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Confraternity of Penitents Monthly Newsletter -- January 2020


In year 1221, in the name of Saint Francis, two Rules of Life were presented to the Pope. The first, which Francis and his friars had written regarding how the brothers were to live their lives, was not approved by the Pope. The second, which was written by Cardinal Ugolino for the lay followers of Francis, was approved. It is this Rule for the laity, approved in 1221, which the CFP follows today, with modern constitutions canonically approved by our Bishop. This year, 2021, is the 800th anniversary of our Rule of Life. We will be celebrating this anniversary throughout the year.

Both the friars’ Rule and the laity’s Rule spoke of going among unbelievers. Because the friars were mendicants who traveled even among nations, and because Christianity was threatened by Muslims in the Holy Land and in other locations, the friars’ Rule (note the many references to Scripture) was very specific as follows:

16. (Those who go among the Saracens and other unbelievers.)

The Lord says: “Behold, I am sending you forth like sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore prudent like serpents and simple like doves” (Mt. 10:16).

Hence, whoever of the brothers, by divine inspiration, wishes to go among the Saracens and other unbelievers, they (sic) may go with the permission of their minister and servant. The minister then should give them permission and not oppose them, if he sees that they are fit to be sent, for he will be held accountable to the Lord if in this or in other matters he has proceeded without discretion.

The brothers who go can conduct themselves spiritually among (the unbelievers) in two ways. One way is not to quarrel or dispute, but “to be subject to every creature for God’s sake” (1 Pt. 2:13) and to acknowledge that they (themselves) are Christians. Another way is to proclaim the word of God when they see it pleases God in order that (the unbelievers) might believe in God the almighty Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the Creator of all and in the redeeming and saving Son, so that they might be baptized and become Christians, for “he who is not born again of water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). These and other things which will please the Lord they can speak to them and to others, for the Lord says in the gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32). And: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his majesty and that of the Father and the angels” (Lk. 9:26).

And all the brothers, wherever they are, should remember that they have given themselves and have abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. And for his love they must expose it to enemies, whether visible or invisible, for the Lord says: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Mt.8:35) for eternal life. Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:10). If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also (Jn 15:20). If they persecute you in one city, flee to another (Mt. 10:23). Blessed are you when men will hate you and persecute you and accuse you of evil and vomit your name as an evil thing and when they will falsely speak all manner of evil against you for my sake. Rejoice on that day and exult for your reward is great in heaven (Lk. 6:22; Mt. 5:11; Lk. 6:23). I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of these things. And do not fear those who kill the body and afterwards have nothing more they can do (Lk. 12:4; Mt. 10:28). See that you are not troubled (Mt. 24:6). By your suffering you will possess your souls (Lk. 21:19). He who will have persevered to the end will be saved” (Mt. 10:22).

Compare this lengthy section for the friars with the following relevant sections from the Rule of 1221 for the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the laity, which is the Rule which the CFP follows:

15. They are to be reconciled with their neighbors and to restore what belongs to others.

17. All are to refrain from formal oaths unless where necessity compels, in the cases excepted by the Sovereign Pontiff in his indult, that is, for peace, for the Faith, under calumny, and in bearing witness.

18. Let each member fortify his household to serve God.

26. As regards making peace among the brothers and sisters or nonmembers at odds, let what the ministers find proper be done; even, if it be expedient, upon consultation with the Lord Bishop.

27. If contrary to their right and privileges trouble is made for the brothers and sisters by the mayors and governors of the places where they live, the ministers of the place shall do what they shall find expedient on the advice of the Lord Bishop.

Since we are celebrating this year the 800th anniversary of the rule, I would like to reflect with you each month on a section (or sections) of the Rule of 1221. Let us start this first month with a simple question as you reread chapter 16 on the missionary charism of the Order for the friars and compare it with relevant passages in the Rule for the Continent Brothers and Sisters.

  • Do you see any parallels with the challenges we face in contemporary culture?

  • How committed were the penitents to be regarding peace?

  • How does this commitment parallel how the brothers were to conduct themselves among unbelievers?

  • Penitents were not to take oaths lightly such as was often done in swearing allegiance to a lord. A penitent’s loyalty was to belong to God. How do each of the sections selected above indicate where a penitent’s loyalty should lie?

