Thursday, 3 July 2008

Penance, or the Fruits of Repentance

Well, this is interesting:

LUBBOCK, Texas — Dan Bentley, 38, used to have trouble admitting he was wrong, until a sermon series convinced him that asking forgiveness was the path to personal freedom. Now he is asking forgiveness so much that he’s on the verge of losing every friend he’s ever made. "I’m cleaning the slate with everybody, no matter how difficult that proves to be," he says. Bentley recently asked a woman at work to forgive him for spending years ogling her, especially when she wore particular outfits. He was promptly hit with a sexual harassment claim and a demotion. He asked forgiveness of two high school buddies and detailed what had bothered him about their personalities. They haven’t invited him fishing since. Even his mother is angry at him for confessing that for years he’d seen her as overbearing, selfish and manipulating and that he needed forgiveness for "always liking Dad a lot better." She promptly disinvited him to the family’s Fourth of July reunion. Bentley says that though he’s paid a high price for coming clean he "really feels free." "My pastor was right," he says. "Asking forgiveness completely changes your life."

I have often thought that if we took seriously the communal aspect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the obligation to do things like this would form a larger number of our assigned penances. The purpose of penance, after all, is to undo the temporal punishment (or, in other words, the objective damage inflicted on our souls and those of others) caused by our sins, something that remains even after our relationship with God and with His Body has been restored in the sacrament. Certainly, prayers (which are the most common assigned penances) aid in this by purifying our motives and fixing our attention on the face of Christ. Nonetheless, it is beneficial, when our sins have had concrete consequences, to undo these with concrete penances. If a thing has been stolen, it should be returned. If a lie has been told, the person to whom it was told ought to learn the truth. And so forth.

This chap, who is clearly Protestant, seems to understand this much at least, even if he remains ignorant of this Sacrament of Divine Mercy. Though his actions may seem at first glance bizarre and rather counter-productive, I think he's onto something.

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