What is a Confraternity ?
In the Roman Catholic Church, Confraternities are organizations of lay people created to promote special works of Christian charity or piety. Confraternities are approved by the Church hierarchy generally through a bishop or archbishop. An archconfraternity is a group of confraternities following the same rules and having the same name. So the Confraternity of Penitents, because it is world wide and consists of both local and internet groups, is actually an Archconfraternity.
In the Middle Ages, confraternities resembled medieval guilds whose members joined together for support in business rather than charity. Many confraternities exist in the world today, some small and localized and others international in scope. Their activities range from burying the dead to caring for the poor to promoting certain religious practices and observing certain religious holidays.
The Confraternity of Penitents has, as its charitable work, evangelization of oneself through the living of a life of penance (conversion) while promoting penance (conversion) to others throughout the world. This conversion comes about through instruction in the faith and through practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, thus showing the merciful face of God to others. The Confraternity of Penitents members live modern adaptations of the Rule of Life given by Saint Francis of Assisi to the penitents in 1221, thus making the CFP a direct descendent of the original Brothers and Sisters of Penance which was, by all appearances, a Confraternity whose charitable works were supporting the poor among themselves, burying their dead, and striving for personal conversion through fasting, abstinence, prayer, simplicity of dress, and community with one another.
What is a Third Order? What is the Third Order of Saint Francis ?
The original Third Order of Saint Francis was the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. These were men and women who were living in their homes a Rule of Life given to them in 1221 by the Cardinal Protector of Saint Francis' Order, Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti di Segni. The penitents who lived this Rule were not considered a Third Order of Saint Francis until the year Pope Nicholas IV, himself a Franciscan, placed the penitents directly under the Franciscan Friars in 1289. The Rule continued to be lived in its 1221 form until 1881 when Pope Leo XIII changed it considerably. That Leonine Rule was in effect until 1978 when the Pauline Rule was adopted. Today the Third Order of Saint Francis is known as the Order of Franciscans Secular (OFS) and consists of both religious and lay expressions of the Rule.
However, additional Third Order Franciscan communities exist worldwide. The Confraternity of Penitents is unique in that its members are living modern adaptations of the Rule of 1221, the first Third Order Franciscan Rule, and in a spirit as close as possible to its original intent. This means that the focus of the Confraternity of Penitents is on the Franciscan virtues and how to follow Christ more closely through the words and example of Saint Francis who himself wanted only to "follow in the footprints of Jesus." Therefore, rather than being strictly Franciscan, the Confraternity of Penitents is broader in that its members are focused on Christ rather than on Saint Francis, just as the original penitents were. Remember that, when Saint Francis embarked on his life of conversion, he began as a penitent. His focus was on Jesus, never on himself. This is the way he wanted his followers to always act.
A Third Order is a term applied to groups of lay people who are part of a religious charism. Generally the First Order of that charism are the male religious, the Second Order the female religious, and the Third Order the laity. The Confraternity of Penitents is not officially connected with any First or Second Order and has not been generated by any First or Second Order. However, it is interesting to note that the Franciscan Brothers Minor (First Order), who are living a primitive expression of Saint Francis's Rule of 1223 for the friars, have also founded the Franciscan Sisters Minor (Second Order) who are living a religious expression of the Third Order Franciscan Rule for Religious. The laity who wish to follow the example of the Franciscan Brothers Minor and Franciscan Sisters Minor have adopted the Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents as their Third Order Rule, calling their local group Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy Chapter of the Confraternity of Penitents. This local group is one of several worldwide, none of whom have any contact with the Franciscan Brothers Minor or Franciscan Sisters Minor but all of whom are living lives of penance (conversion) and faith and attempting to follow Christ closely in the spirit of Saint Francis.
I see in the Rule of 1221 that it was written for the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Did St. Francis invent the Brothers and Sisters of Penance?
No. Penitents (those who wish to do penance, that is, be converted) have existed since the beginning of the Church. The penitents, following the example of the early Christians, often informally referred to themselves as brothers and sisters. Both St. Francis and St. Clare entered a penitential way of life at the beginning of their conversions.
Francis had written letters of advice to the penitents, but he did not write the Rule of 1221. Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti dei Segni, the Protector of the friars and sisters, wrote the Rule of 1221 at the request of Francis and his lay followers who had entered a penitential life due to the friars' preaching. The Rule was a legal document on how most of the penitents were already living. The Rule was adopted by Francis as the Rule for his lay followers, thus becoming the first Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis.
