21 February: Doing Penance: What did Saint Francis mean?

Zakopane, Poland

Sister Margaret gave me the following week’s posts when Lent was already filled, so I’ve had them filed away. It’s a privilege to offer her Franciscan perspective on Lent this year.

In the first three verses of his Testament,Francis of Assisi reveals to us that he had discovered anew the true meaning of penance. He does this by saying: The Lord granted me to begin to do penance in this way: while I was in sin it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. Note that, for Francis, the life of penance was a gift from God.

If we even begin to mention the word penance today the majority of people start to close up inside themselves as negative words and feelings flow into their minds and senses. Penance, they think, that awful practice where I have to do something that is uncomfortable to me.

How often, when the season of Lent in particular is drawing near, have we heard the question, or been asked it ourselves: What are you doing for Lent? The next words you might then hear are: I know what I am going to do. I’m giving up sweets and cakes – and I might even lose some weight while I am about it.

Is that really what Lent is all about, what penance is about, where the whole focus is on me with no mention of God and it’s all rather negative? Is that what Pope Innocent III was commissioning Francis to do when in 1209, orally approving Francis’ proposed Way of Life, he instructed him and his followers: Go with the Lord, brothers, and as the Lord will deign to inspire you, preach penance to all. Is that really what Francis meant when he sent his eight brothers out telling them: Go my dearest brothers, two by two into the various parts of the world, announcing to men peace and repentance?

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MMG

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, Mission, PLaces

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