Rocco Palmo has early excerpts of some spontaneous remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI at mass, today:

We must rather have the courage, the joy, the great hope that there is eternal life, that eternal life is real life and that from this real life comes the light that illuminates this world as well.

The Pope noted that, when we look at things this way, penitence is a grace”even though of late we have sought to avoid this word, too.

Now, under the attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins, we see that to be able to do penance is a grace”and we see how necessary it is to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives: to recognize one’s sin, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare for pardon, to allow oneself to be transformed.

The pain of penance, the pain of purification and transformation”this pain is grace, because it is renewal”it is the work of the Divine Mercy.

Pope Benedict concluded his homily with a prayer that our lives might become true life, eternal life, love and truth.

The story is only just breaking and it will be interesting to see how the press excerpts and interprets his remarks, the full text of which is not yet transcribed and released.

I suggest we wait for a chance to read the complete text, before jumping anywhere, pro or con.

Reading further into the excerpts at Rocco’s (as we await the whole transcript) I am struck by something that is rather exciting: Benedict is daring”and many will say how dare he”to teach at this moment. He is daring to dive into the deep waters, here, and talk about the salvific effect of doing penance, and the graces found therein.

It’s staggering, when you think of it. It’s up there with Paul saying, “I rejoice in this suffering” except that Benedict talks about rejoicing in penance , which”by its very definition”takes upon it shame, humiliation, guilt and works to transform all of that, by the grace of God, into something finer; a penitential mindset is the most optimistic and trusting mindset in the world, because it says “I know this stinking compost heap is going to bring sustenance and beauty into the strained garden of world.”

Beneath the sorrow and the pain, there lies the stuff that builds us up; the stuff of joy.

Even out of all of this misery, all of this slow-learning, all of this bald stupidity, penance is and will be transformative: “See, I make all things new.”

Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer for First Things . She blogs at The Anchoress .

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