Where did the idea of the Confraternity of Penitents originate ?
Ultimately from the Holy Spirit, our true Founder, Who, in the late twentieth century, was preparing hearts for this call to holiness through a life of penance. It seems to have been the Holy Spirit's intent to call souls from around the world to live some adaptation of the Rule of 1221. One individual was persistently called to live this Rule and to adapt it to modern life and then to organize into an association for all who were also hearing the call of the Holy Spirit to live the penitential life. Thus, in 1994 this individual answered the personal call and began to live the Rule of 1221. This adaptation of the Rule of 1221 was presented first to a spiritual director for approval, and then, in 1995 to others, and finally to diocesan officials. From this little beginning, the Confraternity of Penitents began.
When was the Rule of the Confraternity written ?
The Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents was written in 1221. The Constitutions, which are how we live the Rule in this day and age, were written in the mid 1990's and reviewed and recognized by the Diocese of Providence, RI, USA, in 1998 with a few, slight adaptations in 1999 and additional information from other documents added in 2006. These Constitutions, now accepted by the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA, are currently followed in the CFP.
Why did the Rule of 1221 need Constitutions? Why couldn't we just have lived with the original Rule ?
The Constitutions enable the Rule to be lived today. The 1221 Rule, for example, mandates specific clothing styles. Our brothers would really look odd if they sewed or laced up the sleeves and necks of their garments, and our sisters would look equally out of place in their petticoats. The Church fasts in 1221 mandated no meat, eggs, cheese, or milk products, an unhealthy diet especially when fasting all of Lent and Advent. The Constitutions adapt the original provisions so that penitents can live the Rule today in healthy, inconspicuous ways.
Why are the initials of the Confraternity of Penitents CFP rather than COP or CP ?
COP might be confusing in the United States as cop is an American slang term for a policeman. CP are the initials used by the Congregation of the Passion (the Passionists). At the time of the Confraternity's refounding, a search was made for initials used by religious congregations and lay associations, and no organization found used the initials CFP at that time.
What was the original name of the Confraternity of Penitents ?
In 1995, the small group of Rhode Island individuals who began living an adaptation of the 1221 Rule were known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.
Where was the Association headquartered ?
Originally headquartered in Rhode Island, USA, the Confraternity of Penitents moved to Indiana, USA, upon the invitation of the Bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese who is permitting the CFP to use Diocesan property for its international headquarters. The CFP is paying rent for this use.
What was/is the legal status of the original and subsequent Associations ?
On April 5, 1999, as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Association was recognized as an incorporated entity under the state of Rhode Island. National, non-profit, tax exempt status (501c3) was granted to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance on November 8, 1999. The incorporated name was retained until August 19, 2003, when the Association was legally re-incorporated, under the State of Rhode Island, as the Confraternity of Penitents. National, non-profit, tax exempt (501c3) status was granted the Confraternity by the United States Internal Revenue Service on May 10, 2004. The original foundation, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, was legally dissolved under the State of Rhode Island on October 9, 2003, so acknowledged by the State of Rhode Island on 0ctober 21, 2003 and by the Internal Revenue Service on March 8, 2004. With the move to Indiana in 2013, the CFP retained a Rhode Island address and registration while registering with the State of Indiana as well. The address change was also submitted to the IRS.
I found another group whose members are living a similar Rule of Life. Would you ever consider uniting with them ?
We would certainly be glad to explore a dialog with any other group whose members are living, as closely as we strive to, the 1221 Rule. Please let us know of such groups. Ultimately we would want our Visitor and Diocese to be favorable toward any merger. We wish every group promoting penance God's blessings and we hold them in our prayers.
I understand that the Association was refounded. What does that mean ?
Refounding means that the original group was begun again by a different name.
Who told you to refound the Association ?
The instruction to refound came from the Diocese of Providence. The CFP began as an Association promoting penance and then, five years after our founder began living the Rule, another similar group joined us. After four and a half years of merger, the Vicar for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of Providence, RI, USA, reviewed the history of the Association to that point and advised us to refound the organization in the same diocese. Three priests who were advising us concurred with this advice, and so, with the knowledge of Bishop Robert Mulvee, the refounding was completed. The refounding legally necessitated a change of name. However, the Rule, Constitutions (then called Statutes), formation lessons, and structure were maintained without change.
