THE ROYAL Artillery Band was playing one night in an open air bandstand in a park in Glasgow.
The rain was pelting down and their audience consisted of only one man, huddled in a deck chair getting more and more drenched, and showing little interest in the music.
Finally the band sergeant went and asked him if he had a special request. “Yes,” said the man, “I would like this concert to end as soon as possible because I’d like to lock the gates and go home.”
Here we have a situation of total misunderstanding, and how often do we do that in our lives?
Another incident comes to mind. Two young men are enjoying a meal in a posh London hotel while the country is at war. A lady at another table rises, walks over and gives a white feather to the men. She thinks they should be ashamed of themselves for not going off to fight for their country and brands them as cowards. What the woman didn’t know was that both men were soldiers in civilian clothes and had just come from a medal ceremony for bravery at Buckingham Palace.
So often without all the facts, without thinking a situation through, without searching for the real meaning in a situation, we manage to get things wrong.
And do we do this too in our understanding of the season of Lent and of the word penance. After his/her confession in the Roman Catholic Communion, a penance is given. When we think of the word, penance, we think of something difficult - perhaps unpleasant - that we have to do. And so, when the priest says, for example, “For your penance pray devoutly the Lord’s Prayer”, why do these words not strike us, not only as odd, but actually as wrong.
How can reciting the Lord’s Prayer be a penance? It’s a joy. In the Christian context - penance becomes entering into the Lord’s own life, so that, for instance, we love our enemies.
Of course this is difficult. We cannot love our enemies in the same way as we love our friends. That would be unnatural and impossible.
But we love as God loves, who sends His rain on the just and unjust alike, as Christ does who asks His Father to forgive those who are nailing him to the Cross. This love is God’s life.
It will cost us in life, but it is not a penance in the first sense of the word, but a glory and a joy.
Maximilian Kolbe died in Auschwitz yet we know that in that hell-hole, he was filled with the joy and peace of the Lord. Lent becomes our reality check. This time when we honestly look at ourselves as we are and our world as it is then look to God as He would see us and His world. This penance becomes our salvation, our good.
No longer would we rush into premature judgements.
Rev. James H. High