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2012 November Newsletter

Confraternity of Penitents Monthly Newsletter Archives: November 2012

Letter from One Who Serves the CFP



In 1967, the German theologian, Joseph Ratzinger wrote a book call Introduction to Christianity. In that book, he described Christianity using the articles of the creed as the structure. In 2000, after he had become Cardinal Ratzinger and was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote a revised preface to the book. In this preface, he surveyed the changes in western society concerning religious faith which were certainly already starting to take place in 1967 but were much more apparent in 2000.


Concerning Europe, Cardinal Ratzinger sees two important dates in the final decades of the 20th Century: 1968 and 1989. He says: “The year 1968 marked the rebellion of a new generation, which not only considered postwar reconstruction in Europe as inadequate, full of selfishness and greed, but also viewed the entire course of history since the triumph of Christianity as a mistake and a failure. These young people wanted to improve things at last, to bring about freedom, equality, and justice, and they were convinced that they had found the way to this better world in the mainstream of Marxist thought. The year 1989 brought the surprising collapse of the socialist regimes in Europe, which left behind a sorry legacy of ruined land and ruined souls. Anyone who expected that the hour had come again for the Christian message was disappointed. Although the number of believing Christians throughout the world is not small, Christianity failed at that historical moment to make itself heard as an epoch-making alternative.”


Cardinal Ratzinger then goes on to discuss the Christian response to this eclipse of Christianity. This response was varied, but it included the whole world including the United States. He then goes on: “The nineteenth century had seen the formulation of the opinion that religion belonged to the subjective, private realm and should have its place there. But precisely because it was to be categorized as something subjective, it could not be a determining factor in the overall course of history and in the epochal decisions that had to be made as part of it.” Cardinal Ratzinger then discusses Christianity’s response to this situation: “Christianity----at least from the view point of the Catholic Church----was trying to emerge again from the ghetto to which it had been relegated since the nineteenth century and to become involved once more in the world at large………The main thing affecting the status of Christianity in that period was idea of a new relationship between the Church and the world………the spirit of the age called for crossing boundaries, reaching out to the world and becoming involved in it.”


An example of this attempt at “crossing boundaries” was liberation theology. As Cardinal Ratzinger described it: “the faith had to prove itself as a force for justice. But how? Now Marx appeared as the great guidebook…….But anyone who accepts Marx (in whatever neo-Marxist variation he may choose) as the representative of worldly reason not only accepts a philosophy, a vision of the origin and meaning of existence, but also and especially adopts a practical program. For this philosophy is also a “praxis”, which does not presuppose a truth but rather creates one. Anyone who makes Marx the philosopher of theology adopts the primacy of politics and economics, which now becomes the real power that can bring about salvation (and, if misused, can wreak havoc). The redemption of mankind, to this way of thinking, occurs through politics and economics, in which the form of the future is determined. This primacy of praxis and politics meant, above all, that God could not be categorized as something “practical”. The “reality” in which one had to get involved now was solely the material reality of given historical circumstances, which were to be viewed critically and reformed, redirected to the right goals by using the appropriate means, among which violence was indispensable…….What remained was the figure of Jesus, who of course appeared now, no longer as the Christ, but rather as the embodiment of all the suffering and oppressed and as their spokesman, who calls us to rise up, to change society. What was new in all this was that the program of changing the world, which in Marx was intended to be not only atheistic but also antireligious, was now filled with religious passion and was based on religious principles: a new reading of the Bible (especially of the Old Testament) and a liturgy that was celebrated as a symbolic fulfillment of the revolution and as a preparation for it.”


After this, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines some of the problems with these attempts of Christianity to become relevant: “I see the real and most profound problem with the liberation theologies in their effective omission of the idea of God, which, of course, also changed the figure of Christ fundamentally (as we have indicated). Not as though God had been denied-----not in your life! He simply was not needed in regard to the ‘reality’ that mankind had to deal with. God had nothing to do.” Cardinal Ratzinger then goes on to wonder whether this shifting of God to the sidelines has not gotten well beyond liberation theology: “Has not Christian consciousness acquiesced to a great extent-----without being aware of it------in the attitude that faith in God is something subjective, which belongs in the private realm and not in the common activities of public life where, in order to be able to get along, we all have to behave now etsi Deus non daretur (as if there were no God)………..But the faith would really have come out of the ghetto only if it had brought its most distinctive features with it into the public arena: the God who judges and suffers, the God who sets limits and standards for us; the God from whom we come and to whom we are going. But as it was, it really remained in the ghetto, having by now absolutely nothing to do.”


