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Continuation of Loving Those We Evangelize (1 of 2)
Do penance for them
Okay, moving right along, how else can we love those we evangelize? By doing penance. Penance is a lost art in our church, and that’s too bad because for the past couple hundred years, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been calling mankind to penance and conversion. This was the essence of her messages at Lourdes, & Fatima.
Maybe the reason it’s a lost art is because we don’t understand it very well. So let’s talk about it.
There’s basically two kinds of penance: interior penance and external works. Interior penance involves the conversion of the heart toward God and away from sin, accompanied by a resolve to amend our life. This has to do with our own conversion. Then there’s the other aspect; the external works of penance. These are meant to be the outward expression of our interior penance.
So, doing works of penance are a way for us to love others by satisfying or compensating for the temporal punishment due to sin. What does this mean? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the order of God’s justice demands that a punishment be assigned for a sin because sin by its nature is a disordered act that goes against the order established by God. Someone who sins is overstepping their bounds in relation to God’s ordering of things and must be put back in their place. It is the suffering of punishment that seeks to effect this correction.
The Bible and the tradition of the Church attest to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as the primary forms by which this interior heart conversion is to be expressed. These become the primary ways in which we can carry out works of penance in order to atone for sin. If we really want God to save souls, and transform our culture we need to take seriously the call of our Blessed Mother for penance. It’s a simple case of crime and punishment. There’s been plenty of sinning in the world, now we have to step up and take on some of the punishment.
How can we do that? There are 3 concrete ways to do external works of penance. What you read next is from Pope Paul VI’s document from 1966 called Paenitemini.
The first way to do penance is to live our state of life well. So if you’re a mother or father, we know that there’s a fair amount of penances in marriage dealing with the weaknesses of others and bearing them patiently without complaining — think about the duties of cleaning the kitchen or bathroom after kids who aren’t, let’s say, saints yet. So before we think about the other ways to do penance, we need to first focus on those fundamental penances. Sister Lucia, when she was asked what kind of penance our Lady meant at Fatima she said that first and foremost we need to live out the duties of our state well.
The second way is for those who have a situation in life that is very difficult — a cross and burden — so, for instance, those dealing with terminal cancer or those in extreme poverty.
I’ve been thinking recently about the elderly in old folks homes or assisted living. Their mental capacity is diminished. They’re no longer in their home, they probably don’t see their families like they used to. They don’t have much to look forward to — talk about depressing. What if we could visit them, and talk to them about how their suffering could save souls? This could give them a real sense of purpose and give them a new outlook on life!
Maybe God has, or will, put it on the hearts of some of you to visit some of these places, and talk to older folks about how God wants to use their suffering to save souls. You could also do the same for folks in prison. So that’s the 2nd layer of penance — special crosses
The 3rd way Paul VI points out is voluntary penance — this is above and beyond both duties of life and those difficult crosses that come our way through Divine Providence. This includes fasting, but it can also include countless other small things throughout our day — we have a lot of opportunities to give something up as a penance — or to positively do something extra. For instance taking a cold shower instead of a hot shower, or sleeping on the floor once a week. That’s something for the younger folks to do. God doesn’t want us to cripple ourselves.
Here are some other examples of simple penances you can do: forgo your favorite beverage, for a day or a week. Go a night or week without TV if you normally watch TV. And fill that time by going to Eucharistic Adoration: extra prayer time is penance. Not all prayer time is penance, but extra prayer time can be. These are little ways of showing our preference for God over our own pleasures, and it can help to save a soul.
Here’s an important note — these sufferings have to be offered up, or united to Jesus’ sufferings on the cross and given to God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
We might be like, “I don’t get that. What could be lacking from Christ’s afflictions? Sounds like blasphemy.” What’s lacking is our participation. Whenever we suffer, we should join it to Christ’s suffering for the salvation of souls. To do it, we need to keep two things in mind:
- In order for this to work, we have to be in a state of grace. If we’re separated from God, then our suffering won’t have that same value.
- You have to give it to God — it doesn’t happen automatically. You can do it with a prayer, something like, “Father, I unite the suffering that I’m going through with Jesus’ suffering during his passion for the people I evangelized on Saturday” or “I offer this suffering up to you for my brother who isn’t practicing his faith. Please convert him.” You can be specific like that. It’s been said that every conversion of a sinful soul demands sacrifice.