Why was the refounding necessary ?
Saint Jerome wrote, "Be obedient to your bishop and welcome him as the parent of your soul." St. Ignatius of Antioch reminds us, "Everyone the Master of the house sends on His business, we ought to receive as the One who sent him. It is clear, then, that we should regard the bishop as the Lord Himself."
Section 26 of the Rule and Constitutions state that certain situations, if unable to be resolved within the Association, are to be brought to the Bishop. On August 12, 2003, the diocese received full disclosure and documentation of a situation which had persisted within the Association for the previous ten months and which the spiritual advisors had been trying to resolve peacefully but without success. The Vicar for Canonical Affairs advised the refounding of the Association as the only way to solve the problem. The Bishop concurred with this solution, and the refounding took place on the Queenship of Mary, August 22, 2003.
The Confraternity of Penitents harbors no ill will or bitter feelings toward those left behind. We pray for them daily and wish them every success in their endeavors to also promote a life of penance in the modern world.
THE CONFRATERNITY AND THE CHURCH
Has the Pope OK'd us living this Rule? Or has my bishop ?
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, has confirmed the Confraternity of Penitents' canonical status as a private association of the faithful, supports its efforts, and encourages its growth. See the letter of commendation on this link. The Pope accepts a bishop's judgment in these matters.
Do I have to ask my bishop's permission to live this Rule since I am in another diocese ?
The Confraternity of Penitents is in good standing in its diocese where its Rule and Constitutions have been recognized. Therefore, you do not need your bishop's permission to live according to the CFP Rule of Life. However, you could, if you wish, write your bishop a letter to inform him about the CFP. All Circles and Chapters of the Confraternity, which are local gatherings of penitents, do inform their bishops of their existence within their dioceses.
What does a private Association of the Faithful mean? Is this a closed group ?
The Confraternity of Penitents is not a closed group. Any lay Catholic who is in full agreement with the teachings of the Catholic Church may live a life of penance.
Associations in the Church fall into several categories. Two of these are private and public. Private Association status is the first step in establishing a new group within the Catholic Church. As a Private Association, the Confraternity can work with its Visitor (consulting priest) while keeping the diocese informed.
A Private Association, with diocesan approval, can become a Public Association once it has a sufficient number of stable, permanently committed members. Public Associations are subject to a bishop, and any changes in their structure must be diocesan approved.
How do I find a spiritual director if I don't have one ?
Spiritual directors can be priests, deacons, or male or female religious. They can be in your parish, your city, your town, or on the internet or via mail. The Confraternity of Penitents has contacts who will help you find a spiritual director once you need one (during First Year Novice Formation).
I saw another web site (or heard of another group) that is promoting this very same Rule. How is the Confraternity different from that group?
Who can become a member of the CFP ?
Any Catholic who adheres to all the teachings of the Catholic Church and who agrees with the Rule. Non Catholics may become Associates of the Confraternity of Penitents provided they understand that their formation will be Catholic in focus. In the same manner, Catholics who, because of certain situations or choices, are ineligible to pledge may proceed in formation as Associates. So may those who have been in formation previously but who have dropped from formation and who wish to be re-admitted. Associates cannot pledge to live the Rule nor can they become CFP formators, vote or hold office in the Confraternity.
If an Associate who had previously dropped from formation now persists for several years, or if the impediment that precluded membership is eliminated, the Associate may apply for membership without any loss of formation time.
How will I know if the CFP Rule is suitable for me ?
Study the CFP Constitutions. They explain how members live the Rule today. If you join a group, or enter its formation program, you are doing so with the intention of seeing if you will live your life, in whole or in part, by that group's Rule and Constitutions. Members of the Confraternity have pledged, or hope to one day pledge, to permanently live according to the CFP Rule and Constitutions. Does this seem to fit the desires which the Holy Spirit has placed within your soul? Will living this way provide you with the spiritual benefits which you seek?
Does it hinder or enhance the living of the Rule if one is also a member of a Third Order or a Secular Order in the Church?
Being a member of a lay order in the Church can only enhance the living of this Rule. The Confraternity of Penitents is open to members of other Associations and Orders within the Church as long as they are in agreement with their members living this Rule of Life. If not, a person may become an Associate member of the CFP which means that he or she may enter and proceed with formation but without being pledged or being eligible for office or voting privileges. By permission of CFP leaders, Associates may attend gatherings of CFP members.
