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.
"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)
Doing Penance As A Means of Surrender to God
(Note: The Confraternity of Penitents distributes bookmark and ribbon sets to use with the Divine Office for Dodos instruction book on the Liturgy of the Hours. Information is on this link.)
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Confraternity of Penitents
"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
Are you a Roman Catholic lay person who is looking for more in life? What is your goal? Might it be something like one of these?
If one of these, or something similar, is your goal, and you wish you had some guidance as well as the support of others in reaching that goal, then read on! The Holy Spirit may have brought you to these pages.
Click on these links for more information:
The bishop of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, USA, has granted the Confraternity of Penitents canonical status as a Private Association of the Faithful and given its members his special blessing in the living of the CFP Rule and Constitutions and in spreading the message of penance (conversion) to others. See this link for the letter affirming canonical status and this link for several additional letters from the Diocese of Providence regarding the CFP.
A Private Association of the Faithful is a canonical term from the Code of Canon Law as defined below:
Can. 298 §1. In the Church there are associations distinct from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life; in these associations the Christian faithful, whether clerics, lay persons, or clerics and lay persons together, strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.
§2. The Christian faithful are to join especially those associations which competent ecclesiastical authority has erected, praised, or commended.
Can. 299 §1. By means of a private agreement made among themselves, the Christian faithful are free to establish associations to pursue the purposes mentioned in can. 298, §1, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 301, §1.
§2. Even if ecclesiastical authority praises or commends them, associations of this type are called private associations.
§3. No private association of the Christian faithful is recognized in the Church unless competent authority reviews its statutes.
Can. 300 No association is to assume the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority according to the norm of can. 312.
Did you know that living a Rule of Life that has been accepted by the Church is a marvelous way to begin to accomplish these goals? Why? Because the Church promises that those who follow such Rules faithfully are guaranteed eternal life. Many Religious Orders, Congregations, and Associations of the Faithful, whose Members follow a Rule of Life, exist in the Catholic Church. Each of these has unique charism that is reflected in the organization’s Rules, Statutes, Constitutions, and other governing materials. If you wish to achieve any or all of the above goals, could you do better than living a Rule of Life?
Many people believe that such Rules exist only for consecrated religious like nuns and brothers. That is not true! Thankfully many wonderful Rules of Life, accepted and encouraged by the Catholic Church, exist for lay people to follow. The graces that come from following a Rule of Life are many.
Does it make sense that a Rule of Life that causes you to give up more of your own will, to grow more in humility, to become more detached from possessions, to practice more self-discipline, to engage in greater service to your neighbor, and to pray more to our God, is a Rule that will speed you along the spiritual journey to help you achieve your spiritual goals? With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Confraternity of Penitents can assist you in all of these ways and more!
Before you explore all Rules of Life available today, a word of wisdom is necessary. A Rule of Life is not “one size fits all” It is more like “one Rule fits one person.” Living a Rule of Life is a vocation, that is, a direct call from the Holy Spirit.
Selecting a Rule of Life to live as a lay person is not like selecting an article of clothing, an appliance, a book, or a vehicle. It might be safer to say that the Rule selects YOU. If you feel the desire to go beyond the requirements of being a “good Catholic,” then the Lord may be calling you to live a Rule of Life that will help you to achieve this. How will you know? First, pray about this question. Ask God, “Do You want me to live a Rule of Life? Do You want me to live it now?” If the Lord seems to be directing you to investigate this idea, how do you find the Rule that you ought to try to live?
An internet search will unearth many Rules of Life. A call to your Diocesan offices can put you in touch with groups in your area. Your parish priest and other lay Catholics may know of groups nearby. Ask questions. Follow leads.
Each Rule of Life requires certain obligations from its Members. Some Rules are very specific and others more general. Some allow more personal choice and others allow less. Some groups require a specific plan of study before permitting a Member to make a Church-accepted commitment to live that Rule. Others have less structure. You will discover these differences as you investigate different groups and their Rules of Life.
