Confraternity of Penitents: St. Francis' Rule of Penance for the Laity
"Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command." ---------- Saint Francis' of Assisi's prayer before the San Damiano Crucifix
Confraternity of Penitents: Living St. Francis' Original Rule of Life for Single and Married People
The Confraternity of Penitents is a canonically approved Private Association of the Faithful with commendation in the Roman Catholic Church.* The Confraternity consists of single and married people worldwide who are living in their own homes a modern adaptation of the Rule of Life given in the year 1221 to the penitent men and women of his time at the request of Saint Francis of Assisi. This Rule eventually became the Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Assisi. The goal of this Rule of Life is to bring those who live it closer to God and more joyfully conformed to God's Will.
If you are a married or single man or woman and your goal is to live penance (experience conversion) in your own home, you may have a place here among your Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in penance (conversion). Prayerfully explore these pages and ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern a call to become a brother or sister of penance, that is, a penitent (one who is coverted, a conversi).
What if you are a priest, deacon, or religious? Is there a place in the Confraternity of Penitents for you? Yes! Clergy who wished to become penitents lived the original Rule of 1221, and clergy and religious can and are living the Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents today.
*. . . private associations exist by private agreement, freely made among members of the Christian faithful, with the intent to attain the aims mentioned in canon 298§1 (Canon 299§1). . . ..While ecclesiastical authority maintains a certain degree of vigilance over private associations . . . , the guidance and direction of the association comes from the members in accord with its statutes (Canon 321). . . . An association that is praised or recommended by Church authority . . . enjoys similar autonomy and flexibility. The main difference rests in the level of review by competent ecclesiastical authority. While the law does not explicitly state that the bishop must approve the statutes before praising or recommending the association, certainly no bishop will praise or recommend a group that he does not agree with. . . . Many canon lawyers legitimately hold the opinion that being “recognized” requires a formal statement from competent authority. They further argue that being recognized is part of being praised and recommended. (from September 8, 1997 issue of Christifidelis, the newsletter of the St. Joseph Foundation)
Saint Francis of Assisi accepting Blessed Luchessio of Poggibonsi as the first penitent to live the Rule of 1221 for the penitents (conversi). Luchessio is accepting the cord of penance from St. Francis. Penitents making a life pledge to the Confraternity also receive a cord of penance which they wear daily beneath their outer clothing. Luchessio's wife Bonadonna is witness to Luchessio's pledge to live a life of penance. She, too, likely became a penitent.
Living Penance (Conversion) Whether Single or Married
Who is Jesus to you?
Why do you follow Him?
How much of your life are you willing to give to Him?
What if He wants it all? Will you give it?
Can you give Him all if you are single? If you are married or widowed or divorced or separated?
What if you are a priest, deacon, or religious?
This is to send my heartfelt gratitude to the Confraternity of Penitents for the help it gives me in my spiritual life. The way of life envisioned by our Rule makes my relationship with God deeper. Thank you very much...Francis D, Philippines
The Confraternity of Penitents is an international, non-profit, tax exempt private association of the Roman Catholic faithful laity, with commendation, under the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend, Indiana, USA. Its original foundation had been in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1990's. Its members seek to give Jesus their all, every moment of their lives, whether they are single or married. Despite its original foundation as an Order for lay people in the Roman Catholic Church, the Confraternity of Penitents, like the original foundation, is open to clergy and religious as well as single and married laity.
How do we, as imperfect and sinful men and women, strive to do give Jesus our all?
By doing penance, that is performing works of prayer, mercy, and small sacrifices, at home and, if we are able, by engaging ourselves in one or more of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy in our communities and our world.
I, too, am so grateful for the CFP, and for the way I am growing closer to God and neighbor through it.
Marion M, California, United States
Confraternity members live, within their own homes, modern constitutions to the original rule for penitent single and married Catholic* lay people, a Rule of Life which Saint Francis of Assisi gave to the men and women of his time in the year 1221. Today a few other groups are also living expressions of this Rule of 1221 for the laity.
However, the Confraternity of Penitents (CFP) differs from these few others in that the Confraternity's Vision is "TO LIVE THE RULE OF 1221 AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE TO ITS ORIGINAL INTENT." That intent was to have the penitent, whether married or single, focus on surrender to God through faith, prayer, fasting and abstinence, simplicity of dress, and works of mercy, all forms of penance (conversion). More detailed information on the differences between the Confraternity of Penitents and similar groups is on this link.
Might you be seeking to live in your own home, as closely as possible to its original intent, a Rule of Life which spawned at least thirty saints?
The Confraternity of Penitents Constitutions adapt the Rule of 1221 to modern times so that penitents do not appear singular or novel while doing penance in modern society, just as they did not appear singular or novel in their own society of 1221, while still requiring clothing parameters as did the original Rule.
The CFP members follow the same days of fast and abstinence, pray the same prayers, hold the same sorts of communal gatherings, and participate in works of mercy just as did the penitents of Saint Francis's time who lived the original Rule of 1221.
Can you picture yourself living your life in this peaceful, joyful, and organized way?
