Why do you need Penance?
Suppose you get angry at your friend, punch him in the face and break your hand.
Then, after you’ve calmed down, you feel awful and give him a sincere apology.
He accepts and you’re friends again.
So, is your hand still broken? Yes! That’s the reason we all need to do penance.
What in the world am I talking about? Temporal punishment! We’ve heard the word but often we don’t know what it’s about.
Two aspects of sin
Temporal punishment is the after effect of sin.
There’s really two aspects to consider with sin:
- The guilt incurred from offending God. When you confess your sin, the guilt is removed. God forgives you and doesn’t give it a second thought.
- Temporal punishment, the consequences of sin. Even after you are forgiven and your guilt is removed, there are remnants of that sin left in you.
It’s like the broken hand. Everything is over but the damage remains. The remnants of sin left over in our personalities move us to want to sin more. These are those weaknesses and faults that you can never seem to get rid of.
Think about it, sin is kind of addicting. It’s like eating only one potato chip when the whole bag is in front of you –you can’t do it! Sin is like that. Once you sin, your temperament is inclined to sin more.
Is this really punishment?
Now some might say that doesn’t sound like punishment–that’s the fun part! Exactly right! We tend to think of the punishment as things like getting caught. But in reality, that’s often God’s mercy at work.
What’s the worst thing possible from a divine perspective? Being separated from God. If we persist in sin, we move further and further away from him. If God allows us to enjoy and continue sinning, that’s actually the punishment. Things like a DUI, getting sick or losing a loved one might be the life-altering event that turn a person from sin and toward God.
Here’s where penance comes in
The remnants of sin are like seeds sown in our souls. They incline us to more sin and keep us farther from God. We can’t simply moderate them, they have to be put to death–mortified!
We should practice mortifications to attack our dominant faults, those deeply ingrained habits that keep us confessing the same sins over and over again. Making war on those habits, or vices that lead us to sin and putting them to death lessens their effect on us. It makes it easier to do the good and follow God.
This is why you do penance after confession and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not complete without it.
Your sin is forgiven and the guilt erased, but the temporal punishment, the remnants of the sin, remain. Only you can take care of this by doing penance and fighting those weaknesses and tendencies to sin!
This is where Purgatory comes in as well. If you don’t take care of these remnants in this life, you’ll have to do it in the next–before you get to heaven.
That’s also why Lent is so important. Every year, we set aside a season to do penance, attack our faults and renew our spiritual lives. The purification of Lent then prepares us to fully experience a resurrection with Christ at Easter!
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