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Postulant Lessons

Postulant Lesson One

Note: Keep copies of all lessons turned in to your formator both for sharing in your Chapter or Circle meetings, and in case your formation lessons get lost in the mail or on the internet.

Materials needed for postulancy:

These lessons, available below and in the Confraternity of Penitents Handbook.

Christ in the Gospel

Franciscan Virtues through the Year

The above books are available from the Confraternity of Penitents Holy Angels Gift Shop. 


Postulant Lesson One


Introduction to the Confraternity of Penitents


In the 1100's and 1200's, a great penitential movement spread across Europe. Lay people began to convert from worldly ways to spiritual ones and adopted certain penitential practices to enable them to do so. These people were called penitents or conversi (converted ones). Certain ways of living a more simplified, God ­and‑other centered lifestyle were codified into a Rule for Penitents, written in 1221 and approved by the Pope. A penitent, a converso, was, therefore, willing to make adjustments in his or her life in order to more closely follow God's ways. These adjustments were in the areas of prayer, diet, clothing, and works of mercy. The penitential life led to detachment from worldly values and things and attachment to the values and things of God.


In our modern, materialistic, self‑centered society, some people feel the need to simplify their lives and to turn more completely to God and neighbor. While the term "penitent" may seem archaic, people who are moving into deeper surrender to God's will for them are, indeed, modern day penitents. The way of life that worked for penitents 800 years ago in the self‑centered, materialistic medieval world still works today to bring people into a more disciplined life style that makes more room for God.


Today the Confraternity of Penitents is an association of lay men and women who are following modern Constitutions to the 1221 Rule for Penitents. The Constitutions make the penitential practices of 1221 livable in today's society while effecting the same conversion which the 1221 Rule achieved for centuries. The Rule and the Constitutions have been reviewed and deemed acceptable to live by the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA.


Life as a modern penitent will enhance, not conflict with or replace, any Third Order vocation or membership in any other Catholic lay association. The penitential way of life gives more discipline and direction to a Catholic's life, thus enabling him or her to be more willing to submit to God's will. Anyone considering this way of life must be a Catholic who agrees with all the teachings of the Catholic Church. A penitent must have a desire to become as holy as God wishes. This desire must be affected by doing God's will.


A penitent will receive guidance from a spiritual director. The spiritual director must agree with all the teachings of the Catholic Church and must be an ordained member of the Catholic clergy (priest or deacon) or a Catholic religious. A penitent will meet with his or her spiritual director regularly, the most common time interval being once monthly. However, the frequency and length of meetings will be determined by the penitent and the spiritual director.


A married penitent must also obtain the consent of the spouse in order to live this Rule. Hopefully, obtaining this consent will not be difficult since living a penitential life does not conflict with spousal, parental, or family obligations and should, in fact, make the penitent a more charitable and compassionate family member. Over a four year period, the penitent will make adjustments in his or her life style in the three areas of prayer, diet, and clothing. All these areas need attention in our materialistic, self‑centered world. The Rule and Constitutions take into account the penitent's health, employment, family, age, and work conditions, allowing exceptions and substitutions when necessary.


Prayer for the average penitent takes about ninety minutes daily when living in full conformity to the Rule and Constitutions. This is a conscious way of making time for God in our society that tends to keep us too busy to have time for God. In a society in which food is plentiful and people can indulge as they wish, the diet adjustments help penitents to control their physical appetites in healthy, yet somewhat sacrificial ways. Because our modern societies are so clothing conscious and most people have a variety of styles, colors, and patterns from which to choose, the modern penitent limits his or her wardrobe in certain specific but easy to follow ways.


The prayer, diet, and clothing adaptations prepare the penitent to be more open to God's direction and discipline. They prepare the penitent's spirit to become more aware of spiritual and corporal works of mercy that need to be performed. The penitent's spiritual awareness heightens so that he or she can discern what works of mercy God is requesting and how God wishes them to be performed.


These adjustments in life style are made gradually over the period of formation, allowing ample time to discern whether or not an individual is truly called to this way of life.


The goals of formation for the Confraternity of Penitents are as follows:


· To enable the penitent to understand the transient nature of life and the superfluities of a worldly existence.

· To direct the penitent in surrendering his or her own will to the Rule and to the spiritual director, and thus become more inclined to accept with joy the discipline and direction that God gives.

· To draw the penitent into a deep union with God who wishes all people to surrender everything to Him.

· To enable the penitent to experience in a small way the self emptying willingly embraced by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

· To foster an increase of love in the penitent for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and for human beings who are made in God's image. This love must lead to loving, selfless service of God and of others. True love is to seek the others' good before one's own. The Rule is intended to have the penitent do this.

· To lead the penitent into personal sanctity and eternal life in heaven.


If an inquirer desires this way of life but is fearful of being unable to follow it, the following must be remembered: God would not give the desire unless He is willing to grant the means. Those whom God calls to a life of penance will be given the grace to live it. What is needed are patience and trust.




Am I attracted to the idea of a penitential life style? Why or why not?

Do I feel the need for conversion in my life? Where?

Do I believe that God will give me the grace to live this lifestyle? Why?




During the first month of postulancy, look over the entire Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity. What subjects are covered? How will they impact my life if I continue into formation?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 1: Attentiveness. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to follow the Gospel.  His whole way of life was based on living the Gospel which meant that he had to know the Gospel. Therefore penitents begin their formation in the Confraternity of Penitents by daily reading the Gospel.


