“Virtue can be recovered by penance.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas” pg. 117. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
This one little sentence speaks volumes about the great worth of penance, and the great worth of this most valuable season of Lent, and gives us much to hope for. When we sin, we lose grace, and we either stagnate in or lose, to some degree, the virtues we had previously gained or were making gains toward. How then do we gain back this loss? We must first repent, and then make reparation for the good lost by doing penance. Our saint’s use of the word ‘virtue’ by itself seems to imply that any virtue can be recovered by penance.
Penance leads us to contrition for our sins, a renewed sorrow for them and a renewed hatred against anything which may offend Almighty God and lead us to lose that which by His grace we have gained. When we do penance, we seek to make amends for the offense we have given God, and humble ourselves before Him, that we may come before Him with a humble and contrite heart, which He will not despise, and implore Him to restore to us what we lost, most importantly His grace, and if it was mortal sin, His friendship. Then, with confidence in His goodness and His mercy, we resolve not to offend Him again, and we are strengthened in the pursuit of virtue, especially that virtue which we undermined or lost by sin.
Let us, therefore, use to our greatest advantage this holy season of Lent, abstaining from at least one lawful pleasure voluntarily as penance, keeping the fast to weaken our flesh, and making reparation with humility and contrition for our past offenses, resolving to offend God no more. Then we may hope to recover those virtues which we may have lost or damaged.