Preparing for Lenten Penances
by Thomas A. Droleskey
Today is Septuagesima Sunday. The purple of Advent gave way for Christmas joy thirty-three days ago now, returning now for most of the next nine weeks, save on the feast days of saints. Although the Christmas season does not end until this Saturday, February 2, 2013, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, its final six days this year overlap the time that we must start thinking about Lenten penances.
The season introduced today by Septuagesima Sunday is given us by Holy Mother Church to prepare us for the rigors of the forty days of Lent, which will begin very this year, on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013. The sloth that is part of fallen human nature inclines us to be "good to ourselves," to eschew penance and self-denial even though we know that our own sanctification depends upon making prayer, penance and self-denial essential parts of our daily lives, especially by means of total consecration to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother. We tend to postpone the sacrificing of legitimate pleasures and look with disdain upon the necessity of embracing with serenity of all of the crosses, both petty and demanding, until we are absolutely forced to consider doing some kind of penance for Lent.
In her wisdom, therefore, the Church has given us a period of sixteen days before Ash Wednesday to help us focus our attention on the necessity of embracing the Cross with every beat of our hearts. As we have been taught in recent centuries, starting with Saint Louis de Montfort, we should be offering up all of our daily penances to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart as her consecrated slaves. This very day, Septuagesima Sunday, occurs exactly nine weeks before Easter Sunday, which will occur this year on the next-to-latest date possible, Sunday, March 31, 2013. There are two more Sundays of preparation, Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday, to help us be ready for the solemn season of reparation, Quadragesima, the forty days of Lent. We must start thinking about our Lenten resolutions now, gradually withdrawing ourselves from the "rush" the the "pull" of the world. Ash Wednesday will be here in but a blink of an eye.
As noted just above, the liturgical calendar is such this particular year that the season of Septuagesima overlaps the final six days of the Christmas season. This is eminently appropriate if one considers the simple fact that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became Incarnate in Our Lady's Virginal and Immaculate Womb and was born in utter poverty in Bethlehem so as to pay back in His Sacred Humanity the debt of our sins on the wood of the Holy Cross that was owe to Him in His Infinity as God. The shadow of the Cross hung over Bethlehem at the first Christmas. It is thus quite appropriate for the shadow of the Cross of Christ to hang over us in the Sacred Liturgy so soon after the end of the Christmas season.
This period of preparation that starts today reminds us of the fact that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has mercifully kept us alive to this point in salvation history. That is, we are alive to at least start another season of Lenten prayer, penance, sacrifice, and almsgiving. Whether we live to see the completion of Lent 2013 is known to God alone. The season of preparation for Lent has started, though, and we must give great thanks to God for this as it affords us yet another opportunity in the liturgical calendar of the Church to prove our mettle as disciples of the Word Who was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us, the One Who offered Himself up once in a bloody sacrifice on Calvary and Who permits that same Sacrifice to be offered in an unbloody manner at the hands of a sacerdos acting in persona Christi in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Once again, you see, we have a chance to bear down, if you will, and to detach ourselves more from our various attachments to the world and its creature comforts that "creep" up on us from one Easter Sunday to the following Septuagesima Sunday or Ash Wednesday. It is now time to take stock of what legitimate pleasures and conveniences we can give up in order to make reparation for our own sins, which have wounded us and the Church Militant on earth in so many ways, and for those of the whole world, attempting to develop habits of sustained prayer and penance and mortification that may last well beyond the completion of the forty days of Lenten penance that begin in just seventeen days.
Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has granted an extraordinary grace to a handful of genuine mystics of knowing how the sins of all men caused Him to suffer unspeakably in His Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Holy Cross, and how they caused His Most Blessed Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to be pierced through with Seven Swords of Sorrow. Most of us would die if we saw just how much our own sins, both Venial and Mortal, caused Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer once in His Passion and Death and how they have wounded His Mystical Body, the Church, today, starting with the scars we have left on our own souls.
