Lent, a Season of Penance. While we may not use the word penance much anymore, it is as necessary to life as food and water.
The trouble is that it forces us to acknowledge a reality we would rather forget. It forces each of us to say the sentence, "I am a sinner."
The only way we can avoid that sentence is to say, "I am perfect."
Speaking for myself, I am not perfect; I am a sinner; I need to do penance.
There, that wasn't all that hard; was it?
Once we face that reality, then we can see Lent not as a chore but a gift, a time the church marks out each year for us to do penance.
Traditionally the Church recommends three categories based on the Ash Wednesday gospel: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Before you choose your penance for this year, I would suggest a close look at today's gospel. Because the date for Easter varies, the gospel for the last Sunday before Lent varies. Today we have the healing of the paralytic in Mark.
The verse from this gospel that always gets my attention is: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."
It is the faith of the friends that saves the paralytic.
So often, even in our penance, we can be egocentric, me praying for God to forgive ME. While that is certainly a good and necessary thing, this gospel reminds us that even in our Lenten penance we need to be other directed.
In these last few days before Ash Wednesday, as we decide on our penitential practices for this Lent, perhaps as can look to the example of the friends in today's gospel. Who will we be friend to? For whom will we offer our penance?
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."