February 12, 1997
by Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap.
"Praised be Jesus Christ; now and forever. Amen."
The Penitential Season of Lent
It will be well for us to look at the religious phenomenon of penance as
it appears in the Protestant world. On a former occasion I felt the need
to write or preach about penance, and I went to a very detailed concordance
on my book shelf. I had used it over and over to find scripture texts,
and I expected to find many texts on that occasion. Not so! The name of
the concordance is Walker?s Comprehensive Concordance. Unfortunately it
is a Protestant concordance, and it does not list even one scriptural text
dealing with penance. I have less extensive concordances that are Catholic,
and I had to make due with those sources of information.
Dear readers, that defect (non-existence) of the word penance in the
entire Protestant Concordance just amazed me. It supplies one with the
conclusion that Protestantism is lacking this most important means of obtaining
forgiveness and graces (even in their private lives) from almighty God.
The devil has taken an important ladder to heaven from each and every Protestant.
What a pity!
By the good fortune of Divine Providence I have a most valuable source
for leading us in the study of penance. The book that I shall use most
is The Divine of HOLY SCRIPTURE by Rev. Kenelm Vaughan, published by B.
Herder (no longer in existence) 1904. It has an equivalent imprimatur (preface)
by J. Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, MD. given in November
The chapter on Penance begins on page 781 and ends on page 790 - all
very fine print.
The titles for the various divisions of penance are as follows:
It should be noted that all the above pages (in fine print) are made up
of texts from the Old and New Testaments, that is, the Bible. With the
conclusion of this scriptural study, the concordance continues with the
Sacrament of Penance. In this study in CARITAS we shall not deal
with the Sacrament of Penance. We shall confine out studies to the many
uses of the word penance. There are three main divisions. They are:
The Virtue of Penance; Its Necessity; Preached
by the Prophets; By Our Lord and His Apostles.
Acknowledgment of Sin; Necessity for its
The Love of God to Penitents.
Public Penance Practiced in Calamitous Times to
Appease God?s Anger.
The Repentance of Ninive (footnote) Ninive, the capital of Assyria, was
20 miles long, 12 broad, and 60 in compass, and surrounded with walls 100
ft. high, and so broad that three chariots could drive abreast on them.
In a general way we shall consider the necessity of penance in order to
avoid hell and get to heaven. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not mince words.
He came to the point in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke.
We quote from verse one until verse five.
"(1) And there were present at the very time,
some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with
Our Lord stressed the absolute need for penance by repeating the third
verse again in the fifth verse.
(2) And he answering, said to them; Think you
that these Galileans were sinners above all the men of Galilee, because
they suffered such things?
(3) No. I say to you; but unless you shall do
penance, you shall all likewise perish.
(4) Or those eighteen upon whom the tower fell
in Siloe and slew them: think you that they also were debtors above all
the men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
(5) No. I say to you: but except you do penance,
you shall all likewise perish."
Besides demanding penance, Our Lord also rebuked the beneficiaries of
His gifts who neglected to do penance. In Matthew 11, 20 we read,
"Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein
were done the most of His miracles, for that they had not done penance."
There is an interesting development in the above quotation. Those who receive
more of God's gifts are bound to do more penance than those who have received
less of His gifts. All you readers should recall all the gifts and graces
you have received and still are receiving. For each and every gift received
we shall have to render an account on judgment day.
Next we move from gifts for which we must show gratitude, to sins for
which we must do penance. In the Acts of the Apostles in the eighth chapter
we have the account of a convert by the name Simon who marveled at the
working of the Holy Ghost. After the Apostles confirmed the converts they
worked miracles of all sorts. This Simon then wanted to buy that power
from the Apostles with money. Peter rebuked him saying:
(verse 20) "Keep thy money to thyself, to perish
with thee: because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased
Once again, when we are blessed by God we must do penance, and when we
have offended God we must do penance.
(21) Thou hast no part nor lot in this matter.
For thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
(22) Do penance therefore for this thy wickedness:
and pray to God, that perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven
(23) For I see thou art in the gall of bitterness
and in the bonds of iniquity.
(24) Then Simon answering, said: Pray you for
me to the Lord (Do penance - added.) that none of these things which you
have spoken may come upon me."
I shall comment on the three modes or kinds of penance. We do well to
use all of them.
