The truth is, at first sight, penance scares us. Maybe we just don’t want to do it, or maybe we think that we can’t. But this attitude is the destruction of the life of Grace because it is the opposite of Christ’s life.
Penance, though bitter, is as necessary for us as food and water. But this bitter food carries a spiritual sweetness above anything earth can offer. Plus, God has surrounded it with uncountable blessings, having made it the portal of every joy. If this is not enough to make us do penance, our good Father in heaven has given us a tender Mother to train us in its practice.
How does a child take his bitter medicine? He takes what he doesn’t like through the coaxing of his Mother. Now Mary invites us to do penance at Lourdes and at Fatima. Her life was indeed a life of sorrows to which there is no comparison in the history of the world. But that is exactly what Penance is, sorrow for sin. Penance is essentially sorrow for sin with a firm resolution to repair for it and not to do it again. By sorrow for his sin, a man recognizes his misdeed against God who is the fountain of all goodness and the lover of souls.
This is the first thing in doing penance: that we acknowledge who we are and that we have offended God. We have contradicted His will, forgotten His love, been ungrateful to His benefits and despised His graces.
The second thought, the thing that can help us persevere in the Grace of Penance, is the thought of Jesus and Mary.
In the midst of Christmas joy, while Mary held Jesus in Her arms, Simeon prophesied: “Behold, this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34). Fr. Faber says that these words filled the soul of Mary with inexpressible sorrow and She was given the knowledge of every detail of the future Passion of Christ. In other words, as Jesus desired His passion from His conception, Mary got that grace 40 days after His birth. From Presentation Day on, Jesus and Mary were united in a symphony of sorrow, a life of penance.
This deep truth teaches us exactly how to practice penance. It is not necessarily daily scourging or frequent fastings on bread and water, though no good Catholic can deny the value of these penitential acts in which the saints excelled. The deepest form of penance, the most practicable by all and the most necessary to all, is to keep continual sorrow for sin before our mind by keeping the sorrows of Christ in our hearts.
Are you sitting at a keyboard at work? In union with Mary let Christ’s sorrows occupy an important part of your mind even as you do menial keyboard tasks. Your typing hands and tired eyes are in the very image of those nailed hands and those eyes seeking for hearts that are seeking for Him. That is how Mary lived. She saw the little baby hands and She knew one day they would be nailed to a cross. She looked into Jesus’ eyes and looked at the souls He was seeking. Every movement in Christ’s life was accompanied by interior sorrow, and true compassion in the Heart of Mary.
In every task of our daily lives during this Lenten season, we can re-live this life of Mary. Like Her, let us see ourselves as She does, sinners, wandering along a path of vice instead of virtue. With Mary, let us see in every tree a cross, in every hand a nail, in every work a divine burden. Let us do all our daily works in this spirit of union with the man of sorrows. In this way our conversion will be renewed.