Gift of Penance

Craving that chocolate you gave up for Lent?

The Christian Lenten season is a period of self-sacrifice. It is a time of self-denial, almsgiving, increased prayer, and acts of charity. These are things we do to remember Christ’s suffering in a small way.

Those who are unaccustomed to fasting are particularly interested in this practice. The Catholic obligation is for all members who are more than 18 years-old but have not reached the beginning of their 60th year to observe a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by limiting food consumption to one meal plus two very small ones. We also abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent.

In my book, Grieving with Mary, I explain fasting in this way:

“Fasting is a deliberate action practiced in many religions to assume a sense of suffering. For Christians it is an imitation of Christ and his suffering on the cross. Moses (see Exodus 34:28) and Jesus (see Matthew 4:2) both fasted for forty days. Jesus did not need forgiveness, but by fasting he showed us how we may approach the Lord. Our fasting is an expression of sorrow for the ways in which we fail to honor God. It symbolizes our acceptance of the responsibility we take for the sins of humanity. It is a form of doing penance for the forgiveness of sin and an effort to reconcile with God.

Jesus said that he is the bread of life. If we go to him we will never be hungry (see John 6:35). Fasting is a sign that we believe this to be true. Jesus is the only nourishment that we need.” 

 Ironically, the holy Saint Theodora had a practical attitude toward fasting. She wrote to Sister Maria on February 25, 1854, “If you think in conscience that you can fast without becoming exhausted, I permit you to do so; but if you perceive that you suffer too much from it, that you are weak and sick, you must not continue.”

Saint Theodora knew that the ability to teach and perform the demanding physical requirements of their work was more important than the desire to fast.

Whether we fast or not is not the point of Lenten observance. The goal is to consciously and deliberately act throughout these forty days in such a way that moves away from and shows remorse for our sins. This may seem like a big effort on our part but really is only a token gift to Jesus for his immeasurable gift of salvation.

2013, Mary K. Doyle

This entry was posted in Catholic, Christian, prayer, Religion, Saint, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, Saint Theodora and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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