In a former CARITAS I gave an explanation of prayer. For the present I
shall make some remarks about making sure that we pray. In a monastery
certain hours are set aside for prayer. We who do not enjoy that "luxury"
must deliberately set time aside for prayer, and that should be in our
Unless one is sick, one can order ones rising so that there is time
for prayers before the duties of the day begin. St. Francis of Assisi used
to call his body "brother ass." He made his body perform, even if it was
hard for him. Be sure to make the saying of daily prayers at set times
as well as you can.
Beside having times for set prayers we should resolve to frequently
during the day say short prayers, and generally those prayers should be
hallowed with indulgences.
By fasting we mean any deprivation that we make for ourselves or are made
for us by others for whatever reason. We must distinguish two meanings
of the word fasting. The Lenten fast means that those so obliged by the
Church to fast may take one full meal a day and the other two meals united
(in weight) may not exceed the weight of the whole meal.
In this treatment we use the word fast in a generic sense, namely, the
giving up of anything for the love of God and the salvation of souls. Hence,
the giving up meat on Fridays is a fasting. The staying away from dancing
(say, especially during Lent) is fasting. Not eating candy when it is available,
not drinking pop when it is available and the like, is fasting. Strange
but true, abstaining from sin is fasting.
The above generic method of fasting applies to each and everyone of
us. If we do not fast, that is, give up that what is entirely lawful from
time to time we will not be able to give up sin when the occasion presents
I heard a mother tell her child at table, "If you do not like it do
not eat it." Wrong! She should have said, "If it does not make you ill,
and you do not like it, eat it as a penance." You will profit by the food,
and you will learn how to live in society without being "a food snip" at
other peoples' tables for all your life.
Methodology -- The secret of fasting (giving up anything) boils
down to this. One is attached to God and other spiritual objects to such
an extent that he prefers to give up lesser things in order to have the
greater good. It comes down to setting our values and priorities. Say it
this way: "I prefer the love of God and sanctifying grace in my soul more
than a delicious ham supper on Friday." Get even more basic: "I love heaven
more than hell." That is why we give up any and all serious sins, no matter
how pleasurable the evil acts may be.
Our fasting (also called mortification) has grades of perfection. I
remember a young Capuchin telling me, while I was in the U.S.A. on vacation
from the Japanese mission, that he could never leave this country to be
a foreign missionary. Without any big ado I spent nearly twenty eight years
in foreign missionary service - including many of the sufferings that St.
Paul tells us he suffered for the love of God and the salvation of souls.
At times I see people who find it very difficult to give up such habits
as smoking and excessive alcoholic drinking. Even though some bad and sinful
habits entail withdrawal sufferings I have seen men and women who broke
with those and worse habits by what is called "cold turkey." Only a good
will and the special assistance of God (known as actual grace) can make
In small imperfections one can advance on the way of perfection by steps.
When it is a matter of mortal sin, fasting (giving it up) must always,
in intention, be "cold turkey." With the help of God the drunkard, for
example, can quit his mortally sinful habit and become a t-totter for the
rest of his life. If any of you have never read the life St. Mary of Egypt
you would do well to read it. There the worst prostitute in the land, left
society to live a solitary life of penance in a forest for many years -
to the point that every stitch of her clothing eventually fell from her
We must marvel how men left all things to be habitually united to God.
A Simon Stylite read in the Church Bible that Christ invited certain ones
to give up all things and follow Him. Simon first had a black smith weld
a chain around his waist and then weld the chain around a bolder which
he could not move. A holy man saw Simon in that condition worshipping God
in the open field. He told Simon that the chain was not necessary. He could
remain there in prayer and penance if he determined to do so with the help
of God. Then Simon had the black smith remove the chain. There after Simon
remained in the field in prayer. People began to visit this marvel, so
he built a small tower and prayed upon that. Again, worldly distractions
by on-lookers bothered him. He eventually built a tower thirty feet high,
and he prayed in solitary up there the year round. From time to time he
rebuked the on-lookers for their sinful lives, and he urged holiness of
life. Strange but true, even bishops, in secret, consulted with Simon on
the things of the spiritual life.
We are inclined to ask: "Just how could Simon give up all things to
follow his contemplative life on top of a thirty foot tower in the heat
of day and the cold of night all year around and for a life time?" The
secret is that he valued the contemplation of God (what the angels and
Saints do in heaven forever) more than anything else on earth.
In all humility we view the lives of many of our Catholic young people.
