The Hardest Penance

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By Javier Soegaard

I went to Reconciliation the other day. I went where I like to go. I went where a lot of Bostonians like to go. In line with me were folks who looked abandoned, folks who looked down on their luck, folks who looked like CEOs—nobody seemed to look the same.

This odd and oddly Catholic collection of folks was not surprising. This church is a place where the priests have really taken on a mission to be confessors and reconcilers. They find that perfect balance of silence and conversation—of listening and interpreting—that illuminates the sacramental nature of Reconciliation.

As the priest was sending me forth to pray this week; however, he did something I didn’t like. He gave me the hardest penance I’ve ever received.

He asked me to pray one Hail Mary.  JUST ONE.

One chance to begin rehabilitating my life and relationship with the Church. One instance of each word, and each phrase, and each movement in what is already a very short prayer. One chance to speak with Gabriel and with Elizabeth, one chance to pray for all those nearing their earthly end, one chance to contemplate my own coming-to-terms with mortality.

It was a task that truly brought me to my knees. Once I overcame the somewhat laughable (but somewhat sincere) superstition that permitted my heart to get all in a tiff, I nevertheless paused for a bit, hesitant to jump to right into this single instance of the Hail Mary.

So I knelt and asked why this might have been my lot, why one simple prayer might be a spiritually healthy exercise for me. After several moments of thinking too hard, wisdom prevailed. This priest wasn’t trying to turn me scrupulous or fearful, he was trying to unclutter my life and send me out into the world to live the Gospel.

Instead of encouraging me further into a life of clutter and confusion, he offered me the balm of simplicity. Pray this simple prayer, pray it once, pray it like you always pray it, then go and live.

This was truly the hardest penance I’ve ever received—not because my relationship to the Church hinged upon the saying of one Hail Mary, but because I was challenged to live a life simple prayer and constant reconciliation with all my brothers and sisters of good will.

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One thought on “The Hardest Penance”

  1. Ive not yet found in the bible where the apostles or any first century Christians prayed to Mary or prayed the rosary. could you please direct me to the chapter and verse? thanks

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