Late A Disciple

John Paul II: “To do penance means, above all, to re-establish the balance and harmony broken by sin, to change directions at the cost of sacrifice” (Reconciliation and Penance, 26, emphasis added)

Looking back, it seems to me I was only somewhat converted (if one can say that) to my Catholic Faith when I was a younger man.(*). Even as I supposedly grew in the Faith I failed miserably and sometimes didn’t care. I frequented the Sacraments, even shared the Faith [or at least the Catholic world view]. But for many years I kept one foot in the vanities of this world. I didn’t see it so much then. But I do now.

It was only late that I somehow began to slowly see more and to strive to become more a disciple, a disciple of Him in whom I had intellectually believed.

And that late transition to discipleship was at once a most joyful and the most painful process I have ever experienced because it involved a difficult penitential purgation (**), of my illusions and failures. I began only slowly to existentially see and really understand the seriousness of sin and betrayal which sometimes clouds every aspect of our lives.

Previously my attitude towards sin was, I see now, quite “liberal”— even though I rejected much of theological liberalism, intellectually. Luther still lurked in parts of me from my early brief religious experiences outside of the Catholic Faith into which I was born and baptized as an infant.

Will this painful purgation ever be finally over? I fear not in this life, not until God makes Himself fully known to me, “even as I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12), from “grace to grace”.b (Heb. 12:7-13). Until then we must keep picking ourselves up as we rise and fall up the Mountain of Faith. The Sacrament of Confession was not given for nothing. And penance lasts a lifetime.

As Gibran put it in another context, spiritual growth heals us, “though it burn our lips” for our eternal good. We go to Mass not because we are good. There is none good but God. But we find Christ’s saving grace there, and that love which “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Because penance is the ongoing fruit of His saving, sanctifying Cross. Which is everything. — SH

(*) Born into a nominally Catholic family I was baptized into the Catholic Faith when I was an infant, but I came to a more conscious interest in Christ and faith through Evangelical circles in my late teens. Through an interest in the Church Fathers I eventually returned to the Catholic Church around 1982.

I Am Weak by James Matthew Wilson.

Carlo Carretto on the pain of failing

(**) “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). — Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1431

* 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and **purify us**  from all unrighteousness.”

Mortification and Virtue of Penance According to St. Paul. The Reasons for it’s Necessity. By Reginald Garrigou Lagrange.

“Not only does St. Paul affirm the necessity of mortification, but he gives the reasons for it which may be reduced to four; they are precisely those which are disregarded by practical naturalism. The mortification of all that is inordinate in us is necessary:

(1) because of the consequences of original sin; 2.) because of the results of our personal sins; 3.) because of the infinite elevation of our supernatural end; 4.) because we must imitate our crucified Lord.

Virtue of Penance

“Considering these different motives, we shall see what interior and exterior mortification is for St. Paul. It is attached to many of the virtues, since each one excludes the contrary vices, and particularly to the virtue of penance which ought to be inspired by love of God, and which has for its end the destruction in us of the consequences of sin as an offense against God. (*)

A Virtue

[* Note: St. Thomas in IIIa, q.85, a.2.f., says penance is a special virtue which labors to efface sin and it’s consequences, inasmuch as sin is an offense against God. Wherefore penance is a part of justice, and, inspired by charity, it commands other subordinate virtues, in particular temperance, as exemplified in fasting, abstinence, vigils.

“A distinction may be made between mortification, properly so-called, which depends on the virtue of penance, and mortification in the broad sense, which depends on each virtue, inasmuch as each one rejects the vices that are contrary to it. Correctly speaking, we cannot repent of original sin, but should labor to diminish those of it’s results which incline is to personal sin”].

— from Three Ages of the Interior Life, 1947, Herder Book Co. Vail Ballou Press, Inc. Binghamton and New York.

The Word of Life

1 John Chapter 1

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have gazed upon and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life. 2And this is the life that was revealed; we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.

3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And this fellowship of ours is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write these things so that oura joy may be complete.

Walking in the Light (John 8:12–29)

5And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you: God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

6If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us.

St. Francis de Sales

Consoling Thoughts on Sin and True Repentance by St. Francis de Sales

“The persons for whom I write are those only who are determined not to commit any fault deliberately, though many fall through surprise, inadvertence, and weakness, notwithstanding their resolution.

It usually happens that such persons are astonished and troubled at their faults, conceive a false shame for them, and fall into vexation and discouragement. These are the effects of self-love, and are much more pernicious than the faults themselves. We are surprised at falling: an evident mark that we scarcely know ourselves. We ought, on the contrary, to be surprised at not falling more frequently, and into more grievous faults, and to return thanks to God for the dangers from which He preserves us. We are troubled every time that we are beguiled into some fault, lose interior peace, are agitated, and spend hours, even days, thinking of it.

We should never be troubled; but when we find ourselves on the ground, arise tranquilly, return to God with love, ask His forgiveness, and reflect no more on what has occurred, unless when it is necessary to accuse ourselves of it.

We have a false shame for our faults; we can hardly venture to discover them to our confessor. “What idea will he have of me after so many promises, so many assurances, I have given him?”

If you declare your faults simply and humbly, he will have more esteem for you. If you have a difficulty in telling them to him, his confidence in you will diminish on account of your want of sincerity.

But the worst of all is that we are vexed at being vexed, and impatient at being impatient. What a misery! Should we not see that this is pride, that we are humbled on finding ourselves less holy than we had imagined, that we aspire to be exempt from imperfections and faults only in order to applaud and congratulate ourselves on having spent one day or week without much matter of reproach?

In fine, we are discouraged; we abandon our exercises one by one; we give up prayer; we regard perfection as impossible, and despair of arriving at any such height. What will this constraint, we say, this continual watching over oneself, this struggle after recollection and mortification, avail us, since we correct nothing, fall incessantly, and never become better?

There is not a craftier snare of the demon than this. Would you wish to be protected from it? Never be discouraged, and no matter what fault you happen to commit, say: Though I should fall twenty times, or a hundred times, a day, I will arise at every fall, and pursue my course. What does it amount to, after all, that you should have met with some accidents on the way, provided you safely reach the journey’s end? God will not reproach you after your recovery.”

— From Consoling Thoughts on Trials of an Interior Life by St. Francis de Sales

Gifts Unexpected: A Novella by Stephen Hand


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