Assigning an appropriate penance to help grow in faith

By Fr. Richard Klingeisen | Special to The Compass | March 22, 2017

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Editor’s note: The Compass asked several priests about their experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation. During these weeks of Lent, we will share some of their reflections here. Since priests both hear confessions and seek the sacrament of reconciliation themselves, they have a unique perspective to share. This week, Fr. Richard Klingeisen reflects on the following question: Why is penance important, and how do you determine an appropriate penance to help someone grow in faith?

Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation for over 60 years as a penitent myself, and then as the confessor priest for more than 44 years, has provided multiple insights for me.

Namely, these years have influenced my personal response to the penance prayers that I have been given, and to how I now assign a penance to those coming to me for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Regarding my early understanding of penance, I would say that I understood it as a type of obligation to perform an act or to pray particular prayers due to my sinfulness. This was an expression of my willingness to turn away from the harm toward God and toward others, due to my sins.

As I grew in my understanding of my relationship with a loving, compassionate, merciful and all-patient God, I came to a different insight.

My act of penance, which was almost always prayer, became also an expression of gratitude to God. This insight has influenced the spiritual advice I provide, as a confessor and as a teacher, in which one comes to know a new relationship with a merciful and loving God when confessing one’s sins. “The penance restores and strengthens the commitment to be a disciple of Christ” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults).

Therefore, when I speak about penance in relationship to the sacrament of reconciliation, I encourage the penitent to be very grateful for God’s forgiveness. My suggested penance varies, depending on the nature of the sinfulness and the relative age of the penitent. I emphasize that true sorrow for sin is the central matter of importance and then, for the assigned penance, that gratitude be given to God.

By keeping in mind gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins, the penance could be spending some time silently with God, or expressing in their own words how thankful they are for the absolution of their sins, or praying the assigned prayers for their penance with the awareness of how much they are loved by God.

Sometimes, when there are relational problems, I assign a penance that includes giving a prayer gift to the one who was the object of anger or jealousy or whatever type of sinfulness that occurred. The penitent is asked to pray for the one whom they have hurt or the one who has hurt them. They are informed to do no harm to the other and to ask for God’s grace to help them to get along and live in greater friendship by striving for peace and unity.

Furthermore, there are penances that invoke the intercession of the saints and, especially, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of purity and chastity. The penitent is counseled to reach out to Mary when they are tempted by sins against purity or chastity.

Penitents are reminded to say an intercessory prayer to Mary, Mother of God: “Mary, Mother most pure or Mary, Mother most chaste, pray for me.” If these sins continue to be an obstacle to living a holy life, they are advised to create a desire to grow in holiness by continuing to pray to Mary and to the Savior, Jesus. The penance includes asking the Blessed Virgin to intercede for them through Marian prayers.

Finally, when the penitent is troubled as they express anxiety over the repetition of their sins, I let them know that I will pray that their spiritual journey to God will continue and that they will experience greater peace and joy in life. It is my hope that everyone will be specially blessed as they celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.

May the penance given in the sacrament be graciously received and fulfilled in order to deepen the desire to avoid sin.

Fr. Klingeisen is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarks Mills and St. Michael Parish in Whitelaw. He is a certified chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and coordinator of diocesan healthcare services. He is also spiritual director for Cursillo.

Save[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]Priests share their reflections on sacrament of reconciliation

My preparation to hear confessions | By Fr. Scott Valentyn

A few steps to preparing for confession | By Fr. Callistus Elue

How I prepare for my own confession | By Fr. Dave Pleier

Assigning an appropriate penance to help grow in faith | By Fr. Richard Klingeisen

Confession helps me to feel positive about my spiritual life | By Msgr. James Feely

A senior priest reflects on reconciliation | By Fr. Willard Van De Loo[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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