  • Section 18 mentions that penitents are to fortify their households to serve God. Might your household harbor an unbeliever? What should your responses to that person be like?


– Fr. Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, Spiritual Advisor for Franciscan Affairs



In the Infancy Narratives volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict puzzles over the question Mary asks of the angel Gabriel. Mary's second reaction is somewhat puzzling for us. After the thoughtful reflection with which she had received his initial greeting, the angel informs her that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary. replies with a short, incisive question: "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk 1:34).


Let us consider again the difference between this response and the reaction of Zechariah, who doubted the possibility of the task announced to him. Like Elizabeth, he was advanced in years: he could no longer hope for a son. Mary, on the other hand, does not doubt. She asks not whether, but how the promise is to be fulfilled as she cannot recognize any way it could happen: "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk 1:34). This question seems unintelligible to us, because Mary was betrothed, which meant that, according to Jewish law, she was already effectively a married woman, even if she did not yet live with her husband and they had not yet begun their conjugal life.


Since Saint Augustine, one explanation that has been put forward is that Mary had taken a vow of virginity and had entered into the betrothal simply in order to have a protector for her virginity. But this theory is quite foreign to the world of Judaism of Jesus’ time, and in that context it seems inconceivable. So how are we to understand the passage? A satisfying answer has yet to be found by modern exegesis. Some say that at this point, having not yet been taken into the marital home, Mary had had no dealings with men, yet she saw the task as immediately pressing. But this fails to convince, as the time when she would be taken into the marital home could not have been far off. Other exegetes have wanted to view the saying as a purely literary construction, designed to continue the dialogue between Mary and the angel. Yet this is no real explanation of the saying either. Another element to keep in mind is that according to Jewish custom, betrothal was unilaterally pronounced by the man, and the woman was not invited to express her consent. Yet this does not solve the problem either. 


So the riddle remains-or perhaps one should say the mystery-of this saying. Mary sees no way, for reasons that are beyond our grasp, that she could become mother of the Messiah through marital relations. The angel confirms that her motherhood will not come about in the normal way after she has been taken home by Joseph, but through "overshadowing, by the power of the Most High," by the coming of the Holy, Spirit, and he notes emphatically: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37). 


Could there be another explanation of Mary’s question? There is a non-Biblical tradition that Mary was brought to the temple in Jerusalem at about the age of three. The Church celebrates this tradition on November 21 as the Presentation of Mary. According to tradition, she was also raised and educated in the temple. Her parents, Ann and Joachim, had given her to God. What did she learn in the temple? She certainly was educated in the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures. She was certainly taught to anticipate the coming of the Messiah. After the birth of Jesus, when He was presented in the temple (Lk 2:22-38), two people encountered the Holy Family, Simeon and Anna. Both of them were quite old and probably knew Mary when she lived in the temple since Simeon was a devout Jerusalem resident (Lk 2:25) who certainly came to the temple often and Anna was eighty-four years old and lived in the temple while worshipping God with fasting and prayer (Lk 2:36-38). Both were looking for the “consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). It is possible that Anna was one of Mary’s teachers. Both realized that the regime of temple worship was not the final word. More was coming.


Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55) resembles the song of Hannah. (1 S 2:1-10) Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel who she left in Shiloh with the priest Eli to minister to God. (1 S 2:11) Like Mary, he as given to God. That Mary’s Magnificat should resemble the song of Hannah is not surprising for someone whose life was saturated with the Word of God. 


An important question concerning the anticipated coming of the Messiah was how the Messiah was to come. Isaiah 7:14 tells us that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin. “The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.” It is important to understand the context of the prophesy. The date of Isaiah’s prophesy is 733 BC. This is known because of the political context of the prophesy. It was delivered to Ahaz, the king of Judah who reigned from 736 to 716 BC. The kings of Damascus and of the northern kingdom of Israel had formed an alliance to fight against the great power Assyria. These two kings tried to persuade Ahaz, the king of Judah, to join their alliance against Assyria, but Ahaz refused. They attacked Jerusalem to force Ahaz to join their alliance. Ahaz was afraid and instead concluded a treaty with Assyria to secure protection from Damascus and Israel. The Assyrian king did attack and conquer Damascus, which ended the attack of the anti-Assyrian alliance against Jerusalem. Soon after this the kingdom of Israel also was conquered by Assyria. There was a price for Ahaz’s treaty with Assyria. Ahaz sent the silver and gold from the Jerusalem temple to Assyria. (2 K 16:8) Ahaz offended the God of Israel. He set up idolatrous sacrifices in many places and even had a copy of a pagan altar in Damascus built in the Jerusalem temple.