He then goes on to give the result of marginalizing God: “For at first, when God is left out of the picture, everything apparently goes on as before. Mature decisions and the basic structures of life remain in place, even though they have lost their foundations. But as Nietzsche describes it, once the news really reaches people that ‘God is dead’ and they take it to heart everything changes.” Here in the United States we can see the result of this loss of God with the acceptance of abortion, euthanasia, cloning, homosexuality, and gay marriage. The numerous scandals that arise among politicians and businessmen show that this change in attitude toward God cannot be limited to the area of sex. Cardinal Ratzinger then points out the fundamental problem with the omission of God from public life: “Kolakowski, in his line of thinking, has very emphatically pointed out that deleting faith in God, however one may try to spin or turn it, ultimately deprives moral values of their grounding. If the world and man do not come from a creative intelligence, which stores within itself their measures and plots the path of human existence, then all that is left are traffic rules for human behavior, which can be discarded or maintained according to their usefulness. All that remains is the calculus of consequence----what is called teleological ethics or proportionalism.”


The question arises concerning how this attempt to make Christianity relevant squares with traditional Christianity. It appears as if traditional Christianity has been discarded and replaced with something else. Cardinal Ratzinger describes this transformation: ”this means that the mystical religions of Asia (parts of Hinduism and Buddhism), with their renunciation of dogma and their minimal degree of institutionalization, appear to be more suitable for enlightened humanity than dogmatically determined and institutionally structured Christianity…….That we cannot know God himself, that everything that can be stated and described can only be a symbol: this is nothing short of a fundamental certainty of modern man, which he also understands somehow as his humility in the presence of the infinite.” 


Then Cardinal Ratzinger describes two places where the Christian faith is radically changed: “1. The figure of Christ is interpreted in a completely new way, not only in reference to dogma, but also and precisely with regard to the Gospels. The belief that Christ is the only Son of God, that God really dwells among us as man in him, and that the man Jesus is eternally in God, is God himself, and therefore is, not a figure in which God appears, but rather the sole and irreplaceable God-----this belief is thereby excluded. Instead of being the man who is God, Christ becomes the one who has experienced God in a special way. He is an enlightened one and therein is no longer fundamentally different from other enlightened individuals, for instance, Buddha………2. The concept of God is fundamentally changed. The question of whether God should be thought of as a person or impersonally now seems to be of secondary importance; no longer can an essential difference be noted between theistic and nontheistic forms of religion……Of course, the fact that God is personal is not mentioned in the Bible using that term, but it is apparent nevertheless, inasmuch as there is a name of God. A name implies the ability to be called on, to speak, to hear, to answer. This is essential for the biblical God, and if this is taken away, the faith of the Bible has been abandoned.”


Near the end of the preface, Cardinal Ratzinger summarizes the problems associated with the new understanding of Christianity: “If God is not in Christ, then he retreats into an immeasurable distance, and if God is no longer a God-with-us, then he is plainly an absent God and thus no God at all: A god who cannot work is not God. As for the fear that Jesus moves us too far away if we believe in his divine Sonship, precisely the opposite is true: If he was only a man, then he has retreated irrevocably into the past, and then only a distant recollection can perceive him more or less clearly. But if God has truly assumed manhood and thus is at the same time true man and true God in Jesus, then he participates, as man, in the presence of God, which embraces all ages. Then, and only then, is he, not just something that happened yesterday, but is present among us, our contemporary in our today. That is why I am firmly convinced that a renewal of Christology must have the courage to see Christ in all of his greatness, as he is presented by the four Gospels together in the many tensions of their unity.”


In 1967 Joseph Ratzinger wrote Introduction to Christianity to present the Christian faith in all its power.  Perhaps, this is needed even more today than it was in 1967.


Jim Nugent (Jim is a Life Pledged Member of the Confraternity of Penitents, a Regional Minister and Formator.)

No Greater Love

Is Heaven or Hell Hotter?

 November 2nd is dedicated to the commemoration of All Souls, and in fact, the entire month of November is dedicated to the remembrance of all the faithful departed, especially our near and dear ones, that we pray for them to enjoy eternal bliss in the kingdom of Heaven. During this time, it is normal to reflect upon our own deaths and what is to happen after we die. A concept which still seems to baffle us and is not very clear in our minds is that of Purgatory and prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. What exactly is Purgatory and who are these Holy souls? 

