As part of my formation, I read some selections concerning penance.
My notions about penance tend to focus on two areas.
The first is about making up for sins. Penance is the things we do to atone in some way for those sins - saying prayers, giving up something, doing something of a spiritual nature.
The second is about uniting in love with Christ in his suffering. It is sharing in that suffering in some way - during prayer by meditating on what he experienced.
But the selections touched on an idea that I had really not thought about.
We perform acts of penance to help clear away all those things in our lives that keep us from seeing God and his love clearly. It is working to remove all the obstacles to accepting God's love - the greed, the lust, the gluttony, the pride.
The hatred for the body that Francis spoke of is not a negative rejection of the flesh - it is a recognition that there are some aspects of the flesh that blind us and keep us physically, emotionally and spiritually unhealthy. So, for example, we give up sexual activities not because sex is bad, but because those particular activities separate us from God.
We give up these things so that we are open to the love of God that is always there, always showering us.
Penance then becomes a way to become healthy individuals, individuals who recognize what is true, what is real - the Love of God. Even when we face physical infirmities, the effects of aging, the mental and emotional pressures put upon us by the world, we still have a healthy view of reality. Thus while in the eyes of the world we appear to be suffering when we face such troubles, we are actually fully healthy in spirit.
We are full of joy, for we realize how loved we really are.
Pax et bonum