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Confraternity of Penitents Newsletter
December 2021

THE FAST OF SAINT MARTIN

The Fast of Saint Martin continues through December until Christmas.

Fast: The law of fast prescribes that only one full meal a day be taken; but it does not forbid taking some nourishment at two other times during the day. The two smaller meals should be sufficient to maintain strength according to each one's needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including ordinary, homogenized milk and fruit juices, are allowed. Malted milks, milk shakes, and the like are not included in the term "milk." All those from eighteen years of age to the beginning of their sixtieth year are bound by the law of fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

OUR RULE: 9. They are to fast daily, except on account of infirmity or any other need, throughout the fast of St. Martin from after said day until Christmas. . .

OUR CONSTITUTIONS: 9a. Penitents are to observe a pre-Christmas fast from November 12, the day after the Feast of St. Martin, until Christmas and a pre-Easter fast from Ash Wednesday until Easter. 

6i. Travelers while in transit to their destinations and those who are ill, weak, pregnant, or breastfeeding are exempt from following the fasting and abstinence provisions of this Rule.

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SPIRITUAL GUARDIAN’S REFLECTION: THE PRESEPIO (Christmas crib/creche)

My first visit to Italy was in 1998 during the period after Christmas before the Feast of the Epiphany. I was on my way to serve as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. Many people don't know that this is a wonderful time to visit the city of Rome because all of the tourists and pilgrims have gone, and the wonderful elaborate displays of the Christmas scene are still intact until the Feast of the Epiphany. I was struck by the size and elaborate nature of many of these Christmas scenes that they call in Italy presepios.

The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, written between A.D. 80 and 100, offer details of Jesus’ birth, including that he was born in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod.

The Gospel of Luke records that when the shepherds went to Bethlehem, they “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the three wise men, or Magi, who “fell down” in worship and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The earliest biblical descriptions do not mention the presence of any animals. Animals first start to appear in religious texts around the seventh century.

A series of early Christian stories that informed popular religious devotion, including what’s known as the Infancy Gospel of Matthew, attempted to fill in the gap between Christ’s infancy and the beginning of his public ministry. This text was the first to mention the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth. It described how the “most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him.”

The first nativity scene was established in 1223 by St. Francis. The historical account of St. Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano, published in 1229, just three years after the saint’s death.

According to Celano’s biography, St. Francis, fifteen days before Christmas, enlisted the help of the penitent John of Greccio to set up, in a cave of Greccio, a manger with hay, an ox and an ass. All the villagers were invited to come gaze upon the scene while Francis preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” Francis was so overcome by emotion that he could hardly speak the Holy Name of “Jesus.”

According to Saint Bonaventure, who wrote a later biography, St. Francis sought permission from the Pope to do something “for the kindling of devotion” to the birth of Christ. As part of his preparations, St. Francis “made ready a manger and hay, together with an ox and an ass,” in the small Italian town of Greccio.

One witness, among the crowd that gathered for this event, reported that St. Francis included a carved doll which cried tears of joy and “seemed to be awakened from sleep when the blessed Father Francis embraced Him in both arms.”

This miracle of the crying doll moved all who were present, St. Bonaventure writes. St. Francis made another miracle happen, too: The hay that the child lay in healed sick animals and protected people from disease.

The Nativity story continued to expand within Christian devotional culture well after St. Francis’ death. In 1291, Pope Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan pope, ordered that a permanent Nativity scene be erected at Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome.

This first living Nativity scene – which was famously depicted by Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone in the Arena Chapel of Padua, Italy – ushered in a new tradition of staging the birth of Christ.

I recalled this wonderful tradition in my own family of establishing similar scenes in our home during the Christmas season and how we would cover the baby Jesus until Christmas arrived. Sometimes we would have the plastic figures of the three kings at a distance from the crib until the feast of the Epiphany arrived.

