Q. I am a Roman Catholic and, at present, live in a retirement community. The non-Catholics here have said in discussions that we do not need to do penance, that Jesus did it all for us.
They have gone so far as to claim that our doing penance is an insult to Christ, as if to say that all he did for us was not enough. (Please answer in The Georgia Bulletin; my daughter lives in Atlanta and sends me your column.) (Toledo, Ohio)
A. The Catholic Church has always recognized the fact that Christ’s life, death and resurrection was more than enough to cover the debt of our sins. Penitential practices, far from downplaying the dimensions of Christ’s redemption, show our profound gratitude for all that Jesus went through.
The penance that the church has consistently counseled is based in the Scriptures, links us to Christ in his suffering, shows sorrow for our sinfulness, strengthens us to resist temptation, opens us to God’s spirit and gives new energy to perform works of charity.
The Jews of the Old Testament often fasted as a sign of their repentance (Dn 9:3 — “I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes”), and personal sacrifice was endorsed by Jesus, who fasted for 40 days before beginning his public ministry and who once said, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face … and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Mt 6:17-18).
Q. I live in a large parish and find my affiliation with my church meaningful and positive — except for one thing. (I’ve struggled with this, as I don’t want to be unkind, so I would appreciate your guidance.) One of our regular song leaders is difficult to listen to — and that is an understatement.
I understand that he is a volunteer and I don’t expect professional musicians, but he is always half a step flat, cannot read music and sings very loudly. Parishioners are visibly cringing (and/or laughing) as he sings. Attending Mass at a different time is usually not an option for me, or I would try that.
Recently, when our parish surveyed us on what we thought about parish programs and services, I tried as tactfully as possible to address this situation — but several months have passed since, and this gentleman continues to lead us in song. (I would think that he might be able to sing in a less prominent way — perhaps as a member of a choir, but not as a solo singer.) (Columbia, Missouri)
A. First, I should say that there’s a fair amount of subjectivity when judging singers and musicians. If, though, parishioners’ discomfort is as universal as you suggest, the time has come for action. Since you’ve already tried raising the issue individually — apparently without result — the next step would be a more concerted effort.
I’d suggest that you find a couple of other parishioners who feel as you do and go together to see your pastor. This would create, of course, a certain awkwardness for him — the difficult thing about volunteers is that they are hard to fire — but it goes with the job. Worship is a pastor’s highest responsibility, and the experience of worship must always be prayerful, not distracting or distressing.
(By the way, with a letter like this, I sometimes withhold the city of origin, so as not to target a parish too narrowly. But Columbia is a big place — more than 100,000 residents, with several Catholic parishes within range.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.