Lent is a season of prayer and penance. A traditional  instinctive reaction to the coming of Lent is to ask: What penance will I do?  What will I give up?  More  recently,  we have been challenged to ask more positively.  What, out of a spirit of generosity or penance,  will I do for Lent? Without denying the value of renunciation,  of giving up or doing something for Lent, let me add a third possibility.    This comes from distinguishing two types of penance.

The first type  is freely chosen.  As described  above, this is penance that we choose out of love,  generous almsgiving, or following the way of Jesus of fasting and prayer in the desert.  The second type is penance imposed upon us. We recognize the penances, sufferings  and hardships   already imposed upon us, and  accept them

In this year 2009,  we do not have to travel far and wide to see difficulties, sufferings   -  penances  that are imposed upon us every day.   Unemployment,   mortgage payments,   loss of the value of our stocks and savings -  we are all affected by the economic downturn which continues and  grows even worse.   This is Lenten penance imposed upon us. We cannot eat or feast as we could one year ago.  We are forced to cut back on food,  travel, and recreational expenses. Thrift stores become more attractive. These crosses are not far from us.  (Note that here I  say nothing of the millions of persons throughout the world who, due to lack of food, have fasting  imposed upon them every day of their lives).

These are the penances imposed upon us.  If accepted in a spirit of faith, they become  a key part of our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and the new Jerusalem.  Jesus faithfully and obediently accepted the suffering and cross imposed upon him. For us they are our way to share more deeply in his passion and suffering – uniting us more closely with Jesus Christ and his Father. If  prayerfully acknowledged and accepted, they become  redemptive, important means to grace and holiness this Lent and every Lent.