Mercifully, God restrains most of us from the knowledge given to genuine mystics. It is enough for us that we should come to an understanding of the fact that our sins caused the God-Man to suffer as He redeemed us and that we must come to despise even the thought of sin by scaling the heights of sanctity in imitation of the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and all of the saints. While our sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance by the words and actions of an alter Christus, we nevertheless must be conscious of doing not only the particular penance assigned by a true priest but of living penitentially at all times so our intellects, enlightened by Sanctifying Grace, will always be ready to accept the truths of the Faith and that our wills, strengthened by Sanctifying Grace, may help us to choose to live in accord with what Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has revealed through His Holy Church as true and thus for our sanctification and salvation.
Our Lady stressed the importance of penance in her Fatima apparitions. Who are we to refuse her, who was given to us by her Divine Son to be our Mother as she stood so valiantly by the foot of His Holy Cross? The penances we are asked to undertake need not be anything extraordinary. That is, a voluntary self-denial of some sort of food that we really like is an act of penance. God knows how much we become attached to sensible pleasures and delights. Our voluntarily acts of penance, which must be kept to ourselves and not announced to others, detach us from self and self-pleasure, inclining us to pray all the more for truly great crosses to bear for the sake of souls and for the sake of the restoration of the Church herself in all of her glory as she exercises the Social Reign of Christ the King in the lives of men and their nations. Getting up when we don't want to get up, doing our chores when we would prefer doing something else, indeed, just going about our daily duties in a spirit of love for the Cross can help us to grow in a love of Heaven and a detestation of anything that impedes our growth in sanctity to the highest degree possible below that of the Blessed Mother herself.
The ordinary penances of daily living are so obvious that it is difficult to see them.
Refraining from saying a cross word when provoked by another.
Accepting insults and slights with grace, understanding that the intentions of all hearts will be made manifest on the Last Day at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead and that the insults and slights that we endure from others pale into insignificance when we consider how our sins helped to crown Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with thorns and to cover His Holy Face with spittle.
Forgiving others without any hint of bitterness or resentment, understanding that nothing anyone does to us is comparable to what our sins did to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who forgives us in the Sacrament of Penance. Who are we to refuse to forgive others when we are forgiven so freely? We are required to forgive. Actually doing so, though, may take an act of humble self-denial.
In brief, therefore, we must accept every little thing that happens in the course of a day as having been foreseen by God for all eternity as being precisely the particular cross at that moment in our lives that He knew was best for us and which we can make redemptive if we cooperative with all of the sufficient grace provided for us at that very moment. In short, we are given moments of relatively small penances all throughout the course of each day of our lives.
True, there will be times of the more difficult crosses. Painful, debilitating long-term illnesses. An accident that wipes away in a second a person's ability to think or to speak or to walk or to see or to hear. The loss of a loved one. The uncertainty and material instability caused by the lack of an income sufficient to provide for one's own needs despite hard work and sacrifice. The real human pain of having to live in a time when ravenous wolves are dressed in the clothing of shepherds and seek to confuse the faithful by denying almost every article contained in the Deposit of Faith, acting as though the Church began in 1962 and that nothing before then matters at all (and that is indeed a schismatic act to even mention anything before 1962). Oh, yes, there are the difficult crosses that come our way.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., writing in The Liturgical Year, places this season of Septuagesima in its proper perspective:
He [Saint Paul, writing in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians] tells us this world is a race, wherein all must run; but that they alone win the prize, who run well. Le us, therefore, rid ourselves of everything that could impede us, and make us lose our crown. Let us not deceive ourselves: we are never sure, until we reach the goal. Is our conversion more solid than was St. Paul's? Are our good works better done, or more meritorious, than were his? Yet he assures us that he was not without the fear that he might perhaps be lost; for which cause he chastised his body, and kept it in subjection to the spirit. Man, in his present state, has not the same will for all that is right and just, which Adam had before he sinned, and which, notwithstanding, he abused to his own ruin. We have a bias which inclines us to evil; so that our only means of keeping our ground is to sacrifice the flesh to the spirit. To many this is very harsh doctrine; hence, they are sure to fail; they never can win the prize. Like the Israelites spoken of by our apostle, they will be left behind to die in the desert, and so lose the promised land. Yet they saw the same miracles that Josue and Caleb saw! So true is it that nothing can make a salutary impression on a heart which is obstinately bent on fixing all its happiness in the things of this present life; and though it is forced, each day, to own that they are vain, yet each day it returns to them, vainly but determinedly loving them.