What's wrong with the current Third Order (Secular Order) Rules ?
Nothing. Those who live these Rules faithfully as members of lay orders are guaranteed eternal life.
If the pope OK'd the Third Order (Secular) Rule I am living, why become a penitent ?
Some people need the discipline provided in the Rule of Life for the Confraternity of Penitents. Maybe you are one of these people.
What if my Third Order says I can't live my Third Order Rule and be a member of the Confraternity at the same time ?
We would ask you to contact the Confraternity if this happens. We like to remain in contact with Third Orders to explain our charism to them and to inform them that the Confraternity is a response to the Church's call for a renewal of penance. The Confraternity Rule is not in conflict with Third Order Rules but actually enhances them in the penitential aspect.
If your Third Order is insistent in their decision, then you will have to decide what to do by exploring the spiritual benefits of membership in your Third Order and in the CFP. Prayer will help you determine which group will best provide the spiritual benefits which you seek. If you wish to remain with your Third Order, you can maintain contact with the Confraternity as a friend or go into formation as an Associate. Associates are not members of the CFP nor can they become CFP formators, pledge to live the Rule, hold office, or vote.
Do you have to be in a Third Order to join the Confraternity of Penitents ?
Not at all. Most of our members are not Third Order members.
Suppose I want to transfer to the CFP from another group. Could I enter the CFP at the same level of formation that I am currently in with the other group ?
Penitents who wish to transfer from any other Lay Association or Third Order to the Confraternity of Penitents will first complete the usual three months of Inquiry. During this time, they will be asked to submit their current Rule and Constitutions as well as copies of their completed formation lessons (if any) plus their answers to them. Their level of formation following Inquiry will depend upon the similarity of their current Rule, Constitutions, and formation plan to that of the Confraternity of Penitents. Depending on the similarity, they may be able to transfer at their current level of formation. However, all transfers will be asked to complete all CFP formation lessons, beginning with the Postulancy, in areas that differ from those already completed in their current organization. If they wish, they may complete these concurrently with their on-going CFP formation lessons. Those already professed in another organization whose Rule and Constitutions are very similar to those of the Confraternity will be interviewed to determine if they could be accepted as temporarily pledged in the CFP until they have completed all the necessary CFP formation (as shared above) in order to pledge for life in the Confraternity. Temporarily pledged members will not be eligible for leadership roles in the CFP nor will they have voting privileges during the time of temporary profession.
SPECIFICS OF THE RULE
It seems like a lot of rules and regulations. How will all those help me ?
Some of us need rules, regulations, and practice in being obedient. We want to follow God, to give Him our total will, to pray, but we have trouble disciplining ourselves to do this. The Rule and Constitutions for the Confraternity of Penitents give us specific ways to begin to break our own wills and to practice obedience to something (the Rule and Constitutions) outside our selves. We give up things we like in order to embrace something we want more, namely a deeper relationship with God and peace with one another. Through obedience to the Rule and Constitutions and through its prayer schedule, we become more attuned to the Holy Spirit, more spiritually pliable, more willing to follow God's lead and to serve others in love.
Are there dues or fees to pay if I join ?
No. The Confraternity is a national, non-profit, tax exempt organization and, as such, all donations to it are tax deductible. It requires no set fee to join but rather survives on freely given donations of its members. We would hope that you support the Confraternity as you are able, as this is asked of you in our section 20 of our Rule and Constitutions. You will be responsible for buying your formation texts and breviary. If this is a difficulty, please contact us.
The Rule says to tithe, but I can't give away 10% of my money. We have debts and are trying to raise a family. Can I still become a penitent?
Yes, you can still become a penitent. The Rule also states that penitents are to pay up their debts. If you have debts, your first obligation is to pay those off as soon as possible. You can tithe your time to help others and give a smaller than 10% amount of money if necessary. Every penitent, however, should make an effort to give some monetary contribution regularly, to their parish and other charities.
Section 20 of the Rule asks each member to give the treasurer "one ordinary denar." "One ordinary denar" was the smallest coinage minted at that time. Since Section 20 follows Section 19, it appears that this amount was to be given monthly. Modern penitents certainly ought to be able to afford to give as alms "the smallest coin minted." Most ought to be able to give much more.
I see I am supposed to make peace with all. What if I can't ?
As a penitent, it's your obligation to try to make peace. If your peace making efforts are rejected, then pray regularly for the offender and ask God to give that person the grace of reconciliation. Be always ready to reconcile if the other becomes ready. Hold no grudges. "Forgive one another, as God has forgiven you."
What does the Confraternity consider a "just war ?"
Whatever the Holy Father, the Pope, considers to be one. Penitents who face being sent to battle should discuss this with their spiritual directors.
The Rule says I'm not supposed to donate to actors. But there are some good Catholic acting troupes. Can't I donate to them?
Yes, you may donate to good, Catholic acting companies, and please do! In 1221, when the Rule was written, all acting troupes were engaged in presenting bawdy, immoral, or heretical plays. Penitents were not to use their money to foster such activity then nor should they foster such activity today. Modern, good Catholic acting companies, on the contrary, advance the faith and deserve our support. When reading our Rule and Constitutions, remember that we live according to our Constitutions which caution only to avoid immoral plays and movies. There are many very good, faith building media productions which we may support.
Constitutions 5a states that penitents are not to attend immodest functions or events, including movies, plays, parties, and so on. Are members allowed to enjoy good forms of entertainment such as wholesome movies and plays, ballet, art museums, opera, and so on?
Of course. Constitutions 5a enjoins the penitent to stay away from anything that would be an occasion of sin. Penitents are encouraged to heartily enjoy all wholesome forms of entertainment. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has excellent guidelines and gives favorable reviews to those movies and plays suitable for viewing.
Why would one have to get rid of certain colors of clothes? What's wrong with colors? What's wrong with patterns ?
Nothing is wrong with colors or patterns. A life of penance is designed to give up good but worldly things for the sake of better ones. The 1221 Rule stated that penitents were to wear "undyed cloth of humble quality." All penitents and penitential rules had clothing parameters. The purpose of these are to break the penitent's worldly concern about clothing. Penitents limit their wardrobe as a discipline so that they may grow closer to God through voluntary renunciation.
The colors used by the Confraternity of Penitents are similar to the "undyed cloth" of the first penitents. This undyed cloth was of various neutral shades (no patterns) depending on the natural material that made up the fabric. Blue was added in the modern Rule because it is the color associated with Our Lady to whom the Confraternity and all its members are consecrated. The addition of blue also keeps the penitent's neutral colored wardrobe from resembling a religious habit.
Since a penitent's clothing should not attract attention (good or bad), patterns and colors, generally eye-catching, are avoided. The clothing parameters are also a way to identify with Christ Who divested Himself of His glorious Divinity (we divest ourselves of comely colors and patterns) to clothe Himself in humble human flesh (we clothe ourselves in humble, muted colors).
I dress modestly but I do wear bright colors such as red, plum, purple, and pink. If I stop wearing these colors, my family and friends will notice and comment, and I would like to keep my penances private as Jesus advised and the CFP Rule and Constitutions state. Would it be acceptable to wear these colors on Sundays and Solemnities?
In considering modifications of the CFP way of life, it's important to look at the original Rule and how the Church has always viewed religious dress. While the Church has stated that we ought not fast or abstain on Sunday's and Solemnities, it has never made such a stipulation regarding religious garb. Religious who wear habits wear them year round. The penitents who lived the 1221 Rule in the Middle Ages wore their garb daily. As modern penitents, we follow in their footsteps regarding the clothing colors that we use.
It's almost impossible for most penitents to live according to the CFP Rule and Constitutions without close family members knowing. The penitent's gradual change in eating habits, prayer times, clothing, and outlook on life will eventually become evident to those with whom the penitent has close, daily contact. These people can come to understand the CFP way of life even if they do not embrace it themselves. However, when penitents go into the larger world, they ought not be distinguishable by their garb. It is not necessary to wear colors and patterns outside the stipulations of the Rule and Constitutions to achieve this goal.
What is the purpose of wearing a cross or crucifix ?
Penitents should give visible witness to their Catholic faith. The crucifix or cross chosen should be simple, not ostentatious. As opposed to other religious jewelry, a crucifix or cross is a commonly accepted symbol of penance because it shows the supreme sacrifice of Christ.
Are there any restrictions about a penitent belonging to a workout club or gym as a way of exercising and helping to stay healthy? Can penitents go swimming?
