In Catholic, Christianity on April 29, 2009 at 3:00 am

Had an interesting conversation with a friend today, a Baptist.  He asked if I confess to a priest and accept penance.  I responded that I do.  He said, “But isn’t penance a ‘work’? Aren’t you doing something to earn forgiveness?  If you confess to Christ and sincerely repent, then you are forgiven.  Why do penance?  It’s like ‘busy work’ assigned as a punishment, or to earn God’s pardon, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately, many protestants have that perception of the Sacrament of Penance. Worse still, that is the perception of many Catholics.  My wonderful Baptist friend is a lapsed Catholic.

The Sacrament of Penance is actually one of God’s most beautiful gifts.  It is Christianity Richly, indeed!  Here’s how. But in describing penance by analogy, please understand that the full richness and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance cannot be captured in a formulaic way.  Even a good analogy falls far short of the reality of the sacrament itself.

So, penance:  aren’t we already forgiven? Yes, by God’s grace and mercy.  But think of sin confessed as kids breaking a window while playing baseball.¹ In Christ, the offense is forgiven and the price of the window fully paid.  There is no further forgiveness or payment for sin to be “earned.”  But one problem remains.  The broken window still has to be replaced.  

When we sin, we injure ourselves (and often others).  Part of us is “broken.”  Penance is the process of repairing the window; fixing what was broken; remedying the injury.  For example, if we confess fearfulness, our penance might be to prayerfully read Psalm 27:  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear?”  This is not busy work.  This is not punishment. This is God’s grace, restoration, love, and kindness offered to men and women, through the Sacrament of Penance.

Penance?  Yes!  It’s all part of Christianity Richly . . . and thanks be to God for it.


¹ Any analogy breaks, if pressed too far.  For example, one might offer the objection, “But the kids playing baseball didn’t break the window deliberately.” If your mindset is to object, rather than to understand, then please assume the batter possessed the necessary skill to deliberately drive the ball through the window of an annoying neighbor.  I trust, of course, that the readers of Christianity Richly have the attitude described by Saint Anselm (✝ 1109): “Faith in search of answers,” not skepticism demanding answers before exercising faith.

  1. […] to make a good confession, we must pay attention to any drift. Even my Baptist friend (see this post) recognized Confession and Penance as a clear moment of […]

  2. I practice penance daily. It is the only thing that has changed my life and brought me closer to true compassion, love, forgiveness, and light.

  3. I always think of the words of Our Lady to Bernadette at Lourdes: “Penance, penance, penance!” It seems to me to be a “duty” to do penance for us. I believe penance has many forms, like prayer, works (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, etc.) and most important, living a holy life according to our state. Another thought was about the broken window: penance could be the fact that it has to be paid for. I broke it (sin), I fixed (confession) and I paid for it (penance). Remembering Blessed Francesco of Fatima, whom Our Lady said would have to pray “many Rosaries” to get to Heaven, and he was only 10 years old! I’ve got a lot of penance to do because of my sins!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: