29/52 – Penance

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​Penance is a funny thing. Well, not funny, but you know what I mean. It’s not the stereotypical say one Our Father, and three Hail Marys. It can be that, but it’s not always that. In the times that I’ve gone to reconciliation and received a penance to do it is usually related to what it is that I feel I needed to confess at that moment.

It’s almost never a punishment. Punishment is not the point of giving a penance. Whatever I’m reconciling has taken me further away from G-d, and the penance is supposed to bring me back; set me back on the right path.

After missing a couple of masses, I wasn’t surprised that I was asked to attend one of the daily masses this week. Sure. I wanted to get back to them, but then I realized that this week’s masses are all scheduled for 7am instead of 9. Oh boy. I can do it. I put Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in my cell phone’s alarm, and figured I could make at least one of those.

Who would have thought that Monday morning would have me up so early?

My alarm went off, and I was immediately like who set an alarm for 6:30? Oh yeah.

No snooze. Got up, got dressed, grabbed my purse, silenced my phone, and stepped out of the house. The screen door closed behind me. [I call it a screen door – there is no screen, but for some reason that’s what it’s called to me.] I closed it quietly; everyone in the house was asleep.

I was immediately struck by the cool air on my face. It stopped me, and I stood for a moment, listening to the early morning sounds.

There were none.

The air smelled fresh, the animals were still, the sky was bluish, and I was filled with gratitude that my morning was going to start with mass.

I arrived at church, and this week’s mass has been moved to one of the parish center rooms. Vacation Bible School is taking place in the church. The room is a more intimate setting. There were no missals; it’s hard to remember everything that needs to move over for the mass – the hosts, the wine, water, the priest’s vestments, the Bible, and whatever else is hidden right in front of us during the daily service.

I looked around the room, seeing the usual people who come to the daily mass, but everyone was sitting closer to each other. The front two rows were still empty. You know, you come lat, you sit in the front.

We opened with a song that everyone knew. Everyone sang.

The first reading spoke to me. It was a little depressing, but I was hoping it was coupled with a more uplifting Gospel. Numbers 11:4b-15 was Moses complaining to G-d about the people he was having to deal with. Who of us hasn’t been there? Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? Why are you punishing me? Why am I responsible for these people?

Boy, can I relate! This week is already too much, and it’s only Monday. I have gishwhes. The kids have VBS, which for me is a lot of driving back and forth. I have this website (which I love, and I love to do, but it is most definitely work and a responsibility. We’re planning our trip, and getting everything ready for it, tying up some loose ends. For all the wonderful things happening, there is a stress that is a constant, bubbling under the surface. Every little whine or moan from someone around me grates like nails on a chalkboard, but it also picks at my patience. I really feel Moses’ pain.

The Gospel, however (Matthew 14:13-21), while representing Jesus’ pain of the loss of John the Baptist and his wanting to be alone, he is still there for his followers. He nurtures them as a parent does, putting Himself second to His people. He feeds them. And I have no doubt that as night fell, and the cold air surrounded them, he made sure they were warm. He knows what they need before they ask, and he takes care of it.

He needs his own time, but he puts that aside for the benefit of others.

I’m not that selfless.

But when mass was over, I slowly walked to my car, knowing I would have to turn around and come back in an hour to bring the kids back, and it was good.

It was exactly what I needed.

Reflection on Reconciliation

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​Tuesday night was my parish’s annual Communal Reconciliation Service for Lent. (We also hold one for Advent as well.) This Lenten service lets me reflect on sins and good deeds and everything in between. I’m mulling over a couple of reflections as I pray and contemplate my sins I’ve committed and what I want to ask absolution for.

The service itself is about an hour long with a short service, that includes what is typical for a daily mass: a reading, responsorial, and a Gospel reading with a reflection in place of a homily. After that we all recite the rite of reconciliation together and are given our penance. We then have the opportunity to confess and receive absolution individually with a priest. The lights are dimmed and we choose our line. There are four priests in four different areas of the church for privacy. Playing the piano begins.