As we enter into this Advent season, let us renew our own Franciscan commitment to penance in preparation for the great joy of the Christmas season. Let us, like our beloved founder, acknowledge our sins, that the humility of Jesus Christ may be reborn in our hearts. Merry and Blessed Christmas!

 

– Fr. Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap.

“If you desire to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together in Greccio, hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.” Saint Francis of Assisi’s words to John of Greccio as the saint asked for the first live Nativity scene. (recorded in Thomas of Celano’s Life of Saint Francis, published 1229)

A good reminder for this busy season: It’s OK if you fall apart sometimes. Tacos fall apart and we still love them.

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GUEST COLUMN: RUNNING TOWARD CHRIST 

 

Most Catholics make Lenten resolutions. Some also make an Advent resolution. I want to recommend that you all make a resolution to go running during this season of Advent. I’m not talking about physical jogging. I’m talking about what we prayed in the Collect prayer of this Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: we asked God to give us the resolve to run. We prayed: “Grant your faithful, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming…”. That’s what we’re to do during Advent – run to meet God’s Anointed One, Jesus, who comes.

We often do a lot of running around in these weeks before Christmas: shopping, going to parties, attending various events. We run around the house decorating, baking, writing Christmas cards, etc. These can be good things, but they shouldn’t be primary. What is primary is that we run to meet the Lord, as the Collect says: “to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”

It is good for us to think about what righteous deeds we will do during this Advent. Perhaps a visit to someone who is lonely, a special gift for the poor at Christmas, a word of forgiveness to someone who has offended us, an act of kindness to a friend or family member we may take for granted, or a word of support to someone we know who may be struggling. In our second reading, Saint Paul prayed that the Lord would make the Thessalonians “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” In this season of Advent, may the Lord make us increase and abound in love. Saint Paul teaches that when this happens, the Lord strengthens our hearts “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming (the Advent) of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”

With the commercialization of Christmas in our culture, it can be difficult to keep focus on the true meaning of this season: the coming of Jesus Christ, His coming at the end of time (which Our Lord spoke about in today’s Gospel, “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”) and His coming in the flesh at Christmas (which Jeremiah foretold in our first reading when he announced God’s promise to “raise up for David a just shoot who will do what is right and just in the land”).

We prayed in the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 25: “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.” When we pray, we run to meet Christ, to lift up our souls to Him. Advent is a special season of prayer. We must be careful that we run to a church or chapel more than to the shopping center during Advent. We can run to meet Christ by attending daily Mass if possible or by making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. We can run forth to meet Christ by approaching His mother in the prayer of the rosary and contemplating the joyful mysteries of her Son’s coming. We can run forth to meet Christ by going to Him to confess our sins in the sacrament of Penance. Of course, it’s good to remember that God the Father runs to meet us every time we go to confession, like the merciful father who ran to embrace his son in the parable of the prodigal son. Confession should be an important part of Advent for all of us – to hasten to the church, like the prodigal son, to receive the Father’s merciful embrace in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

So I invite you in these four weeks of Advent to run to meet Christ. Let us hasten to meet Him with righteous deeds. Let us hasten to meet Him in prayer. And let us hasten to meet him in confession. If we do, we will have a truly joyful Christmas.

 

-- Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Homily to Residents and Guests of Annunciation Women’s Vocation Discernment House Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2021.

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UPDATE: MARY, MOTHER OF PRIESTS CHAPEL AT GUADALUPE MEN’S VOCATION HOUSE

 

Is there a priest who has helped and encouraged you? How about a saint who was a priest? Say thank you with a plaque sponsorship! As of December 1, 48 priests, including the two saintly priests Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Charles Borromeo, have been sponsored. That’s almost 5% of the total of 1000 priests sought! Can you help bring the number up to 75! We offer an installment plan for those who cannot provide the full sponsorship all at once! Help meet the goal of 1000 sponsored priests, living or deceased!

 

Names of sponsored priests will be featured on the wall of Mary, Mother of Priests Chapel. Priests will receive prayers daily from residents and guests of Guadalupe Men’s Discernment House, where the chapel will be built. 

