September 28, 2012 – Penance = Good

I have a few things rattling in my brain this evening, so this will be one of those “let’s start typing and see where things go” kind of blogs.  First of all, I haven’t said a whole lot lately about our website (www.maryhoc.org) and how thinks are going.  I’m happy to report that traffic continues to be good and people still seem to be getting some use out of it.  So far this month, there have been 930 hits, averaging well over 30 a day, which I think is very good.  This does not include the visitors to the blog and to our church and school Facebook pages.  So I am more than happy with our usage rate.  One of the cool things to me is that it’s not just people in the area who are using it.  I spoke to a couple last weekend from Florida who are following St. Mary’s from the sunshine state.  So thank you all again for continuing to use our technology, and for continuing to spread the word about it.

This past week our parish council met in regular session.  One of the subjects discussed was the continuing elimination of jobs and cutting of funds for essential programs at the diocesan level.  Much of this is attributed to the continuing decrease in contributions to the Catholic Services and Ministry Appeal.  As of August 23, the appeal had collected slightly over $1 million, or about 68% of the goal of $1.5 million.  Part of this I’m sure is the economy, but part of this I’m sure is also a lack of willingness to contribute funds to a Bishop some do not consider trustworthy.  As has been stated here before, these funds do not go directly to the Bishop.  Rather, they go to fund various programs for the poor, educational programs, grants, salaries, and other things.  As these funds continue to dwindle, these programs will not be able to provide as they have in the past, and positions that become open will not be filled.  This will leave parishes and departments to have to do more for themselves, and they will have to proceed without the training, guidance and support that they had been accustomed to.  We as a parish have been very generous to the appeal, having exceeded our goal for many years.  However, only about a third of the parishes have been able to meet their goal this year.  If at all possible, it is never too late to make a contribution to the CSMA if you haven’t already done so, or if you could add a little more to what you have already contributed.

This past week also had me thinking about Penance.  No, I havent done anything rash such as become a Cub fan that would drive me directly to the confessional (at least nothing I know of).  But there were some things that I saw that got me thinking a little bit.  This past Sunday for PSR our first chapter hit on things that keep us from loving God as much as we should, more specifically original sin, and the two levels of sin that we commit – venial and mortal sin.  Then in our Fanning the Flame discussion group we talked about the declining sense of morality in our culture.  Finally, I read an article from Timothy Cardinal Dolan about the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur and the purpose of it to their faith.  For them it is a time of repentance, a time to start anew.  Cardinal Dolan listed many examples of things Catholics used to do as a means of repentance that are no longer done as often if at all.  These included frequent confession, examining our conscience and saying our act of contrition at night, attending Mass and confession on First Friday, and many others.  Practices and traditions will of course change over time, but the fact that we need to do Penance will never change because we are imperfect beings with a tendency to sin.  Here is a link to Cardinal Dolan’s article:

http://blog.archny.org/index.php/where-is-our-catholic-yom-kippur/

So the question becomes why we have discarded many of these acts of penance and why we do not seek forgiveness as often as we should.  I think part of it is what I briefly touched on earlier – that we are losing our sense of morality.  We continue to put leniency into what we consider right and wrong, and even when we do something wrong, we don’t put the blame on ourselves but rather on our background, on the people and culture around us, etc.  I think another reason is that people think of penance as a punishment, and of course we never look forward to being punished.  Finally, I think just as some people feel that they can just pray for themselves and not have to attend Mass, people feel that they can simply ask for forgiveness on our own and God will grant it.

Can you tell God that you’re sorry on your own, without going through a priest? Of course you can. But it’s not the same as true penance. There is a grace that God gives us through each of the Sacraments – we believe that He is truly present. It’s also why they are so important in the practice of our Catholic faith. This grace doesn’t mean that we will never ever do anything wrong ever again – we are human and will continue to sin. But this grace strengthens us, brings us closer to God and stops the downward spiral of sin before our relationship with God becomes too severely damaged. Also, penance is not about punishment – it’s about making amends.   It’s not enough to just tell someone you’re sorry.  You have to really mean it. They need to forgive you. You have to at least attempt to somehow make up for whatever you did that hurt them.  And so it is with God. And that’s why we have penance.  And that is why even though penance can be a humbling experience, it is a good thing for us to participate in.

As I finish this my Redbirds are up 9-1!  It’s shaping up to be a good weekend!  Have a great week.  Peace.

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