A pastor’s proposal for the new year

See what you think.  From Te Deum laudamus:

I have never been a proponent of panic, of conspiracy, or of the imminent consummation of the world. The reasons for my reticence to advocate such positions are reasonableness and confidence in Divine Providence. It’s clear however that we, as a people, seem to be ever more capable of outdoing ourselves in wickedness. For those who delight in being at peace it’s not a good time to be living. There’s altogether too much to cause us to be disturbed. The agitation of the world is threatening to invade the serenity of our souls. Being deeply grounded in faith and hope, with a solid spiritual regimen of life, is the way to counteract these unsettling menaces to our Christian life.

There is a proposal I would like to make to you this new year. Being your pastor, your spiritual guide, I should protect you, teach you and give you goods for your souls. I therefore would like you to take on a practice this new year as a means of imploring God’s blessing on our parish and on you, my parishioners. It is this: that everyone elect to do one act of penance every week during the year 2012–an act in addition to any penitential acts which may already be one’s practice or which the season (viz., Lent) may dictate. This would mean that, if everyone cooperated, there would be fifty-two penitential deeds done by each person in the parish by the end of the year. The motive for these would be exactly what they have always been historically: to avert God’s punishments and to obtain the divine favor.

Read the rest.


  1. To avert God’s punishments. Hmmm. Are we still on that?

  2. Peregrinus says:

    I too find that statement problematic. The idea of God as punisher and rewarder seems to have more in common with one’s superego than with a mature Xtian faith in infinite Agape.

    I think penance should be done to alleviate the effects of our sins, on ourselves and on our communities, to help us to grow towards a deeper relationship with God. I’m not against acts of penance, but I’d like people to think about the rationale behind such acts, in order to avoid an immature projection of our superego onto God.

  3. Gods punishments? Why yes indeed… HE is our Father is HE not?…. When we do something wrong does not our earthly mother and father punish us to show us the wrongness of our ways? To correct us? Then why should our Heavenly Father, Our Creator, OUR FATHER not punish us also when we do wrong to correct us? Don’t you agree that is the most loving thing a Father can do for HIS child? To our Father In Heaven we are HIS children.. We are not adults of the world but you are HIS child, I am HIS child and when we wrong HE will correct us ….

  4. naturgesetz says:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1472.

  5. What good father does not punish his child when the child has done something horrible? Even if all you do is make him sit in his room after discovering that he set fire to the garage that’s pitifully weak but it’s something. If you notice that your 13 year old daughter intends to leave the house in shorts and a stuffed bra in December a good father will get her in check. A bad one will go “Oh well, she’ll learn.”

  6. naturgesetz says:

    It would have been good if he had taken the opportunity to also remind them that the obligation of penance on Friday, by abstaining from meat unless one chooses another form of penance, is still in effect. Therefore, he is calling for a second act of penance each week.

    It’s not a bad idea, once we’re all doing our obligatory penances.

  7. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    The danger, of course, is in thinking that God gives us good things when we’re good, and bad things when we’re bad.

    He isn’t Santa Claus.

    Sometimes, suffering and hardship and pain come to us for other reasons we find hard to fathom — and only later can we understand them as hidden opportunities for grace.

    And sometimes even what seems at the time a blessing can turn out to be a curse.

    Dcn. G.

  8. Does God not punish us for our sins? I thought we said that in the Act of Contrition?

  9. One can’t argue against something of obvious spiritual benefit. But just for once, I’d love to see the clergy lead by example. What if a bishop told his priests to perform that one act a week and hush up about it. Don’t tell anyone about it. Just do it. Would there be enough of a spiritual transformation that people would remark years later, “Something about Bishop N and his clergy …”

    Otherwise, I’d prefer some pastor suggest everybody take a little daily time with the Word of God. A nice healthy dose of lectio divina, and if it led to acts of penitence, well and good. And if it led people to what the Holy Spirit was really intending for the parish, so much the better.

  10. The other danger – related to what you say, is in thinking that it us up to us and not up to God.

  11. Your words make me think of the widow’s mite.

  12. Deacon Steve says:

    A good Father disciplines his children. Discipline is a teaching tool. Punishment is not about teaching, but about revenge or retribution. The only way punishment teaches is through aversion training. If we want to teach our children how to deal with situations then we need to discipline them, show that there are consequences, but in ways that teach them right from wrong. If all we do is vindictive punishment they only learn what not to do, not what to do in situations that do not match their previous experiences.