 

Each $180 plaque sponsorship will go towards renovating Guadalupe House. Donations of other amounts are also gratefully accepted. Every dollar brings Mary, Mother of Priests Chapel closer to completion! See www.1000priests.org for names of sponsored priests and photos of some of them. See also www.VocationDiscernmentHouse.com

 

May God bless you for your support and prayers! Please keep them coming!

HUMOR

 

What did the stamp say to the Christmas card? Stick with me and we’ll go places!

Where does Santa keep all his money? At the local snow bank.

What did the beaver say to the Christmas Tree? Nice gnawing you!

What’s every parent’s favorite Christmas Carol? Silent Night.

What do you call a scary looking reindeer? A cari-boo.

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NO GREATER LOVE: THE LORD’S PRAYER 
 

Practicing Catholics know the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) by heart. Thus, this very profound prayer taught us by the Lord Himself, tends to “roll” off the tongue without us really thinking about what we say when we pray it. Pope Benedict, in Volume 1 of Jesus of Nazareth devotes an entire chapter to this prayer examining each petition in detail. The Our Father, then, like the Ten Commandments, begins by establishing the primacy of God, which then leads naturally to a consideration of the right way of being human. Here, too, the primary concern is the path of love, which is at the same time a path of conversion. If man is to petition God in the right way, he must stand in the truth. And the truth is: first God, first his Kingdom (cf. Mt 6:33). The first thing we must do is step outside ourselves and open ourselves to God. Nothing can turn out right if our relation to God is not rightly ordered. For this reason, the Our Father begins with God and then, from that starting point, shows us the way toward being human. At the end we descend to the ultimate threat besetting man, for whom the Evil one lies in wait---we may recall the image of the apocalyptic dragon that wages war against those "who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev 12:17).

 

Yet the beginning remains present throughout: Our Father---we know that he is with us to hold us in his hand and save us. In his book of spiritual exercises, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Superior General of the Jesuits, tells the story of a staretz, or spiritual advisor of the Eastern Church, who yearned "to begin the Our Father with the last verse, so that one might become worthy to finish the prayer with the initial words---'Our Father’" In this way, the staretz explained, we would be following the path to Easter. "We begin in the desert with the temptation, we return to Egypt, then we travel the path of the Exodus, through the stations of forgiveness and God's manna, and by God's will we attain the promised land, the kingdom of God, where he communicates to us the mystery of his name: 'Our Father'" (Der ősterliche Weg, pp, 65f.).

 

In order to avoid the mechanical recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, we might consider the reverse order of the petitions in this prayer, as suggested by the spiritual advisor from the Eastern Church. The last petition speaks of evil. (Mt 6:13) The ultimate evil is mortal sin where we willfully choose to disobey God. The Church teaches that this evil could cause us to lose our salvation. What could be a worse evil than that? Jesus tells us the way out of this evil. First, we must want to be free of this evil of mortal sin. Then we need to sincerely repent of our sin or sins and sincerely register this repentance to the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Of course, we need the grace of God to go to confession or even to repent. That is why we need to ask God to deliver us from evil. We need Him to avoid being destroyed by evil, but we also need to cooperate with the Graces we get from God through the Church. 

 

When we are in the world, we are bound to be either in the grip of evil, if we are in the state of mortal sin, or at least exposed to it from the world where it comes to us as consistent and ongoing temptation. The secular world, which openly rejects God, is constantly tempting the God fearing to join in their rejection of God, since the God fearing are an irritation to the world. In the next to last petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:13), Jesus instructs us to seek the help of God in the struggle against the temptations of the world. Being exposed to temptations is not in itself sin but it is the doorway to sin. When we pass through this life, we will encounter many “open doors” to sin, but we must not even approach the doorway. That is why in the traditional Act of Contrition we resolve to avoid the “near occasion of sin”. The next to last petition of the Lord’s Prayer is strongly linked to the last petition dealing with evil. Both deal with the problem of evil, and both give us the Lord’s solution to this problem which is grace. We need the grace of God to fight off the temptation thrown at us by the devil, the world, or anybody else. If the temptation does take hold, we need grace to keep us from giving in so as to fall into mortal sin. 

