Confraternity of Penitents Newsletter
Message from Bishop Kevin Rhoades
Consecration and Mission
Consecration and mission always go together. Mary’s consecration was for the greatest mission in the history of the world: to bring Christ into the world. She said “yes” to the Father’s will, opened herself to the Holy Spirit, and conceived the Son of God in her womb. With deep faith, she said “yes”. Elisabeth recognized this and cried out: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Mary also teaches us humility: she did not identify herself as a great Queen, but as the lowly servant of the Lord. We call her our Queen because, as Christians, we know that true greatness is not in power and riches, but in love and humility.
I mentioned that consecration and mission always go together, and that Mary’s consecration was for her mission as Mother of the Redeemer. That mission led her to set out in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She went out to help her elderly relative, to assist her during her pregnancy. That journey into the hill country of Judea was a real missionary journey. Mary’s charity toward Elizabeth was more than giving her material assistance. She brought Jesus to her. She carried Jesus in her womb. Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recognized this and proclaimed words we say every day in the Divine Office: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary shows us the meaning and purpose of every missionary journey: to give people the living and personal Gospel which is the Lord Jesus Himself. Elizabeth rejoiced in this gift and so did her unborn son, John the Baptist. As Elizabeth told Mary, “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy.” It is in receiving Jesus that people find true joy.
Mary didn’t stay to herself. She went out and brought Christ to others. We all have this mission, to bring Christ to the world through our witness. We are to go out, like Mary did, to serve in charity and to bring Jesus and the joy of His Gospel. According to the Franciscan charism, special attention should always be the poor, those Jesus speaks of as “the least of our brothers and sisters.” We must especially bear witness to the Church’s preferential option for the poor, for people who are on the margins of society, and for those who are suffering, those in varied states of affliction. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I especially wish to encourage all in doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Remember always, as Blessed Mother Teresa taught us so beautifully, that the Lord whom we encounter in prayer and adore in the Blessed Sacrament is the same Lord who lives and suffers in the poor and needy. Remember, too, as Saint John Paul II taught, that love and service of the poor is “an act of evangelization and, at the same time, a seal of Gospel authenticity.”
In a society and culture where so many don’t know the Lord or choose to ignore or reject Him, we have the mission to proclaim Him. It’s an extraordinary responsibility. It is the mission that Mary shows us in the mystery of the visitation: to give people the living and personal Gospel which is the Lord Jesus Himself.
May Mary visit you every day and bring you joy, the joy of deep friendship with her Son. With her always at your side, may your lives proclaim to all the greatness of the Lord! May your spirits rejoice with Mary in God our Savior!
--Bishop Kevin Rhoades
Words of Wisdom from a Poor Clare Nun (shared with a group of penitents)
Just because you know what the problem is, doesn't mean you can fix it.
Fear is an opportunity for greater trust in God.
Hate the sin. Love the sinner.
I can't control other people or circumstances, but I am not helpless.
God made us for a journey. He's not surprised that we are not there yet. The journey is part of the whole experience of faith.
When we find out where we are not free, then we know where God wants us to grow.
Human friendship is a springboard for Divine friendship.
I don't need enemies because I have friends. They are a lot more work!
Each flower speaks of a beauty of God that is unlike any other. It takes time to see a flower like it takes time to see a friend.
Your gifts are not for you. They are for me. We are all such a gift to each other.
I don't have to be everything to everyone because I'm not God.
In heaven, everyone is everyone else's best friend.
We all have our stuff. God knows and loves us anyway.
When I am free to be me, I can see the potential in you.
Fear is the edge of a cliff. Once you trust and take that leap, you land in the arms of God.
No one can be present 24/7 except God.
The four legs of a relationship are loyalty, empathy, generosity, and self-sacrifice.
I love having secrets with God.
Sympathy means "I have had similar experiences." Empathy means "I enter into your experience which is not mine. I am fully present to you."
Be open to let God show us our gifts. To love ourselves as God loves us is the first step.
Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
God is aware of all the things we have to grow in, but he does not do grow us all at once.
God consoles the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
I need to admit my fractures. I need to be open to correction.
God is always present to us, but we are not always present to him.
Be ready for when God sees you as ready.
Be real with God. He is a big God. He can take it.
We are all a mystery and miracle. We are in relationship with God in mysterious ways.
There is an ache in the human heart that no human person can fulfill.
Nothing is off limits for God. Let God show us what we need to do.
When you’re stuck about how to act, be real.
There are aspects of ourselves that we don’t know, but everyone else does.
God unites himself to us in prayer when we unfold ourselves before him.
Confraternity Photo Album
CFP Affiliates in the Alessandro Ministry make Rosaries for the purpose of prayer. Each prisoner says a prayer for each person will use the Rosary; in turn, they ask for a prayer from the one who receives the Rosary. The Rosary squad was organized by the confraternity of penitents and CFP Novice 2 Alessandro Prison Ministry member Eric Welch who is third from the right holding the box of Rosaries. From left to right the men are Mario, Mike, Tim, Teri, Pablo, Eric, Dave, and Margarito. As of July, 2016, the Rosary Ministry made 400 Rosaries. The Confraternity of Penitents pays for the Rosary materials, and the Confraternity of Penitents Holy Angels Gift Shop distributes black Prisoner-made Rosaries on this link and blue ones (pictured above) on this link. Proceeds from this ministry go to support the Confraternity in its mission of calling people around the world to greater surrender to Christ. The Confraternity also provides these Rosaries for servicemen. Please hold these men and this ministry in your prayers. If you wish to write to them, please contact us for the address. May God bless you.
Physical and Spiritual Meanings in Scripture
My walk into the Confraternity of Penitents has also been my walk into Catholicism. My brain has taken on a lot of new data the past few years. One of my new insights has been about the physical and spiritual side of Christ, the Church, Scripture, Catholicism. Thomas a Kempis and the Catechism both say that man has been blinded because of the physical side of things. Because of the physical, it is harder to see the spiritual.
The other day I was running out in the yard and I heard a Christian of another denomination telling someone, "No weapon formed against us will prosper." I ran on by and the Spirit put in my mind that there is a physical and spiritual side to what he said, so I turned around and told him that I was not meaning to butt into his conversation, but when God tells us things in Scripture, that there is a physical and a spiritual side to what He says to us. I pointed to my body and told him that, no matter what happens to my body, that I will be okay (spiritual). He looked dumbfounded at first, but after he took all Scripture into account, he said, "Yes."
I really do not care for the new prosperity gospel. I know plenty of good people who have bad things happen to them. I have learned that God allows us to go through the bad for us to grow.
--Tim Strickland,Novice 1, Alessandro Ministry
No Greater Love: THE HOLY CHURCH
Near the end of the Apostles’ Creed, we call the Church “holy”. What does it mean when we call the Church “holy”? In Part III of Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, he tells us the meaning of that particular article of the Creed. ….. the Second Vatican Council itself ventured to the point of speaking no longer merely of the holy Church but of the sinful Church, and the only reproach it incurred was that of still being far too timorous; ……..The centuries of the Church's history are so filled with all sorts of human failure that we can quite understand Dante's ghastly vision of the Babylonian whore sitting in the Church's chariot; and the dreadful words of William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris in the thirteenth century, seem perfectly comprehensible. William said that the barbarism of the Church had to make everyone who saw it go rigid with horror: "We are no longer dealing with a bride but with a monster of terrible deformity and ferocity."
