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Penance

A group of Catholic grade school kids came up with the following definition: “Fast days are those in which you are supposed to eat in a hurry.” That explanation may make us smile but we know that fasting is very Catholic. For most of us, the season of Lent is synonymous with giving up something. Fasting is the second pillar of our Lenten observance. This season resounds with the Master’s call: “Deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me!”

Giving up food partially or totally for religious motives is found in virtually every religion. In the Hebrew Scriptures fasting was a means of repentance for sin, of remembrance of God’s deliverance from past sin, of supplication in time of calamity, of mourning for the dead, and of preparation for a great undertaking. In every case, fasting was considered a symbolic act of prayer and humility before God.

Influenced by Hellenistic philosophy, Early Church adopted fasting from food as a way of achieving bodily discipline in an effort to prepare the mind for contemplation and communion with God. When the period of Roman persecution was over, early Christians looked for another way of uniting themselves with the sufferings of Christ. In denying themselves food and drink, they found an effective way of becoming one with Christ on the Cross.

Doing external acts of penance is meaningless if it is not an outward expression of our inner conversion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes this point in the following way:

Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (#1430)

The practice of self-denial has a long tradition in our faith. Even though fasting from food is a good way to practice renunciation during Lent, there are many other ways of following Christ’s call to self-denial. For instance, giving up meat is not much of a penance for me because I enjoy eating fish. Giving up sweets or chocolate would cost me more. Giving up my time for others probably will be the greater sacrifice. For some of us, more than giving up food, being kind to those who are not kind to us will be a more meaningful penance. All of us are called upon to seek out ways to unite ourselves with the Suffering Servant of God.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Give up something meaningful.
  • Spend time with someone who is difficult to love.
  • Listen to an elderly person who tells the same story over and over again.
  • Resist the need to talk badly of another person.
  • Be kind to someone who disagrees with you on certain issues.
  • Be patient with a difficult co-worker.
  • Try not to grumble about Chicago weather.
  • Pray for those who hurt you.
  • Refuse to criticize someone who fails to meet your standards.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in traffic.
  • Delay gratification.
  • Refuse to air your complaints.
  • Don’t protest if someone slights you.
  • Be a humble servant when someone treats you like one.

Let us remember that often the best mortifications are not those that we seek out, but those that come our way. As St John Vianney (The Cure of Ars) said, “There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold, they offer their little sufferings to God.”

By doing these little acts of penance, we attempt to partake in Jesus’ suffering. In some way we are concretely responding to the call of the Master Who said, “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow Me!” It is not the size of our penance that matters. What matters is the spirit with which we mortify ourselves. What matters is our heart.

May we partake of Christ’s suffering in some small way so that we can partake fully in His glory!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068


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Phone: (847) 825-7605
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Mass Schedule

Sunday

7:30 a.m. - Upper Church
9 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
10:30 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
12 p.m. - Upper Church
5:30 p.m. - Upper Church

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8:30 a.m. - Upper Church

Saturday

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4:30 p.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel