In last week’s blog I shared on the Joy of Lent. One of the ways the Constitution of our Order describes our Trappist-Cistercian life is one of “joyful penitence”. Usually people do not immediately associate penance with joy! Penance, self-denial and mortifications may be more readily associated with sorrow and pain and seen as a burden to be avoided or at best a duty to be endured. Certainly sorrow for sin, what the monastic tradition calls ‘Penthos’, a sorrow leading to Compunction of Heart, is an essential element. However another element of the practice of penance is truly JOY. How is this so?
Early on in my monastic training I was taught that penance really means ‘setting things right’. Disordered loves, that is, unhealthy preoccupation and attachments to our own appetites, needs, wants, desires and compulsions can create obstacles to the complete freedom God wants for us; the freedom to follow Jesus in loving God and neighbor with our WHOLE being.
The penitential discipline practiced in the Order such as fasting and vigils, assiduous dedication to prayer, manual labor, a hidden life in the cloister, humble obedience to superiors, willing service to all the brothers, and other practices are all designed to take us out of ourselves and open us to the Other: to Jesus Christ Who is at the center of all our practices, and to our neighbor. The purpose of voluntary penance is meant to be medicinal, a healing grace from God, interiorly “setting things right”. From this point of view it is truly a joyful work!
God bless you!
Br. Christopher and monks of New Clairvaux Abbey
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