"Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12
External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of God for sin. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of imploring God and the community to forgive us.
The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent. We might "give something up", pray the rosary more regularly or fast every day, but unless we ask for the grace to be more open to God and God's ways, our public commitment to the Gospel will do us little good.
Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.
Today, don't just do something, sit there.
What have been your most memorable Lents?