From a reader:
I have a question regarding what kind of penances I should do as a married layperson. I feel a strong desire to do penance both for personal sins and as a sacrifice for the conversion of my family.
However, while I feel this desire, I have no knowledge of the best way to go about it.
I have tried skipping meals as it seems like a good and “private”
thing to do, but I often feel weak and my wife gets upset with me and says I need the calories.
I enjoy beer and pipe smoking, so I often give these up. The problem is, they don’t feel like very good sacrifices. I feel like should be doing something more concrete or difficult.
It seems to me that fasting is a pretty good penance/mortification. Cutting back on the quantity of food you eat is something that can be done daily, so long as you do not endanger your health or ability to care for your family.
The Latin Fathers, such as Leo the Great, attached almsgiving to fasting. Fasting wasn’t just about fasting. It was about then giving what was saved to the poor.
Thus, though we are always called to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy, our penances can be more significant if we attach works of mercy to them.