  13. I agree with Deacon Greg’s point about not transmogrifying God into a kind of cosmic Santa Clause. So many good people suffer who don’t deserve it and for reasons only God fully understands.

    But I like this idea. We know that God is capable of chastisements and Church approved apparitions make it very clear that sin offends God. 50,000,000 abortions? Yeah, that would anger me if I were the author of life.

  14. Let’s look at this from another angle.

    Col. 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church

    With that passage in mind we can see that suffering can be offered to benefit the Church.

    While it is good that we do penance for our own sins, how much more pleasing to God is it when we make a penitential act to the benefit of our brothers and sisters.

    If my sins affect me and the community, then the sins of others also affect the community. If we witness someone engaging in something spiritually harmful, are we not moved to pray for them? If we have a loved one who is disinterested in God, would it possibly bring grace upon that person if, in our charity, we fasted on a given day for him? Might it reduce his temporal punishment?

    These small penitential acts are precious to God in a similar way to the prayer we offer up. Why? It is an imitation of Christ who offered Himself up in sacrifice.

    In other words, our voluntary suffering can benefit others. Willingness to suffer for others will almost always bring us graces, as well. Why? It’s an act of charity. If giving up an afternoon of football to take a homebound person a meal is considered an act of charity, is it not also an act of charity to give up an hour to spend in Adoration, telling God to use the graces for a soul in need?

    Good discussion.

  15. I understand that giving up an afternoon of football to perform acts of charity can have many spiritual benefits for all involved, but how does doing penance for others help them? Does it help them address their separation from God? Respectfully, it sounds a bit like trying to appease God with sacrifices. I don’t understand why God would want that – God wants our love – He wants us to love Him and others and live a joyful life. Didn’t God say “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”?

  16. Dear Barbara,

    I’m about to leave for a meeting and will come back later to elaborate.

    What he is talking about is expiation, not propitiation. Hold that thought.

  17. Peregrinus says:

    It’s not God that requires sacrifices, it’s a life with God that does.

    Perhaps were a lot more interconnected than modern capitalist ideology would have us believe, what with all its talk of the individual.

  18. Peregrinus says:

    I’d just like to raise the possibility that projecting a human emotion, like anger, onto God is a subtle form of idolatry. Is it perhaps possible that God is very much “other”?

  19. But the sacrifice that comes from a life with God comes from a person’s love FOR God not out of fear of punishment or damnation – the sacrifice becomes a natural part of the loving relationship we have with God. We are not called to be passive recipients of God’s Love but we are also called to return that love. I am not sacrificing to keep Him from getting angry – instead it is a natural outgrowth of my love for God. So I don’t understand how doing penance for another person helps that other person’s relationship with God.

  20. Thanks – I will check back later.

  21. I think sometimes we confuse punishment with natural consequences. I believe that God punishes sin; I’m just not sure that it happens here on earth. Sometimes we get to stew in our own juice as a result of our actions; unfortunately innocent people are affected by the consequences of other people’s sins.
    I think of the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13; the final sorting out will be after this life.

  22. Naturgesetz- that was my first thought when I read this article! Did he forget that we are obliged to do penance on Fridays every week…maybe he meant ‘in addition to’ the Friday obligation.

  23. I suppose the words of my pastor need to be taken in the context of the audience he was addressing which was his own parish. The Friday penitential act is deeply ingrained among the people of Assumption Grotto. I was unaware of the obligation when I got there in 2005 because I had never heard a priest discuss it from the pulpit. So, I understand what you mean when you say this could have been an opportunity bring it up. In many parishes, that may very well be the case. But, in this parish the culture is already there, and most choose to give up meat on Fridays because it is simple, while others use a variety of other options to fulfill the obligation. The priests do bring it up a few times a year which is beneficial to new people who come, and visitors. I hope that helps to show that he was, in fact, asking for something above and beyond the Friday requirement.

  24. I got back from the parish meeting way too late, so I will have to come back, hopefully, tomorrow.

    Also, I need to go back and review the propitiation vs. expiation myself again. I may have not have been on the right track with that. I may end up following up in a blogpost on my own blog as this is really a great discussion where there is room for misunderstanding. Therefore, I think it’s worth probing deeper; at least I’m interested in doing so. If I take that route, I’ll post a link in this thread.

