This title is not a statement of a personal dislike for the hue— actually most shades of purple are among my favorite colors. Nor am I making a clever remark about the disadvantages of being royal or ruling (purple traditionally being considered “regal”), such as, that it can be a royal pain. There's certainly plenty of truth to that, and given that the high-school play I'm directing, Schiller's Mary Stuart, very pointedly makes this point, it wouldn't be surprising that it would be on my mind, since the performance is in less than a week. (Eeek!)
No, I'm actually trying, in the midst of Christmas music and escalating visions of red, green, and gold, to remember that it's Advent. And the liturgical color of Advent is purple (the same as Lent). A visual reminder of an almost forgotten fact: Advent is meant to be a penitential season.
Before grappling with the question Why would Advent be penitential? it seems more pertinent (picking up on my Purgatory post of last week) to ponder Why do penance at all?
Didn't Jesus on the cross take away for us all the punishment due to sin? In a sense, yes, and yet, Paul says, “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
How could anything be lacking in Christ’s sufferings for His Church? He’s God! He’s perfect, so His sacrifice had to have been perfect, and if perfect then complete. Right? Yes and no. If His sacrifice is “lacking” or “incomplete,” it’s not due to a failure on His part. Rather, it’s because He left room for us to be a part of it. After all, we are His Body. How can the Head suffer and not the Body?
If after dinner, I only do the dishes, and wait (somewhat impatiently) for my children to bring them to me, as well as to put away the leftovers, clear and wash the table and counters, and sweep, it is not because I am incapable of doing those tasks. In fact, I could do them a lot better and faster by myself! But I purposely leave them undone, so my children can participate in the job. This is primarily for their sake. I want them to learn what it means to be a family, to be responsible, to be disciplined, and the different tasks involved in keeping a home clean. Similarly, God is perfectly capable of cleaning up the universe all by Himself, but He leaves some of the work to us.
Because we need it and justice requires it.
Wait a second, why does justice require it? Didn’t Jesus pay the price for us on the cross? He most certainly did. He paid the eternal penalty for our sins—something we could never have done, no matter how hard we tried. However, there is also a temporal penalty due, which we are obligated to pay.
Look at it this way. If the ten-year-old son of a billionaire managed to get hold of some powerful explosives and blow up a mall one night, no one would expect the boy to pay for it, because, obviously, being ten, he couldn’t. If his father stepped in and paid the damages, the boy wouldn’t owe the debt anymore, right? His father wouldn’t expect him to pay him back. But wouldn’t it be wrong for the son to do nothing? Mowing the lawn and taking out the trash cheerfully every week for years and years wouldn’t make much of a dent in a debt like that, but it might make an impression on his father. Wouldn’t it be only right for the son to do whatever he could to show his gratitude to his dad? Wouldn’t it be the just and loving thing to do, and a sign of his true repentance? And the state would still require something from the boy himself—community service of some kind, as a way to make reparation for the damage he had caused.
Similarly, our sins have not only eternal effects but temporal as well. Sin is not committed in a vacuum, but affects other people, even the most private and hidden sins (for instance, they weaken our character, which affects how we treat others). We likewise need to make reparation to our fellow man and to show God our true repentance and gratitude. There is a temporal debt that we owe, and if we do not “pay” it in this life, then we’ll need to do so after death, in Purgatory. This is where penance comes in, “community service” not for the state, but for the Kingdom.