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.
For whom did Francis write the
Rule of 1221?
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
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 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
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
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
Ever since its foundation, the
Association has been located at 520 Oliphant
Lane, Middletown RI, USA, and has been
incorporated as existing at that address.
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.
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
Who told you to
refound the Association?
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
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
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.
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.
CONFRATERNITY AND THE CHURCH
Has the Pope OK'd us living this
Rule? Or has my bishop?
Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode
Island, 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
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.
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
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
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?
If you investigate the other
group carefully, you will see what their
particular charism, commitment, and focus is. We
refer you to our
which detail the particular
charism of the
Who can become a member of the
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
Some people need the discipline
provided in the Rule of Life for the
Confraternity of Penitents. Maybe you are one of
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
These are to be followed only if
they do not adversely affect your health. When
in doubt, consult a physician and follow the
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
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
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
Chapters are local groups of
penitents consisting of at least five members.
Circles are smaller groups.
How does the internet community
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,
on-line forums, 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
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
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
What if I need more time to get
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
What should be my mindset if I
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
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
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
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
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
The Confraternity is growing so
that, as of this writing, November, 2007, there are
approximately 120 members who are either
pledged, in formation, or inquiring. There are
also approximately 30 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.
Who in the past history of the
Church has been a penitent and recognized for
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
Why did they chose to live this
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
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
Confraternity of Penitents
520 Oliphant Lane
Middletown RI USA