Monday, March 16, 2015

Fr. Perrone: Reflections on penitential discipline mid-way through Lent

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, March 15, 2015):
Over the years I’ve maintained a certain childlike (my detractors would say ‘childish’) attitude towards Lent. I still believe in the value of penitential practices of self-denial, such as giving up desserts and sweets (a favorite thing in Lent for kids in my day), fasting for the forty days (as adults once did in former times), and the avoidance of entertainments. When modernity hit the Church, in the later ‘60s and after, such things were regarded with disdain, as unworthy of mature Catholics. Reading the bible for Lent (a thing much talked about but not much observed), doing good for the needy (harder to practice than to talk about), going to Mass more often during the week (this was sometimes done)–these were thought substitutes for the works of penance for a Catholicism come of age. While those alternative things are good in themselves–but not diligently followed–a dimension of the spiritual life was missing in this new, positive emphasis. Doing the harder things was an admission of the fallenness and weakness of human nature which can be remedied only by hard measures. Would that there was an easier way to self discipline apart from them! When it became evident that Catholics were losing the “salty” distinction, it was almost too late to turn back to those discarded disciplines which had come to be regarded antiquated and unworthy of human dignity. The road back to a more circumscribed observance of Lent is difficult for anyone to find once it’s been abandoned. I’m glad to see now that some young families have recognized the value of doing penance and are instilling this virtue into their children once again. “Unless you do penance, you will perish,” are God’s words. There really is no substitute for ascetical (penitential) practices, the good of which does not lie in their severity but in the healthful outcome they offer for having a greater freedom to live as a true disciple of Christ. My encouragement is to keep going in your Lenten resolves and, should you have relaxed them, take them up once again.

This brings me to say that we have now arrived at Lent’s midpoint, today being Lætare Sunday. It’s a very Catholic thing, don’t you know, that when one is carefully observant of the rules that one can also, at the right moment and prudently, let up on the restraints and celebrate. I’d go so far as to say that only one who has experienced a lack or privation of some good thing fully knows it’s value. Conversely, no one appreciates a thing less than one who is spoiled, having all, all of the time. One of the little beauties of Lent is that at this time the Church, with the finishing line of Easter day in view, can bid us to rejoice. This is the meaning of Lætare Sunday, with its rose-colored vestments, the return of the organ and with flowers placed on the altar. And so, celebrate a little today, not to lose what you may have gained, but to increase your eagerness to attain the spiritual rewards of Easter. Perhaps I’ll just have some ice cream today (there go my childish ways again).

One more joyful note is the approach of Saint Joseph’s Day, March 19th, which falls this year on Thursday of this week. With all due respect to the Irish observance of Saint Patrick’s on Tuesday, Saint Joseph is a saint of universal relevance and importance for the Church....

Fr. Perrone

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