They give up their Catholic faith to live with a divorced man or woman
as the case may be. With a firm determination, as souls in hell, they embrace
a total life of sin, and when death comes they obstinately refused to see
The bend in the road to heaven is fasting, and the bend in the road
to hell is not fasting. The bend in the road to heaven is doing the will
of God, and bend in the road to hell is doing ones' own will - against
the will of God.
Of ourselves we are nothing, and of ourselves we have nothing. God created
us out of nothing, and anything that we happen to possess is also created
by God. In Australia a charming old Catholic gentleman used to claim, in
jest, that he still had his own teeth. Then he remarked, "I paid for them!"
He has passed away, but his humor is still with us. May he rest in peace.
Consider an alms as some treasure on a platter. You take it to God to
give it (to return it) to Him. He accepts it in the persons of the poor.
The wealthy (those in possession of the things of this world) need the
poor, and the poor need the alms of those more blessed by God. The poor
you have always with you.
Almsgiving presents itself in a very broad spectrum. Any time we give
of what we are and have: that can be an alms before the throne of God.
The greatest alms that one can make to God is to put oneself on the platter
before God, by giving oneself to God in the religious life. Even that has
degrees, for some Orders are stricter than others, and all that, is in
the order of divine providence.
When giving we must observe right order. Prodigality means that one
neglects his duties and gives of what he has to the detriment of society.
For example, a father gives away his salaries and leaves his wife and children
in cold and hunger.
We must always look for some way to give of our strength or means to
better our society. Being helpful around the house is a form of alms giving.
Giving a thirsty man a drink of cold water is alms giving. We merely have
to look at the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to know if we are
in the right ball park. We do works of charity for the love of God, for
God has promised to reward our good works with a heavenly reward. He promises
to reward us for kindness to our neighbor just as if we did it to Him.
The beggar is not Christ, as some of the nuts in the Novus Ordo used to
claim. However, Christ lets the poor stand in His place, so we have needy
persons to assist by our alms giving.
I shall make an observation. When a child gets to the age when he or
she can baby-sit he gets his first bit of money. Some of them come freely
and give some of that to the priest. They turn out well. However, I have
observed with sadness that others use their first bit of money on themselves
in a selfish way. They grow up, go to college, and leave the Church to
the great sadness of their parents and the Catholic community. Why! It
is because they never considered giving to the Church or to those less
blessed than themselves.
We are in the holy season of Lent. Let us consider the words of the
Breviary, taken from the first Epistle of St. Peter, for Compline each
day. In chapter 5, 8-9 he says, "Be sober and watch; because your adversary
the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom
resist ye, strong in faith; knowing that the same affliction befalls your
brethren who are in the world."
English ? the Third Official Language of the Church
I bring this topic before you as something to think about and pray about.
If the English language is ruined (by such things as "Ebonics"), then all
the wonderful expression in the English language will be lost to posterity.
Let me explain.
When I went to the Ryukyu Islands as a missionary in 1948 there were
practically no Catholic books in existence. Gradually, paper back books
were produced, and the Catholics loved them. That honeymoon ended in about
sixteen years. The young people came to me and asked for new books on the
same topics. Why? Because they could not read the Japanese characters in
them. The younger generation asked me to give the older books to the older
generation who can read them. The younger people knew only the simplified
characters. The younger people were cut off from nearly all of the learning
of former generations, and they were not happy about it.
The Japanese characters change so much that all ecclesiastical document
and records must be kept in the ABCs. Standardization in language is most
important. The Church saw that Latin became the almost perfect avenue of
learning. By taking Latin, as it was, for its official language, the Church
used Latin in all Her doctrines and other liturgy so that it can forever
be understood. If the Catholic Church now takes perfect English in the
written word and in the spoken word, it will do a great service in preserving
learning as it is in books all over the world. Furthermore, even if the
crack-pot educators ruin the English language the learning in billions
of books will still be understood by means of the English language as it
is preserved in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We will have
the key to all learning both in the Church and in the civil order.
English is the world language today. Every airplane pilot and every
airport tower on earth is mandated to use only English. We are leaving
the tower of Babel behind, but the storm clouds of destruction are looming
over-head. Our opportunity to be the greatest benefactor in the service
of communicating truth to the world is before us. Our Lord told us that
He is the way, the truth and the life. Pray that God may enlighten and
strengthen those in charge of this momentous decision - so extremely important
for harmony on earth and for the salvation of immortal souls.
May the grace and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ be with
each one of you. You are in my prayers and Masses. Please pray for me.