November is the month when we remember the souls in Purgatory. We ought to pray for them. Our faith teaches us that we can aid the Souls in Purgatory by our prayers. The Souls in Purgatory are unable to pray for themselves, but they can pray for us. How grateful they will be to us who have helped them by our prayers.

The Souls that have been helped by our prayers will pray for us and help us in our every need. When we die they will come to us and plead on our behalf to Jesus.

Padre Pio had a great devotion to the Souls in Purgatory. In fact, they would often thank him as they made their journey to Heaven. 

A nun once went to visit an older man who was dying. The nun assured him that she would pray for him in death. The man was taken aback by the Sister’s offer and questioned as to why he would need prayers after death. The nun responded that all of us need prayers after death. The man retorted that everyone around him seemed to care only about his money. He was touched by the Sister’s offer of prayer, and her love moved him to convert to Catholicism on his death bed. This man was none other than the famous Hollywood film star and hero of western movies, John Wayne. 

What is Purgatory? Purgatory is the fire of God’s Love. Heaven is hotter than Hell. When Dante went to the centre of Hell he found the devil trapped in ice. The Bible tells us that our God is a consuming fire. The highest angels in Heaven are the Seraphim, which mean `the Fiery One'. These angels are so close to God that they are on fire. Is it not true in our life that if we are close to God we are on fire? 

In Purgatory the fire of God’s love burns away our selfishness, the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of us a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”

St Catherine of Genoa had many visions of Purgatory. She says that if we were to die and suddenly looked into the eyes of Jesus we would throw ourselves into Purgatory out of love. How pure we must be to look into the eyes of Jesus. 

Maybe it is the looking into the eyes of Jesus that burns away our imperfections. The Book of Revelations says, “Nothing impure will enter into Heaven.”  If we were to die today, by God’s mercy we would enter into Heaven. But we believe that we are not without any imperfections and that we must go through the fire of God’s love in order to look into the eyes of Jesus. 

In this regard I would like to share a prayer recited daily by St. Gertrude, a Benedictine nun, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Please remember that the Holy Souls will also include many of our near and dear ones, a fact which gives us all the more reason to pray for them. Each time this prayer is said, many souls are released from Purgatory: 

O Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere - for sinners in the Universal Church, for those in my own home and for those within my family. Amen. 

Also, a rosary may be offered for the Holy Souls. Begin normally with the Creed on the Cross, Our Father, three Hail Mary’s and the Glory Be. Then on the large bead of the decade say, "O Holy souls, draw the fire of God's love into my soul, to reveal Jesus crucified in me here on earth, rather than hereafter in Purgatory". On the small beads say, "Crucified Lord Jesus, have mercy on the souls in Purgatory". End with three Glory Be’s.

By Patrick John Ashing, Oblate, OSB Cam, CFP Affiliate

Reflections on the Rule

Constitutions 4:

4. In keeping with section 4 of the Rule:

4a. Outer winter garments shall be either of lamb's wool, or a comparable imitation, only, or of any non-fur material. They shall be of either a solid neutral or blue color, simple and modest, and shall conform to the Constitutions under section 1.

 4b. Purses should be of either a solid neutral or blue color. Suitcases and carry bags such as back packs should be of these colors if possible.



Modern penitents have a far broader range of outerwear to choose from than did medieveal penitents. Outerwear often was intended to be eye catching. The original rule restricted fur to lamb's wool only (we would hardly consider this fur today, thinking instead of mink or leopard) and restricted carry bags and belts to leather ones "sewed in simple fashion without silken thread." In other words, no fancy cloth purses but only utilitarian ones made of leather and sewed with leather thongs. The lamb's wool outer garments were meant for utility, too, not show. Note that the colorful capes often seen in medieval paintings are noteably absent from this part of the Rule as they weren't permitted. 


If modern penitents keep their outerwear within the color confines of the Rule and limit their fur garments to lamb's wool or its imitation, they will follow the spirit of this part of the Rule and Constitutions. 

Carry bags, especially cloth shopping bags,  often fall outside the color scheme of the Rule. Penitents are to have their bags conform to colors listed in the Rule and Constitutions if possible. Since people, at least in the USA, don't consider cloth grocery bags to be fashion statements, the only way these bags call attention to the penitent is by realing the penitent as an ecologically sound citizen who is trying to conserve paper and plastic. That's a good witness for the  penitent. 




Affiliates certainly can follow this section of the Rule and Constitutions if they wish. They, like penitents, ought also to consider using cloth bags while shopping as a way to conserve resources.  Some websites sell natural cloth bags, and these, of course, fit the Rule perfectly. 