Is it possible today to live, in joyful penance, an 800 year old Rule of Life, that spawned many saints, in one's own home? Our nearly thirty professed members prove that it is!
Explore these pages and see what the Confraternity of Penitents has to offer! Whether married or single, you may be surprised that a joyful life of penance (conversion) will be your path to surrender to God and holiness!
When I first came upon the CFP website in my research, I never imagined how it would all turn out. As I struggle to live it out, I am brought more and more to an assurance that the CFP is truly inspired. I am awed that I would come to even an awareness of such a gift, let alone be allowed to participate. Again, thank you and God bless you. Lucy F., Indiana, United States
The Confraternity of Penitents and Third Order Franciscans
Saint Francis, preaching to the birds. He and his fellow friar are wearing garb typical of the penitents of their time. Compare this garb with the image of Francis before his conversion, as he is pictured praying before the crucifix of San Damiano, below.
Saint Francis began his life of conversion as a penitent. The first men who wanted to live as he was living were penitents. When these men traveled about the countryside, exhorting people to penance (conversion), people asked who they were. "We are penitents from Assisi," they said.
The early paintings of Francis and his friars show them wearing clothing typical for the penitents of their time. Note how this garb differs from that worn by Francis before his conversion, as he is portrayed below, praying before the crucifix of San Damiano.
Francis and his friars were not the only ones exhorting people to penance (conversion).
The followers of Saint Dominic Guzman were actively preaching the truths of the Catholic faith and were bringing many people to a deeper knowledge of Christ. These friars, too, are pictured in penitential garb of white and black while the followers of Francis are generally pictured in grays or browns.
Benedictine monasteries and convents peppered Europe and, despite the opulence of some of them, many holy monks and nuns lived in these communities. Their example inspired the laity to conversion.
Other groups such as the Augustinian friars and nuns and the newly organizing Carmelite monks in the Holy Land, as well as isolated hermits and anchorites (primarily women who lived in small, enclosed cells next to a church), demonstrated that holiness was possible in this world.
Laity hungered for a way to grow closer to God, especially after they came in contact with spiritually minded men and women in various religious communities. The mendicant friars, the Franciscans and Dominicans, precisely because they traveled from place to place, saw the greatest number of laity clamoring for more spiritual help.
Brother John of Perugia, a disciple of Brother Giles who was the third friar to join Saint Francis, wrote a remembrance of Saint Francis which was printed sometime between March 2, 1240 and August 22, 1241, that is fifteen years after the death of Saint Francis. The remembrance is titled The Anonymous of Perugia or The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion. In it, John writes,
Similarly, married men said, "We have wives who will not permit us to send them away. Teach us, therefore, the way we can take more securely." (Anonymous of Perugia, Chapter IX)
Three of the first followers of Saint Francis, Brother Rufino, Brother Leo, and Brother Angelo, described the beginnings of the Order of Penitents this way in the Legend of the Three Companions, written between 1241 and 1247, that is fifteen to twenty years after the death of Saint Francis:
Similarly, both married men and women given in marriage, unable to separate because of the law of matrimony, committed themselves to more severe penance in their own homes on the wholesome advice of the brothers. And thus, through blessed Francis, a perfect worshipper of the Holy Trinity, the Church of God was renewed in three orders, just as the earlier repair of the three churches foreshadowed. Each of these orders was in its time approved by the Supreme Pontiff. (Legend of the Three Companions, Chapter XIV)
Because he had many friars (many more than the Dominicans) traveling about preaching repentance, Saint Francis became acutely aware of the need for a Rule of life for married and single men and women. So he consulted the Order's Cardinal Protector, Cardinal Hugolino di Conti di Segni, about this.
The Cardinal agreed that the vast majority of married and single people could not simply leave their homes and families and join the friars or nuns. They needed a way to grow in sanctity within their own families.
So Cardinal Hugolino looked toward the penitents of the day, married and single men and women who were living religious rules of life at home, studied how they were living, and then wrote down, in juridical form, their way of life. The Anonymous of Perugia records the birth of this religious Order for lay people in these words:
The brothers founded an order for them, called the Order of Penitents, and had it approved by the Supreme Pontiff.(The Anonymous of Perugia, Chapter IX)
In 1221, Francis accepted this as the Rule of Life which he and his friars would give to the laity for their own sanctification. The Dominicans also gave this Rule of 1221 to the single and married men and women who followed them so that they could do penance in their own homes.
The Rule of 1221 for the Order of Penitents (not to be confused with the Rule which Francis wrote for the friars in the same year) is the very Rule which CFP members are living today, with constitutions to adapt the Rule to modern times so that penitents can do penance (experience conversion) at home.
The original Rule of 1221 for the penitents was the starting point for several Third Orders in the Church. Some of these groups are religious brothers and sisters taking vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. Others are groups of married and single men and women who use the Rule of 1221 as a way to do more penance (mortification) in their lives or who have chosen the spirit of the Rule of 1221 as the inspiration from which springs their own Rule of Life with its own special prescriptions.