What is Professor Ratzinger’s answer to all of this? There is no theory in existence that could compellingly refute such ideas by mere reason, just as, conversely, these ideas themselves do not proceed from mere reason but from the bitterness of a heart that may perhaps have been disappointed in its high hopes and now, in the pain of wronged love, can see only the destruction of its hopes. How, then, are we to reply? Ultimately one can only acknowledge why one can still love this Church in faith, why one still dares to recognize in the distorted features the countenance of the holy Church. Nevertheless, let us start from the objective elements. As we have already seen, in all these statements of faith the word "holy" does not apply in the first place to the holiness of human persons but refers to the divine gift that bestows holiness in the midst of human unholiness. The Church is not called "holy” in the Creed because her members, collectively and individually, are holy, sinless men---this dream, which appears afresh in every century, has no place in the waking world of our text, however movingly it may express a human longing that man will never abandon until a new heaven and a new earth really grant him what this age will never give him. Even at this point we can say that the sharpest critics of the Church in our time secretly live on this dream and, when they find it disappointed, bang the door of the house shut again and denounce it as a deceit. But to return to our argument: The holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in her in spite of human sinfulness. We come up here against the real mark of the "New Covenant": in Christ, God has bound himself to men, has let himself be bound by them. The New Covenant no longer rests on the reciprocal keeping of the agreement; it is granted by God as grace that abides even in the face of man's faithlessness. It is the expression of God's love, which will not let itself be defeated by man's incapacity but always remains well disposed toward him, welcomes him again and again precisely because he is sinful, turns to him, sanctifies him, and loves him.
Because of the Lord's devotion, never more to be revoked, the Church is the institution sanctified by him forever, an institution in which the holiness of the Lord becomes present among men. But.it is really and truly the holiness of the Lord that becomes present in her and that chooses again and again as the' vessel of its presence---with a paradoxical love---the dirty hands of men. It is holiness that radiates as the holiness of Christ from the midst of the Church's sin. So the paradoxical figure of the Church, in which the divine so often presents itself in such unworthy hands, in which the divine is only ever present in the form of a "nevertheless", is to the faithful the sign of the "nevertheless" of the ever greater love shown by God. The thrilling interplay of God's loyalty and man's disloyalty that characterizes the structure of the Church is the dramatic form of grace, so to speak, through which the reality of grace as the pardoning of those who are in themselves unworthy continually becomes visibly present in history. One could actually say that precisely in her paradoxical combination of holiness and unholiness the Church is in fact the shape taken by grace in this world.
Professor Ratzinger then gives us another aspect of this same paradox. Let us go a step farther. In the human dream of a perfect world, holiness is always visualized 'as untouchability by sin and evil, as something unmixed with the latter; there always remains in some form or other a tendency to think in terms of black and white, a tendency to cut out and reject mercilessly the current form of the negative (which can be conceived in widely varying terms). In contemporary criticism of society and in the actions in which it vents itself, this relentless side always present in human ideals is once again only too evident. That is why the aspect of Christ's holiness that upset his contemporaries was the complete absence of this condemnatory note---fire did not fall on the unworthy, nor were the zealous allowed to pull up the weeds they saw growing luxuriantly on all sides. On the contrary, this holiness expressed itself precisely as mingling with the sinners whom Jesus drew into his vicinity; as mingling to the point where he himself was 'made "to be sin" and bore the 'curse of the law in execution as a criminal---complete community of fate with the lost (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13). He has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true "holiness" is: not separation, but union; not judgment; but redeeming love. Is the Church not simply the continuation of God's deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus' habit of sitting at table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point. where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man's expectation of purity, God's true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it? Can, therefore, the holiness of the Church be anything else but the bearing with one another that comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are borne up by Christ?
