The virtues of penance.

Author:von Hildebrand, Alice
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

Lay people deeply distressed by the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church certainly appreciate Richard John Neuhaus' "The Bishops get their Report Card" (Public Square, March). Referring to Father John J. Coughlin's article, he shows that, alas, canon law has been in abeyance even though it gives precise answers to the question of how certain sins are to be dealt with. It is, as he so rightly says, the triumph of the therapeutic over the laws of the Church. No doubt the climate of the time favors compassion, mildness, and understanding. Psychology is valuable indeed when it is based on a sound metaphysics, but when it relies on a false philosophy, it is disastrous.

The lives of the saints tell us that those who have "reached the heights" have practiced various forms of severe penance. Since Vatican II, this piece of wisdom seems to have been forgotten. The laws of fasting and abstinence have been reduced to an absolute minimum. Meat can be eaten on Fridays, Ember days have been abolished. Children going to "Catholic" schools never hear the word "sacrifice." I wonder if classical means of penance, such as hairshirts and discipline, should not be brought back into religious life. The discomfort created by the former and the pain caused by the latter are supposed to be powerful helps in...

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