March 2009 - Beneficial Penance

We have a visceral dread regarding Lent. As a living oyster touched by a drop of lemon juice, we close up tightly when our comforts are threatened, our greatest fear being to have to give them up. We instinctively hate all that opposes our ease.

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

We have a visceral dread regarding Lent. As a living oyster touched by a drop of lemon juice, we close up tightly when our comforts are threatened, our greatest fear being to have to give them up. We instinctively hate all that opposes our ease.

Once we become habitually led by these instinctive reactions, our intelligence simply fails to see that we have become slaves of our senses. The noble faculties of our soul, intelligence and will, are still there, but we don't give them their place.

We live in a spiritually barren time.

Is Lent really a sinister time to be endured each year, as the sad crowning of an already extremely long and painful winter? Shouldn't it be rather a time of joy and hope?

First of all, let us be rid of this instinctive heaviness that brings us down to the level of animals and prevents us from rightly appreciating the beautiful realities of our life. If we do not make this vital effort, we will confuse joy and pleasure, hope and satisfaction, whereas these realities are of a quite different order.

But let the idea or the desire for declaring war against pleasure as such be far from us. Pleasure is good when it is rightly used, as a means to obtain an end. It is the necessary means by which our sensitive nature helps us to attain our end. Thus, we find legitimate pleasure in eating and this pleasure leads us to sit at table, to sustain and keep us in life. When disease visits us, our sensitive nature withdraws into itself and we lose any appetite. The pleasure of eating dies out, and we can even develop a violent disgust against food. If the pleasure dies completely, we find ourselves in danger of death and those around us must resort to artificial means to keep us alive. Pleasure, as we see, plays an essential part in our lives: it is necessary, but it is not an end in itself.

When, in spite of common sense, we choose to take it for an end, we slide into madness. How could a spiritually healthy man confuse means and end? The use of a fork is certainly an excellent means for taking our nourishment, but not the reason of our presence at table. When this confusion is introduced into the moral order, it is not only madness; it becomes a sin, a voluntary insult against God and His Love. Sin is an immeasurable disorder by which man tries to become his own god by reversing the order of means to end. "You will be like gods!" says the old satanic deception and, as usual, the result is not what we expected: pleasure sought and lived as an end reduces man to a piteous slavery and irremediably leads him away from God and His profound joy. Man, bent under the yoke of pleasure, wanders throughout the world, his eyes lowered, having lost any hope, looking from now on only for the most vile realities. Slave of pleasure, it is basically impossible for him to get out of himself and love. He is missing the key, the notion of sacrifice.

A poor being, broken as an inarticulate puppet, he cannot - not even for one moment - conceive of sacrificing himself for the good of another, as he sees the world only through the deformed spectacles of his vain satisfaction. Without sacrifice, however, there cannot be true love, since sacrifice is the first act of love - in a sense, its signature. Only he who loves sacrifices himself- only he who really desires the good of his friend, even at the cost of his own comfort and even of his own life, if that proves to be necessary; in a word, he is ready to sacrifice his goods and to sacrifice himself.

Joy is born from this voluntarily accepted sacrifice; it is its child of predilection. He who, in his relationship with God, possesses this key, is stronger than the death brought by sin, because he does not worry any more about himself, he lives on in the higher order of charity where everything is ordered towards God. His soul, strengthened by this invincible hope, blossoms forth in charity.

The Lenten penance is nothing else than the expression of this joy and this hope, in the daily exercise of mortification. Thanks to it, we satisfy for our faults and we free ourselves from the bonds that keep us attached to our own will and slaves of what others think of us. Thanks to it, we shake off the yoke of our passions and attentively and tirelessly listen to the repeated calls that God addresses to us in the depth of our souls. Thanks to it, we give God the homage that is due to Him, that of our profound dependence, which is nothing but a practical act of worship.

Penance, an act of the virtue of religion, is really a benefit for our soul. It tears the soul from the subjection to the senses and, making it faithful to renounce itself in small things, it leads the soul into the hope of the future good, in "the joy of its Master"!

In Christo sacerdote et Maria,

Fr. Yves le Roux