I intended to participate in a private pilgrimage on December 12th in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My plan was to get up, dress appropriately, and walk from my home to my parish at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto. The walk would have been approximately 5 miles. I would join the community there for Morning Prayer and then participate in the celebration of Holy Mass.
On Monday, December 11th, I suffered a minor injury that prevented me from walking the five miles.
I was devastated. I felt as though I was being disobedient to the instructions given to me by our Chapter Advisor, Brother Lupe. I could not ‘do a pilgrimage’ so once more, I am a failure.
What happened the night of December 11th was just ‘one more thing’, a straw placed on the back of this mangy donkey that was threatening to break her. Why wasn’t anything going right? What am I doing wrong? Wait - maybe this can be salvaged....what can I do today that will stretch me and give me something to work with for my spirituality?
This morning, December 12th, I woke up at 3am to pray and to contemplate three writings that deal with Penance. Below are my three choices to contemplate and what follows is the fruit of that contemplation, as I attempt to make sense of what is happening in my life today.
From the Summa Theologiae/Supplement to the Third Part/Question 28:
Some penances should be public and solemn for four reasons. First, so that a public sin may have a public remedy; secondly, because he who has committed a very grave crime deserves the greatest confusion even in this life; thirdly, in order that it may deter others; fourthly, that he may be an example of repentance, lest those should despair, who have committed grievous sins.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1450 “penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.”
From Holy Scripture:
Isaiah 43:25: O, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Because I am charged to review my life each evening, I am often confronted with my sins. Seen by me as ‘character defect in action’ I have to fight my own wounded nature each day. To walk a pilgrimage in honor of she who is sinless, the Ark of the New Covenant, was to be my acknowledgment of both her patronage of my Order and my own unworthiness as a creature. And while the sins confronted in my nightly examination of conscience have, so far, not been grave or mortal sin (as addressed in the second reason given for public penances), my sins are always public and should, therefore, have a public remedy.
How are my sins rarely private? I come in conflict with people. I usually have to struggle to either keep my mouth shut or I have to apologize for not doing so when my sharp words sting. Because my sins are not private, my penance should not be private. While my sins may not be grave, if I have committed them in public I must acknowledge them publicly and be willing to admit and make my amends in a public manner. Hopefully, the pain and humiliation I experience will serve as a cautionary tale to anyone watching me, so that they will not commit the same sins.
I am required to make that apology in a manner that is real – to be contrite of heart, to endure the public scrutiny of my actions willingly, to say OUT LOUD that I made a mistake and I hope the person or people will forgive me and then practice the humility necessary to endure their reaction. If they need to tell me how awful I am, then I must be quiet and listen. I do not allow anyone to abuse me, but neither do I wave a banner of 'ABUSE' as a way to escape that which I deserve.
What I must always hold onto in hope, however, is that God will not remember my sins once I have admitted to them. For me to go back to my error over and over, ‘worrying it like a bone’, as my late father would say, is not an act of humility; rather, it is reverse pride. I admit, I make amends, I gratefully acknowledge the forgiveness given by a human being or I solemnly accept that they will not forgive me, and I move on.
A Catholic is privileged in that we have a Sacramental and Liturgical Life which allows us access to intense graces. Those Sacramental Graces give me the ability to face the world with my fallen nature in check one more time. It is my responsibility, however, to shore up those graces regularly and to not pretend I am above the need for help.
While I fell short in our assignment this month and am not able to physically participate in a long walk, my pilgrimage must be interior. Sitting quietly this morning, no sound, no lights of distraction, reading, praying and asking for guidance from my Dominican saint – Margaret of Castello – I make my interior pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I pledge fidelity to her and my love to her and I ask for her prayers.