Value of Pledging
Why would someone pledge to live a life of penance (conversion)? Isn't it enough just to be converted a little bit? Look at the world. Am I not doing better than many others in following Jesus?
Members of the Confraternity of Penitents, of the Secular Franciscan Order, of other Third Orders of Saint Francis, and other Franciscan Third Orders who are living some form of Franciscan life as laity in the Roman Catholic Church, most often pledge to live a life of some type of penance (conversion). The Confraternity of Penitents is following a close modern adaptation of the Original Rule given to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance in the year 1221, as the first Third Order Franciscans. This Rule, and the Confraternity of Penitents Constitutions which are derived from the Rule, has many disciplines which foster penance (on going, personal conversion).
The thoughts expressed in this article are those of Father David Engo, one of the Spiritual Advisors to the Confraternity of Penitents. He explains why a pledge to live this life is valuable.
The vocation to be a penitent is a personal commitment of the heart to the service and love of God. It is a commitment made fully when one pledges for life to live the Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents.
The call to a life of penance comes directly from the Lord to the individual. If one hears this call and recognizes it as coming from the Holy Spirit, then he or she ought to immediately answer, "Yes, Lord. Here I am. You have called me and I am willing to follow Your call and to give my life entirely and fully to You. I run toward You, my God. Accept me into this life."
The pledge is this total surrender of one's entire self to God. The pledge is a vehicle for total union with the Lord, through a life of penance undertaken out of love for God and for neighbor. By pledging to live the Rule for the duration of one's life, the penitent is, in a sense, impaling himself or herself on the very cross of Christ. The penitent is saying, in effect, "Through my voluntary offering of myself to You, Lord, through a life of penance, I am ready for total union with You in every aspect of Your life, including Your passion as well as Your joys.
Because a life pledge to live a life of penance is a personal consecration of the penitent to the Lord, it is something that should never be postponed except for very valid reasons approved by the spiritual director. When a penitent pledges to live the Rule for life, several effects happen in the soul.
a. The penitent becomes a channel of grace for others, a mediator of God's grace, in a very real sense. This happens because the penitent has put himself or herself completely into the service of God.
b. If the penitent is part of a local gathering of penitents (a chapter or circle), the entire gathering, as well as each member of it, is strengthened by grace flowing through the one who has given himself or herself to the Lord through the pledge.
c. The pledge of any member gives courage to all members to continue with their formation and to move as quickly as their formation allows into making a pledge themselves.
d. Local gatherings, as well as the Confraternity itself, become increasingly stabilized with each member who pledges for life.
e. When a penitent is pledged to live a life of penance, every word and action done for the Lord sanctifies the penitent in a greater way. The penitent becomes holier because of the consecration of the pledge.
f. The pledge spiritually strengthens the person making the pledge and deepens the penitent's baptismal consecration to God.
g. The intense supernatural reality of the pledge affects the grace of total surrender and union with God. Thus the penances undertaken become much more valuable because they are fully united with God's Will and purpose.
h. The pledge is the penitent's response to Christ's call, given to the rich young man, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions, and come and follow Me." When the penitent "sells" himself or herself to the Lord in the total surrender of pledging to live the Rule for life, he or she has truly given the Lord "all your possessions." The result is that the penitent now can follow Christ completely. He or she will not be without struggle in the spiritual life, but the graces will be given to move forward with trust that God, Who now has all the penitent possesses, will make "all things work together for the good of those who have been called according to His decree" (Romans 8:28).
"Lord, I have heard Your call. I give myself totally to You. Guide me into the expression of the penitential life, which You have already worked out for me from long before You created me. May I be always and in every way only Yours. Amen."