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How to explain penance to my parents


MaríaHernández

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Hi! My name is María. My home situation is not going perfect these days. My father sort of believes in God's existence but is very far away from the Church. My mom is going through a dark night and hasn't gone to confession in a couple of years. She comes to chuch with me but she is more or less like a furniture piece. Their names are Fernando and Raquel, it would be great if you prayed for them. The family situation is suffering because of this, there are many screams, arguments, mockings, bad attitudes... 

As you know, Lent has already started. It has been very difficult for me to convince my mom to let me do fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but this year she has finally let me. And we practice abstinence on Fridays. My dad hardly agrees on this, he says that it is just a stupid law from the church and that God doesn't care about what we eat and He doesn't want us to be hungry. I have tried to talk with him about this, but it is very difficult. As it has happened other times, he just keeps on repeating his points and doesn't hear mine when I try to explain what the Bible says. I have to work on this too, I try not to continue these talks when I feel that they are going to develop into an argument and, like my confessor recommended me, I try to evangelise him with love and acts and not with speeches. Also, if we have recently talked about something and my dad starts on arguing about it again I gently ask him to stop.

Anyways, in this context, they do not know that I am doing a little bit of fasting monday to friday (I'm working on skipping breakfast and snacks and eating lunch and dinner). I think they probably won't notice this and I am planning on having a glass of milk when I have breakfast with my mom. What worries me a bit more is that I am also leaving my electric blanket this Lent. I have chronic back and neck pain and I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do this Lent that would made me trust Him more. And I clearly sensed that it was the electric blanket. I am offering the extra pain for my parents. But the thing is that I don't know what to do when they ask me why I don't use it anymore. They know that I use it every night so that I can sleep better. My dad usually sets an alarm to check that I have turned it off and I don't leave it on for the whole night. When I kiss him goodnight I usually tell him at what hour he has to set this alarm. Up to this point he has asked me two nights and I have told him not to worry and that I would be praying for a while before sleeping. The other nights, he hasn't notice, but at one point or another they will ask me. I don't want to play games and do as if I used the blanket but not turning it on. But there is no way that they would understand this and they would probably be very pissed around the situation and get mad. Like when they found out that I prayed for God to give me their pain so that they could get a break. They told me they didn't want me to do any type of penance or mortification or anything like that. Please, any advice? I don't know how to solve this. 

If you are wondering, so far God has taught me to trust in Him and that it is possible, to take more care of myself and my pain and to ask for help (I have stopped asking for help in daily activities like draining pasta, getting things out of the oven, lifting weight and it has caused tendinitis. God has taught me that I need to ask for help again, it doesn't make me less worthy or a burden or willing to help when needed).

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I don't think it's sensible for you not to use your electric blanket if this means  you are in pain. I'd be annoyed too if I was your parent. God helps those who help themselves. Fair enough to give up chocolate cake and other  treats for Lent but I don't  agree with  skipping meals.  If you buy magazines give that up and donate the money to charity.  

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Has a spiritual director approved a penance that amplifies and/or inflicts physical pain? If not, it would not be advisable to undertake.

And...there is also respecting the wishes of your parents. You are partaking in the Lenten fast but they have specifically asked you to refrain from extra penance in their name. Without the advisement of a spiritual director (which it sounds like you do not have), you should respect the wishes of your parents.

You need to speak to your priest and a spiritual director. What you are outlining is not particularly healthy or coming from a healthy mindset, and engaging in extra and/or excessive penance without the direction of spiritual director or, at the very least, a priest, is not operating under the wishes of the church.

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If you can find copies, I'd greatly recommend books by Mary Margaret Funk OSB. They are a superb treatment of genuine ascetic theology and practise. (Go through them slowly, and with prayer. She is not suggesting every practise is for everyone.)