I set my bare feet on the sand-sown shore
To saunter on the sun-drenched sea.
Pelicans glide and seagulls cry
A primordial song that only they and Nature know. 
The water is turquoise-teal as it laps my soles and
Caresses my soul.
The sheer wonder of it evokes awe and commands 
Silence before the womb of all.

Caedmon (Caedmon is the pen name of a CFP Affiliate)

October 21st

Reflection on the San Damiano Crucifix

The Image of the Tau on the San Damiano Crucifix


The image of the Tau on the San Damiano Crucifix is hidden to most viewers until it is pointed out to them. But Francis, who prayed long hours and many times before this crucifix,. probably subconsciously noticed it. It was likely brought into his awareness after his attending the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 where Pope Innocent III extolled the tau as being the shape of the cross on which Christ died. The Pope remarked on a passage from Ezekiel that reads, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a Tau upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it... Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; ...but touch no one upon whom is the Tau.” (Ezek 9:4-6)

The Tau was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and, in a similar shape, the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet. It looks somewhat like the letter T. Taking the words of the Pope to heart, Francis adopted the Tau as his coat of arms, signing it instead of his name. We have no signature of Francis other than the Tau which he penned onto his letters and also painted on walls as a holy graffiti.  


Where is the Tau on the San Damiano crucifix? Behind the image of Christ, extending from the fingertips of one arm to the fingertips of the other, is a black bar background. If you look very closely, and Francis certainly did look very closely at this crucifix, the black background extends behind the body of Christ down to His feet where, just above Christ's ankles, the base of the tau widens out to accomodate Christ's heels and toes. This same black background does not extend above Christ's head, therefore making the black background into a true tau shape. Did the iconographer intend to paint a tau behind the image of Christ? Whether the artist did or didn't, the tau is present and Francis, upon his return from the Council, must have noticed it the next time that he prayed in front of this crucifix. 


The Pope had used the tau as a symbol of conversion and a protection from harm. Francis saw at once that Jesus, who had spoken to him from this crucifix, was, in fact, affixed to the black tau behind him. Francis was not a particularly good artist, judging from the one primitive sketch we know that he made. But when he sketched the tau, in his mind he was likely sketching Jesus on it. In Francis' mind, as on the San Damiano crucifix, the tau does not exist apart from Jesus. 

Saint of the Month

All the Saints


November is a month beginning with All Saints' Day, and then All Souls' Day, and moving toward the last Sunday's of the Church year, ending with the Solemnity of Christ the King. This month is a time to think about our own deaths and what will become of us after death occurs. We are all destined for heaven, and anyone in  heaven is a saint whether or not the Church recognizes him or her as such. It is more than sufficient that God knows who His saints are. 


On All Souls' Day, we pray for those who have died, who have not yet made it to the status of sainthood, but are on their way, being made perfect in Purgatory where all their imperfections will be removed through a process that probably isn't fun but that has a good end, sort of like going through a cancer operation that can cure the disease. The souls in Purgatory will be saints some day, so if we make it to that place, we will make it to heaven eventually. But as any teacher knows, students who aim at just passing almost inevitably fail, so our goal as penitents should be not Purgatory (even though, realistically, we will probably begin there) but heaven. 


In this month of remembering the dead and realizing that Christ, and no one else and nothing else is our King, we have a goal set before us--to enter His Kingdom, by cooperating with His grace without which we won't get in. Grace is significantly better than a lottery ticket, because if you have the grace and cooperate with it, you are a winner. Moreover, unlike lottery tickets, grace is available for the asking, and God is a generous Giver. 

So in this month of All Saints and All Souls and of Christ our King, let us ask God for the grace to enter heaven and the grace to cooperate with that grace so that we get there. 

Quote from a Saint:


"We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and we do not strip Him of His army. For the saints are the Lord's army." --  St. John of Damascus


How are the saints the army of God? What are their weapons? Who are they fighting and for what purpose? 

We know that evil exists in the world, but God is all good. The Church teaches that the origin of evil was in mankind's desire to make himself god by succumbing to the temptation of satan, a highly intelligent spirit who rebelled against the lordship of God and who tries to form an army of human souls who will follow him instead of our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest struggles are in the spiritual realm and the booty is each human soul. It follows that, if we are not solidly marching in the army of God, then we are certainly at least privates in the army of the evil one. Didn't Jesus say, "Whoever is not for me is against me and whoever does not gather with me, scatters"  (Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23)? 