Isaiah tried to persuade Ahaz to trust in God rather than in his political strategies and not conclude the treaty with Assyria. Indeed, Assyria did attack Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah in 701 BC but was repulsed by a plague from God. (2 K 19:35). Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Ask Yahweh your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or the heights above.” (Is 7:11) Ahaz refused to ask for a sign (miracle) from God so Isaiah told Ahaz “The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.” (Is 7:14) There is some ambiguity in this prophesy since in the original Hebrew language “maiden” could mean a young married woman or a virgin. In the middle of the second century BC a Jewish translation of the original Hebrew text of Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament was made into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for maiden as “virgin”. This is reasonable since a “maiden” as a young married woman having a child is not a “sign” (miracle) but an everyday normal occurrence. However, if a virgin has a child, that is a real miracle. St. Matthew’s Gospel and the early Church accepted and quoted this Jewish translation of Isaiah. (Mt 1:22-23).


Pope Benedict, in the Infancy Narratives volume of Jesus of Nazareth, (pages 46-51) says: This prophecy of a “sign” was not meant for the immediate political situation. So what are we to say? The passage about the virgin who gives birth to Emmanuel, like the great Suffering Servant song in Is 53, is a word in waiting. There is nothing in its own historical context to correspond to it. So it remains an open question: it is addressed not merely to Ahaz. Nor is it addressed merely to Israel. It is addressed to humanity. The sign that God himself announces is given not for a specific political situation, but it concerns the whole history of humanity. While it is true that the prophesy of Is 7:14 was meant for everyone, perhaps it was meant first for Mary as the mother of all believers in Christ and through her to everyone else.


Through her education in the Jerusalem temple, Mary learned to anticipate the coming of the Messiah and also His being born of a virgin as revealed in Is 7:14. Yet all the questions are not answered. When we read that prophesy, we immediately think of Mary and Jesus. But what did people of that time and all the centuries before that time up to 733 BC think of it? Specifically, how does a virgin have a child? Possibly it had been revealed to Mary by God that she was to remain a virgin although in the Jewish culture of the time it would not have been prudent to reveal this to everyone. In Christianity, virginity is an acceptable and revered lifetime option. It was not that way in the environment Mary was in. When Mary learned from Gabriel that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:30-33), the question of how a virgin can be a mother was a burning question. This would explain her question to Gabriel “How will this be since I do not know man?” (Lk 1:34) Gabriel answered that it would be by the Holy Spirit. (Lk 1:35) That was all she needed to know since she was already well prepared for the task which was given to her. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)


Mary was prepared for what God had in mind for her to do by immersing herself in the Word of God. Shouldn’t we also be prepared for His tasks for us by knowing the Lord through His Word? -- Jim Nugent, CFP



Renovations continue at Annunciation Woman’s Vocation Discernment House, Fort Wayne, IN. However, progress has been slow due to Covid. On November 24, our Amish contractor went to Citizen’s Square to obtain the building permit from the Building Department, only to discover that Citizen’s Square had been closed the previous day due to Covid and is not due to reopen until sometime this month. Applications for building permits were being taken over the internet. Problem: The Amish do not use computers. Between delays and back and forth mailing and having to submit a second form, obtaining the permit is taking weeks instead of a day or two. Therefore, the priest who came for a retreat on December 20 stayed in one room that was finished, but not part of the priest’s suite as that suite requires construction which can’t be legally done without a building permit. Nevertheless, the priest had a blessed time and was quite happy to be a guest.


We obtained gifts of furnishings from St. Henry’s Thrift Shop and from Alice and Chuck Porembski, CFP Affiliates who moved from Fort Wayne back to their native state. Chase, who is discerning his call while staying at the house during renovations, is assisting Luis Garcia, carpenter and handyman, with work that does not need a permit like repairs and painting.


