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
The original Third Order of Saint Francis was the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. These were men and women who were living in their homes a Rule of Life given to them in 1221 by the Cardinal Protector of Saint Francis' Order, Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti di Segni. The penitents who lived this Rule were not considered a Third Order of Saint Francis until the year Pope Nicholas IV, himself a Franciscan, placed the penitents directly under the Franciscan Friars in 1289. The Rule continued to be lived in its 1221 form until 1881 when Pope Leo XIII changed it considerably. That Leonine Rule was in effect until 1978 when the Pauline Rule was adopted. Today the Third Order of Saint Francis is known as the Order of Franciscans Secular (OFS) and consists of both religious and lay expressions of the Rule.
However, additonal Third Order Franciscan communities exist worldwide. The Confraternity of Penitents is unique in that its members are living modern adaptations of the Rule of 1221, the first Third Order Franciscan Rule, and in a spirit as close as possible to its original intent. This means that the focus of the Confraternity of Penitents is on the Franciscan virtues and how to follow Christ more closely through the words and example of Saint Francis who himself wanted only to "follow in the footprints of Jesus." Therefore, rather than being strictly Franciscan, the Confraternity of Penitents is broader in that its members are focused on Christ rather than on Saint Francis, just as the original penitents were. Remember that, when Saint Francis embarked on his life of conversion, he began as a penitent. His focus was on Jesus, never on himself. This is the way he wanted his followers to always act.
A Third Order is a term applied to groups of lay people who are part of a religious charism. Generally the First Order of that charism are the male religious, the Second Order the female religious, and the Third Order the laity. The Confraternity of Penitents is not officially connected with any First or Second Order and has not been generated by any First or Second Order. However, it is interesting to note that the Franciscan Brothers Minor (First Order), who are living a primitive expression of Saint Francis's Rule of 1223 for the friars, have also founded the Franciscan Sisters Minor (Second Order) who are living a religious expression of the Third Order Franciscan Rule for Religious. The laity who wish to follow the example of the Franciscan Brothers Minor and Franciscan Sisters Minor have adopted the Rule of the Confraternity of Penitents as their Third Order Rule, calling their local group Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy Chapter of the Confraternity of Penitents. This local group is one of several worldwide, none of whom have any contact with the Franciscan Brothers Minor or Franciscan Sisters Minor but all of whom are living lives of penance (conversion) and faith and attempting to follow Christ closely in the spirit of Saint Francis.
"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 a private lay association of the faithful with commendation under the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence Rhode Island, USA. Its members live in their own homes or in CFP community houses. 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.
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Confraternity of Penitents, 520 Oliphant Lane, Middletown RI 02842-4600 USA 401.849.5421 www.penitents.net email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org