There is no lesson the human heart learns more poorly and forgets so readily as the lesson of penance and its place in the Divine economy of redemption. In our contemporary world, with a cult that is greater slavery than any religious system could ever be, we are all making a god of pleasure and comfort, and go to infinite pains in trying to avert from our lives the saving salt of suffering and self-denial, penance and sacrifice.
Deny Yourself and Take Up Your CrossAnd yet we have the word of Christ himself telling us in no uncertain terms that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The life of Christ was a long novitiate of penance that culminated in Calvary's supreme sacrifice. From the crib to the cross there was agony and suffering, the like of which no man before or since has ever undergone. And it was only by spilling his own blood that the great work of man's salvation was effected by the Man of Sorrows.
The crushing weight of sorrow and suffering spared not the Virgin Mother who had also to pay for her close association with Jesus by drinking of his chalice. Simeon, in speaking to Mary said: “and you yourself a sword will pierce (Luke 2:35)" John also states that: “…there stood by the cross his Mother” (John 19:26). If her Son was the Man of Sorrows, she needs must be the Mother of Sorrows.
And so it has been with all posterity. Down through the ages, whoever has aspired to follow Christ has found the road led along the Way of the Cross. The bloody mantle of Christ has been held out to all people who in their love and admiration for the Son of God have reached up to grasp something of his crown and glory. There is no escape from this fundamental principle. There is no other means of salvation.
Mary – “I have suffered for you…”"How long a time I have suffered for you," Mary cries through her tears at La Salette. There were roses draped about her, it is true, but there were also chains upon her shoulders, and from her resplendent neck there hung the cross with its live, bleeding Christ. Her tears were due to sins of people, and especially to their lack of obedience and penance that made them violate the laws of God and of the Church of Christ.
At Lourdes Mary repeats three times the word "penance", indicating the crying need of our modern age, and the only means by which each individual person can hope to work out and accomplish his or her final destiny —eternal salvation.
Lent – a time of prayer and penanceThe Church cycle swings around once more into the Lenten season of prayer and penance, and from a thousand pulpits will go forth that fervent petition urging people to do penance for their sins. Throughout the Catholic world that traditional scene will be repeated with all its symbolic meaning when people, old and young, rich and poor, will come to the altar and humbly bow their heads to receive the blessed ashes imposed with the significant words: ''Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." That great period of public penance will be marked by special devotions, prayers, and determined days of fast and abstinence.
The Church is never more the Mystic Christ, like to her founder, than when she puts off her ornaments and festal garb, and follows her program of sacrifice and penance. Her members are never more truly followers of Christ than when they turn from feasting and rejoicing to think on the things of eternal value, to do penance and to pray. However repugnant these days may be to us weak people, we are nevertheless in this "acceptable time" in which the seed of eternal life will ripen in our heart.
Though a life of penance may be cold and repellent to human eyes, in the eyes of God it is the only rational and normal life for a humanity bent on fulfilling the end of his existence, meeting the Father face-to-face in heaven. In the alchemy of suffering and self-denial, our heart is purified of worldly dross and earthly desires, of sin and imperfection; the divine image to which it was created stands out more clearly and distinctly; the heavens are opened to the prayers of that person, and in its inmost recesses those blessed words are heard once more: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
It is an unwritten law of divine ordinance that no person shall taste of the joy of eternal resurrection who has not put his lips to the brimming cup of Calvary's bitterness. To every person during this Lenten season, Christ is whispering that momentous challenge: " Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). If we are true followers of his, whatever our cross may be, we must bravely reply, in his own words: “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Matthew 26:42.).
(Reprinted from the La Salette Publication, Our Lady’s Missionary, February, 1934, pg. 28)