From a reader:
Would enduring a headache or migraine constitute a proper substitute for a Friday penance?
I’ve seen in others how intense the suffering is.
Enduring any illness can be penitential. Suffering can be offered up for the good of one’s soul (and for other intentions).
That said, it seems to me that sacrificial dimension involved in Friday penance requires not just acceptance of suffering, but also some act of giving up some “good”. For example, for my Friday penance I may give up eating meat, listening to the radio, reading for pleasure, watching a baseball game. My simply enduring something unpleasant is not a sacrifice. You can offer up something unpleasant that it is your duty to perform, but that doesn’t make doing that thing a sacrifice. Johnny, for example, is required by his parents to mow the lawn on Friday after school. He does it, but he would rather be down at the sand lot playing baseball with his friends. He offers it up. On the other hand, he then sees that his neighbor 80-year old Mrs. McGillicuddy’s lawn really needs mowing. He gives up going to the sandlot and mows her lawn. There is an element of sacrifice in that gesture.
Provided that one doesn’t seriously endanger one’s health, perhaps offering up a headache or migraine without taking any painkiller to relieve the suffering could be along the lines of the penance we are asked to perform. In that case it is the giving up of the good of the painkiller that makes enduring the suffering more sacrificial.
At the same time, migraines can be pretty bad. In some cases giving up the good of the painkiller would be a serious gesture indeed.
You could take the painkiller on Friday and then not eat meat, not read that novel, not go to the sandlot….
In any event, it is good to see that someone is thinking about what Friday penance means and why we are obliged to it. Sadly, when overly-optimistic Paul VI relaxed the obligations in the hope that people would on their own accord seek to do penance willingly in a deeper way, human nature trumped optimism and people stopped doing any penance at all.