Christ in the Gospel is a small, illustrated book that combines the four Gospel accounts into one narrative. The entire Gospel is then read in 6 months with the cycle then repeating so that, in one year, the reader will have gone through the Gospels twice. Each day has questions for reflection and recall at the back of the book. Christ in the Gospel is available through the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop.


Postulants read Christ in the Gospel, starting with the first day of the postulancy, by selecting the appropriate reading for the calendar day, answering the questions mentally, and then continuing to read Christ in the Gospel daily for their entire postulancy. Each month they will be asked to reflect on one of the Gospel readings of their choice.


Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




· Pray daily in the morning the Apostle's Creed, all of Psalm 51, all of Psalm 54, and verses 1 to 32 of Psalm 119. In the evening, pray daily the Apostle's Creed and all of Psalm 51. Pray the "Glory Be to the Father" after each Psalm.


· Pray daily for the Holy Father, our Bishops, pastor(s), spiritual assistants, and all of the Confraternity of Penitents, all sinners, family members, and yourself.


· Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Two



Encountering God through Scripture


God is the divine being. He is real. He created you and everything else. He knows you. He loves you. He wants you to know Him and to live eternally with Him. Do you believe this?


Love changes people. Think of how your love of someone has changed you. How has your love changed someone else? When we change for the better, we experience conversion. To the extent that we know and love Our Lord, to that extent we will begin to enter a life of conversion (penance).


How do we get to know someone? By spending time with that person. We will know God better if we spend time learning about Him. To know Him is to love Him. If we love Him, we are already in the process of conversion.


How do we get to know our God? By reading what is sometimes called His "love letter" to us, the Bible. Throughout history, God revealed Himself to the Jewish people, the nation that He had chosen to know Him. The history of the Jewish nation is a history of God intervening in the lives of people whom He claimed as His. What did the Jewish people do to have God choose them instead of other nations as the ones to whom He revealed Himself? They did absolutely nothing to deserve this favor. In fact, a "sensible" God would not have chosen the stubborn, prideful, and often foolish Jewish people as the ones to whom He would promise, "You shall be My people and I will be your God."


Here is the first lesson we can learn from Scripture. God, as St. John tells us, is Love, and Love is not sensible. Love loves the beloved with reckless and unbounded abandon, not because of any good qualities in the beloved but because of the pure qualities of Love. God loves us, not for who we are, but because of Who He is.

Love is loyal but Love is also just. This, too, is seen from the Old Testament where time and again God showed the Jewish people where sin led. It is not Love to allow someone to be less than they can be. God would not tolerate the Jewish nation's stubborn refusal to do His will because toleration is not Love. We may tolerate rudeness or bad behavior in someone else's child, but we will correct and discipline these traits in our own children. Why? Because they are OUR children and we know who they can be. We won't settle for them being any less than their best.


Love is powerful. Time and again God works miracles, manipulating and controlling nature which He Himself created. By reading Scripture we begin to understand that God's will is in everything that happens. Either He is actively working or He is passively permitting all things.


We see that some of these things are evil, some bring suffering, and we ask why, if God is good, do these bad things happen. Scripture tells us that God made us in His image, as the pinnacle of His creation, even above the angels, and that He gave us charge over creation. What we decided would affect all. What did we decide, not just once in the Garden of Eden, but every day since then? That our will is superior to God's. Since we are inferior, created creatures, that decision has to be pride-fully wrong.


Since we have been placed in charge of creation, our decisions affect that creation much as food coloring dripped into water colors the entire batch. Our turning from God has removed not only our perfection, but that of all creation. Nothing on earth is or ever will be perfect again.


Now we begin to see that we, like the Jewish nation, do not always, or even much of the time, understand God's active and permissive will, but we can, if we delve deeply enough, understand a truth. God, in His mysterious way called grace, is able to bring good out of evil. He did this in Scripture. He does it in our lives.


The God of the Old Testament revealed Himself more fully in the New Testament. God, in His Second Person, came to earth as a human being. We begin to see the great and humbling mystery. God, the Creator of heaven and earth, enters the womb of a virgin upon her acceptance of Him. He does not force Himself upon her. He leaves her free to accept or reject Him, just as He leaves us free to do the same. Then, in total dependence and helplessness, God grows and is born and then depends totally on a man and a woman to care for Him. What humility and trust does this show about God?


All His life, Christ suffered for us, for Love will do anything for the beloved. We see the extent of that love upon the cross where God is destroyed by His creatures and all because He not only permitted it but actually willed it. And then, beyond this supreme act of love, God returns in the Eucharistic bread down through time to our present day. Do we realize, when we take Him in His Eucharistic Presence into our bodies, that our Creator, Redeemer, and Lover is intimately uniting with us? The God Whose tale is told through Scripture and Who manages all that is, comes to dwell within us as He did in the womb of the Virgin. What mystery we begin to touch! The mystery of God Himself!


As a postulant in the Confraternity of Penitents, spend a bit of time daily reading Scripture. This practice will continue throughout your formation and should continue until your death, which is really your entry into eternal life. This said, remember that it is better to read and reflect on a brief Scripture passage than it is to read too much too quickly.


Where should you begin? With the Gospels. Read and savor the words that you have heard again and again at Mass. Only this time, before reading, ask God to give you an insight into the passage you will read. Then read slowly and pause to think about what you read. God will instruct you.


After you have read the Gospels, read the Book of Acts and then the various New Testament letters. Then you may begin to read whatever you wish next. Perhaps you will choose the Book of Revelation or the Old Testament. Nevertheless, return to the Gospels frequently, perhaps alternating your reading of other parts of Scripture with the Gospels. Why the Gospels? Because Jesus is God made man. The more you know of Him, the more you know of God. The more you know of God, the more you will love Him.