We are advertising for house parents in both the men’s and women’s house. Erin Wells, current house parent for Annunciation House, will be leaving for three months for Italy in May where she will be discerning an Italian religious order. Chase Wall, current house parent for the men’s discernment house, will be leaving probably in March to take a pilgrimage walking the Mission Trail in California and visiting dioceses in western USA. He is discerning a vocation as a hermit priest and has only two more years left of seminary before he could be ordained.


God bless you for your prayers for Erin and for Chase and for the CFP Vocation Discernment and Volunteer Houses. Since these houses accept applicants from across the USA, might your parish priest or local Knights of Columbus be interested in helping to fund the renovations? We will be happy to send them information. Please contact us. Reminder: All donations to the CFP to support these houses are tax deductible. See God bless you for your support!

Nativity 1.jpg


The CFP, through the efforts of discerner Chase Wall, recently placed a humble Nativity scene on Annunciation House property next to St. Andrews Church. A humble reminder in a humble neighborhood of the real meaning of Christmas. It is all about LOVE. His Love for us, and our Love for others.


I think I can speak for all of us when I say 2020 has been a lesson in humility for all of us. The mere act of masking is an act of humility, I know some who have not been back to Mass because they have to wear a mask. The fact that we are obliged to do our part to help others stay safe is an act of humility. We have had to accommodate many changes in our normal routines, and I know my first response is often to complain until I think of so many others dealing with much worse.


Humility requires surrender and realizing we are all part of a larger picture. Are we submitting our wills to God so he can use us? I think of Mary and Joseph and a Government mandated census that sent them to Bethlehem with Mary nine months pregnant. This journey was God’s plan Sometimes He must move us into strange places and circumstances to work His Will in our lives. As we all know too well, this sometimes means discomfort and hardship.


I am so glad I have this life as a Penitent to help me stay focused and try each day to stay open to His will in my life. Where is God trying to move us in 2021? We need to be Salt and Light to others in a world that is getting darker and darker. This may mean some discomfort…..are we ready? –Sandy Seyfert, CFP


November 20, 1926 – December 23, 2020 – Visitor to the CFP from1997-2004

Father Julian Stead, OSB, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, was instrumental in guiding the Confraternity of Penitents (originally called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance) from its beginning in 1994. His input is evident in the Constitutions of the Confraternity, particularly in certain sections that involve charity, such as 2f from the Constitutions: Female penitents may use cosmetics if necessary. “Some penitents who are exceedingly pale or who have been scarred may feel the need to wear some makeup,” he commented. Another example is this section, from Constitutions 6c. “However, a third, small "bite to eat" of beverage and solid food may be taken if needed at one other time during the day.” “Someone may need a little bite to eat other than the two meals,” Fr. Julian observed. Father Julian was spiritual assistant for a local group from 1997 until 2004. He agreed to its first internet presence in 1998. His input was critical to the refounding of the Confraternity of Penitents in 2003. Until his death at the age of 94, Father Julian prayed for the CFP, was interested in its development, and always asked about its development. Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Julian, O Lord. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen. 

HUMOR: SAY WHAT?        


If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.


I don’t always go the extra mile, but when I do, it’s because I missed my exit.


Most people don’t think I’m as old as I am until they hear me stand up.


Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.


I wanna be 14 again and ruin my life differently. I have new ideas.


A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for kick boxing.


I really don’t mind getting older, but my body is taking it badly.


If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they'd eventually find me attractive.


I find it ironic that the colors red, white, and blue stand for freedom, until they're flashing behind you.



In the year 1221, Cardinal Ugolino, Cardinal Protector for Saint Francis and his brothers, presented to the Pope and Cardinals a Rule of Life for the laity. The Pope and the Cardinals accepted this Rule, and Saint Francis presented it to his lay followers who had been asking for it .


Neither Cardinal Ugolino nor Saint Francis sat down to compose this Rule. Instead, Ugolino looked to the way that voluntary lay penitents were living and recorded in juridical format what he discovered. The CFP is following these statutes, having updated them in its modern Constitutions.


