Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Saint Dominic's Third Way of Prayer

Here St. Dominic is beating himself with a chain and calling it a posture of penance. Believe it or not, there are still some cultures which do this kind of thing around Holy Week. When a desperate teenager cuts herself we call it pathological or sick. Same difference.

The idea of God being somehow pleased or satisfied with his beloved children beating themselves with whips, chains or tree branches is pretty messed up. Jesus has taken care of the blood-letting by scourging and nail once and for all. Let's be done with it now.

But penance? As a kind of amends for sin? I get it - but I would suggest a penance that has some human value and meaning - that might build inner resilience and charity. Here it comes: Instead of beating yourself  with a chain, quietly endure (put up with) other people. O my! For many of us this might be a much more difficult penance than drawing blood with sticks. 

As a penance, put up with the spouse who's losing his/her hearing.
As a penance, put up with people who are slowing down.
As a penance, put up with the folks who need you to explain two or three times.
As a penance, put up with the folks who seem to be marginal.    
As a penance, put up with the waiter who's not up to speed.

As a penance, don't lament the humidity, rain, ice, heat or cold. How tiresome!
As a penance, don't complain about the lousy sermon.
As a penance, don't whine about the food that's not right.
As a penance, don't groan about the walk that's too far.
As a penance, don't gripe about the cost of everything under the sun. 

As a penance, endure the stranger who's hygiene is lacking.
As a penance, endure the person who talks too much.
As a penance, endure the person who comes across as cheap.
As a penance, endure the person who strikes you as kind of  unskilled, incapable
      or depressive.
As a penance, endure the person who isn't funny (being funny is kind of a 
     requirement for acceptability these days, isn't it?)

Now this is  real penance. Skip the whip. I imagine God rolls his eyes at all of that.

But remember this: people have to endure or put up with ME - in all my superficiality, pettiness, self-pity, limitation, ignorance, self-preoccupation. I may even have a sense of having to put up with myself.


  1. Enduring other people in these ways is much harder than physical punishment. Maybe that is why in the past mortification of the flesh was more widely practiced.

    1. A great danger for religion is to find the easy way out. Jesus knew all about this. Getting around the inconvenience. When I was a deacon and sitting at my first rectory table, on Ash Wednesday (no meat) a huge tray of clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster, crab, mussels was served. I was repulsed and angered. The pastor, scrafing down his first mouthful said to the waitress, "Be sure we have this again for Good Friday.' Religion that personally costs us nothing. And so yeah, loving people with great patience and kindness is going to cost us our time, our energy, our interest. Easier to just beat our bare backs with a stick for 2 minutes and call it a day. Jesus would have a field day with this kind of religion.

  2. Some of these things don't seem like penance at all. Just basic tolerances we all should have.

  3. I wouldn't disagree. But as a priest, I carefully observe and listen to people - maybe especially when I'm in mufti (out of uniform). I'm sorry to say, but I think we are becoming a very intolerant people. What used to be basic tolerances - patient kindness - would now be a penance for many people who have either forgotten, or were never taught, or who have gotten sucked into the cultural "out of my way." Doesn't matter - you find the meaningful substitute for whips and chains that makes sense for you.

    1. I don't know how carefully you listen to people anymore. Sometimes you can be almost unaware of the people who love you and support you. You are not the priest or the man I thought you were. We can all use a little more self reflection. I should move on but know I won't so I will remain anonymous.

    2. Well for heaven's sake, if you are so sure of your assessments and insights, don't be afraid - come out of the shadows. Be done with hiding. If you prefer, as your argument with me is so personal - contact me privately by email: Strange though, as in your statements above I was most solicitous - even beginning my response to you with, "I wouldn't disagree."