1. What do I see as God's greatest act of love? Why?

2. What in Christ's life reveals to me Who He is? Why?

3. What does the Eucharist mean to me?




Look at the FRUITS OF THE COMMITMENT and PURPOSE (CHARISM) sections of the Constitutions of the Confraternity. What are the goals of a penitential life? How do you think following the Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity can help achieve these?



In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 2: Confession. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




· Continue praying the Apostles' Creed and the psalms introduced last month.

· Add time daily to read and ponder Scripture. Begin with the Gospels. Try to spend fifteen minutes per day if possible.

· Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Three



Our Catholic Faith


The first penitents prayed the Apostles' Creed twice daily, and we do the same. The Creed was important in the 1200's when penitents were living their original Rule because heresy was rampant and many so called "faithful" were using Scripture to justify some very unscriptural teachings. Today the Creed is just as important when many, even within the Church, call into question the very truths of our faith as well as some of its moral teachings.


No one can be accepted into the Confraternity of Penitents unless he or she adheres to all the teachings of the Catholic Church. These are found in Scripture, the Creed, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Penitents begin to formally study the Catechism when they enter first year formation. As postulants, your study will be confined to the Creed and to Scripture. In this lesson, we will do some comparison between the two.


The Apostles' Creed is a profession of faith that contains twelve fundamental doctrines. Even in apostolic times, those about to be baptized had to express their faith. The Apostles' Creed is so named, not because it was written by the Apostles, but because it is a summary of their teaching. The Apostles' Creed is similar to the Nicene Creed which is a part of the Roman rite of every Mass. The Nicene Creed, which presents the chief doctrines of the Catholic faith, was formulated at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). The Nicene Creed authoritatively established the divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity by pronouncing that the Son is "consubstantial with the Father," a doctrine that had been in dispute in some quarters at that time.


We can see from these definitions that the Creeds express the chief doctrines of our faith, but not ALL the doctrines. All the doctrines are expressed in the Catechism. But those in the Creeds are fundamental, basic to all the rest. We often "rattle off" these prayers without thinking about what we are saying. Let us examine the Apostles' Creed in detail:


"I believe in God, the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell;

On he third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven,

Sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge

The living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Catholic Church;

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting. Amen."



Now read the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John in the Bible (John 1:1‑18). Compare the Prologue to the Creed. What similarities do you notice? Differences? Omissions? The Prologue to John's Gospel is not meant to be a complete Creed, but it is a creed, a statement of faith. It speaks of the union of Christ and the Father and of how God the Father was made manifest in His Word, God the Son. A word, if properly chosen, fully expresses a certain idea. Jesus, the one Word of God, fully expresses the reality of God. To know the Word is to know the reality. That is why we must strive to know Christ. To know Christ is to know the All.

The Apostles' Creed summarizes the life of Christ. It tells us that He was born, lived, died, rose, and will return. It reminds us that we must believe in God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and that we must adhere to all that the Catholic Church teaches. The Creed affirms our faith in the forgiveness of sins and in our bodily resurrection and tells us that the saints are in "communion" with each other, meaning that we can ask them to pray to God for us and they will do so.




1. How does the Creed encapsulate our faith?

2. Can you truly say that you embrace all that it states?

3. If you have difficulty with any part, discuss it with a priest, deacon, or religious.




Look At Chapter I: DAILY LIFE, of the Rule and Constitutions.


Some things for you to ponder at this time are:

Note the clothing provision. All penitential Rules contained clothing parameters because clothing is a worldly concern, and a penitential life is intended to break attachments to worldly concerns.

Why were the particular colors chosen as defined in the Constitutions?

Read section 2 of the Rule and Constitutions.

Note that in Constitutions 2g the penitent is instructed to visibly wear a simple cross or crucifix unless already wearing the habit of a Third Order. Why?

Look over sections 3, 4, and 5 of the Rule and Constitutions. Why do you suppose that section 3b of the Constitutions can be implemented only to the extent that others in the family go along with it?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 3: Courage. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.





Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




· Continue your prayer life as you have been doing. Continue to read a portion of Scripture daily and to spend some time pondering it. Unless you are already wearing the habit of a Third Order, obtain a cross or crucifix and wear it visibly always.

· Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Four



The Magisterium of the Church


Catholics are supposed to be obedient people. We are to obey the Pope and bishops in all matters of faith and morals. Being human, some of us may disagree with decisions of the hierarchy, but as Catholics we are to follow their directives. Why? Because Christ has ordained it.


The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are "authentic teachers," that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice. "The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2034).


How do we know that the Church has this power? Scripture tells us of this in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 28, verses 19‑20, where Jesus gives final instructions to His apostles: "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."


The Apostles took this directive to heart as even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts will show. Their mission was to teach authoritatively the doctrines which Christ had commissioned them to spread. Using the deposit of faith contained in Scripture, and the oral and written truth called tradition, the Church "formally declares, through councils and infallible definitions, her magisterium" (Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 366).


The authority of the Pope was conferred by Christ Himself on the Apostle Peter as recorded in Matthew 16: 17‑19. "Blest are you, Simon, son of Jonah! No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. I for my part declare to you, you are 'Rock', and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."


Note how Christ declares that the truth of faith, given to Peter, was not the result of human reasoning but was directly infused by God Himself. It is this infusion of divine knowledge that enabled Peter to hold the "keys to the Kingdom of heaven." What He permitted and prohibited were not the results of his own logic; rather, the Holy Spirit had instructed him to permit or prohibit those very things.


Jesus chose Peter to be the head of the Apostles and the visible head of the Church on earth. The Book of Acts clearly shows that the Apostles recognized this. Upon Peter's death, St. Linus was chosen as Peter's successor. He was followed by Saints Cletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, and so on to the current Holy Father. Thus, except for a few brief, sad periods of history, the Church has never been without a Pope.


The Magisterium of the Church, evident in the authoritative teaching of the Pope in union with the bishops, makes the Catholic Church unique among all the Christian faiths. Catholics everywhere are to be in obedience to this hierarchy. They are to accept and teach the truths of the faith as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is not to say that other faiths are "bad" because they are not bad but, generally, quite good. But, good as they may be, other faiths cannot equal the perfection of the Catholic faith which is the fullness of the teaching of Christ. Christ promised to be with Peter and his successors down through time, guiding them without error in the areas of faith and morals.


This does not mean that some pastors of the flock do not sin, sometimes in extreme ways. But when the Pope and bishops expound a teaching of the Church in the area of faith and morals, they are speaking the mind of Christ Himself, unless it is clear that they are only expressing their personal opinion. All penitents must believe and accept this basic truth of the Catholic faith.


The Pope is himself a bishop, the bishop of Rome. By divine law, he also has supreme jurisdiction over the universal Church and over all religious. He may act alone or with a council of bishops in defining Church doctrine. Thus the hierarchy of the Church is formed. First Christ, the head of the "mystical body," then His Vicar on Earth, the Pope, followed by bishops, clergy, religious, and laity.


If a person has difficulty with obedience to the Pope and the bishops, that person has difficulty with obedience to Christ. Many of the saints have put the dilemma this way. "If an angel appeared and told me to do thus and so, but I went to my bishop and he forbade it, I would obey the bishop. I may be deceived by the angel for even a demon can come as an angel of light, but I can see my bishop and cannot be deceived about his directives. If the bishop is right and I am wrong, I am justified by my obedience. If the bishop is wrong and I am right, God will reveal the truth in His time."


A good example of this very thing occurred regarding the Divine mercy messages to Sister Faustina. Spread initially, then repressed by a bishop, the messages are now being spread with the good wishes of the Pope. Moreover, the nun who received the visions has been canonized. A measure of Saint Faustina’s holiness was her obedience.


Penitents must be obedient to the faith and moral teachings of the Church. This does not imply that every religious in the Church is without sin or that penitents cannot work to address any injustices or lacks of good judgment that they may notice. It does mean that penitents should study the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that they will know what the Church does teach. Penitents must adhere to all the truths of the Catholic faith as the Church teaches them in the Catechism. Formal study of the Catechism begins in First Year Formation.




1. Reread the second paragraph of this lesson. What is the Magisterium? From where derives the doctrine of the Magisterium?


2. Reread Jesus's address to Peter. What insights does it reveal to you?


3. If someone in the hierarchy of the Church sins, how is it possible to separate the sin from the teaching authority of the bishop involved?






Look at CHAPTER IV: PRAYER in the Rule and Constitutions. Pay particular attention to section 14. The Constitutions 14a and 14b clarify the daily Mass requirement. Study these sections carefully and discuss them with another penitent if possible. Note that penitents do not HAVE to attend daily Mass.


The Rule and Constitutions for the Confraternity of Penitents always put concern for the welfare of others above following rules. Therefore, if daily Mass attendance would seriously inconvenience a penitent in fulfilling his or her daily duties, the penitent should stay home. Right?


Should a penitent feel "guilty" if he or she feels that attending daily Mass is a "serious inconvenience?"




Look at Chapter VI, sections 19‑21 of the Rule and Constitutions. This chapter discusses many aspects of community life within the Confraternity. Note that penitents are to attend Confraternity meetings, if possible. Note how penitents are to respond if this is not possible. Also note the discussion on the structure of the meetings themselves.


What procedure is to be followed if a Chapter loses its spiritual assistant?


How are members to financially support their Chapters and the Confraternity?


What can you personally do to strengthen fellow penitents?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 4: Courtesy. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




· Continue your prayer life, Scripture reading, and meditation.


· Consider attending daily Mass if possible.


· Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Five



The Person of Jesus


Penitents should have a love affair with Jesus. Jesus is not to be the spouse of only consecrated religious. He is to be the mystical spouse of every Catholic. There is no doubt that Jesus lived. History, including pagan texts, attests to that. The question is, "Who was He?" This is a question that every penitent should consider and every penitent must answer. It is not enough to give an answer that someone else has given. The penitent's answer must be from the heart.


We can have many different possible relationships with Jesus. We may ignore Him, disbelieve Him, consider Him to be mentally unbalanced. We may think He was a good teacher, a great prophet, a holy man, a miracle worker. But Jesus wants our relationship with Him to be different. He wants us to know that He is Creator, Brother, Spouse, and Redeemer of each of us. All these relationships are possible because Jesus is God and God, as St. John tells us, is Love.


St. Peter Julian Eymard wrote, "What are the proofs of a genuine love? There is only one, its sacrifices: the sacrifices it prompts us to do and those it accepts with joy.


"Love without sacrifice is but an empty name, a self‑love in disguise" (The Real Presence: Eucharistic Meditations, Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, Emmanuel Publications, 5384 Wilson Mills Road, Cleveland OH 44143, p. 59).


We can say with certainty that Jesus loves us because He sacrificed so totally for us. He left eternal bliss to come to earth as a child in a virgin's womb. He Who had the adulation of angels was subjected to ridicule and rejection by His creatures. Giving Himself and His healing to us, He taught us that God is merciful, welcoming, ready to forgive, and yet we crucified Him, all with His consent. Now, in the greatest act of sacrifice, He comes to earth minute by minute in the hands of His priests, uniting through the Eucharist His sinless Body with our sinful one. St. Peter Julian Eymard puts this very clearly. "He (the priest) commands that God be on the altar, and on the instant, God is there. . . . Our Lord has never disobeyed His priest. . . . A weak, mortal creature gives birth to our sacramental Jesus!" (The Real Presence: Eucharistic Mediations, p. 56).


To develop our love of Christ, we should meditate on the roles He has played for us.


Creator: From God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, all things came to be and are held in being. All things. That includes us. Do we ever think that we are here only because God willed us? And that we remain alive because of His will? That we will live eternally because of the will of God? What did we ever do to deserve being created? What can we ever do to deserve eternal bliss?


Brother: Christ told us that He is our brother. A brother is one with whom we are utterly familiar. We can joke with our brother and tell him things we wouldn't think of telling someone else, even a close friend. Can we relate to Jesus as brother? What does this mean to you?


Spouse: A union with a spouse is one of intimate and private sharing. A spouse is to know all about us, but even a human spouse may not know the deepest thoughts in our hearts. Yet Jesus wishes to be our Divine Spouse. He desires the most intimate union of love with us. He wishes us to share with Him every part of our spirits including the good, the bad, and the ugly! He knows what we are thinking and feeling anyway. To share these with our Lord is to give Him access to the most intimate recesses of our beings.


Redeemer: To redeem means to buy back, to liberate, to free by force, to ransom. Only something that is in possession of someone else can be redeemed. If we think we are free, then we certainly are not going to be looking for a redeemer because we will think that we don't need one. Only if we realize that we are subject to sin and held prisoner by it can we see the need for our redemption. How can we be freed from the power sin holds over us? Only by the redeeming grace of God.


Jesus is Creator, Brother, Spouse, Redeemer. All these roles involve tremendous Love and hence tremendous sacrifice on God's part. When we see how God has sacrificed for us, we should be moved to imitate Him and sacrifice for Him. As penitents, we are called to imitate Christ. We can only do this if we know Christ, and we can only know Him if we learn about Him.


To learn about Him, we must read about Him in the Gospels and meditate on the messages found there. Then we need to go beyond this and put into practice what we have learned. The Beatitudes, "Blessed are the meek, the pure of heart, those who mourn, the suffering," and so on, are meant to be guidelines for us. We are to be meek and humble before Christ and in the presence of others. We are to be peacemakers. We are to be pure. We are to mourn for our sins and for the sins of the world. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, for those who hunger and thirst for anything strive to alleviate their hunger and thirst.


In a word, we are to beg God's grace to subjugate our sinful nature to God's will and to embrace what may be difficult and perhaps even physically harmful if it is for the good of another. By behaving these ways, we are showing love. We love God because He first loved us. Love means sacrifice. It means death of the will to do the will of God. "The measure of love," said one of the saints, "is to love without measure." Love is always willing to die for the beloved.


God, Who is Love, died for us. How much are we willing to die to ourselves for love of Him?




1. Describe your relationship with Jesus.


2. What title do you use most often for Christ? Creator? Brother? Spouse? Redeemer? Friend?


3. How far do you think you would go in your love of Christ?




Look at Chapter VII, VISITING THE SICK/BURYING THE DEAD, sections 22 to 24, of the Rule and Constitutions. Why do you think penitents are to exhort their ill brothers and sisters in Christ to penance (conversion)?


If a fellow penitent dies, what obligations does a penitent have regarding the funeral? What prayers are to be said for the soul of the deceased?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 5: Detachment. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.





  • · One way to show love for others is to pray for the dead. As penitents, we are to yearly pray the entire Psalter for our deceased Confraternity members. The easiest way to do this is to pray every day one Psalm or a portion of a Psalm with this intention in mind. This month, in addition to the prayers that you are already praying, begin with the first Psalm and pray one Psalm daily (or portion of a larger Psalm) for deceased members, adding a Glory Be after the Psalm and the words, "Eternal rest grant unto them, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen."


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Six



The Secret of Sanctity


Some people have misconceptions about saints. They mistakenly believe that saints were extraordinary people who, once converted, never experienced the temptations that the rest of us undergo. The saints were superior in their sanctity, workers of miracles, stigmatists, prophets, superhuman in enduring physical suffering, torture, and death. Saints fasted to extremes, performed severe bodily penances, prayed for hours, slept little. Believing that such heroism is totally beyond their grasp, most people are certain that they could never be saints.


When someone asked Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta if she knew that people called her a saint, she replied, "I try to be one. Don't you?" Blessed Teresa had the right idea. We are ALL called to be saints. Everyone in heaven is a saint. Don't we hope to go there?


If we are called to be saints, but we can't pray all night or live on half a roll a day, if we've never performed a miracle or healed anyone, if we are scared stiff of torture, how in the world will we ever be saints? The answer is quite simple. We will be saints by being all that God has called us to be.


You see, God wants us to live with Him eternally in heaven. Since this is His desire, wouldn't it be unjust of Him not to provide the means for us to fulfill His plan? God has given every person the means to become a saint. The secret is that the means is not the same for every person.


The path to sanctity for Saint Francis was not the same path that Saint Dominic or Saint Anne or Saint Gregory the Great took. All the paths led to God, but every path was tailor-made to the saint who was walking it. We make the greatest error when we try to imitate the saints by doing what they did instead of asking God what He wants us to do and then doing that.


The secret of sanctity is not doing miracles or having ecstasies. It is not founding Orders or being martyred for Christ. The secret of sanctity is surrender.


Surrender! Surrender to God's plan for us. Not surrender to God's plan for the woman who prays five rosaries a day or the man who is our parish deacon. Not God's plan for Father X or Sister Y but God's plan for us. Do we honestly believe that God has a plan for us personally? Not just a general outline, "I want you to know, love, and serve Me in this world so you can be happy with Me in the next", but a very specific plan that God intends to work out in our behalf if only we allow Him to do so.


God's path to sanctity is different for each person. Pray to find the path for you and walk in it. Your path. Your way to holiness. Yours, not someone else’s. To be totally  conformed to God's will for you is to become a saint because God wills you to be holy, to be a saint. Our prayers should be, not "God, do You want me to be a saint?" but "Lord, let me not 'mess up' Your plan."


How can we know God's plan for us? First, by prayer and by reading and meditating on Scripture. Ask God to reveal His plan to you. Then wait for an answer. If God tarries, it is not because He has no plan for you. It is because you are not yet mature enough to follow it or because the time is not yet right for the next step. We have to be at the level of spiritual maturity that corresponds to each step of the plan. Maybe we have to grow deeper spiritually before God reveals the next step of the plan to us. Maybe God is even now working out the next phase, putting all the pieces together. At the right time, we will know. If we continue to pray, to listen to God's still, small voice within, if we continue to read Scripture and meditate on it, asking God to speak to us through it, God will guide us. Often He is guiding when we least suspect it. We must be patient, trusting, peaceful. We must walk with the plan, not rushing ahead, not lagging behind.


We must also not wish to know more than what God reveals to us at the time. Scripture calls God's word a "lamp to our feet." Think of walking at night with a lantern. A lantern lights up the path before you and around you, but in the distance, everything is dark. God promises to give us enough light to see our way, one step at a time. He never promised to light up the entire path. We will have enough of His light to take one step forward in the path that He has prepared, but what is farther along we must leave to His wisdom and providence. Our job is not to know everything but to trust what we do know and to follow.


God calls us to surrender to His plan for us. We can only do that if we give God ALL of ourselves. Recall the story of the widow's mite (Luke 21: 1‑4). Jesus commended the widow for putting into the Temple treasury ALL she had. It didn't seem like a lot but it was more than others gave because it was ALL she had.


We may not have the elaborate spiritual gifts common to some canonized saints. That's because we don't need them to be holy. To be holy, we must give God what we have, i.e., our wills, our lives. God does not want fifty percent or seventy five percent or even ninety percent. He wants 100 percent. God wants ALL of us.


This is total surrender. This is the secret of sanctity. The ultimate purpose of the Rule for the Confraternity of Penitents is to foster in the penitent this attitude of total surrender. When penitents surrender their wills to the daily discipline of the Rule, they are not only glorifying God by their prayers and mortification but they are also practicing surrender to Him. By voluntarily surrendering what is desirable for the sake of greater, spiritual gains, penitents become more docile to the will of God Who, in time, may ask them to surrender far more, i.e., their worldly plans, time, health, possessions, loved ones. We cannot be totally surrendered to God if we are attached to anything else. By practicing detachment through the Rule, penitents should be more likely than others to say, "Lord, Your will, not mine, be done."


To be totally surrendered to God requires moral courage. Penitents will soon discover this if they share the Rule with others who think it is "archaic, medieval”. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Surrounded by all sorts of tantalizing choices and an array of easily accessible foods, clothing, and possessions, those who are not called to this way of life might think that living the Rule seems ridiculously unnecessary, even severe. We must be sure that, if God has called us to this, then it is His will that we embrace it. Living the Rule is part of our path to sanctity and to ultimate union with Our Lord.




1.  Do I believe that God has a specific plan for my life?


2.  How have I seen His hand at work in my life to this point?


3.  What does total surrender mean to me?




Look over Chapter V:  THE SACRAMENTS, OTHER MATTERS, section 15 of the Rule and Constitutions. What is the spiritual goal of this section?


A tithe is 10% of one's income usually taken from one's gross income. Why do you think tithing is part of this Rule?


Study sections 16, 17, and 18 of the Rule and the Constitutions. Choose one of these sections and discuss it relative to your life.




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 6: Discernment. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.





  • · Begin receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation monthly.


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Seven




A Life of Prayer


People center their lives around an infinite number of things. Family, work, recreation, sports, hobbies, travel, even pets. Penitents are called to center their lives on God. This means that, ultimately, the "work" of a penitent's life is prayer. St. Paul advised the early Christians to "Pray constantly" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This penitents must do.


How can penitents "pray constantly" when they are living in the world, raising families, holding down jobs, and being involved in a wide range of social issues and charitable works? Praying constantly is possible because every single moment of a penitent's life must be a prayer. The prayer may be one of actual words in praying the Divine Office or reading Scripture. It may be a prayer of silent presence before the Lord at Eucharistic Adoration, or in contemplative prayer. It may be a prayer of sleeping in the arms of God, trusting Him for the night and the morrow. Or it may be a prayer of daily activity in which all that we do is done in the name of Jesus and to and for those in whom we see, sometimes with great difficulty, Christ Himself.


Prayer is the "lifting of the heart and mind to God." A Benedictine aphorism is, "To work is to pray." To work is to pray when we lift our minds and hearts to God as we work, when we know Whom we serve and for Whom we work. As penitents, we must strive to see Christ, not only in the "distressing disguise of the poor," but also in the distressing disguise of the rebellious, the insolent, the rude, the bossy, and the domineering. We need to see Christ in our boss, our spouse, our kids, our neighbors, our clients, and in the driver who cuts us off on the interstate. We are to serve and, if duty requires, obey Christ in all these people. This is not easy! How can we do it?


