Penance

The Psalmist declares: “A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humble heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Ps 50:17)

On the subject of doing penance—a practice often misunderstood—Padre Quadrupani begins his instruction with the fundamentals: “According to the teaching of St. Thomas there are three ways of doing penance, namely, fasting, prayer, and alms-deeds—either corporal or spiritual.”

Quadrupani is quick to remind us that “it is not in accordance with the spirit of the laws of God and of his Church, which prescribe fasting, to injure your health thereby, nor to hinder the accomplishment of the duties of your state of life.” Furthermore, when we cannot fast, “the other two penitential works, prayer and alms-giving, can in this case take the place of corporal austerities in the fulfilment of the Christian duty of penance.”

Moreover, he adds: “Labor, sickness, disappointments, reverse of fortune, dryness in prayer, all these when accepted with resignation are penitential works, such, too, as are the more agreeable to God from their being so distasteful to ourselves.”

Next, he shows how acts of penance are virtuous: “All virtues may be divided into two great classes, active and passive. The characteristic of the active virtues is to do good, of the passive, to endure evil. Now the virtues of the second class are more meritorious and less perilous. In the active virtues nature can have a large share, and a dangerous self-complacency, or satisfaction in their effects, may easily glide into them. This danger is less to be feared in the practice of the passive virtues, especially when the sufferings are not of our own choosing but come to us direct from the hand of God.”

On the matter of afflictions involuntarily suffered, he quotes St. Augustine: “The body is a poor invalid confided to the charity of the soul, the soul being commissioned to give it such assistance as it requires. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, are its habitual ailments; let the soul then charitably apply to them the needful remedies, provided these be always within the bounds of moderation and prudence.” Quadrupani concludes: “He who acts in this way fulfils a duty of obedience to his Creator.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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