Lent, Ashes, Penance, and Mrs. Doubtfire – Catholic Blog Day

(Jonathan Sullivan has invited all Catholic bloggers to write on a common theme today – penance – as a way to mark Catholic Blog Day. I’m happy to participate with my fellow Catholic bloggers!)

There is a great scene in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire in which Robin Williams, dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire (a matronly British nanny), has had too much to drink. In his inebriated state, his eyes land on a sexy woman at the poolside bar and he attempts to hit on her, forgetting that he is dressed like an old woman. The incongruity of a man’s voice coming out of this elderly woman to hit on the young lady is hilarious. Had he been sober, he would have been more mindful of the situation.

Today, we wear ashes as a sobering admonition to be mindful in all that we do. Lent is not a somber time but a sober time. The ashes cause us to think twice before using foul language, flipping off someone, being selfish or grumpy, or acting in any way innappropriately, because we recognize how incongruous it would be for someone wearing the Cross of Jesus on their forehead to act so mindlessly. Although the ashes will wear off and be washed away, the season of Lent continues to call us to be mindful.

Which brings us to the notion of penance. Unfortunately, the words penance and punishment are often used interchangeably. Penance is not punishment, however. Punishment is imposed. Penance is sought out. Penance comes from the Latin word paenitentia which means “to seek forgiveness.”  Throughout the year, our consciences can become “inebriated” or dulled and we allow incongruent behaviors to enter into our lives. During Lent, we practice penance which is the act of cooperating with God to remove the incongruence in our lives and to set things right.

Practicing penance during Lent is not a sentence imposed upon us by the Church. Rather, it is our desire to put things right, to live congruently so that our thoughts and actions are consistent with someone who, in baptism, has been marked indelibly by the Sign of the Cross.

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About Joe Paprocki 2746 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

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