Can a penance be too severe?

I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time and I want to know if there’s situations that practicing severe penances or mortifications can become sinful?

After confession I’ve always done the penances given to me by the priest and I trust that I made a valid confession and will be forgiven but something that I don’t understand is that often the penance seems very (well for lack of a better word) easy in comparison to the sins I’ve committed.

I truly believe I need to do more!!!
Even if I should make it to Heaven and I pray I do, I feel that if I don’t practice more mortifications, penances, then I’ll be in purgartory FOR A V-E-R-Y L-O-N-G T-I-M-E!!!

Several great saints practiced severe/extreme mortifications to the body and I’m assuming they were pleasing to God…If the saints practiced these then why shouldn’t a great sinner like myself practice them?

I was told by a priest that this wouldn’t be pleasing to God if people practiced such penances now, WHY???

***I know that monks in certain monestaries used to beat themselves on Fridays and meditate upon the Passion of Christ…
***I believe it was St. Margaret of Cortona who because she was a beautiful woman disfigured her face so that she wouldn’t be looked upon by men.
***Many saints fasted to extremes.
And the list goes on and on…


Remember obedience is a virtue, obedience to a spiritual director or our priest or confessor especially so. The saints and others who undertook these extreme penances did so under the supervision and with the permission of their spiritual directors, and to the extent and in the ways their SDs permit. They wouldn’t dream of doing so without such permission.

Proof of the above is St Catherine of Siena, who, if memory serves, was advised by her spiritual director to give up her extreme penances - and obediently did so. Another is St Francis who ordered one of his brothers, being ill, to eat meat on a day where the rule was to abstain, in order to preserve his health. More than that, he made all that monk’s fellow-brothers eat meat at the same time, right alongside the ill one, so that he didn’t feel singled out or become embarrassed.

The obedience of these saints and friars to the advice of their superiors, and their consideration for their health which was given by God, and their good care of their bodies which are His instruments and thus not ours to ruin with excessive fasting or physical punishments, appears to have been no less pleasing to God than their extreme penances.

There’s certainly spiritual risks alongside the physical. One being the risk of developing an unhealthy Manichaean view of flesh (the body) being intrinsically evil and somehow worthy only of severe punishment. Which is something of an insult to God who created our bodies and created them both good and for His good purposes, not just to be punished!

Finally - have you ever heard of indulgences? Certain prayers and acts have been proclaimed by the Church as indulgenced, under certain conditions. Meaning that by saying and doing them you remit all (in a plenary indulgence) or some (in a partial indulgence) of the punishment due to us in purgatory. Every bit as spiritually profitable, and certainly more pleasant, than physical mortifications.

Remember too the example of Jesus - who did indeed in preparation for His ministry fast for forty days, but during that same ministry was accused of gluttony and drunkenness, so clearly wasn’t unduly ascetic in that sense, but DID nonetheless ‘mortify’ himself by praying a great deal.

The best way to do penance is not to beat oneself up or perform severe physical mortifications.

The best way to do penance is to work on virtues and strive to love God and to love neighbors as ourselves.

If you are a parent, and if one of your children hit the other, would you prefer to see this misbehaved child to do penance by breaking his own arm, or would you rather see him treat his siblings nice from now on?

I think God is most pleased to see that we get up from where we fall and turn the scar (the sin) into a star (a newly developed virtue).

:clapping: :clapping: :clapping:

Great posts you guys! :smiley:

I second that opinion!:slight_smile:

That was then, this is now. The modern Church discourages that sort of severe penance. It can still be done, but only with the consent of your spiritual director. Most will say NO!.:mad:

So what should you do?

My suggestion would be to pray Psalm 51 just after you get out of bed and just before going to bed. :slight_smile:

If you have true contrition for your sins, have done a good confession, and have been to communion, you can earn a Plenery Indulgence in several ways. One for yourself, and the rest for the Church Suffering. Somewhere on this forum is a list of devotions that earn indulgences, plenery and otherwise.

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that doing a 5 decade rosary in a Church was a good way to get that plenery indulgence.

As Psalm 51 reminds us, God is far more pleased with a contrite, humble heart then in sacrifices and severe penance.:yup:

Penance shouldn’t do permanent damage to your body. That being said, physical penance (mortification) can also be very beneficial to your soul. Long fasts, lengthy praying, praying with your arms streatched out to remind yourself of how the Lord was crucified, are good. It should never result in disability or death.

Have faith in your confessor, little one :wink:
A previous poster mentioned plenary indulgences. Good ways to get out of purgatory…perhaps not so free :wink: (because plenary indulgences are difficult to obtain. But you can always get the partial indulgence)
Here is a thread started with a similar question by your truly a year and a half ago. What I learned from that is corporal mortification can lead to pride, scrupulousity, and despair.
The Church only recommends prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as normal penances. To do more, you need a spiritual director.
Prayer, I believe really is the highest of these. With prayer, you become closer with the Church Triumphant. You can free souls from Purgatory, and so with those 2 prongs, when you get to Purgatory, you’ll have an army interceding for your purification and release.

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