The heart, on the contrary, that puts its trust in God, and mans itself to energy by the thought of the divine assistance being abundantly given to him that asks it, will not flag or faint in the race, and will win the heavenly prize. God's eye is increasingly on all them that toil and suffer. These are the truths expressed in the Gradual [of the Mass of Septuagesima Sunday]:
A helper in due time in tribulation: let them trust in Thee, who know Thee, for Thou dost not forsake them that seek Thee, O Lord.
V. For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end; the patience of the poor man shall not perish for ever; arise, O lord, let not man prevail.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, writing his reflection for Monday of Septuagesima Week, explained the consequences of the Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden and how we must use the season of Septuagesima to be reminded that we can make no compromises whatsoever with evil:
The serpent said to the woman: 'Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?' Thus opened the conversation, which our mother Eve so rashly consents to hold with God's enemy. She ought to refuse all intercourse with Satan; she does not; and thereby she imperils the salvation of the whole human race.
Each of us has consented by means of our sins and our immersion in the spirit of worldliness to engage in "conversation" with Satan, have we not? Moreover, the scions of the counterfeit church of conciliarism treat Satan's disciples in various false religions as having "useful ideas" that can "contribute" to the cause of world "peace," going so far as to participate in "inter-religious prayer" with these disciples, scandalizing and bewildering believers as a result, convincing many of them that "it is no big deal" with pray with heretics and apostates and infidels. Why bother with these words of Saint John the Evangelist?
Whosoever revolteth, and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that continueth in the doctrine, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him, God speed you. For he that saith unto him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked works. (2 John 1: 9-11)
Dom Prosper Gueranger's reflection on Monday in Septuagesima Week continues:
Let us recall to mind the events that have happened up to this fatal hour. God, in His omnipotence and love, has created two being, upon whom He has lavished all the riches of His goodness. He has destined them for immortality; and this undying life is to have everything that can make it perfectly happy. The whole of nature is made subject to them. A countless posterity is to come from them, and love them with all the tenderness of grateful children. Nay, this God of goodness who has created them, designs to be on terms of intimacy with them; and such is their simple innocence, that this adorable condescension does not seem strange to them. But there is something far beyond all this. He, whom they have hitherto known by favours of an inferior order, prepares for them a happiness which surpasses all they could picture with every effort of thought. They must first go through a trial; and if faithful, they will receive the great gift as a recompense they have merited. And this is the gift: God will them them to know Him in Himself, make them partakers of His own glory, and make their happiness infinite and eternal. Yes, this is what God has done, and is preparing to do for these two beings, who but a while ago were nothing.
In return for all these gratuitous and magnificent gifts, God asks of them but one thing: that they acknowledge His dominion over them. Nothing, surely, can be sweeter to them than to make such a return; nothing could be more just. All they are, and all they have, and all the lovely creation around them, has been produced out of nothing by the lavish magnificence of this God; they must, then, live for Him, faithful, loving, and grateful. He asks them to give Him one only proof of this fidelity, love, and gratitude: He bids them not to eat of the fruit of one single tree. The only return He asks for all the favours He has bestowed upon them, is the observance of this easy commandment. His sovereign justice will be satisfied by this act of obedience. They ought to accept such terms with hearty readiness, and comply with them with a holy pride, as being not only the tie which will unite them with their God, but the sole means in their power of paying Him what He asks of them.
But there comes another voice, the voice of a creature, and it speaks to the woman: 'Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree? And Eve dares, and has the heart, to listen t him that asks why her divine Benefactor has put a command upon her! She can to hear the justice of God's will called into question! Instead of protesting against the sacrilegious words, she tamely answers them! Her God is blasphemed, and she is not indignant! How dearly we shall have to pay for this ungrateful indifference, this indiscretion!
