Thursday, April 7, 2011

Giving a Penance that Includes Sacrifice

Each year during  Lent many of the parishes have common penitential services. Priests will come together in different parishes of a deanery to help hear confessions. The  Peace Weekly described some of the interesting  penances that were given.

The words 'penance' and 'sacrifice' are used often in our sermons and spiritual books, words which have  meanings that are not easily understood. But this Lent, in many parishes in Seoul,  the priests gave  penances one had little difficulty in seeing their relevancy to sacrifice and the way of the cross.

(Catholics, according to Church Law, are asked to partake of the Eucharist at least once a year during the paschal time if  there is not a good reason to do otherwise. However, in Korea another period before Christmas is set aside to prepare for Confession and the Eucharist, a period that is called 'Pangong'. The first 'Pangong' was not intended to put any burden on the Christians during their preparations for Easter. During the 'Pangong' before Christmas, however, they were  examined on their faith-life by the priests of the parish, but with the number of Catholics increasing and the current time constraints on the priests, this practice is no longer followed. There were many benefits from this old tradition but times have changed and making  things more difficult for the Christians to approach the sacraments did not seem a wise thing to continue.)

One of the parishes, believing the dinner table an important part of a family's spiritual life, required that the family eat together for a penance.  It is sad, thought the pastor, that eating together, once so common, has become such an extraordinary activity. It can fortify. he says, the bonds of the family and for Christians their life of faith.

Another penance given was to send greeting to family members or acquaintances and, if there has been estrangement, to attempt to improve the situation. One parish required the penitents to read the Gospel of Luke, from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion--a good meditation for Lent. Another parish, using the words of Jacob 2:17 ("So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless.") required the penitents to partake in some activity to give life to what we believe.

Many were told to give up some food they especially liked, like alcohol or dessert. Or to give up something they found especially difficult to do, like watching TV, and spend the time saved in meditation. Other parishes gave penances to sensitize the Christians on environmental issues; one such penance was to curtail as much as possible the use of throw-away, one time use, utensils, cups and the like. Some told their parishioners to see the movie  "Don't Cry,Tonj," and to reflect on what it means to be of service to others. Others told the Christians to give at least 10 dollars for three days to the poor, and students were told to do some charitable work on three different occasions.

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