Ascetic practises are a way to remove distractions from love of God and neighbour. Too often, in the entire western Church (and for centuries), 'giving things up,' and inflicting pain on one's self, was seen as a means to atone for sin. You are likely to be very excessive, from what you mention above. (Some of the Orthodox Christians may observe such practises as a vegan fast, but it is not a 'church law,' and there is a custom of having direction. Practises embraced by some Orthodox monks are not 'binding' on all.)

Why are you trying to influence your parents? Example? (Yet another idea which could become highly excessive.) Leave them alone - unless, as it seems your mother is doing, they are cautioning you against what truly is unhealthy. If you have direction, discuss the root of your excessive ideas. I'm not saying to tell us - but explore, with direction, whether you have some exaggerated guilt, or some sense that you have to atone for the sins of the world, or an idea of 'saving souls' (...yes, give me a week, and I'll create the cosmos.)

Those, in previous centuries, who did not have treatment for illness and relief of pain - because nothing COULD be done - were acting with resignation. There is absolutely nothing in any sound theology now which means we cannot have medical treatment, or that we should do things to increase pain! When it is possible to have an alleviation of pain, or treatment of illness, we serve God better healthy than we do sick!

I am in consecrated life, and naturally have no children - but I'm positive that, if I did have a daughter, even I would dislike the sort of practises you mention. 

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22 hours ago, MaríaHernández said:

Hi! My name is María. My home situation is not going perfect these days. My father sort of believes in God's existence but is very far away from the Church. My mom is going through a dark night and hasn't gone to confession in a couple of years. She comes to chuch with me but she is more or less like a furniture piece. Their names are Fernando and Raquel, it would be great if you prayed for them. The family situation is suffering because of this, there are many screams, arguments, mockings, bad attitudes... 

As you know, Lent has already started. It has been very difficult for me to convince my mom to let me do fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but this year she has finally let me. And we practice abstinence on Fridays. My dad hardly agrees on this, he says that it is just a stupid law from the church and that God doesn't care about what we eat and He doesn't want us to be hungry. I have tried to talk with him about this, but it is very difficult. As it has happened other times, he just keeps on repeating his points and doesn't hear mine when I try to explain what the Bible says. I have to work on this too, I try not to continue these talks when I feel that they are going to develop into an argument and, like my confessor recommended me, I try to evangelise him with love and acts and not with speeches. Also, if we have recently talked about something and my dad starts on arguing about it again I gently ask him to stop.

Anyways, in this context, they do not know that I am doing a little bit of fasting monday to friday (I'm working on skipping breakfast and snacks and eating lunch and dinner). I think they probably won't notice this and I am planning on having a glass of milk when I have breakfast with my mom. What worries me a bit more is that I am also leaving my electric blanket this Lent. I have chronic back and neck pain and I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do this Lent that would made me trust Him more. And I clearly sensed that it was the electric blanket. I am offering the extra pain for my parents. But the thing is that I don't know what to do when they ask me why I don't use it anymore. They know that I use it every night so that I can sleep better. My dad usually sets an alarm to check that I have turned it off and I don't leave it on for the whole night. When I kiss him goodnight I usually tell him at what hour he has to set this alarm. Up to this point he has asked me two nights and I have told him not to worry and that I would be praying for a while before sleeping. The other nights, he hasn't notice, but at one point or another they will ask me. I don't want to play games and do as if I used the blanket but not turning it on. But there is no way that they would understand this and they would probably be very pissed around the situation and get mad. Like when they found out that I prayed for God to give me their pain so that they could get a break. They told me they didn't want me to do any type of penance or mortification or anything like that. Please, any advice? I don't know how to solve this. 

If you are wondering, so far God has taught me to trust in Him and that it is possible, to take more care of myself and my pain and to ask for help (I have stopped asking for help in daily activities like draining pasta, getting things out of the oven, lifting weight and it has caused tendinitis. God has taught me that I need to ask for help again, it doesn't make me less worthy or a burden or willing to help when needed).

