St. Josemaria Escriva on Penance

The asceticism of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, his love for the Cross and the search for it in secular ordinariness.

On October 16th, 1931, while in the street, he heard: “You are my Son; you are Christ.” The point to be made: As Creator of all that is, Christ could not be made to suffer because His divine “I” had to create that which would cause His “I” to suffer as man. That is to say: the penance and the mortification of Lent, as understood by St. Josemaria Escriva, is something that we have to search for if we are to live it as Christ lived it. Escriva wrote: “For us to reach God, Christ is the way: but Christ is on the Cross.”[1] And then: “You yourself must decide of your own free will to take up the Cross; otherwise, your tongue may say that you are imitating Christ, but your actions will belie your words. That way, you will never get to know the Master intimately, or love him truly. It is really important that we Christians convince ourselves of this. We are not walking with our Lord unless we are spontaneously depriving ourselves of many things that our whims, vanity, pleasure, or self-interest clamor for. Not a single day should pass that has not been seasoned with the salt and grace of mortification; and please get rid of the idea that you would then be miserable. What a sad little happiness you will have if you don’t learn to overcome yourself, if you let your passions and fancies dominate and crush you, instead of courageously taking up your Cross!”[2] And shortly beyond that, he gave a short phenomenology of penance:

              “Penance is fulfilling exactly the timetable you have fixed for yourself, even though your body resists or your mind tries to avoid it by dreaming up useless fantasies. Penance is getting up on time and also not leaving for later, without any real reason, that particular job that you find harder or most difficult to do.

               Penance is knowing how to reconcile your duties to God, to others and to yourself, by making demands on yourself so that you find enough time for each of your tasks. You are practicing penance when you lovingly keep to your schedule of prayer, despite feeling worn out, listless or cold.

               Penance means being very charitable at all times towards those around you, starting with the members fo your own family. It is to be full of tenderness and kindness towards the suffering, the sick and the infirm. It is to give patient answers to people who are boring and annoying. It means interrupting our work or changing our plans, when circumstances make this necessary, above all when the just and rightful needs of others are involved.

               Penance consists in putting up good-humoredly with the thousand and one little pinpricks of each day; in not abandoning your job, although you have momentarily lost the enthusiasm with which you started it; in eating gladly whatever is served, without being fussy.

               For parents and, in general, for those whose work involves supervision or teaching, penance is to correct whenever it is necessary. This should be done bearing in mind the type of fault committed and the situation of the person  who needs to be helped, not letting oneself be swayed by subjective viewpoints, which are oft en cowardly and sentimental.

               A spirit of penance keeps us from becoming too attached to the vast imaginative blueprints we have made for our future projects, where we have already foreseen our master strokes and brilliant successes. What joy we give to God when we are happy to lay aside our third-rate painting efforts and let him put in the features and colors of his choice.

               I could continue pointing out a multitude of details (I have just mentioned those that came immediately to mind) which you can take advantage of during the course of the day to come closer to God and to your neighbor.

[1] “The Way of the Cross” – 10th Station.

[2] “Friends of God,” 129.

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