 

The third from last petition (Mt 6:12) concerning forgiveness deals with what happens if we do fall into venial or mortal sin. We need to sincerely repent of our sin, but we need to also ask God to forgive us. We cannot earn forgiveness for we need to seek it. Jesus gave us the way to do this though the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) to be administered by the Church. (Jn 20:19-23) However, Jesus adds that God forgiving us depends on our forgiveness of others. The Lord must have considered this forgiveness of others to be very important since at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, He reiterates it. ((Mt 6:14-15) On the Cross, the Lord cries out “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34) He does what He commands us to do. For followers of Christ, the seeking of forgiveness and the forgiving of others is liberating. Our seeking of forgiveness from God breaks the power of evil (sin) over us. Our forgiveness of others breaks the power of the sins of others over us. We are imprisoned by the sins of others when we refuse to forgive. Our modern Western secular culture does not value forgiveness. Those who are prominent and are not on top of the current politically correct “right” actions can easily be disgraced by those in power and toppled from any position of influence which they had. This occurs even when it is clear that the person thought they were doing nothing wrong.

 

The fourth from last petition deals with our physical needs, “our daily bread”. (Mt 6:11). Just as we are dependent on God for our spiritual needs, we also are dependent on Him for our physical needs. We do need to ask Him for what we need and also thank Him for what He has given us. In contrast, our modern secular Western society is self-sufficient without Him. It imagines that we can take care of everything and create a peaceful, prosperous, abundant, and just world without Him. When it is obvious that we do not have this wonderful world, the blame is not placed on our own sins and injustices, but on “global warming”, or racism, or sexism. Once God is lost, then sin, repentance, and forgiveness, and our dependence on God are no longer understood. 

 

The first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9-10) concern our relationship with God. Our modern affluent Western society does not understand our need for God because it has lost God. This loss of God has been a gradual process which has been greatly accelerated by modern technology and especially modern communications, especially, radio, TV, movies, and the internet. Of course, many of the “elites” lost faith long before the coming of these technologies, but technology made it possible to drum the “new” ways of thinking into the minds of ordinary people. A person, whether young or old, has to purposely and consciously reject what the “world” is telling them. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer with thought, we can see that we are rejecting what the “world” teaches us. For example, the “world” does not reverence (hallow) the name of God. Even now, politicians use the name of God or even Jesus without really wanting His Will to be done or His Kingdom to come. We want exactly what they do not want. We want His name to be honored; We want His Will to be done everywhere. We want His Kingdom to come so that true peace and justice can come. One of the requirements of the Confraternity of Penitents involves loyalty to the Magisterium of the Church and believing all that the Church teaches. This does not equate the Church with God or the Kingdom of God. It does foster the obedience which flows from the Love of God which we will need to be a citizen of heaven. Unfortunately, those who do not know God are often quite willing to obey authorities which care nothing about God and act in opposition to His Will. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us living in the Twenty-First Century that we need to be countercultural in order to be a follower of the Lord. 

 

When we consider the Lord’s Prayer in reverse order, it does not mean we can pray it in reverse order. One could rewrite it with the petitions in reverse order, but that is not the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer in the order that the Lord gave it to us, we need to understand the depth and profundity which is in the Prayer taught us by God. That is why the commentary by Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth and other such commentaries can help us to truly pray this prayer as a real heartfelt prayer. This can help us to avoid the mechanical recitation of this Prayer which we can find hard to avoid because of its familiarity. The words of this Prayer can help us to even pray without words. – Jim Nugent, CFP

And in the end, everything will turn out to be unimportant and inessential except for this: Father, Child, and Love. – Pope Saint John Paul II 
CONFRATERNITY PHOTO ALBUM: RETREAT 2021 PHOTOS
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Above is Father Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, chatting with Mariah Dragolich, CFP. In kitchen at St. Felix Catholic Center, Huntington, Indiana, during CFP Retreat 2021. The retreat was a combination retreat fro Tau Maria and the Confraternity of Penitents. We cooked our own meals! Father Joseph Tuscan was retreat Master. What a blessed time!

