I’m Having Trouble with Penance

Image courtesy Ann Davich.

I am always eager for Lent to begin, literally so for the lengthening of days, and also for the increase of Light in my soul.  It was during those holy weeks before Easter that significant life changes occurred. The most recent event was becoming a Benedictine oblate.

In years past my offerings to God were challenging but not too hard to fulfill. I loved to pray, so doing more increased peace. Sharing is part of my nature, and charitable donations only need be varied from year to year. And I willingly fasted from wants…although the one year fasting from coffee nearly did me in! My attempts to observe Lent were not always perfect, but I was all-in in the effort.

This year Lent feels soft. I haven’t been able to feel the penitential nature of the season. I’m failing horribly at fasting. Each morning I promise to do better, and hours later haven’t. The added prayerful readings are more lackadaisical than focused; words float and drift in thoughts unrelated to the topic. And I have yet to begin a service to the poor.

I was preoccupied the first two weeks of Lent preparing spiritually for my final promise as a Benedictine oblate. My excitement overrode the “suffering” of the season. When I listened to Audrey Assad’s CD Fortunate Fall, O Happy Fault (Felix Culpa) filled my heart with such joy that diverting the happiness proved impossible.

I feel as if I have entered Easter without the Via Dolorosa.

This year I am being carried aloft in celebrating the Messiah and shielded from the ugliness of the road to Golgotha. Each time I try to turn down that dusty path, a Bible verse comes to mind. When Jesus said, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is [gone]…” (Luke 5:34-35). This year it is like that, a softening of rules while love is at hand.

The Vacare Deo of Lent, the emptying oneself for God, still abides. This is the Lent that the vacant space is filled with the gift of God’ love and not darkened by the suffering of Jesus. This is the year that the denying of self is replaced with charitableness—to be given out, full measure, shaken down.

It is a Lent not of giving-up but of taking-up. A more loving observance than I have ever known. And I keep thinking there should be some of that good-old-Catholic-guilt in all this. I pray my soul is not sleeping as I go along my happy, merry way.

My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

(Kontakion from the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete)



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