Certainly penitents may join these clubs and work out as long as their clothing is modest and in the colors of the Rule and Constitutions. However, if the club has certain "uniforms" that must be worn, the penitent ought to go along with the club colors so as not to call attention to himself or herself. Modest work out clothing may not be suitable for wearing in the mall but it is certainly suitable for the gym. In the same way, penitents may go swimming as long as they wear modest bathing suits which ought to be in the colors stipulated in the Rule and Constitutions if those are available. Enjoy your workouts and swims and stay healthy!
I can barely make it to confession two times a year. How can I go two times a month ?
You should not enter a penitential life unless you are serious about surrendering your entire life to God. Making time for confession on a regular basis is part of this surrender. Some penitents go to confession weekly, others monthly. The spiritual director has the final say in how often a penitent is to confess. The two times per month is a general guideline.
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE
If the Church has made certain fast and abstinence days binding, why fast and/or abstain on other days, too ?
Food is good. The fasting and abstinence requirements of the Rule have the penitent voluntarily give up a good (here, food) for a greater good, namely surrender to God. The food stipulations of the Rule and Constitutions break the penitent's attachment to what is eaten and when. By growing in the self discipline of this daily denial of one's will, the penitent begins to break attachments to other more subtle things like opinions, time, controls, ways of acting, and so on. The fasting and abstinence are also ways to identify with Christ Who fasted. They are effective supports to prayer and ways to atone for past sins of oneself or of others.
The fasting seems too severe for a lay person.
Seems is the proper word here. We fast according to current Church law which indicates one full meal, one meal lesser in size than the full one, and a bite to eat at a third time during the day, if necessary. Note that nothing is said about the amount of food to be taken other than that only one meal may be a full one. You must eat enough food at each meal to maintain your strength and clarity of thinking. The fasting is disciplined but not difficult. Many lay people have done, and are doing, this fasting with no problem.
I have so many health constraints. How can I follow the fast and abstinence requirements?
These are to be followed only if they do not adversely affect your health. When in doubt, consult a physician and follow the advice given.
Who was St. Martin and why do penitents begin a pre-Christmas fast on the day after his feast (fast to begin on November 12) ?
November 11 is the Feast of St. Martin. In Medieval times, this was a highly celebrated feast for a popular saint and was, in fact, one of the days mentioned in the 1221 Rule as a day of no fasting or abstinence. To keep the spirit of the original Rule and to prepare spiritually for the Solemnity of Christmas, modern day penitents observe this pre-Christmas fast as did their medieval predecessors.
I have so many time constraints. What if I don't have enough time for all the prayers ?
There are five prayer options in the Constitutions. The option chosen for regular use will be agreed upon by the penitent and spiritual director. On busy days, the penitent can switch freely between options.
How can I pray all the prayers if I have children or full care of an elderly relative ?
With small children or relatives suffering from dementia, penitents will find difficulty in getting uninterrupted moments to pray. In these situations, penitents should make an effort to begin the prayers at the appointed hours. However, once an interruption from a child or forgetful elder occurs, the penitent should put down the prayers, lift his or her mind to God with resignation and love, and then tend to the need at hand. The penitent should consider that part of the prayer time done for the day and not feel compelled to return to finish it. As time goes on and children age or circumstances change, the prayers will be completed at their appointed times.
What are Chapters and Circles of the Confraternity ?
Chapters are local groups of penitents consisting of at least five members. Circles are smaller groups.
How does the internet community work ?
The internet community for the Confraternity of Penitents meets in a password protected chat room on line for a monthly teaching by one of the leaders of the Confraternity. This gathering is primarily for those who do not live near any local Chapter or Circle of the Confraternity and who have internet access. However, anyone in the Confraternity may attend. The internet community is also connected through various other sites, social media, blogs, phone calls, and emails.
If I don't have a computer at home and don't live near a local group, can I still become a penitent ?
Yes. You may complete your monthly lessons at home and return them to your formator by postal mail.
Can't I just live this Rule on my own without joining the Confraternity? What is the advantage of joining a group ?
Of course, you can live this Rule on your own, but you won't be living all of it on your own because community is a very big part of this way of life. Study Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the Rule and Constitutions and you'll see. A Chapter or Circle gives you the friendship and counsel, if you need it, of others who are living the same way you are. Our internet and postal mail communities provide the same support. We cherish our relationships with our fellow penitents for we all share a common faith and life style. It is difficult to find laity who understand this unique way of following the Lord's call. Other CFP penitents understand for they are living the same way.