November is the perfect time to examine our lives and ask if we are marching behind the cross or are we falling in line behind the world? If we think we aren't going anywhere, you can be sure that we are going somewhere--downhill. It takes effort to climb, but none to slip down. Ever so slowly we will be slipping into the army that, since it's not with God, is against Him. Time to take our bearings and scoot over to the heaven bound side if we find out we're in the wrong troop.

Quote from Scripture

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does My Heavenly Father's Will." (Matthew 7:21)

Jesus lays salvation on the line here. We don't get to heaven by calling Him 'Lord.' He does not need our accolades. We get to heaven by DOING what God wants. What is God's Will for us? Certainly part of it IS calling Jesus 'Lord.' We definitely need to acknowledge His superiority over our lives. However, true acknowledgement is more than words, as if saying, 'Sure, I'll do that for you,' gets the job done. Jesus told a parable about this (Matthew 21: 28-32). A father told two brothers to go out and work in the field. One said, 'Sure, Dad,' but never went. The other said, 'Not me,' but then had second thoughts and went to work. Jesus asked who did the father's will. The crowd answered rightly that the second one did. 

Jesus was making a point. His followers can't just 'talk the talk.' They have to 'walk the walk.' Talking the talk gets us started on the path to sainthood, but walking the walk takes us there. On the journey, we continue to acknowledge who we are following. We continue to follow Him even when He changes course or takes us in a direction that we had rather not go. If we stick with the Lord until the end, we will have seen many battles and come out of them scarred but victorius. 

Dying when following Christ, when fighting His battles, is not defeat. It's victory. We have always to die to ourselves in order that He will reign in us. That continual dying to self will bring us to the ultimate surrender of our lives in death which will bring us to a new life in God. 

Scripture tells us that those who don't die in God's grace will experience a "second death" but this is ongoing. Jesus told us that, in total separtion from God, "their worm dies not and the fires are never quenched" (Mark 9:48). In other words, those who are not with God are against Him and, after their one time death in this physical world, they will suffer a second death that goes on forever. Not a nice picture nor one people discuss nowadays. But the saints pondered this scenario and determined to avoid it. We are all called to sainthood. May we keep on keeping on toward it.


English Spoken Here, Sort Of


These are actual signs in English in various nations:


In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers: Not to peramubulate the corridors during the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.


In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: We take your bags and send them in all directions.


From a Japanese information booklet about a hotel air-conditioner: Cooles and Heates. If ou want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.


In a Belgrade hotel elevator: To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.


From a brochure of a car rental company in Tokyo: When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.


In the lobby of a hotel in Bucharest, Romania: The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable. 

Confraternity Photo Album

Life Pledge and Private Vow of Ann Fennessey (September 23 and 29, 2012)

Ann Fennessey pledges to live the CFP Rule for Life on September 23, 2012, in the chapel at St. Therese's Residence, the CFP Community House. Father George Nixon receives Ann's pledge and Madeline Pecora Nugent, Ann's formator (left) and Sue Brady, Ann's Mentor (right) are witnesses.

On September 29, 2012, Ann Fennessey takes her private vow to live the CFP Rule for life with Father Raphael Magee, FI, at Most Holy Trinity Monastery, home of the Monks of the Maronite Adoration, Petersham MA. Ann's privately vowed name in the Confraternity of Penitents is sr. Mary Pio Francis of the Seven Sorrows.

On the deck of St. Therese's Residence, the CFP members in attendance at Ann's life pledge assemble with Fr. George Nixon. Left to right, front row: Sue B, Donna S, Rita F, Ann F, Antoinette P, Gretchen E with son Rudy. Rear, left to right, Madeline N, Diane L, Maria D, Fr. George Nixon, Patricia B. Jim N was also present but was taking the photo. September 23, 2012

Happy Birthday to

Teresa G 11/3

Phyllis O 11/3

Caroline J 11/6

Aimee F 11/6

Henry V 11/13

Susan S 11/17

Gabriel M 11/21

Tony K 11/8

Brenda V 11/10

Andy K 11/11

Bruce B 11/12

Featured Items CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop

View items and many others at  All proceeds go to the Confraternity of Penitents. Do your Christmas Shopping from home with the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop.

Padre Pio Wooden Desk Painting - 3 x 5 inches. %5.95

Padre Pio Stigmata Rosary featuring Padre Pio/St. Michael Medal and Stigmata Hands for Our Father Beads--$6.95

2 inch Wooden San Damiano Pendant on Cord with Prayer of St. Francis before San Damiano Crucifix. $5.50

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