People who love our Lord and want to please Him make penances a part of their life. This is not only good, but necessary. Sometimes, though, the penances become an end in themselves, instead of a means to an end. In this article I am speaking of penance as a means to free ourselves from attachment to ourselves, the world and any snares that Satan will place in our thoughts. This, in turn, will help us to grow in accepting things that we don’t like.
Penances should lead to a deeper charity. If they don’t, they are worse than useless because they will lead to pride. St. Paul of the Cross used to talk about God’s penances…the things that our Lord put in our daily lives.
When we choose a penance, we might be off track. For instance, I might choose to take less sleep. If it makes me a she-bear, though, it is not the penance for me! Or I may choose something that does not take into account people who depend on me, for whom I am responsible.
It can be a bit humorous when we really think about it…we have ideas of doing arduous penances, but we won’t accept with humility the rather common hitches in daily life! Yet these are exactly what our Lord is asking of us.
God knows the areas that we need to work on in our lives. When we choose something, even a very difficult penance, it is still our choice. There is less of “self” in God’s penances, and those are the best kind. He will put us in situations that help us to grow in those areas in which we need help.
Just think of some things that happen in a regular daily life…having to wait in traffic or in a store; someone makes an unkind remark; feeling depressed or lonely; illness or the illness of someone close to you; the death of a loved one. The list could go on and on, from the small to the devastating. We should not overlook these daily events, because they come from our loving Lord. He either sends them or allows them, but either way it is His love meeting us face on.
After saying all of that, I am not implying that we should not choose our penances. The main thought is that we should first of all accept what our Lord asks…these really hit the mark and will help us grow in His love and come to love other people more truly.