Next, Professor Ratzinger gives us his personal take on this this situation. I must admit that to me this unholy holiness of the Church has in itself something infinitely comforting about it. Would one not be bound to despair in face of a holiness that was spotless and could only operate on us by judging us and consuming us by fire? Who would dare to assert of himself that he did not need to be tolerated by others, indeed borne up by them? And how can someone who lives on the forbearance of others himself renounce forbearing? Is it not the only gift he can offer in return, the only comfort remaining to him, that he endures just as he, too, is endured? Holiness in the Church begins with forbearance and leads to bearing up; where there is no more forbearing, there is no more bearing up either, and existence, lacking support, can only sink into the void. People may well say that such words express a sickly existence---but it is part of being a Christian to accept the impossibility of autonomy and the weakness of one's own resources. At bottom there is always hidden pride at work when criticism of the Church adopts that tone of rancorous bitterness which today is already beginning to become a fashionable habit. Unfortunately it is accompanied only too often by a spiritual emptiness in which the specific nature of the Church as a whole is no longer seen, in which she is only regarded as a political instrument whose organization is felt to be pitiable or brutal, as if the real function of the Church did not lie beyond organization, in the comfort of the Word and of the sacraments that she provides in good and bad days alike. Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is, and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them. Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope---the path to eternal life---only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now. We should recall that these words were written by Professor Ratzinger in the late 1960’s when some were enthusiastically attempting to mold the Church into their own image and others were leaving the Church in disgust over the changes that were occurring.
Finally, Professor Ratzinger asserts the continual need to constructively change the Church but not leave the Church. A slammed door can, it is true, become a sign that shakes those inside. But the idea that one can do more constructive work in isolation than in fellowship with others is just as much of an illusion as the notion of a Church of "holy people" instead of a "holy Church" that is holy because the Lord bestows holiness on her as a quite unmerited gift.
--Jim Nugent, CFP
Meditation on the Franciscan Virtues: The Virtue of Courage
St. Francis showed great courage when he approached the Sultan in the Holy Land, during the Crusades. His strength was his Faith in God, just like the psalmist says: “Wait for the Lord, take courage; Be stout hearted and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27.
We should challenge ourselves to exercise the virtue of courage when we are afraid of something. Trust goes, too, hand in hand with courage; to show God that we truly trust in Him. He, then, will give us the courage we need. Let us not forget to practice courage when we evangelize and bring others to Our Lord. Let us not be afraid to speak up when we are confronted with evil and secularism in our world today. We all need courage to face our crosses and sufferings and to bring them in union with Our Lord for the salvation of souls.
-- Donna Kaye Rock, CFP, Postulant (The book Franciscan Virtues through the Year book is available on this link)
Thoughts on St. Peter
Peter's encounters with Christ help me a lot in my spiritual journey. His exhibition of faith, his impulsive enthusiasm and fears, his excitement and anger, his bold confrontational offensive violence in defense of Christ, his repeated denial of Christ, his repentance and remorse, his apostolic zeal and deep commitment, his heroic martyrdom and everything about Peter is a complete depiction of the unpredictability of the human nature. It teaches me that I should continue in the race in spite of the incessant manifestation of my weaknesses and my uncountable failings.
--Kingsley Eze, CFP Postulant
Following Francis, Following Christ: St. Francis and the Psalms
Do you pray or say the Psalms? As penitents, we recite many psalms daily, both in the Confraternity daily prayers and in the Divine Office. But are we praying or saying?
The Psalms were the topic of Confraternity of Penitents Summer Retreat 2016. Father Jerome Wolbert, OFM, noted several predominant themes in the Psalms. These include praise Psalms, Psalms of joy and sorrow, questioning Psalms, and imprecatory Psalms. The Psalms cover the gamut of human emotions.
Father noted that prayerful meditation on the Psalms can help to bring the reader to a point of surrender to God’s will. “You don’t need a hurricane to blow away chaff,” Father said, referring to how even small difficulties can help us winnow out the extraneous in our lives. God sometimes crushes our heart so that we become humble enough to embrace Him again. We are called to spread the love of Christ wherever we go, but temptations get in the way. The Psalm of Lament, Psalm 137, begins with the exiled Jewish nation lamenting their captivity.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
We can imagine the pain of the exiled people who are being taunted by their captors. They have no songs left for they remember the pain of their captivity and the joy they had in their homeland. The Psalm ends with a curse on the captors and these jarring lines: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” The Liturgy of the Hours and Psalms read during Mass simply don’t use this last line of this Psalm of lament. Father Jerome explained that St. Benedict stated that people need to read these lines in a symbolic manner. The infants are temptations that lure us away from God. We need to smash them against the rock of Christ and destroy them when they are small so that they do not destroy us when they mature.