Our director of music is on hand for the musical portions of the service, and he remains to play at this time sharing several quiet, contemplative selections. It is the predominant sound echoing through the chapel, bouncing and being enhanced by the church’s acoustics. That, along with the buzz of a few quiet conversations lays the groundwork for the continuation of reflecting on what we want to say to the priest. There are young adults from the confirmation class lining up in large numbers, some looking a little uncomfortable while they wait, but still talking and laughing a little bit. This is not their first confession.

I think for as important as reconciliation is, and it is important, it is also beneficial to remember that this is a routine; it’s a normal part of the everyday life of the Catholic. It is not anything scary nor should it cause apprehension even though for many of us it does a little bit. The one thing to remember is that lack of judgment that greets you in the confessional. The confession itself and the absolution received is often a relief, and sadly it barely lasts the commute home.

There is that split second of a moment – it might last as long as two minutes where I am without sin, absolved of everything, a clean slate to try anew to be a better person, a better example, a better disciple of Christ.

Sinlessness.

And then it’s gone. As I notice a hairstyle, or curse at the traffic; or the rain. I come home to arguing kids and can’t find the charity that I give to strangers.

But right now, at this very moment, I am free of sin.

There is also the non judgment of my pastor as I alluded to above. He greets me as a friend, calling me by my first and last name, that funny way that people do sometimes, with a grin and a twinkle in their eye. The smile is there to make me feel at east, but not simply for ease’s sake but because he lives the Gospel and confession, reconciliation, penance and absolution are simply one more part of it. One fo the sacraments that allow us to continue our journey and accept the other sacraments and responsibilities of Christianity. One more piece to this spiritual puzzle. He also commented on my shirt which sparkled in the candlelight.

Penance is not punishment as in you were bad, now you are punished. Penance is a consequence. Punishment can be avoided; consequences cannot.

Confession, Penance, and Individual Mandate

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​As a writer, I tend to overshare. 

If I talk about some good deed I’ve done or random act of kindness or whatever, I’m never trying to get a congrats or a pat on the back. I like to show people how easy it is to be kind, to be patient, to simply be nice. I’m not better at it; I just try to be aware of the opportunities when they arise, and in sharing them, I think it shows everyone how the smallest things can affect people.

The same goes for my spiritual postings. If I can feel this, so can you; if you want to. And I do truly believe that we all learn from each other; from each other’s mistakes and from our smallest of victories.

By that same token, I never know if I’m supposed to write about and share the penances I’m given. There is nothing better than that moment my priest says, you are absolved. Second to that is the satisfaction of having completed a penance, whether difficult or easy, rote or inspired. Although honestly, none of them are easy or rote.

In my growing up and seeing confessions on television, I’ve always thought of them as your deepest, darkest secrets that are supposed to be kept hidden away, never to be talked about again.

What I’ve found in practice is much different.

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Penance

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Tonight was our parish’s Communal Penance Service. There was no Mass, but there was music and contemplation and an opportunity for individual reconciliation. In addition to our pastor, there were four other priests hearing confessions and absolving. While we’re waiting our turn, the lights are dimmed and our music director plays several hymns on the organ. There is time to think and meditate on our sins and our transgressions.

When it was my turn my priest took my hands in his, and said my name. I’m still only comfortable going to my own priest, although the whole process of contrition can be quite nerve-wracking for me; it’s still new to me. His eyes are both serious and twinkly. He has such a good soul, a kind soul; it radiates outward and is such a comfort. I got very lucky when I wandered into this church three years ago. Someone (clearly) was watching out for me.

I expressed my regret and sorrow for my sins. I named two specific ones, and at the moment that his hand touched my forehead, his open palm on my head, his words on my heart; when he says that I am absolved, I can feel the weight lift. It is a weight that I don’t realize I’ve been carrying until it is gone.

I think I am finally ready for Easter. I’ve gotten through this first year as a Catholic (a reflection for a later time), Good Friday is approaching and the Lenten season is coming to a close. I’ve been trying to use these daily reflections to show myself how much I really do meditate on the words of my life, not only the Scriptures but all the words of my life.

Penance is part of those meditations, and contemplations, and absolutions, and forgiveness.

It is also a reminder that I am somebody even if I’m still trying to figure out who that somebody is.