Vision of the Confraternity of Penitents
The Vision of the Confraternity of Penitents is this: To give glory to God and surrender to His Will through the living of a medieval, penitential Rule of Life, the Rule of 1221. This Rule is lived as closely as possible to its original intent, and in one's own home or CFP community house, in peace with all others, and in obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, its Pope, and its Magisterium.
The Prayer, Motto, Mission, and Action of Penitents, as stated below, complete the Vision of the Confraternity:
PRAYER OF PENITENTS
"Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my mind, give me right faith, a firm hope and perfect charity, so that I may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will. Amen." (Saint Francis's prayer before the San Damiano Crucifix)
MOTTO OF PENITENTS
"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind, (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Jesus's words as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38)
MISSION OF PENITENTS
"Go and repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." (The message given to St. Francis in a voice from the San Damiano Crucifix.)
ACTION OF PENITENTS
To pray for God's specific direction in one's life so that, through humbly living our Rule of Life, each penitent may help to rebuild the house of God by bringing love of God and neighbor to his or her own corner of the world.
The living of the Rule of 1221 is open to all, be they full members or Associates. The leaders of the Confraternity provide formation in the living of the Rule plus support, prayer, and encouragement.
The Confraternity of Penitents testifies to a secular world that penance (conversion) is not only possible but also wondrously effective in bringing a penitent ever closer to God's Will.
Charism of the Confraternity of Penitents
Every group within the Catholic Church, whose members are following a Rule of Life, has a particular charism. A charism is a way of following the teachings of Christ in a particular way so as to effect conversion. The charism of the Franciscans, for example, is poverty; the Carmelites, contemplative prayer; the Benedictines, liturgical prayer and monasticism; the Trappists, prayer and solitude; the Missionaries of Charity, service to the poorest of the poor; the Sisters of Life, defending human life; and so on.
What is the charism of the Confraternity of Penitents?
The charism of the Confraternity of Penitents is penance (conversion), which is the same charism found in the medieval Order of Penitents, an Order which existed at the time of St. Francis of Assisi and whose lifestyle Francis initially adopted upon his own conversion. When he and his first followers were on their way to Rome to see the Pope, bystanders asked them, "Who are you?" "We are penitents from Assisi," Francis answered.
The Order of Penitents
The Order of Penitents dates back at least to the third century. Those who recognized the serious nature of their sins committed since their Baptism, and who wished to make retribution for them, were admitted into the Order of Penitents on the first day of Lent. On this day, ashes were sprinkled on the heads of the penitents to indicate their desire to die to sin and self. The penitents were clothed in a coarse, uncomfortable cloth called sack cloth and given a public penance to perform to amend for their sins. When this penance was completed, generally after many months or years, the bishop would then welcome them into full communion with the Church.
The Confraternity of Penitents has as its Rule the Rule of 1221 which was a Rule written for those who wished to practice penance (conversion). This Rule was a written expression of the way penitents were already living.
What Is Penance?
Penance (conversion) implies a recognition of a previous unconverted condition. Penitents, in other words, recognize that they are sinners. They embrace a life of penance, which is a life of self-discipline for the love of God, as a means of deepening and continuing their conversion. As a means of ongoing conversion, penitents in the Confraternity of Penitents live the Rule of 1221 as its Constitutions dictate, making the Rule fully livable in modern society.
The San Damiano Crucifix as a Visible Icon of Penance
The symbol of the Confraternity of Penitents is the San Damiano Crucifix. This is the very crucifix which brought about the conversion of St. Francis at whose request the Rule of 1221 was given. The San Damiano Crucifix is the crucifix of penance, of conversion. The Crucifix depicts Christ both crucified and resurrected which is what penitents are to be--both suffering and victorious. Christ's eyes are wide, watching the whole world with love, and the blood from His wounds flows down upon people under the arms of the Cross. The Crucifix thus shows us how our love, like His Blood, is to flow over all, both over those who love the Lord deeply as do St. John, the Blessed Virgin, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Clopas and those who do not love Him such as the centurion and the people who never believed, all of whom are depicted on this icon. Love means to wish well to all and to pray for the salvation of all, just as Christ died for all because He loves all. Thus, the motto of the Confraternity of Penitents is this verse from Matthew 22, verses 37-38:
"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind, (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Penance is only an empty word if it is not embraced in love.
The Crucifix reminds us of our sins, which penitents must ever keep in mind. On the crucifix is depicted a rooster which symbolizes Peter's denial of Christ--a public sin--and, opposite the rooster, an almost hidden fox which symbolizes those private sins known only to God and the sinner. Christ died for all sin, public and private. Penitents recognize His loving sacrifice, repent of their sins, and ask for, accept, and embrace God's forgiveness.
At the head of the Crucifix the ascended Christ enters glory, surrounded by angels and blessed by the Father. Heaven is the goal of all penitents who will gain it by the grace of God. More information on the symbolism of the San Damiano Crucifix is on this link.
Penance in the Confraternity of Penitents
Penance via the Confraternity Rule is four fold, as are the beams of the San Damiano Crucifix. Prayer would be the upper most vertical beam which points directly to God the Father. Fasting /abstinence and simplicity of lifestyle are the two horizontal beams. Apostolate is the vertical beam which supports the crucifix and grounds it.
The Body of the Crucified and yet Triumphant Lord covers all four of these beams, showing penitents that, just as the death of Christ brought triumph over sin, so the death of self will bring penitents to new spiritual life.
The figures around the cross portray community. Our life of penance (conversion), our dying to our own will and living for God's Will, is done with the support of others in the Confraternity and the ultimate support of God Himself. Conversion is a gift given by God, encouraged by fellow penitents, and embraced by each sister and brother in the Confraternity.