Hello Maria,

Do you have a spiritual director? Or the confessor that you mentioned is he your spiritual director?

Taking on the pain of another person is very dangerous territory and should not be done unless at the "ok" or "consent" of one's spiritual director or confessor. 

I would also say that fasting Monday through Friday if you have a chronic health issue is not probably the best. There are many other things that one can fast from in order to offer up for others. An example is I love music, so I fast from music on certain days because I have some health conditions that do not allow me to fast from food. I want to fast, but both the doctor and my SD have said that it would not be prudent to do so. Also, giving up the electric blanket because you have chronic pain, may not be prudent either. This is where it would be helpful to discuss with a SD or a trusted, regular confessor. 

Other thoughts are is there a condiment that you really love like ketchup? Don't put ketchup on your food. Or maybe you love a certain drink and you deny that for offering that up for your parents. There are ways to maintain proper care for yourself without making it more harmful for yourself.

It is beautiful that you want to offer some of this up for your parents, but we must seek what is the most prudent way of doing so in the name of Jesus given your own health difficulties. There are many ways that one can offer up things when it is not wise or prudent to do it in other ways.

You also mentioned towards the end that God has showed you to take better care of yourself so if that is something you've discerned in prayer then giving up the electric blanket and fasting Monday-Friday is not conducive to receiving that in prayer. 

Know of my prayers.

God Bless You.

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I think what should be mentioned here is a doctor.  Maybe you can speak to him first to see what he thinks would be healthy or unhealthy practices for you particularly.

The electric blanket seems like it should be used because pain can exacerbate other problems, and if you are experiencing joint problems, this is a major issue.

The fasting, however, perhaps that's okay, but only perhaps. If you're someone with EDS, for example, I would say, "No way, you need all the nutrition you can get."

So, I would certainly ask the doctor what is safe for you to do during Lent. Then, I would let your confessor/spiritual director know and ask his permission.

With someone that has chronic issue, often resignation, daily cheerfulness, and humiliations that come with the disability are fitting and beautiful penances to offer to God.

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I'm not a spiritual director, and know nothing whatever of psychology - I'm just an ageing lady who has weathered enough storms, and seen enough of others. Here is a quote from Evelyn Underhill, which contains a wisdom you may find useful.

Evelyn Underhill - The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today:
The tendency of the unconscious self to realise without criticism a suggested end lays on religious teachers the obligation of forming a clear and vital conception of the spiritual ideals they wish to suggest... to be sure they are wholesome, and tend to fullness of life. It should also compel each of us to scrutinise those religious thoughts and images.. on which we allow our minds to dwell: excluding those which are merely sentimental, weak, or otherwise unworthy, and holding fast the noblest and most beautiful...For these ideas, however generalised, will set up profound changes in the mind that receives them. Thus the wrong conception of self-immolation will be faithfully worked out by the unconscious - and has been too often in the past - in terms of misery, weakness, or disease. ...(The) idea of herself as a victim of love worked physical destruction in Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus: and we shall never perhaps know all the havoc wrought by the once fashionable doctrines of predestination and of the total depravity of human nature. All this shows how necessary it is to put hopeful, manly, constructive conceptions before those whom we try to help or instruct; constantly suggesting to them not the weak and sinful things that they are, but the living and radiant things which they can become.
(It is in the context of a chapter entitled "Psychology and the Life of the Spirit".)
 

I agree with Grace, by the way, that it can be utterly disastrous to take on 'penances' on behalf of others - the more if this means we're judging them as being guilty of sins. (My parents were very good people, my mother devout, my father very dedicated to what was his vocation as a spouse and parent. They didn't know what 'penances' meant, and I've have had enormous hubris, had I sought to 'instruct' them.) We mustn't inflict punishments on ourselves for any reason - even if it's for what one sees as an ill of society. Don't even think of being a victim in any way. It not only can ruin your physical and mental health, but can make you open to seeing normal parts of life as if God or the devil were the direct source of them.

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