Why do we have to enter formation during Lent or August? Why can't we begin formation at any time ?
The life of penance in the CFP is lived within the community of the Confraternity. We like to begin our classes at the same time so that members in each level of formation are part of a "class" whose members are completing the same lessons simultaneously. This makes sharing on our members' forum and at our retreats workable. Having fixed entry dates also gives aspiring penitents a target at which to aim. It provides penitents in formation an incentive to complete their lessons monthly so that they can move into the next year of formation with the rest of their "class." In addition, two major aspects of the life of penance are obedience and self-control. While it may seem exciting to want to enter formation as soon as you find our website, it's important to remember that, if God has given you a call to live this way of life, that call is going to get stronger over time, not fade away. By waiting to enter formation with your fellow penitents-to-be, you are growing in obedience and self-control. Most of us need these virtues.
How does the Confraternity's leadership work? What is it composed of ?
The officers listed in the Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity of Penitents refer primarily to those in local Chapters and Circles. The government of the entire Confraternity of Penitents consists of a Minister General (president), Ministerial Assistant (vice president), Messenger (secretary), and Treasurer. These are to be life pledged members, whenever possible. Advisors to the Minister General and Regional Ministers complete
the leadership structure. Decisions of Confraternity leadership are overseen by the Visitor (a priest) who is ultimately subject to the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence. Spiritual advisors also advise the leadership.
Why is your president called a "minister"? The term sounds like a clergyman.
The term "Minister" is used in the Rule of 1221. It means a person who "ministers" to the others. The Minister (president) is to minister to all in the CFP as a servant.
It's a big commitment. I don't know if I can do it.
Most of us didn't know if we could do it either. Many of us were sure we could not. God gives the grace if He gives the call to live this way of life. You will never know what you can or can't do unless you try. Remember, formation takes four years and is worked into gradually. You will have time to make the adjustments.
Most people can't live the Rule and their current lifestyle as well. Penitents end up voluntarily relinquishing good but worldly attachments such as watching the news, reading the paper, or having that second cup of coffee in favor of praying. You should not embark upon this way of life unless you are willing to make some very real but valuable changes in how you are currently living. This is a religious way of life for lay people, and no one enters religious life without giving up many aspects of his or her former, more worldly life.
I don't want people to think I'm nuts.
People should not know that you are living this way of life. It is to be done privately and without fanfare. The clothing is not noticeable and is what everyone is wearing. The food choices are not unusual in this day of vegetarians. Many people eat small meals or skip one. If people think you are nuts, it won't be because you are a penitent because they won't know unless you tell them. We would suggest you not tell them as the value of penance is greatly reduced if it is done to impress others.
I would love to see all live this life, but I don't want to be a zealot.
The penitential life is not for everyone. Many would not understand it. There has never been a time in history when everyone or even most everyone were penitents. You will know with whom you can share your zeal.
Why is the formation period four years? I want to do it all now.
The four years of formation allow the brothers and sisters ample time to make the adjustments in their lives necessary to live according to the Rule and Constitutions. It takes time to discern a true call to a religious way of life. The Church does not approve of the faithful making vows or promises in a state of "novitiate fervor." Sometimes, when the required period is dispensed with, this leads to profound regret afterwards.
One must consider the seriousness of promising to live a Rule of Life and ought to consult one's spiritual advisor or confessor before making a permanent commitment. A man who wishes to build first makes an estimate of what the cost of the entire project will be in order to see if he will have enough for the finished structure. (See Luke 14:28.) So too with a person's vocation in life. No one must make serious commitments unless he has first prayed, consulted, and discerned. St. Francis de Sales tells us that he wishes he did not make the promise so hastily to pray the most Holy Rosary everyday as his schedule sometimes made it rather difficult to do as he so promised. One must pray about his or her vocation, consult an advisor, and then discern before entering. This is why we have the Inquiry time, Postulancy and three years of Novitiate in the Confraternity for discernment. Promising to live according to the Rule and Constitutions is a most joyful but also a most serious step and something not to be taken lightly.
What if I need more time to get through formation ?
This is allowed with the permission of your spiritual director.
Can I stay in the inquiry period as long as I need to ?
Yes, as long as you are still discerning whether or not to enter formation.
Is this commitment for life ?
