Righting a Wrong

Father Geiermann shows what steps one should take to repair the damage caused by one’s sins. He writes: “Even after the acts of repentance, conversion and purpose of amendment have been formed, certain external effects of sin may remain. They consist in the wrong that was done by sin to God and to our neighbor. These may be removed by works of satisfaction. Works of satisfaction are of three kinds: reparatory, vindictive or penitential, and medicinal or precautionary.”

Reparation is made to God by repairing His honor, and by making up for remissness in His service. Reparation is made to our neighbor by repairing the wrong done him through injustice, lies, detraction, and slander, and by treating him with kindness for any want of attention.”

“The vindictive or penitential works that satisfy for our sins are prayer, as atonement to God; fasting, as a castigation of ourselves; and almsdeeds as reparation to our neighbor. Prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds are here used in their widest application to the practice of religion, self-denial, and the works of mercy.”

“The medicinal or precautionary works of satisfaction are intended to protect us against a lapse, or a relapse into sin. They are acts of self-denial that are usually called ‘Mortification.’ Their importance arises from the evident truth that a prevention is better than a cure.”

“Mortification is the performance or endurance of anything repugnant to our natural inclinations for the purpose of submitting ourselves to the influence of grace and doing God’s holy will. . . . When mortification takes place at our own discretion it is called active; and when it consists in cheerfully enduring the trials sent or permitted by divine Providence it is called passive mortification.”

He cautions: “In the practice of mortification discretion is necessary to avoid the harm resulting from extremes.” On the one hand, excessive rigorism “injures the body and paralyzes the energies of the soul”; but, on the other hand, neglect of interior mortification “fosters inordinate self-love, and suffocates the love of God in our hearts.” Prudence prescribes that “no mortification should interfere with the performance of our duty or the practice of virtue.”

Moreover, he has this to say regarding austerities, which are extraordinary corporal penances, such as being content with the essentials in food, clothing, and accommodations, observing long periods of silence, keeping long vigils, and performing menial tasks: “Ordinarily it would be both presumptuous and rash to inflict penances so severe on ourselves. In fact, as Catholics we should attempt it only when (1) we have a special vocation to such a life; (2) after that vocation has been carefully investigated and positively sanctioned by our spiritual director.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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