During this 800th anniversary of our Rule of Life, let’s consider our original vision: “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, in peace with all others, and in obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, its Pope, and its Magisterium.”


A former CFP Visitor, Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco, offers this reflection to help clarify obedience:


And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” -Galatians 2:11-14


What is Paul talking about in his letter to the Galatians? Who is Cephas? Cephas is the Greek word for Peter. So, Paul had a clash with Peter in Antioch. What did they clash over? There was a group of early heretics called the Judaizers. They were Jewish converts to Christianity who were now insisting that Gentile converts to the faith had to observe the Law of Moses and become Jewish before they could become Christian, which included getting circumcised. The apostles met in Jerusalem to discuss the issue, and what they decide is, no. Gentile converts don’t have to go through this burden.


When Peter comes to Antioch though, at dinner time, he and James only sit with Jewish converts to Christianity, not the Gentile converts. Why? The Mosaic Law. You don’t break bread with sinners; and in the Jewish mind, that automatically included tax collectors, and Gentiles. So, Peter is back paddling. And Paul lambastes him for it! “If you, a Jew are living like a Gentile, by what logic do you force Gentiles to live like Jews?”


And when Paul is done, Peter relents. Peter backs down. But Peter’s the Pope! That’s right. He is. Popes have not always been right, starting with Peter! There have been absolute disastrous decisions made by Popes throughout history. But isn’t the Pope supposed to be infallible? Yes, under certain conditions. When the Pope speaks in union with the Bishops of the Magisterium on an issue of faith or morals, THEN his word is infallible. That’s it. In not sitting with the Gentiles to eat, Peter was expressing his opinion about the Gentiles. But that wasn’t infallible. When Peter decided with the other apostles that the Gentiles were NOT obliged to follow the Mosaic Law that WAS infallible. So, Paul was perfectly justified in reprimanding Pope Peter I, for not heeding an infallible decision of the Church.


Pope Francis feels that no one has any business owning a gun unless you’re in the military or a police officer. OK, that’s his opinion. And, being the head of the Catholic Church, he’s certainly entitled to express his opinion on a social, moral, issue. However, that is NOT Church teaching. Church teaching states that everyone has the right to defend their own lives and the lives of other innocent people, and, while it is preferred that deadly force NOT be used, the Church recognizes that, regrettably, sometimes deadly force is necessary. So, when Pope Francis expresses his opinion on this subject, he is NOT speaking infallibly, because he does NOT speak this opinion in union with the bishops of the Magisterium, so it’s alright to disagree with the Pope on this, which I do. Bad guys have guns. You’re never going to change that. So, if law abiding citizens also want to arm themselves for their protection and the protection of their families, under Church teaching, they have that right.


Recently, Pope Francis also asked that people say the rosary and the Saint Michael prayer every day, for the protection of the Church. That’s a request. And being the leader of prayer in the Catholic Church, the Pope is entitled to ask the faithful to pray a certain devotion, for a particular intention, but again, because he did this on his own, and NOT with the Bishops, it’s not infallible. So, it is NOT a sin if you choose to NOT pray the rosary or the Saint Michael prayer daily for the protection of the Church. This is simply a request, but a request I personally agree with. Nothing bad ever came from prayer.


So, it’s important to remember that not everything the Pope says is infallible, and when the Pope is NOT speaking infallibly, it’s OK to disagree, and it’s even OK to tell the Pope he’s wrong, when he says or does something in contradiction to Church teaching, as Paul did to Peter today. Just keep those truths stored in the back of your head as current events begin to unfold. -Fr. Michael Anthony Sisco

Corrective to above:  Contrary to what is stated above, the Pope does not need the consent of the bishops to make an in fallible proclamation.  According to the definitive teaching of the First Vatican Council, reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, the Pope enjoys infallibility by virtue of his office when he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.  This teaching is based on the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to Saint Peter.  The Pope does not need the approval of the bishops to define a teaching as infallible.


It is also important to note that a loyal submission of intellect and will is to be given to the authentic teaching authority of the Pope even when he does not speak “ex cathedra” (infallibly).  His teaching must be acknowledged with respect.  The level of assent that should be given depends on the character of the teaching.  An article written by Cardinal Francis George in 1999 explains well the three levels of authoritative teaching of the Magisterium.

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