The Most Reverend John J. Humphreys
ADVENT PASTORAL LETTER, 2002
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
The holy season of Advent calls us to penance. It has ever been so. Even with all the strange occurrences within the Church in the aftermath of Vatican Council II, the season beckons to a disposition of penance within each of us, in preparation for the spiritual rebirth of Christ within our midst.
Now, penance is not something that is supposed to be gloom and doom. It is not the wearing of ashes, nor is it an expression of pain. Indeed, penance, in its proper disposition, is an expression of love. It is the reaching out of each one of God’s children to our heavenly Father, recognizing that our true love must be expressed for Him in terms of reparation for the offenses we have committed against Him. It should be no different from the child, who, in the face of being caught in the act of committing some forbidden deed – sinful or otherwise, blurts out to the parent – taking that parent completely off guard, "I love you, Dad; I love you, Mom."
Penance is a preparation for the final
judgment each of us is to face when we are summoned by God to give an accounting
of our stay on this earth. In the Imitation of Christ we read, "In
all things look to the end concerning how you will stand before the strict
Judge, from Whom there is nothing hidden; Who takes no bribes and receives no
excuses, but will judge that which is just." (Bk. I, Ch XXIV.)
Mass itself can be a penance, when it is offered in reparation for our own sins and those of others. The Rosary is a most fitting penance, which gives us a meditation on all the earthly highlights of the lives our blessed Lord and His holy mother. The Stations of the Cross provide an extremely fitting penance, when we meditate upon the pain and suffering endured by our blessed Lord, Himself doing penance for each of us on His journey to Calvary. Works of kindness for relatives, neighbors and friends can be a great source of penance, especially when such actions remind us of just how well off we sometimes are, as compared with the people we are trying to help. Making donations for those in need is a generous form of penance. Hitting our pockets and pocketbooks is a sure way for most of us to do penance – most of us are not instinctively generous with our material possessions! Visiting hospitals and nursing homes – and even jails, sometimes, is a most salutary form of penance, so humbling, so much giving of self in a unique way! Short prayers for others, quick deeds for others, without looking for something in return – are fine ways to express our sorrow to our heavenly Father in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of others. Fasting, abstaining and other forms of personal sacrifice are splendid forms of penance and so imitative of our blessed Lord in His own personal life on this earth. No more suitable penance can be found on earth than the prayers we offer for the souls in purgatory; indeed, holy Church gives us an entire month – which we are just concluding – to consider those souls often, both privately and through our communal devotion in our churches.
All these matters are joyful expressions of love for Almighty God. Most bring with them generous indulgences, even plenary indulgences under the proper conditions required for the obtaining of such indulgences, for those for whom we wish to acquire these great gifts of the Church.
I urge you to re-examine your "penance quotient" NOW as a matter of growing spiritually in preparation for the great feast of Christmas, which is rapidly approaching. If you do so, you will indeed find yourself truly keeping Christ in Christmas. If you do so, you will greatly strengthen your own spirituality. We are called to holiness, and the greatest means of becoming holy is by joining the great saints in the annals of the Church who have led us all in this struggle to do penance – for ourselves and for our friends and loved ones.
I wish you the joy of discovering a most beautiful Advent through a realignment of your spiritual priorities, both in preparation for a most blessed Christmas season and for your finding true peace in our beloved Savior.
With every good wish and prayerful blessing to you and yours, I am yours faithfully in Christ,
The Most Reverend John J.