Our prayer life should help us begin to see Christ in the people whom He has created. We should begin to separate the imperfections and sins from the potential glory of a soul centered on God. No matter how depraved a soul may be, while life exists, the potential exists as well for conversion and holiness. A life of prayer should help us see this potential in others.


During the First Year of Novice Formation as penitents, you will come to spend about ninety minutes daily in vocal and mental prayer, unless you are given other options by your spiritual director whom you will have by that time. Penitents have many choices regarding their prayer lives. Here are a few:

  • · Pray the complete Divine Office which is the official prayer of the Church, daily prayed by clergy and religious everywhere in the world.

  • · Pray the Psalms

  • · Pray another office such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin

  • · Pray a fifteen decade rosary, meditating on all the mysteries of Christ's life as they involved Him and His Mother

  • · Spend an hour in mental prayer, using Scripture or other spiritual reading as a point of departure for meditating on the attributes and actions of God.

  • · Spend an hour a day in contemplative prayer, just loving the Lord without words or thoughts in some quiet, restful, place.

  • · With a spiritual director, devise another workable option such as making brief, pious prayers throughout the day


As postulants, you are not obligated to spend ninety minutes per day in prayer. But you should pray daily. You have already embarked on the prayer life of a penitent by praying certain Psalms in the morning and the evening and by praying the Apostles' Creed. Prayer is critical because it is time spent with God. We must spend time with God if we are to know His plan for our lives. Therefore, for penitents whose goal is to be totally surrendered to God's will for them, prayer must have top priority.


It is through prayer, Scripture reading, and meditation that we come to know God, not just know about Him. Atheists can study about God and know about Him, but they do not know Him. Certainly when we know someone, we know something about that person. But we may not know everything or even many things. Think of your best friend. How much do you know about this person? How much don't you know? Even if there are many details that you don't know, e.g., childhood experiences, favorite colors, your friend's worst trauma, you still love your friend. Why? Because you and your friend have shared thoughts and feelings on the deepest level of your being. You and your friend can talk together, laugh and cry together, and encourage each other. Friendship is much more than knowing about someone. It is knowing the spirit of the friend. Every penitent must strive to know the Spirit of God.


To know God, not just know about Him, means that the penitent will love God because all His traits are lovable. Because we know and love God, we can trust Him, for who can really trust someone whom he does not know or love? We may trust the police officer, the store clerk, and the teacher because we have been taught to trust those who hold those offices. But if we met the police officer, store clerk, or teacher on the street, having never met them before, would we trust them the way we would trust our friends? Love and knowledge spawns trust.


To the degree that we know and love God, to that degree will we surrender to Him. If we do not yet totally trust and totally love God, we will not yet totally surrender to Him. We will still hold onto some parts of our lives and some parts of our wills. We will give God permission to work when we are fairly sure that the outcome will be favorable. But if we have our doubts, we will take matters back into our own hands. This is how we act when our trust and love are still imperfect.


We must always strive to know, love, and trust God in an ever deeper way. Then we will more deeply surrender our wills, our plans, our lives, our families, our ideas, our possessions to Him. To be totally united to God, we must be totally surrendered to Him. We are to say, "Lord, You may do whatever you want with me and with all that I have and desire. Everything I have and everything I am is Yours. Do with me as You will." This is total surrender. When we are totally surrendered to God, we will know beyond a doubt that His hand is active in all things and His Spirit present in all peoples, even the most distressing. Prayer is to lead to this.




1.  What place does prayer have in your life right now? What place should it have?


2.  Explain how you believe prayer can lead a person to total surrender to God.


3.  How is it possible to see God in others?




Look at Chapter IV: PRAYER, of the Rule and Constitutions. Find the paragraphs under section 12 that deal with the specific morning and evening psalms prayed by penitents and the Creed. Are you praying these daily? Do you notice any difference in your spiritual life because of your praying these daily?


The Rule and Constitutions ask that Night Prayer (Compline) be prayed each night. Begin a simple form of Night Prayer this month, if not from the Divine Office, at least perhaps a psalm.




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 7: Eagerness. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.





  • · Begin to make a nightly examination of conscience followed by an Act of Contrition.


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Eight




The Blessed Virgin as a Model



Every day every penitent offers a prayer of consecration to Our Lady. Every Chapter or Circle meeting is to begin the same way. The Marian Consecration prayer dedicates both the community, however great or small, and all its members to the Blessed Mother, using titles for Mary taken from Scripture, from sacred writings, and from the teachings of the saints. The prayer asks Mary to obtain for us the true spirit of the Gospel and to make us instruments of Christ to convert sinners, to sanctify souls, and to strengthen and renew our Church, all goals which Mary herself achieved.


When the angel approached Mary at the annunciation, he addressed her, "Hail, full of grace." Who of us is full of grace? Yet, as penitents, we should pray to be "full of grace." Grace is the undeserved gift of God that enables us to willingly and joyfully conform all our human will to all God's divine will. Mary needed God's grace to do this and so do we. But, unlike us, Mary was "full of grace" from conception, the only person (other than Christ Who was fully both human and divine) who never needed a conversion. Mary's sinless soul was always totally conformed to God's will.


This is why the angel could truthfully say, "the Lord is with you." She was with God and He with her. "Blessed are you among women," indeed among all humanity after Christ. In her humility, Mary did not see herself as being "full of grace" or "blessed" above others nor could she ever possibly imagine that the promised Messiah would come through her. Mary's holiness was hidden from herself.