Should you investigate several groups and Rules? Yes, probably you should. Bathe your search in prayer. Certain groups and Rules will resonate with you. Others will not. Keep a list of the Rules and groups that seem promising and pray about that list. Contact the ones that intrigue you. Keep in touch until you know that a certain group or Rule is not for you, no matter how good it is. In time, the Holy Spirit will whittle down your contacts until you find the group whose Rule seems made for YOU.
You are now reading information about a group of lay people who are living a modern adaptation of a Rule of Life which was given by Saint Francis of Assisi to lay people to live in the year 1221. This group, the Confraternity of Penitents, is a Roman Catholic, private association of the faithful whose Members are living this Rule in their own homes in total obedience to all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, to the Holy Father, and to the Magesterium. The Constitutions to this Rule indicate how the Members live the Rule in the modern world.
Members of the Confraternity of Penitents recognize that they are sinners. They acknowledge past sins and are sorry for them. They are striving to avoid sin but recognize their weaknesses. Knowing that they need God's grace to do good, they voluntarily enter into a life of penance (ongoing conversion) to help them to grow in surrender to God's way of doing things. Joyfully they accept Christ's atoning sacrifice and God's redeeming love. In all of this, they are like the penitents who lived this Rule in the year 1221.
Here is some background on the Rule of 1221.
The Rule of 1221 had been embraced with joy by the lay followers of Saint Francis. The Rule underwent a minor adjustment in 1283 but remained essentially unchanged until 1883. In that year the Rule of 1221 was abrogated (withdrawn) and a new Rule substituted for it. In 1978, the 1883 Rule was abrogated and a new Rule substituted. Today Secular Franciscans live the Rule of 1978, also called the Pauline Rule.
In 1994, one individual who had learned about the Rule of 1221 felt a persistent, interior call to live it in the modern world and, a few months later, to pray that others would live it also. The small local group that developed from this has evolved into the international Confraternity of Penitents.
A few groups make reference to the Rule of 1221 in their Rules of Life and some attempt to follow it in some way. Some of the wording regarding how they follow the Rule is similar or even the same as in the Confraternity of Penitents. However, there are significant differences.
Differences in how a Rule is lived come from how a group views the Rule. This view is reflected in the Vision of the group. The Confraternity of Penitents has a unique Vision which determines how its Members live the Rule of 1221. That Vision is:
“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 key phrase that separates the CFP from all other groups is this: “This Rule is lived as closely as possible to its original intent.”
All Rules of Life, if lived well, are means to achieving holiness. Those living any Rule of Life can achieve holiness if they are obedient to how their group is living the Rule in the modern world.
The call to the Confraternity of Penitents was to “live the Rule of 1221” and to “pray that more people will live the Rule of 1221 and enter this fraternity.” This implies that the Rule was to be lived as written, as much as is possible in today’s world and in keeping with current Church practices. While no one knows the mind of God, we might speculate on why the call to “live the Rule” was given. Might God have wanted to make it easier for some people to attain holiness because they “live the Rule of 1221”? At first glance to the modern eye, the Rule seems difficult to live, although those who are living it find it joyful and liberating. They have discovered that living the Rule "as closely as possible to its original intent" brings many graces and spiritual fruits. Many saints and blesseds lived the Rule of 1221. Several of these were religious but over thirty were lay people. To read short summaries of their lives, consult the link in the left link column.
Might God want all those who “live the Rule of 1221” today to have a chance at achieving such levels of sanctity? We in the Confraternity of Penitents hope so!
The Rule of 1221 was intended to be a religious Rule of Life for lay people. Those living the Rule were considered to be part of a religious Order for the laity. Even though they were laity, they conducted themselves like religious. This meant that
Here are some ways in which all the Members of the Confraternity of Penitents live the Rule of 1221 as closely as possible to its original intent. These unique ways distinguish the Confraternity from other lay Catholic organizations, associations, and Orders.
A few other groups and several individuals, who do not belong to any group, either follow the Rule of 1221 or take it as an ideal, but their observances differ from those of the CFP. Even though they may be living the Rule a bit differently than we are in the CFP, we wish all these groups and individuals well and pray for them daily, asking God to prosper them in their promotion of and living of the Rule of 1221. The more people who embrace this way of personal conversion, the better!
