Penance and Perspective

Whenever we speak or act (or judge matters) we bring a certain perspective into play. Our personal perspective is shaped by a myriad of factors. Life experiences, age, family members, income level, health status, and much more; all influence how we see the world and how we interact with it. If our vantage point ceases to change so does our potential for spiritual growth.

Interesting novels employ fictional characters to draw us into new situations, from which emerges triumph or tragedy. Think of the Dickens' character Ebenezer Scrooge, and how his near death glimpse into a world he was indifferent to, brought about his conversion. Changing perspectives doesn't alter what we look at, but it does change our relation to it.

When we collaborate with others in humility and good will, we share new perspectives which often form a mosaic of new understanding and action. When this participation in dialogue and action occurs in a religious fraternity or community, it becomes one of the striking 'tools' that God uses to bring about true 'formation'; not only for the individual, but for the entire community. If this setting invokes trust, we're free to become vulnerable and risk new perspectives and question old assumptions.

So how does the practice of penance play a role in this formation?

Penance and the penitential life are about practices which foster conversion. They should include in their goal, new or renewed perspectives that bring forth gospel action. The penance of fasting, for example, would be misguided if it didn't bring us into some sense of dependency on God, hunger for justice, stripping of selfish behavior, etc. It would be lacking if it didn't stir some action towards almsgiving or sharing. But if the penance is successful it changes our perspective and motivates us to act rightly. This is what St. Francis means when he says we must bring forth 'worthy fruits of penance'.

Penance as mortification is voluntary suffering, and suffering has much to teach us. Dealing with a dreaded illness most certainly changes our perspective. One moment life is carefree; and suddenly we must confront pain and limitations. We now experience human suffering that hardly caught our attention in the past. We feel neglect and comfort; a taste of alienation and the tenderness of love. So now we see, now we know. We receive healing or we don't, each with its unique perspective; but either way, we are given the seeds of change.

Will we bring forth 'worthy fruits of penance'? The first step is to choose and cultivate a penance that invites a new perspective. We need to create an awareness of the fleeing refugee, running from terror. We ought to evoke compassion for the neglected elderly, too tired to care for themselves. We should wonder what it's like to journey as an immigrant, desperate for work. We can be patient with abused or neglected youth who are confused and bored. We have to get ourselves into communion with these souls, to see what's hidden in our blind spot.

Our perspectives are limited, our judgment less than perfect, and our penance incomplete.



Amy said...

I just happened on to you blog.
Thanks for the posts. I'm in formation for the SFO.
Peace be with you.
In Jesus through Mary,

Tausign said...

Amy,thanks for stopping by. May your formation journey by joyful and never end. Peace and all good.

michael marshall said...

Justice and peace officer or peace in the community consultant, whichever is new title for Justice and peace in the SFO for my fraternity council. UK member and stumbled upon the blog. Thankyou a lot. With your permission I'd like to use , ( in my own words so it isn't just a copy cut and paste thing) some of your articles. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He show His face to you and be merciful to you. May He turn His countenance toward you and give you peace. May the Lord bless you.Amen

Tausign said...

Michael, as I say on the sidebar in my 'non-copyright notice'...'what is freely received is freely given'. Of course, I would also like to have the benefit of your own inspirations. Peace and good.