Outward Penance Aids Us in our Interior Conversion

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Sunday Angelus 3 March 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. We are continuing to reflect together on penance, which this Lenten season especially invites us to do. Today I want to consider some of the external aspects which, properly understood, have their own particular importance.

Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, which I had the opportunity to talk about last Sunday reaffirms the traditional discipline that the Fridays of each week, as well as Ash Wednesday, are considered special days of penance. This directive is still in force, even if it is left to the Episcopal Conferences to determine certain concrete forms, such as the possibility of substituting abstinence from meat or fasting with other forms of penance, especially charitable works and pious exercises.

2. This ascetical practice is not based on any negative prejudice towards material realities. In fact, Christianity holds that since all things are created by God they are positive, and so is their use, as long as it conforms to the Creator's plan.

The true significance of exterior renunciation can be found rather in the help that these actions give the believer in fully living his interior repentance, that is, the task of conversion.

In man deep unity exists between spirit and body. Yet, because of sin, he feels "divided in himself" (Gaudium et spes, n. 13) and often, rather than being master of his instincts, he finds himself their victim. Does not daily experience, particularly in prosperous societies, tell us how difficult it is to sustain our moral responsibilities, especially when these require the renunciation of our own immediate interests and comforts?

In this perspective, it is obvious that penance should be practiced first of all "in persevering faithfulness to the duties of one's state in life, in the acceptance of the difficulties arising from one's work, and from human co-existence, in a patient bearing of the trials of earthly life" (Paenitemini, n. 3). Some voluntary penances, such as those the Church suggests, support precisely these attitudes. With them we are invited to share in the Cross of Christ, and the human will, under the influence of grace, is strengthened to be ready to obey God's law promptly and totally.

3. Dear friends, let us look to Mary, whose discreet and holy life is a model of deep unity between interior and exterior efforts. Even in the most complex and painful circumstances, she gave the example of a life totally in harmony and trustingly abandoned to God's will. During the favourable time of Holy Lent, may the Virgin, Mirror of perfection, obtain for every believer the courage and hope that are indispensable for setting off resolutely on a path of conversion.

After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father then said:

This Sunday too has been marked by very grave news from Jerusalem where with cold determination, another cruel explosion has occurred.

There can be no justification of recourse to violence against innocent persons. That is why its condemnation can only be firm and absolute.

I am close to everyone's sorrow, and I entrust everyone to God's mercy.

I am also close to all those who, despite everything, continue to believe in peace.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 March 1996, p. 1.

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