Share sacramentals with them
A third way to love the people we evangelize is to gift them with blessed rosaries or Miraculous Medals. These are more than just a great way to break the ice. They are objects that are blessed by the prayer of the church and can be instruments of God to impart actual grace.
Keep in mind that grace is a supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation, and there are two kinds of grace — actual grace and sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace that saves. It is a sharing in the life of God Himself. We need to have sanctifying grace in our souls when we die if we want to go to heaven. We get sanctifying grace infused into our souls through sacraments of the Catholic Church — Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession, for example.
Actual grace, on the other hand, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside. It inspires someone to seek out salvation in Jesus, or to go deeper in His salvation. So when you give someone a blessed rosary or medal, you’re giving them a spiritual advantage!
We already talked about the Rosary, which is one popular sacramental. Let’s talk about our other favorite sacramental: the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is the most powerful medal there is. It’s been instrumental in bringing about many miracles like stopping a plague, curing the blind and crippled, and for bringing about Conversions.
So what’s the story of the Miraculous Medal? How did we get it? Well, it’s literally a gift from heaven, and I use that phrase when I’m evangelizing. I say, “this is literally a gift from heaven.” That piques their interest — and then I tell them more about it.
The story goes like this: In 1830, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young novice with the Daughters of Charity in Paris named Catherine Laboure. This was during the French Revolution. There was growing political unrest, unemployment, and food shortages. People were miserable.
On Nov. 27, Our Blessed Mother appeared to Catherine Labouré in the convent with her message of her never-ending care through a sacramental she herself designed. She told St Catherine, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck. Those who repeat this prayer with devotion will be, in a special manner, under the protection of the Mother of God. Graces will be abundantly bestowed upon those who have confidence.”
The prayer was, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
That same year a pandemic was sweeping across much of Europe. Cholera was killing tens of thousands. Paris alone saw 20,000 die — more than 3% of the population. Throughout France, the toll was 100,000. The pandemic spread to London and the United States.
When the first medals were minted, the Daughters of Charity began to wear them. They gave them to the sick and elderly to wear. People immediately took the Blessed Mother at her word. Almost immediately, miraculous healings, cures, and conversions occurred; people began clamoring for the Medal of the Immaculate Conception (as it was originally called). The Medal quickly spread throughout France and then the world. Before long, people were calling it the Miraculous Medal; everyone wanted the medal Mary had brought from Heaven.
The front of the medal shows Mary in her familiar image as the Immaculate Conception. She stands on a globe as Mother and Queen of mankind. Rays flow from her hands. Mary told St. Catherine, “These rays symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them.” Precious jewels on Mary’s fingers shed the rays. Those shedding no light represent graces that people forget to ask for, or do not ask for. In an oval around the Blessed Mother appear the words of the prayer.
There are countless stories of the Miraculous Medal, my favorite one is the story of the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne. Alphonse was a non-practicing Jew and atheist. He was the son and heir of a wealthy aristocratic family of Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. Well, Alphonse’s older brother converted to Catholicism and became a priest. The family was not happy. They disinherited him, and Alphonse held a deep hostility toward Catholicism.
One day, when in Rome, Ratisbonne met with the brother of one of his best friends, a devout Catholic, and this guy dared Ratisbonne to wear a miraculous medal and recite the short daily prayer to Mary — if nothing happened, then indeed there would be nothing to such “detestable superstitions,” as Ratisbonne called them. He took the dare. On his last day in Rome, the two of them met in the Church of St. Andrea delle Fratte. Immediately, Ratisbonne felt in spiritual turmoil. He saw a bright light that filled the chapel of St. Michael the Archangel. Alphonse said: “I saw someone standing on the altar, a lofty shining figure, all majesty and sweetness, the Virgin Mary just as she looks on this medal. Some irresistible force drew me towards her. She motioned to me to kneel down and when I did so, she seemed to approve. Though she never said a word, I understood her perfectly. … I was there, on my knees, in tears…. I took the medal… and kissed passionately the image of the Virgin radiant with grace. It was she!”
Shortly thereafter, he was baptized, and then later ordained as a priest. The conversion of this prominent figure helped move the Holy See to grant official approval for the medal.
Mother Teresa and St Maximillain Kolbe gave these medals out all the time, and St Maximillian said that a blessed Miraculous Medal is a “silver bullet” for conversions.
To recap, here are four loving things we can do to supercharge our evangelization efforts:
- Abide in Jesus in the Eucharist
- Pray for those you evangelize; pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for them
- Do penance for them
- Share sacramentals with them
God Bless you!