Those exploring the Confraternity of Penitents should understand that, in addition to the above differences, the following procedures make the Confraternity unique among the other groups and individuals who are also following the Rule of 1221:
Are there other ways in which the Confraternity of Penitents is unique in following the Rule of 1221? Definitely! You can find these by comparing the Confraternity Constitutions with the Statutes and Constitutions of other groups. Carefully look for additions, omissions, and changes between the groups. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you. Remember that any Rule of Life is not an end in itself but rather a means to help you to surrender to God in every aspect of your life. Pray that the Lord will enlighten you as to which group and Rule will help you to achieve this. The Lord will guide you.
Might a vocation to live a life of continual penance (conversion) in the manner of the Confraternity of Penitents be for you? Only the Holy Spirit knows! But you can be sure that He wants you to find out. If you are fourteen years of age or older, you can be part of the Confraternity of Penitents.
Using the links in the left link column, explore these pages for more information and pray about what God wants of you. Then follow the words of our Blessed Mother to the waiters at the wedding feast of Cana and “do whatever He tells you.”
May you receive all the blessings God has in store for you!
Please contact us and we will pray for you as you discern a call to "live the Rule of 1221 as closely as possible to its original intent." Should you feel that the Holy Spirit would like you to inquire with the Confraternity, you will discover support in a vibrant internet, postal mail, and telephone community as well as several local gatherings.
Our Inquirer Application for Members and Associates is linked to from the left link column on this page. Completing this and returning it to the CFP is the first step toward membership in the Confraternity.
Information on becoming a CFP Affiliate can also be found on a link in the left link column.
If you are a single person and wish to explore living the CFP Rule of Life in community with other penitents, please contact us for information regarding our CFP Community Houses, one for men and one for women. CFP members who are also discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life are welcome to live at a CFP Community House during their time of discernment.
If you are interested in contacting religious Orders whose Rule of Life is similar to the CFP Rule and Constitutions, please contact us for referral.
Please pray for all those in the CFP, for those discerning, for our Visitor, Diocesan officials, and spiritual advisors and assistants. And may God bless you and lead you into His perfect Will for your life!
Confraternity of Penitents
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It is also important, by the way, that public forms of communal penance are being developed again. When Jonah came to Nineveh and demanded penance, everyone knew what penance was: one put on penitential clothes, fasted, and prayed. When Muslims celebrate Ramadan they know the procedure, and they also know that penance can become a concrete reality for a people only if it has a common form and a regular time in the course of a year. In our case penance has lost its communal form completely. When Christians are called upon to do penance, they do not know what this is; they may perhaps set up a committee or else depend totally on private views. The classical triad--fasting, praying, and giving alms--must be put back into its rightful place; Christians must also rediscover the ability for communal expression with which they publicly display their distance from all that is taken for granted in the world. (Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, p. 197)
Francis himself, as if to sum up his inner experience in a single word, found no concept more pregnant with meaning than that of “penance.” Thus did the Lord grant to me, Friar Francis, to begin to do penance. (St. Francis of Assisi, Testament, 1)
So it was that he saw himself essentially as a “penitent,” as it were, in a permanent state of conversion. Abandoning himself to the Holy Spirit’s action, Francis was converted ever more closely to Christ, transformed into a living image of him on the paths of poverty, love and mission. (Pope Benedict XVI, Assisi, 17 July 2007)
"The Church reaffirms the religious and supernatural values of penitence. She invites everyone to accompany the inner conversion of the spirit with the voluntary exercise of external acts of penitence." (Pope Paul VI,Paenitemini - Apostolic Constitution on Penance)
"The parish is to be a community that calls others to a deeper conversion of life from sin to the light of Jesus. That, in my judgment, should lead us to a further exploration of a restoration of the "Ordo Poenitentium" -- the Order of Penitents -- that was present in the patristic Church. . . . A restructuring, a renewal, a rediscovery of the "Ordo Poenitentium," for example as in the early Church, would be an opportunity in which priests and people would recognize their sinfulness, would be willing to surrender in their vulnerability to the tough love of the community in making known their weakness, their sinfulness, and asking for a public penance." (Cardinal J. Francis, Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council on the Laity, Archdiocese of Boston: The Pilot, 8 August 2003).
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)
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.