 

Below is a group photo of most people who attended the retreat, taken in the retreat center chapel.

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Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men. -- Saint Ambrose
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ADVENT MOTIVATIONS AND OUR RULE: THE KING IS CALLING

Years ago, a great Budweiser commercial showed the Budweiser Clydesdales pulling their beer wagon through Grant’s Farm as a woman sang, “Here comes the King, here comes the Big Number One.” That’s what we should be singing at the start of Advent – except, of course, our King isn’t  beer, but the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. For all Christians, especially Catholic Christians – and most especially, penitents – Advent should be a time to reflect upon our commitment to Jesus. And the No. 1 way penitents show our commitment to He who is truly The Big No. 1 is by faithfully living our Rule every day.

Let us use this Advent to examine our consciences: How well are we preparing for the Lord’s arrival? For penitents, fasting is a big part of our Advent preparation. For those in Novice 3 and pledged members, fasting means fasting from food. Not to the point of anorexia but enough to know we are fasting.

For everyone else, our Constitution says we should do some sort of fast. Novices often want to jump right in and live the complete rule, skipping the formation part--Bad idea – experience has taught us that it is extremely difficult to embrace the whole thing at one time.

But, some might ask, isn’t that what happens if one becomes a vowed religious? Don’t you begin living their rule the minute you move into the monastery? Yes, but – you’re surrounded by others who help you along the way. If you are supposed to fast, the amount of food, its type and its quantity are decided by someone else. For us living in the world, surrounded by children and others, it is much harder to make the transition. Our kids have that annoying habit of leaving those cookies all over the kitchen.

 

And yet – we know we are supposed to do something more than just go on with our normal lives Here’s a hint: Jesus was born into poverty His first bed wasn’t in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, or even the Fairfield Inn, but in a stable During his public ministry, he made it clear we should have care for the poor. Saint Francis of Assisi did, too.

So, why do we fast? Is it to lose 10 pounds so we look really good at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? Or by the pool at the Caribbean resort? No – we fast to draw closer to Jesus and to embrace the poor by helping them. One way to help the poor is to support those who support them with money. Our rule says we are to tithe, to donate 10% of our gross before-tax income, to the Church and other charitable organizations.  It takes time to adjust one’s spending to be able to fully tithe, just as it takes time to adjust one’s schedule to be able to pray 90 minutes a day, or to engage in a full fast.

But – if you haven’t started, there is no better time than Advent to get started. And if you are mired in debt, especially credit card debt, now is the time to begin to live what St. Paul told us – “Owe nothing to any man . . .” – and to embrace our Constitution 29c: “Those living this life must at once begin to pay up their debts, are to reconcile with their neighbors, and begin to tithe if they have not been doing so.”

Notice what comes first: Paying up our debts. If you are carrying a balance on a credit card, don’t use a credit card until you have paid it off and built a reserve fund of at least $1,200. If you make a minimum payment each month it will likely take you around 20 years to pay it off. But the credit card companies conveniently provide a table on their statements telling you how much a month you would need to pay to pay it off in three years. If you can do it in less than three years, even better. If it takes you longer than three years, so be it. But, get started now. When you’re not paying interest to a credit card company, it’s a lot easier to set aside 10% of your income for Church and charity.

The King is calling. You’ve bought this year’s Christmas presents. If you’re feeling the call to a life of penance Now is the time to begin paying off those debts. It’s the perfect fast for Inquirers, postulants, and Novices 1 and 2. The King is calling. Answer him. – Joel Whitaker, CFP