  25. So, how many penances will it take to make God happy? 1, 2, 3, 4, would someone please tell me!? Are we still earning Gods Love, really!? Commonnnnnnnnnnnnn

  26. naturgesetz says:

    “Are we still earning Gods Love, really!?”

    And we aren’t earning our parents’ love when we eat our vegetables or wash our hands.

  27. It just seems to me the pastor has the cart before the horse. In Jesus’ teaching it seems that God’s relationship to us is of immense and continuous concern, care and tenderness and by an all-inclusive forgiveness that extends to everything in our lives, from the moment of conception until our death. Jesus’ use of the the word (Abba) emphasizes a most intimate way of relating to God. If you want to heal someones heart or soul —– there seems to be an over emphasis on social prayer and all the other (outside of the bowl) external performances. Maybe, just maybe we need to turn the focus inward first. How you first live inside is how how you deal with things outside. If prayer itself is largely and external performance of any kind, there is simply know inner life to keep us honest and real and grounded. Jesus wisely says. “When you pray, don’t imitate those who love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogue or on the street corners for people to see them. They have already received their reward” (Matthew 6:5) It’s amazing what little effect this had on christian forms of prayer.
    Let’s be honest, Jesus himself goes into silence, into nature, and usually alone when he prays Luke 3:21, 5:16,6:12, 9:18, 28-29, 11:1 and 22:41. Why haven’t we noted this? Selective memory I guess. The point is Jesus’ transmission of his relationship to the Father that Jesus experienced has be given to us! In fact the idea that we have to behave in a certain way to win his love risks missing the point of the sheer gratuity of the gift of his love. “Repent”! means – Change the direction in which you find your happiness. It says to go and follow him first, stay with him, be with him, where he abides, (in you)! Your already loved. You gotta know that. If you really want to learn to pray, to live with Jesus himself, find a good spiritual guide. It generally is not the parish pastor. (No recklessness intended). Because we haven’t done a very good job of teaching people to pray, we are producing a lot of neurotic and angry behavior as people cannot deal with the big five humasn issues (love, death, suffering, God, and infinity. (Outside of the bowl) practices are not “bad”, just inadequate and I would say confuses at times what must come first.

  28. naturegesetz:

    Its just that kind of logic that might go over ok with young children and that’s my point. When we’re beyond the age of being afraid of what our parents might think of what we do or say has passed, what then? There are real problems to face, real struggles. I now need a mature prayer life, read -a mature, real realationship with God. Not childish crutches and superficialities.

  29. naturgesetz says:

    My point is that things like these are things our parents tell us to do because they are good for us. If we are not mature enough to realize that they are good for us, we may do them to please our parents, which is not a bad motive, but we should never fear that our parents’ love is contingent on doing these things. But when we are more mature, we become aware that these things are good for us, and that is why we’re told to do them. But we should still be aware that when we do something good, it will also please our parents.

    And from the parents’ perspective, our eating our vegetables and washing our hands is not a condition of their love; it is how merely for our own good.

    So God calls us to penance because it’s good for us. If we’re mature, we realize that it’s good for us, and that is why God calls us to it. We don’t react like rebellious children saying, “I don’t wanna,” or like teenagers who imagine that every rule is an intolerable infringement on their maturity.

    A real relationship with God is not a relationship among equals, however much it progresses to one of love rather than fear on our part. And a relationship of love is still one in which one wants to please the beloved.

    So we do penance because we know that if God calls for it, it must be good for us; and we do it because we want to please the one we love.

  30. naturgesetz says:

    I think the idea that, as you put it, “we have to behave in a certain way to win his love,” is not in what the pastor actually said. You’re reading it into it IMO.

    But even if it I’m wrong about what the pastor thinks and said, the idea that we have to do penance to win the Father’s love is not what the Church teaches. Nevertheless, it teaches that we need to do penance.

  31. Peregrinus says:

    Like what you’ve said about relationship.

    I think doing penance for another person helps their relationship because you are showing love for them… which is God. So you are showing God to them.

  32. If “other” means he doesn’t care about infanticide, or murder, or evil in general, then no, I don’t think is that kind of robotic Other. Jesus’s incarnation makes that very clear.

Leave a Comment