To enter a life of penance means to embark upon a counter cultural life style.
To begin, a life of penance begins with a belief in a Supreme Being, God, and an assurance that this Supreme Being is all wise, all powerful, all just, all loving, and all compassionate. This Being, God, pre-existed humanity and, should humanity cease existence, God would still exist. God has no beginning and no end. God is eternal Being and eternal Love.
Therefore, God knows what is best for us. God calls us to a higher plane of life than would be humanly possible, but God gives us the ability, called grace, to live this life when we seek God's help in doing so. Therefore, to enter a life of penance means to seek to live as God would have us do. No matter what our previous life has been, once we enter a live of penance (conversion), we aim now to follow God’s guidelines and to encourage others to do so.
In this way of life, we must be honest with ourselves and with God. To say that we follow God’s guidelines while approving or promoting ideaologies that oppose those guidelines indicates that we have not fully embraced penance (conversion). Conversion means not only doing what is morally correct but also avoiding confusion by not appearing to approve what is morally incorrect. Penitents are called to love everyone no matter their life choices, while also being charitable beacons of light who by their words and actions help lead others to the ultimate joy of conversion to God's way of living. Penitents are friends and helpers to everyone while beckoning them to a virtuous life of self giving.
Penance (conversion) means avoiding sin and making restitution for past sins, those of the penitent and of others. What is sin? It is putting our will above God’s. So it is vital to know God’s Will so as to understand when we are deviating from it.
We know that the all good God abhors sin. So we need to understand what sin is. A world that does not believe in God does not see actions in terms of sinfulness or accepabilty. It sees actions in terms of crime. Therefore, in the world’s eyes, murder of the innocent born person is a criminal act. The world does not see murder of the unborn innocent person as a criminal act but as the “right to terminate a pregnancy.” The Church teaches that killing of any person, except in self defense or in a just war to protect the innocent from murder, is a sin. Therefore a penitent will not support nor procure an abortion. To do so means saying that my way of thinking what is good for me surpasses God's way for God created the child in my womb. A person who has had or supported an abortion in the past, but who has now regretted that action, is welcome to embrace a life of penance (conversion) as part of restitution for that action.
The world considers some lies, such as perjury on the witness stand, to be crimes, but looks the other way if someone exaggerates on a job application or isn’t totally truthful on their tax report. The Church teaches that all lies are sins. As Christians, as penitents, we are called to honesty in every case.
The world encourages consumerism and greed because these boost the economy and make rich people richer, but the Church calls us, especially penitents, to moderation and simplicity, reminding us that greed and consumerism are sins because they cause us to spend on ourselves money that could be used to help the needy.
These are three examples of how the life of a penitent will differ from the life of a worldly individual who has not yet come to the conclusion that God knows better than they do what is good for them. There are many other instances in which the life of a penitent differs from the lives of others. Penitents are called to moral, prayerful, and ethical lives that liberate them from worldly stereotypes and ways of thought and action.
How can penitents understand what God wishes? By prayer. By meditating on Scripture. By reading and following the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Penitents trust that God is working through the Church to help us understand and live the Ten Commandments as they are explained by the teachings of Jesus and by those whom He commissioned to lead the Church, namely the Pope, bishops, and their successors.
Penitents are called to love and to pray for all people, born and unborn without exception. We are also called to be witnesses of that love in how we relate to all people. The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” works well as long as what we would have done to us is moral and approved by God. It is, therefore, vital that penitents have a properly formed conscience so as to differentiate between the world’s standards, their own standards, and God’s standards. Prayer and study of Sacred Scripture and of the teachings of the Church assist in the formation of a good conscience. Loving others means more than “being nice.” It means calling others to become fully who they are, that is rational and loving human beings who put others before themselves.
The Confraternity of Penitents affirms that God created men and women for specific purposes and that each human being, trusting in God’s wisdom, must embrace the gender that God created in that person because God does not make mistakes. While society may assign certain traits as masculine or feminine, who are we to say that God has to create every human being in a stereo typical image determined by human beings themselves? God’s wisdom is far greater than our own, and, in our humility, we are called to accept each person, including ourselves, as God created each one. Therefore, transgendered individuals who wish to enter the Confraternity of Penitents must show evidence of their conversion to God’s Will by living the gender which God created for them, irrespective of whatever changes surgery may have made to their bodies. To live the opposite gender to their biological gender is to say that God's gender choice for them was wrong and that they know what is good for them more than God does. This is not the attitude of a penitent who strives to affirm that God's Will and Wisdom far surpasses that of humanity.
It is evident from nature that sexuality was created by God as a means of procreating the species. The natural means of procreation must be embraced by all people claiming to follow God’s will. This means that every act of sexuality must be open to the creation of life. Those using artificial means of birth control must find natural ways to space their children if they wish to be penitents. No one who has embraced the life of penance can then choose surgical sterility as a means of family-planning, although removal of certain organs due to disease rather than choice, even if this causes sterility, may be necessary and, therefore, acceptable.
Furthermore, any man or woman who is involved in a sexual, but nonmarital, relationship must embrace chastity before entering a life of penance. Penance means that the person is converted to the will of God which, as the Church teaches, is nonsexual chastity for the unmarried.
The Church recognizes the sacrament of matrimony as being only between one man of original biological gender and one woman of original biological gender who, together, have the potential to procreate children. A man or woman who is sterile by nature, accident, or disease, or who has, at a prior time, been humanly sterilized, can be in a legitimate marital union if he or she remains open to life, no matter how improbable procreation may be for them.
Men may live with men, and women may live with women, as friends and apartment mates as long as each remains chaste. Unmarried men and women, even if chastely living together, give the appearance of scandal, as onlookers assume that sexual relations are taking place. Therefore, such living arrangements are not allowed for penitents.
Penitents must remember that refraining from sexual relations, when the Church would not approve of them, is both possible and profitable as well as moral. To decide to engage in sexual relations above God's law as clarified by the the Church is to put one's will above God's. This is not the attitude of a penitent who is called to practice self restraint and self discipline in many areas and who is to be following ALL the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church including those on sexuality.
The Confraternity of Penitents remains open to all people who wish to do penance, that is who wish to be converted to God’s Will. It is essential that penitents recognize the difference between God’s Will as explained by the Church and what society determines is legally permitted, preferable, or normal by modern standards. Society's standards may change, but God's standards do not. God's standards are eternal and are far wiser than human license ever can be. The bottom line is that God has the perfect plan for humanity, and that plan is based on self restraint and putting the other first. To engage in sexual relationships without committment to the other and/or without an openness to the procreative purpose of sexuality, is to substitute human ideas for God’s.