The Confraternity of Penitents differs from each of these groups in that, while priests and religious may join the CFP, go through formation, and pledge, the CFP is primarily for married and single lay people who live the Rule and Constitutions in their own homes and families as was the case when the Rule was written in 1221.
In addition, rather than taking the Rule of 1221 as a starting point or inspiration for a new Rule or using it to incorporate more penance (mortification) into their lives, Confraternity of Penitents members seek "to live the Rule of 1221 as closely as possible to its original intent."
This means that the Rule of 1221 for the penitents, adapted by its Constitutions for living in modern times, is lived day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by members of the Confraternity of Penitents. This is what the penitents did in the time of Saint Francis (the original intent of the Rule of 1221) and, to the best of our knowledge, the CFP is the only group in the world doing this today.
In doing this, the CFP also focuses on the virtues called for by the Rule, often called the Franciscan virtues as these particular virtues were especially emphasized by Saint Francis, although they are certainly common to all charisms (Carmelite, Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine, Franciscan, Opus Dei, and so on) which seek to have their followers become conformed to Christ.
If you feel called to live a life of conversion, please contact us. We would love to share our way of life with you.
Explanation of the Painting of Saint Francis before the San Damiano Crucifix
Painting by Giotto, in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. The painting shows the young, flamboyant merchant who will become Saint Francis of Assisi, in the process of his conversion, praying before the Crucifix in the little, dilapidated church of San Damiano in Assisi. Francis was seeking to know God's Will, when the image of the Crucified Christ spoke to him, "Francis, go and repair My House, which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." He took this as his mission and immediately set about repairing San Damiano. Little did he realize then that God was asking him to repair the entire Church through poverty, simplicity, humility, and love.
Each page of the Confraternity of Penitents website is topped with a reproduction of the painting by Giotto which is found in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.
Giotto painted a series of pictures which depict various incidents in the life of St. Francis. The painting at the top of each page of this website shows Francis, while still a merchant, praying before the San Damiano crucifix in the little ruined church outside of Assisi. Francis is asking the Lord to show him his path. And Jesus replies from the crucifix, "Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruin."
To repair the house of God (the Church in the world) through individuals committed to a life of conversion is the mission of the Confraternity of Penitents. We welcome you to follow St. Francis of Assisi in surrendering completely to Christ and in rebuilding his Church in a life of witness and penance. We hope to hear from you soon, as the Holy Spirit leads.
"Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation." --Pope Francis, explaining why he chose the name Francis, 16 March 2013
"Conversion is to go against the current, where the 'current' is a superficial lifestyle, inconsistent and illusory, which often draws us, controls us, and makes us slaves of evil, or, in any case, prisoners of moral mediocrity. . . Conversion is the total "yes" of the one who gives his own existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ." -- Pope Benedict XVI, 17 February 2010
"Penance does not necessarily mean turning away from sin; its primary note is that of a turning to God, of putting oneself completely at the disposition of God, and in a second moment this will mean turning from sin if one has been in sin. Accepting this notion of penance, it is clear how the Apostolic Constitution 'Poenitemini' could call Christ 'the supreme model of penitents--he willed to undergo penance for sins which were not his own but of others.'" (Lawrence D. Isabell, OFM, "The Practice and Meaning of Confession in the Primitive Franciscan Community according to the Writings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Thomas of Celano." Assisi, Italy: Pontificia Univeritas Gregoriana, 1973)
The San Damiano Crucifix is the crucifix of conversion. About the year 1205, Saint Francis of Assisi prayed repeatedly before this Crucifix, "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." From this crucifix, the Holy Spirit gave Saint Francis his mission, "Go and repair My House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin." The Confraternity of Penitents have made Francis' prayer and mission their own. The San Damiano Crucifix is the Confraternity's symbol.
Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours on YouTube
Morning Prayer is presented daily by David Rollins of the Confraternity of Penitents. Follow along on youtube on this link.
I wanted to let you know that I have been (especially while home sick) enjoying the morning prayer link on your website- the photography is so meditative, it has blessed me this week, I am glad to have found it, and will pass it on.-- Donna C.
"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' words as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38)
Living Love of God and Love of Neighbor by following modern constitutions to the the original Rule which Saint Francis gave to the penitents in 1221.
The Confraternity of Penitents is fulfilling the Church's call to penance and repentance in the modern world. The Confraternity has canonical status as an international private lay association of the faithful with commendation under the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend IN USA (formerly under the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence Rhode Island). Its members live in their own homes. The Confraternity of Penitents welcomes inquiry from all Catholic laity and religious in union with the Pope who are interested in living a life of personal conversion and deepening surrender to God. Non-Catholics may apply as Associates.
When emailing us, please write "Inquiry about Confraternity of Penitents" in your subject line so that we do not mistakenly delete your email as spam. If you do not hear from us within five days, please write again as occasionally emails go astray.
Also please email us in English as we are unable to translate correspondence sent in other languages. Thank you for understanding.
Confraternity of Penitents, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN 46803 USA 260-739-6882 www.penitents.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org