Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Long Does A Penance Last?

Last night, we had our "Reconciliation Service" for Lent. No, it's not one of those hoky, publisher-created services with long protracted readings, theme songs and some group activity like throwing rocks in a bucket or carrying sand in your shoe or some nunny thing like that. This was old fashioned, show up, fess up Confession.

And we had over 100 people.
Most of them, in my estimation, were young people.
And it was awesome.

The Church may survive after all.

Now, on to today's question from the email bin. A person who made his/her first confession last night wrote:
I do have a question, though; in general, can a penance last for days? I guess I'm asking if a penance is limited to when I just get out of confession. I know this sounds like a silly question...


Actually, a good question.
Some Penances are meant to be done immediately after Confession and Absolution. The priest will literally say, "Pray an 'OUR FATHER' as your Penance before you leave the Church today" or something to that effect.

Some Penances require a lapse in time between the Absolution and Penance. Such as, "Before you go to bed this evening, read over the story of the Good Samaritan and think of how you can help others."

Others do take more time to actually do. "For the next 30 days, say the 'Memorare' before you have your breakfast or check the iphone or read the paper."

And some, hardcore Penances, which are ill advised for priests to give (and short of impossible to carry out in some cases) are lifelong: "For your Penance, stay away from the internet for the rest of your life." That's impossible. Or nearly impossible. Unless you're Amish. Then you wouldn't be in Confession, though.
However, there are some that seek to correct lifelong spiritual illness: "From now on, as your penance, never mention this infidelity again. You are forgiven. Let it go."

In another vein, the questioner may be asking if one can actually keep doing the Penance. And I say, "YES!" If it helps you spiritually and morally, YES! Do it. Often.
Some things I started as Penances, such as no meat on a Friday, have become good practices period for every Friday.
So if it works, do it.
Penances aren't punishments. They are medicinal and curative.
Some of us need an aspirin, others need chemo.
So, under a priest's care, take as directed!