At the wedding feast of Cana, Our Lady told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." The Confraternity of Penitents is consecrated to Our Lady, and she says the same words to its members. "Do whatever He tells you." The Confraternity Rule is a means for each penitent's particular surrender to God, to his or her conversion. The penitent's vocation is to live the CFP Rule and to allow God to embellish it with His particular way of drawing each sister and brother closer to Himself through it.
The Goals of Penance
Penitents do not belong to themselves. They are to belong to God, more and more securely with each passing day. A life of penance (conversion) begins with self but never ends there. As each person is reared in a family, so all people are destined to live in God's family. This means that penitents see all people as sisters and brothers in Christ, and they work to help each as best they can. They strive to reconcile with all and to be the first to offer love and forgiveness.
The mission of the Confraternity of Penitents is this same mission given by Christ to St. Francis from the San Damiano Crucifix: "Go and repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." God's House is the Church, yes, but God also lives in the soul of each person. That is why the action of penitents is "To pray for God's specific direction in one's life so that, through humbly living our Rule of Life, each penitent may help to rebuild the house of God by bringing love of God and neighbor to his or her own corner of the world."
The penitent is not only to turn himself or herself to the Lord but also to follow God's guidance in how he or she might help others to turn to Christ as well. Thus the life of penance is a life of surprises. One never knows what God may do, but always the penitent turns to God with expectation and trust. Always the penitent can draw more closely to God's Will. Always he or she can love more deeply and act more faithfully. The major sins which may have initially brought a person to a life of penance (conversion) may be left behind, but the tug to laxity and imperfection, to self will, impatience, and frustration remain. The living of the CFP Rule provides the daily structure for a continual turning to God and away from self. Within this lifestyle, the Holy Spirit has much room to work.
Moment by moment penitents are to live in God's love, seek His guidance, and do His Will. He only asks for this current moment. Only this moment. Then the next moment. And the next. One moment at a time. Living for God, moment by moment, is living a life of penance.
Penance is the charism of the Confraternity of Penitents
"Lord, we thank You for guiding us through our trials and for carrying us during the darkest times of our lives. We praise You for the joys You have given us and for the love we bear toward one another. May we see You in all, even those who are at odds with us. For them we pray, dear Lord, asking You to bring about reconciliation in Your time and in Your way. In You we are all one. Grant us Your grace to be living witnesses of Your Love to a needy world. We are very little Lord, but we give ourselves to You. Use as You wish. May the prayer of St. Francis be ours, always:
Structure of the Confraternity of Penitents
As an international family within the Catholic Church, the Confraternity of Penitents acknowledges that God, through the Pope and the Magisterium, is the ultimate Authority regarding the Confraternity of Penitents. Subject to the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA, the Visitor has final approval over the internal operation of the Confraternity.
DETAILED STRUCTURE OF THE CONFRATERNITY OF PENITENTS
Visitor (Priest appointed or approved by Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA. No term of office)
Minister General (The Founder whom the Holy Spirit used to bring about the Confraternity, will occupy this position for life or until unable to serve. Thereafter, the Minister General will be elected by Life Pledged Members from their number. Elected term of office: 6 consecutive one year term., Chair of CFP Board of Directors)
CFP Officers: CFP Ministerial Assistant, CFP Treasurer, CFP Messenger (Pledged Members elected by Pledged Members unless there is an insufficient number of capable Pledged Members willing to serve. Act as consultants to the Minister General. Term of office: 1 year. Members of CFP Board of Directors)
Three to Seven Additional Board Members (CFP Members and/or others appointed by Minister General Act as consultants to Minister General. Term of office: 1 year)
Lay and Spiritual Advisors (Appointed by Visitor, and/or Minister General to act as consultants to the Confraternity. No term of office.)
Regional Spiritual Advisors (Roman Catholic Priests, Deacons, or Religious chosen by Regional Ministers to act as consultant in Church matters. No term of office)
Regional Ministers (Appointed by Minister General: Term of office: 1 year)
Assistant Regional Ministers, Regional Treasurers, Regional Messengers (Appointed by Regional Minister: Term of office: 1 year)
Chapter and Circle Spiritual Assistants (Roman Catholic Priests, Deacons, Religious. No term of office)
Chapter and Circle Officers: Minister, Assistant Minister, Messenger, Treasurer (Elected within Chapter and Circle: Term of office: 1 year)
Formators (Appointed by Minister General, Regional Minister, and/or Chapter/Circle Minister: Work with Members and Associates in formation. Maximum number of Members and Associates per Formator: five. Term: Until Member pledges.)
Members (Minimum of 4 years in formation, then pledge for life or a year. May vow for life with permission of Spiritual Director.)
Associates (Do formation but cannot pledge, vote, hold office, or become Formators)
Affiliates (Clergy, Religious, Laity who pray for and support the CFP)
With the advice of the Officers and Advisors, the Minister General shall make the final decisions on all matters involving the Confraternity of Penitents. These are subject to the Visitor for approval.
The Minister General must have the consent of the Officers and Advisors of the CFP to implement a decision in the following areas only:
the dissolution of major assets
change to the CFP Vision and/or Charism
change to the CFP Rule* and Constitutions
change to the CFP Governance and Structure
change to the CFP Formation Program
* The Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents is the Rule of 1221. As such, it is a historical document and cannot be changed. However, the Rule and Constitutions complement each other. Since the Constitutions detail how the Rule is to be lived today, they are subject to modification.
Please pray for each individual in the above chart. We all need your prayers.
May God bless you!