The CFP: A Mixed Bunch
I have a friend who loves to attend charismatic prayer meetings because he is a great charismatic pray-er. A prayer meeting gets his highest commendation if he remarks afterwards (I paraphrase what he says), "What a mixed bunch! God can do something with that mixed bunch."
I think he could be talking about the Confraternity of Penitents. We really are a "mixed bunch."
VIVA LA DIFFERENCE!
We are looked upon as fools even by many in the Church who wonder why in the world we would want to live a Rule like ours when "Vatican II freed the Church from all those
penances and fasting." Each of us could name at least one family member who condescendingly thinks we have "flipped our rocker." Speaking of rockers, some of us are old enough to spend our days in one. As of this writing (April, 2005), our oldest member is a spry ninety year old. Of course, we have some who have "barely left the cradle." The youngest member of the CFP is eighteen years old and discerning a vocation to religious life.
Within a seventy year span between our oldest and youngest member lies a mixed bunch of all ages, life styles, and income levels. One of the CFP members is now residing temporarily in a women's shelter and another one is preparing to move into a home for the able bodied elderly. A few are living in college dorms and two are doing their formation from behind prison bars. A number of our members home school their children. Some of them bake their own bread, freeze their own produce, and milk their own goats. Others work high powered jobs in major metropolitan cities. We have among us college professors, school teachers, computer technicians, veterinary clinicians, home health care professionals, hospice workers, and salesmen. Some carry the cross of mental and/or physical illness. All bear scars in one way or another, some from very deep wounds that involve parents, spouses, and/or children.
If you see us together, the differences become visually apparent. You'll immediately notice that some of us prefer a very casual look and have no idea how to use a steam iron, while others always dress as if they just picked up their garments from the cleaners. Some have the hard hitting accent of New Yorkers and others the soft slur of the South. Some are no nonsense, get to the point kind of folks and others are the sit down and chat a while types. Some have light skin and some dark, some have wrinkles and some have freckles. Some are vegetarians and some like nothing better than a good, medium rare steak. We sure are a mixed bunch.
THE TIE THAT BINDS
But if you do see us together, you'll notice one thing right away. No matter whose hair is gray or even absent, and whose is luxurious, no matter who is dressed as if they were going to work in the field and who looks like they are going to a wedding, no matter who could chat for hours and who wants to escape to a prayer chapel, we are all great buddies. It's as if we know each other even if we've never met before. Maybe it's that "off the rocker" Rule of Life we are living, or hoping to live, that binds us together. But I think it's even more than that. Those who last in the CFP are not only committed to the Rule, they are also committed to our motto which is love of God and love of neighbor. It's the love that makes us a family and the love that binds us together. Love of God and of one another makes a mixed bunch into a family of penitents. Love makes a Con (with) fraternity (brotherliness).
God can use a mixed bunch only if it's loving. God does not long for people who fast, who spend long hours in prayer, and who wear only certain clothing colors. God can get along very well without any penitents. The CFP Rule isn't for God's sake. It's for our sake. What God desires, what He craves, is love. Love is God's name. He seeks people who reflect His name back to Himself. God desires people who love Him and who love one another. The Rule that we embrace must be the discipline that turns us away from self love and that transforms each of us into lovers of God and of others. Penitents are to become lovers. Love makes a mixed bunch into a confraternity, a group held together "with brotherliness."
WHY THE MIXTURE?
A mixed bunch is the best bunch to achieve God's work because it doesn't think too highly of itself. All the differences in the members keep it on course because if one person thinks he or she is something special, the others will soon give the haughty one a dose of reality. In the same way, if one member thinks he or she is no better than refuse, someone is going to remind him or her that God uses manure to grow flowers. A mixed bunch doesn't conform to any standards except uniqueness so it doesn't conform to the world's view of what makes a person successful or attractive. The only place a mixed bunch can really feel understood is in the arms of God Who called a pretty mixed bunch to serve Him right from the start. St. Paul writes:
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians: 26-31)
God can use a mixed bunch just because we are so insignificant. As long as we remember that all we have, we owe to Him and to His grace, we will keep ourselves little enough. God isn't out looking for mountain peaks. The world sees those easily. He's seeking out pebbles who know they are lying in dust. Welded together by the macadam of God's love, we in the CFP can become a little patch of highway over which others may pass to reach the kingdom. As we bond together in the mixed macadam patch of God, let us treat one another with brotherliness because we are "all in this together." Come, Lord, make us fully Yours and use us as You will. Amen!
Madeline Pecora Nugent