How should one approach a penance that is more of a change of habit rather than a one time, concrete penance? To clarify, obviously if a priest tells you to say 10 Hail Mary’s or to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour, that is pretty straight forward, but when he tells you to start reading the Gospels every day or praying for a person after every time you criticize them, it’s a little more ambiguous. Of course the goal is to change a bad habit or to create a new good one, and hopefully it is accomplished, but at what point is your penance fulfilled?
When it no longer feels like a penance.
I would do the assigned penance for a few days (say 3), and then, next time I’m in confession, mention exactly what penance I was given, and exactly what I penance I performed. I’d also do this at the start of the confession, to be sure that it is addressed. Even if the priest says nothing, then I know that I’ve fulfilled my penance.
I’d also consider other specific penances I’ve been assigned for the same sins, if applicable. If, for example, I’ve previously been assigned 3 Our Fathers, then I would consider 3 days of scripture reading as quite adequate, until I specifically mention it in the next confession.
If you were assigned daily scripture reading, that sounds like it means that you are to read scripture daily. There is no reason you cannot read scripture daily and from now on, is there? It could be one sentence and you can then meditate on that one sentence as you go about your other activities. Just keep on reading scripture daily. then, next time you have the same priest in confession, you could ask a question either before you begin your confession or at the end after you have received absolution and said your Act of Contrition.
About 10 years ago, I was given a penance to attend all the religious services of holy week. He did not say, just this one year. I have been attending all Holy Week services every since and, by the way, I love doing it now! The penance became a part of my spiritual growth. Sounds to me like you had the right priest for you on your spiritual journey.:)
Oh my gosh, GREAT answer!
Considering your penance is supposed to be completed by the next time you go to Confession, “penances” such as these are not particularly good, and cause scrupulous individuals to become even more scrupulous, as they don’t know when they’ve completed their penance. When you receive an ambiguous penance such as what you did, you are free to ask the priest for something more substantive so you can be sure you’ve completed it. Furthermore, another priest is able to substitute an alternative penance if you find your penance too difficult to complete. The thing about penances is they’re supposed to be able to be completed by the person. This is why my confessor asks if I can do such and such if he’s giving a penance other than say X Our Fathers and X Hail Mary’s For X.