Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lent XI

Penance, or doing penance, is something which is a bit alien to those of us who are of the Protestant tradition.   In the Roman Catholic tradition, someone who confesses their sins to the priest is often told to do some form of penance as a way of experiencing God's forgiveness.  This may be some act or the praying of certain prayers a prescribed number of times.  It is the priest who determines the severity of the sin and assigns the proper penance.  If such a simplistic understanding of this process is somehow offensive to some who make this a part of their spiritual practice, I ask for grace. 
As this part of the Lenten invitation is considered, many of us are taken to that passage in I John which reads, "If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  (I John 1:9)  An earlier Word reads, "...the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin."  (I John 1:7)  When it comes to receiving God's forgiveness, there is not a whole lot we can do.  We are called to confess our sins, to acknowledge what is wrong; and to be accountable for it, but, divine forgiveness is a precious gift granted to us because of what God has done for us through His Son on the cross.  If there is an act of penance done for our sins, it is the shedding of the blood of Jesus.  Forgiveness is more about what God has done than what we might do.  It is more about grace than some work we do or act we perform.

The Lenten disciplines put us in touch with what is in our heart and the place that our relationship really has in our life.  When we begin to probe around in that area, most of us find that there are things which need to be confessed to God.  As we offer our confession to God, about all we can really do is cast ourselves upon Him praying that ancient prayer, "Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."   And then it is as it always is.  Then, it is all about grace.

No comments: