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A little nudge about penance from the Holy Spirit transforms unwelcome isolation

by | Sep 19, 2021

The sheaf of papers in a bulky envelope from the health care system our family belongs to arrived in the mail. Along with all the instructions for the procedure I was to have done was a document with one short paragraph. After filling in my name, I was expected to sign it before a witness.

The Attestation of Self-Isolation was to certify that I had remained in my home for three days after my COVID test. No visits from children or grandchildren. No social events. No trips to the grocery store or restaurants or anywhere else. Curiously, the document didn’t specify church, but I suppose that was covered in the “included but not limited to” clause.

Well. You can imagine how that went over with The Soulful Catholic.

The various medical people among family and friends thought it was overkill, but there you have it. A person who claims to follow Christ can’t lie. I was bound to obey this thing.

The prospect of being holed up at home was not one I welcomed. Ever since a three-month-bed-rest stint when I was pregnant with our second child, the thought of not leaving home at least once during the day has felt like punishment. Frankly, I was dreading the weekend.

As I was taking a walk one morning and talking it over with the Lord, I felt a little nudge from the Holy Spirit. The words were a clear and direct: “You could offer it up.”

Huh. I hadn’t thought of that.

Back when I was a kid in Catholic school, the stalwart religious sisters who so patiently taught us were often wont to say: “Offer it up.” Unfortunately, to a little kid, this sounded mysteriously like, “Stop complaining, dear, and get back to work.” We weren’t sure what it meant but maybe the sisters knew this proclamation of theirs would stick with us through the years. It certainly did in my case.

So what does it mean to offer it up?

A wonderful article in First Things explains it this way:

“When you are in pain, when you are disappointed, when your feelings have been hurt, offer these things up to the Lord and ask Him to use your suffering that He join it to His own pain on the cross, for the good of others.”

In other words, penance. That’s not something we hear about much anymore outside of Lent, and even then, this kind of penance isn’t generally emphasized. Interestingly, just before I received the instructions from my health care provider, I’d been wondering how to do more penance in my life. Giving up meat on Fridays, something Catholics are expected to do unless they substitute another penance, isn’t really much of a sacrifice for me. I don’t eat a lot of meat.

(Just for fun, here’s the official canon law on the topic of meatless Fridays: “Canon 1251: Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.“)

“What else can I do, Lord?” I’d prayed. The priest who’s a spiritual advisor to me assured me that I could offer penance on behalf of others, including those dear to me who have abandoned the faith. I was eager to engage in the battle for their souls by way of penance.

Isn’t it interesting that not long after that conversation, an opportunity would come my way in the form of being homebound for three whole days?

What would have been an unhappy experience suddenly held forth promise. What a gift we have when we unite our little crosses to those of Jesus! What an attitude-changer that can be! Rather than bitterness and self-pity, by God’s grace we are empowered to whole-heartedly and joyfully embrace the bit of suffering that comes our way.

Between the TV Mass and the holy Eucharist my husband brought home, I felt the loving arms of Jesus around me throughout my three-day exile. (And, our house is a lot cleaner than normal, so that’s good.)

Praise to the Lord who never abandons us but draws near to all those who heed His tender call: “Be still and know that I am God.”

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