Feb 22, 2023 filed under Living Virtue.

Lenten meal

Chocolate, schmoclate. There’s nothing wrong with giving up food items for Lent, but we need to ask: are we getting to the core of penance that way, or just checking a box?

We know that conversion is the point of Lent, not suffering itself. The U.S. Bishops tell us: “The need for conversion and salvation is unchanging, as is the necessity that, confessing our sinfulness, we perform…acts of penance in pledge of our inward penitence and conversion.”

Small is beautiful

Penance, yes, but keeping it small can be a good idea. I learned that the hard way. The first time I fasted for 24 hours, it was a white-knuckle pity party the whole time. I checked that box, but I didn’t feel any closer to God afterward. I had to wonder if there was another way. Can we let God form us into the image of Christ in a way that lets penance be a source of joy? I think we can. We just need to make the penance doable and do it for love of God and neighbor.

Here’s one idea in three simple steps:

First, prayerfully determine your predominant fault. Is it impatience, or entertaining critical thoughts, or snapping at your husband or co-workers? If you can’t decide, just pick one behavior you’d like God to heal. That makes for a simple start. After all, it doesn’t really matter which one you pick because cultivating one virtue makes them all stronger!

Second, prayerfully use your common sense to decide one little change in behavior that would help turn that vice into a virtue. We’re talking baby steps – something small. For example, if your fault is anger, ask your Guardian Angel to nudge you to count to 10 (or even 5!) before you speak when you get mad. That’s all. That’s your victory. Anything that happens after that count of 10, well, you can work on that later.

Another example is impatience. Long grocery line? Assume God has allowed the delay because someone needs a prayer. Ask God who it is and ask him to bless that person. Boom – you’ve redeemed that time for Christ. And if the grocery line is really long, the impatience will probably emerge again. Perfect chance to rack up those Lenten victories. And don’t worry if your emotions don’t track perfectly with the prayer. Saying the little prayer with good intention is the victory.

Overeating? Put 10% less food on your plate than you would have before. And intentionally skip one Reese’s (or, in my case, a York Peppermint Patty) each day.

Doable. Intentional. For love of God.

Third, keep a record of your victories in a journal or app, or send yourself a text at the end of the day. And be sure to thank God for your wins, because you know you didn’t do it on your own.

Fresh start

Try to see yourself as starting anew each day, or each hour fresh with Jesus. Bring things to Confession as needed. God forgets your confessed sins and sends you out of the confessional shiny new. The secret is to keep your focus on gratitude for the victories and how much grace you’re drawing down in just a few seconds each time.

In our limited way, we’re living out Christ’s victory over sin and death. And by keeping our penances small and frequent, we’re cultivating our humility as well. That is, we show up poor, with our “two fish,” and God responds with abundant grace for our souls and for the world.

Keep it doable, keep depending on God, keep beginning again, and you just might have the most joyful Lent ever.

Love always,


Quotation above from United States Council of Catholic Bishops Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence


11 Responses to “Bringing Joy to Penance”

  1. Esther Davis

    I love your yogurt recipe, and Penance advice for Lent. Its all easy to do and say, all I need is a hard push to do them. I have to call on my Angel to help me with everything. Am aging quickly, and have much more to offer to my Lord now. I hope He is ok with all my offerings of penance. I find so many different ways as each day comes around. I don’t plan, I just do whatever strikes me when the opportunity comes. There are more penances that way. As you said, chocolate, schmocolate, there are other ways.

  2. Terry Wollersheim

    What a great article, Rose! I’m sharing this with my women’s group on Monday. Thank you for making it all more doable.

  3. Kim Bullock

    Thank you for the penance advice. It is so helpful to know I can do penance at every moment possible. I am sending this message on to my family prayer group.

  4. Judith

    I like the suggestions as I feel like I failed once again this Lenten Season. My penance is talking less, listening more and carefully choosing my words. Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true I will ask my guardian angel to bring to mind before I speak. Thank you once again Rose as you once again posted on a subject troubling me. Blessings and thanks, Judith

  5. Susie Melkus

    That’s really true. I am doing better in the grocery lines, as I’ve been praying Hail Marys there for many years, though sometimes, it creeps back in and I am reminded immediately by the Holy Spirit. I am going to do better at this also in traffic, and “l o n g” red lights. I started that years ago, too, but that needs a ‘refresher course!’ Thanks much, Rose! A blessed Lent to you and yours. + JMJ +

  6. Maria C Cuevas

    Rose these lenten suggestions are very beautiful and inspiring. I will do my best to follow them. May the Lord keep blessing you always. Thank you.

  7. Lourdes

    Thank you Rose. Your advice is very helpful as always. You make things sound easier the way you explain it. I have so much to learn and to put in practice but like you mentioned, I have to use every opportunity to try and change the way I react to situations.