It can be. Or you can take a promise each year to live the way of life for the next twelve months. The choice is up to you and your spiritual director. Remember that the pledge binds by promise, not vow. A promise is made to God and still a serious matter but does not bind under pain of sin. Only after you pledge to live according to the Rule and Constitutions for life can you consider changing that life pledge into a vow which then does become binding.
What should be my mindset if I enter formation ?
Members of the Confraternity should enter formation with the intention of pledging to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions in their entirety for life, if the Lord so indicates when their formation is complete. Some begin formation and then move on to other spiritual families, and that is certainly acceptable as it is the way the Spirit moves. Others complete formation and feel comfortable in pledging to live the Rule and Constitutions for a year, one year at a time. This is also acceptable, and the CFP has no stipulations on how many times a year pledge may be renewed. However, the initial intent should be, "This is how I believe God may be calling me to live my life. I will explore this holy way and follow the Spirit's lead, ready to say 'yes' to a life of continuing conversion (penance) if and when the Lord indicates."
Some of your members have taken private vows to live according to the Rule and Constitutions. Why ?
A vow is the deepest commitment one can make to live the CFP Rule of Life. Some penitents have come to realize that the Lord was calling them to make a binding, lifetime promise, a vow, to live this way. Such a vow can be made only with the permission of the pledged penitent's spiritual director and is made to that director or the one whom the director designates. Special guidelines must be followed to be dispensed from a vow. Many graces come with living a vow, in obedience to another human being, but many responsibilities as well. For these reasons, a vow is taken only following adequate prayer and counsel.
Why do some of your members also have names like "sister or brother So and So?" Are they religious ? And why don't you capitalize the "sister" or "brother ?"
Following tradition in the Catholic Church, CFP pledged members who have also taken a private vow to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions are given Confraternity names. To humbly indicate the lay status of these members, the "sister" and "brother" is written in lower case. These names are used only within the Confraternity.
What if my spouse won't give me permission to join ?
You may become an Affiliate of the CFP or, if you wish to enter formation and live as much of the Rule and Constitutions as you can under the circumstances of your marriage, you can enter formation as an Associate. Associates are not members of the CFP nor can they become CFP formators, pledge, vote, or hold office in the Confraternity.
What if I drop out and want to come back ?
You can certainly re-apply. Your initial status would be that of Associate. If you persist in formation for several years, you can request membership status.
How many are in the Confraternity of Penitents ?
The Confraternity is growing so that, there are approximately 120 members who are either pledged, in formation, or inquiring. There are also approximately 60 Associates who are either inquiring, in formation, or who have completed their formation. These individuals live mainly in the United States but other countries were also represented as the Confraternity of Penitents is an international Confraternity. We thank the Lord for this phenomenal growth and for His wondrous blessings.
PATH TO HOLINESS
Who in the past history of the Church has been a penitent and recognized for sanctity ?
St. Margaret of Cortona, Blessed Angela of Foligno, St. Elizabeth Queen of Hungary, Saint Louis King of France, Blessed Luchesio, Blessed Jacoba de Settisoli, Saint Ferdinand III King of Spain, Saint Elizabeth Queen of Portugal, Saint Rose of Viterbo, Blessed Jane of Signa, and about twenty others have lived this Rule and have been declared venerable, blessed, or saints. There have been countless others whose names have not been recorded.
Why did they chose to live this lifestyle ?
They realized that their lives were not as converted as they wished. Many had major conversions, some from very sinful lives. All wanted to surrender themselves in every way to God. They hungered for holiness. They wanted ways to atone for past sins. They saw the Rule as a means to those ends. The purpose of the Rule is never to "do what it says" as an end in itself but to "do what it says" as a discipline, a penance, that enables the penitent to "do what HE says." The Rule is only a means to the ultimate end of total union with the will of God.
So this is why you do all this ?
Why we "do all this" is best summed up here:
"Love for creation and grateful recognition that all is a gift from God is the underlying characteristic of the authentic penitent. . . . The joyful experience of giving something to God out of pure love, imitating very poorly the completely gratuitous gift of love God makes to us, is inexplicable for those who have not begun to fall in love with Jesus crucified. . . . (it is) a spiritual experience . . . the fullness of love and freedom."
--Segundo Galilea, Temptation and Discernment, Institute of Carmelite Studies.
We also refer you to an article in our Penance Library which details why a genuine life of penance is a life of joy. Please see this link.