Psalm 88 is the most negative Psalm in Scripture, filled with despair and questioning of a God who does not seem to answer. The Psalm ends with the words:
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.
There is no hope here. Does the Psalm writer even trust in God? We must remember, Father Jerome says, that you still trust in God if you are still speaking to God. We long for God. How empty life is without Him!
Psalm 42 begins:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Here God is described as water. Water is life. Without God, our life is parched and dry. Jesus spoke of himself as the living water who gives life to all who drink of him. Psalm 42 begins with the writer panting for God, moves through a time of despair, and ends with an encouragement to trust in God.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
God leads us through the desert to the life-giving water. When we are in the desert, we need to remember that the water is coming. We just aren't there yet.
Other Psalms praise God in the beauty of his creation. Psalm 104 is part of the Office of Readings for Pentecost. The Psalm begins:
Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
clothed in majesty and glory,
wrapped in light as in a robe!
The Psalm proclaims the many ways that God is glorious. It revels in all the various actions that the Holy Spirit has taken in the world. God is so magnificent that the author of this song can end with the words
I find my joy in the Lord.
Let sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked exist no more.
Bless the Lord, my soul.
The fullest expression of joy is when we have a party. Joy is not an option for the Christian life; it is imperative. The Psalms of joy call us to celebrate our experience of God with everyone we meet.
St. Francis prayed the Psalms and seems to have had them memorized because he composed his own Psalms by putting together portions of Psalms he had prayed. Attendees at Retreat 2016 composed the following Psalm of praise in response to Father Jerome’s suggestion to pray the Psalms with attention, illustrate them with drawings, and compose their own Psalms as a way of deepening their prayer life.
Psalm of Praise Written by Attendees at CFP Retreat 2016
Praise the Lord for His great love.
Praise Him for His unknown love.
Praise Him for His merciful love.
Praise the Lord for birdsong in the morning.
Praise Him for thunderstorms.
Praise Him for His surprises.
Praise the Lord for his beauty and harmony in all creation.
Praise the Lord for the gift of sharing his attention with those in need.
Praise him for his compassion of the criminal.
Praise the Lord for the gift of life, of today, of the present moment.
Praise the Lord in all things.
As penitents, might we strive to read the Psalms more slowly as we pray the Divine Office so that we are praying the Psalms and meditating on them as we complete the Liturgy of the Hours? Might we, like Saint Francis, compose our own Psalms that give word to our deepest feelings and that help us to express our faith in times of joy, bitterness, and sorrow?
--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
Some of the Attendees at CFP Retreat 2016, Pictured with Fr. Jerome Wolbert, OFM, Retreat Master
HUMOR: Points to Ponder
Every day, thousands of innocent plants are killed by vegetarians. Eat bacon!
The fact that there is a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.
I’m only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.
So when is this “old enough to know better” supposed to kick in?
I prefer not to think before speaking. I like being just as surprised as everyone else by what comes out of my mouth.
By swallowing words unsaid, no one has harmed his stomach.
I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.
O God, You can make it tough, but don’t make it impossible.
I’m not lazy. I just really enjoy doing nothing.
I never argue. I just explain why I’m right.
I speak my mind because it hurts to bite my tongue all the time.
NO ONE can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3)
NO ONE can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44)
NO ONE comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
NO ONE takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (Jon 10:18)
NO ONE can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
NO ONE will take away your Joy. (John 16:22)
--David Curry, CFP Affiliate
From the Confraternity of Penitents Holy Angels Gift Shop: Wooden Bead Rosaries
The CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop carries many styles of hand crafted wooden bead and cord rosaries, including five, seven, and fifteen decade rosaries. One of our CFP’ers has also hand crafted a 20 decade rosary for a customer. Contact us at 260-739-6882 for information on types, prices, and selection of wooden bead rosaries.
Or visit the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop on line at cfpholyangels.com