How many times have we not defended the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity and of the Blessed Virgin Mary when we have heard blasphemy uttered in our own midst? How many times have we failed to rise to defense of God and His Most Blessed Mother when we have heard or seen one of the blasphemies or sacrileges committed by one of the conciliar "popes" and/or their partners in apostasy and betrayal in the "hierarchy" of the counterfeit church of conciliarism? Have we grown indifferent to the blasphemies and sacrileges? Worse yet, have we tried to make excuses for them?
To return to Dom Prosper Gueranger's commentary for Monday in Septuagesima Week:
'And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die.' Thus Eve not only listens to the serpent's question, she answers him; she converses with the wicked spirit that tempts her. She exposes herself to danger; her fidelity to her Maker is compromised. True, the world she uses show that she has not forgotten His command; but they imply a certain hesitation, which savours of pride and ingratitude.
The spirit of evil finds that he has excited, in this heart, a love of independence; and that, if he can but persuade her that she will not suffer from her disobedience, she is his victim. He, therefore, further addresses her with these blasphemous and lying words: 'No, you shall not die the death; for God knoweth, that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' What he proposes to Eve is open rebellion. He has enkindled within her that perfidious love of self which is man's worst evil, and which, if it be indulged, breaks the tie between him and his Creator. Thus the blessings of God has bestowed, the obligation of gratitude, personal interest, all are to be disregarded and forgotten. Ungrateful man would become a god; he would imitate the rebel angels; she shall fall as they did.
"Her fidelity to her Maker is compromised." Yes, you see, the Season of Septuagesima reminds us that we can make no compromises with the spirit of the world, which is the spirit of the devil. We can never compromise the Faith. We must speak as Catholics at all times and in all circumstances, being careful never to engage in a deliberate admixture of truth and error and to make sure that we do not enable others who believe that they can build the "better world" by means of mixing truth and error, belief and disbelief, of actually promoting a civil "right" of human beings to do that which is evil and thus offensive to God, injurious to the souls for whom He shed every single drop of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross, and disruptive of social order and hence of a genuine peace, His very own, among nations.
We must never compromise the Faith by seeking the favor of the world. And we must never compromise the Faith, as so many are doing now, by serving as the enablers of the ancient enemies of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by permitting them, the adherents of the Talmud, to dictate the terms as to who is considered to be in "good standing" with them and thus who are considered be "acceptable" Catholics who can be counted upon to be good and loyal subjects of the figures of Antichrist in the counterfeit church of conciliarism. We must confess fidelity to Christ the King without burning a single grain of incense to the blasphemers and apostates of the counterfeit church of conciliarism who esteem the symbols of false religions with their own hands and who give them such influence over their internal policy decisions.
Despite the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, both ecclesiastically and civilly, however, we must remember that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is with us. He has not abandoned us. He has not abandoned Holy Mother Church. He wants to use us, especially by means of Total Marian Consecration, praying as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit, to help undo the harm our sins have done to ourselves and the Church and to thus plant the seeds for a restoration of all things in Him.
The season that commences today, Septuagesima Sunday, and continues through Shrove Tuesday, reminds us that we must live in accord with the liturgical calendar of the Church, thus placing what should be an habitual spirit of penance into a higher state of assiduous and faithful practice. Our Lady will keep us company as we assist at Holy Mass in the true Catholic catacombs each day, spending time with her Divine Son before His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and pray her Most Holy Rosary with fervor and devotion, keeping in mind our desire to make reparation for our own sins and those of the whole world, praying most especially for the restoration of Holy Mother Church as the fruit of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The joy of Easter Sunday awaits us in but nine weeks. The period of time between now and then is a simile for life itself. Whether we live to be seventy or eighty or ninety years and beyond, life is over in but a flash. An unending Easter Sunday of unparalleled joy awaits the just who persist until their dying breaths in a state of sanctifying grace. Is not a life of penance, lived in a more intensified manner, to be sure, during some parts of the liturgical year, worth the prize of an eternal Easter Sunday in Paradise?
Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, help us to be like thee. Help us to be so consecrated to thy Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart that we will one day come to detest even the thought of sin and will work more attentively to root it out in our own lives and thus be an instrument of rooting out in the life of the Church and the life of the world. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Viva Cristo Rey! Vivat Christus Rex!
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints