top of page

Thoughts on Penance

These are the ripe fruits of the mortified soul: tolerance and understanding for the defects of others; intolerance for one's own. (The Way, 198)

Penance means being very charitable at all times towards those around you, starting with the members of 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‑humouredly 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. (Friends of God, 138) – Saint Josemaria Escriva

It is also important, by the way, that public forms of communal penance are being developed again. When Jonah came to Nineveh and demanded penance, everyone knew what penance was: one put on penitential clothes, fasted, and prayed. When Muslims celebrate Ramadan they know the procedure, and they also know that penance can become a concrete reality for a people only if it has a common form and a regular time in the course of a year. In our case penance has lost its communal form completely. When Christians are called upon to do penance, they do not know what this is; they may perhaps set up a committee or else depend totally on private views. The classical triad--fasting, praying, and giving alms--must be put back into its rightful place; Christians must also rediscover the ability for communal expression with which they publicly display their distance from all that is taken for granted in the world. (Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, p. 197)


Francis himself, as if to sum up his inner experience in a single word, found no concept more pregnant with meaning than that of “penance.” Thus did the Lord grant to me, Friar Francis, to begin to do penance. (St. Francis of Assisi, Testament, 1)


So it was that he saw himself essentially as a “penitent,” as it were, in a permanent state of conversion. Abandoning himself to the Holy Spirit’s action, Francis was converted ever more closely to Christ, transformed into a living image of him on the paths of poverty, love and mission. (Pope Benedict XVI, Assisi, 17 July 2007)

"The Church reaffirms the religious and supernatural values of penitence. She invites everyone to accompany the inner conversion of the spirit with the voluntary exercise of external acts of penitence." (Pope Paul VI,Paenitemini - Apostolic Constitution on Penance)



"The parish is to be a community that calls others to a deeper conversion of life from sin to the light of Jesus. That, in my judgment, should lead us to a further exploration of a restoration of the "Ordo Poenitentium" -- the Order of Penitents -- that was present in the patristic Church. . . . A restructuring, a renewal, a rediscovery of the "Ordo Poenitentium," for example as in the early Church, would be an opportunity in which priests and people would recognize their sinfulness, would be willing to surrender in their vulnerability to the tough love of the community in making known their weakness, their sinfulness, and asking for a public penance." (Cardinal J. Francis, Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council on the Laity, Archdiocese of Boston: The Pilot, 8 August 2003).

bottom of page