state of the penitent’s heart. If the motivation or attitude of heart is wrong then the penance will not be as effective as it should. We should always seek to act out of love for God and our neighbor and if this is not our motivation then we should stop and attempt to rectify our motivation before proceeding with the penance or any other kind of act for that matter.

As we enter into the spirit of Lent this year, let us choose a penance that will be felt and at the same times will direct us towards deepening in our love for God and one another. Let us not just give up our favorite TV show but spend the spare time gained praying or doing an act of charity such as visiting the sick or something similar. Let us not just give up our favorite food but give what we save from this act as alms to the poor.

What penance am I going to take on this Lent? How will I direct this penance so that I will be able to grow in my love and service of God?

Jesus, you gave up the glory of heaven in order to come among us as a man and so be our Savior. Help me to embrace this penitential system with a clear intention of growing in faith and holiness. Help me to learn to love you and my neighbor more each day.