The saints say that Mary, because of her total conformity to God's will, had already birthed Christ in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb. The saints also tell us that we are to be the mothers of Christ, meaning that we, too, will birth Him spiritually if we totally, joyfully, and trustingly give Him free rein in our lives. If we allow Christ to direct us, He will enable us to evangelize others by our actions, love, and/or words.


Saint Francis is reported to have said, "Preach always. If necessary, use words." God desires that all people know and love Him; if we follow Christ, He will give us opportunities to spread His message.


Mary did not refuse the angel's request nor complain about the hardships it might entail. Nor did she question how it was to come about beyond reminding the angel that she had taken a vow of virginity. When the angel assured her that the conception of the Lord would not harm that virginity, Mary replied, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." We must make these words ours. We must be the servants of the Lord, allowing Him to freely do with us as He wills. Thus we will grow in holiness; we will move toward union with God, the goal for which we were created.


How fully Mary lived her faith and trust in God! She bore the Lord in a stable, fled with Him to Egypt, and lived in poverty in an obscure town. If she, the holy Mother of Christ, was not spared hardship, should we who are less holy complain about our own sufferings? Scripture states that we must "make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." As penitents, we need to look to Mary to see how to trustingly embrace suffering, knowing that it is one of God's primary means to detach us from worldly attachments.


How empty Mary's life was without the Lord is shown when Jesus was lost in the temple. Upon finding Him, Mary asked Him, "Son, why have You done this to us?" How often have we asked that question when God does something we cannot understand, something that makes us lose sight of God? Then we, too, must search for Christ as Mary did, and we, too, will find Him in His Father's house, the Church. Do we look there for Him? In times of trial, do we turn to prayer, the sacraments, and our spiritual director?


How did Mary deal with problems? She noticed one at the wedding feast in Cana. The wine had run out. Mary did not tell Christ how to solve the problem. She only brought it to His attention. Then she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." As penitents, we must curb the impulse to tell God how to run His world or solve its problems. We must instead pray to Him about the difficulties and then we must "do whatever He tells us" about them. In prayer, through reading, and through counsel with our spiritual directors, we will come to know, if we are patient, how God is directing us. Everything in life can be used by God to make someone a saint, that is someone who lives eternally with God. This is God's goal.


Mary was so perfectly united to God's will that she could be, as much as humanly possible, one with her Son in His passion and death. We see her on the way to Calvary and at the foot of the Cross. We see her again in the upper room at Pentecost. Mary's faith in God and acceptance of His will never wavered. Through her fidelity she gave Christ to us; through His fidelity, He redeemed us. Mary shows us that, if we unite ourselves to God's will in the trials of our lives, we will pass through them to God's blessings and to renewed gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Some things in life we learn only by suffering. Some attachments we release only because of suffering. As penitents, we must embrace these sufferings as Mary embraced hers, not always understanding but always trusting the better judgment of God Who sends them our way.


Mary is the Queen of heaven and earth, the one through whom Christ became human. In this sense, she is said to be the Mediatrix of all Graces since God, from Whom all grace comes, was birthed through her. At the foot of the cross, Christ made His own Mother ours. Before her Son, Mary pleads for us, her "adopted" children. We must pray for the grace to become worthy children of so worthy a Mother and faithful images of our Brother the Lord.




1.  Can I view Mary as a model for penitents?


2.  Would I want God to give me the gifts He gave to Mary? Why or Why not?


3.  What aspects of Mary’s life relate to my own life?




Look at Chapter IV: PRAYER, of the Rule and Constitutions, section 12. Why do you think penitents are to consecrate themselves to Mary daily?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 8: Empathy. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.





Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.





  • · Pray the Marian Consecration prayer, or a prayer of consecration of your own choosing, to Our Lady daily.


  • · If possible, pray at least a five decade Rosary daily. Praying a fifteen decade Rosary is one prayer option that you can choose in First Year Formation. Praying the Rosary is a source of great graces.


  • · Look over the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as written in the Constitutions, Appendix D. Embrace one of these as a special apostolate of love for God and others.


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Nine





A Spirit of Mortification


Mortification is almost a forgotten word in today's culture. Mortification means giving up what is legitimate, pleasurable, and good for the sake of conversion and union with God. It is any conscious form of self denial done for spiritual ends.


Jesus spoke of mortification when He said, "Whoever wishes to be My follower must deny his very self" (Luke 9:23). This denial of self means denial of things we desire in order to grasp that which we should desire more deeply, namely union with God. St. Anthony used a metaphor to explain this idea. If a glass is full of water, it cannot be full of wine. Wine can be poured into a glass only when the water is poured out. To the extent that water is poured out of the glass, to that extent can wine be poured in. We are like glasses. When we are totally full of ourselves, God cannot fill us with Himself. To the extent that we empty ourselves of ourselves, to that extent can God fill us with Himself. Mortification is the act of emptying the glass.


Mortification is not mortification if done for anything other than spiritual good. To give up sweets in order to diet may be just as difficult as giving them up in order to foster detachment from them. But the ends differ. In the first case, the person wishes to lose physical weight. In the second, the person hopes to drop the baggage of attachment to things of the appetite.


Mortification involves the entire pleasure urge in one's body, mind, and soul. A person craves sweets in his mind, savors them with his tongue, and longs for them in his soul. To give them up for the sake of growing closer with God is to say, "Lord, I want You to take a higher place in my life than chocolate.”


Mortification is important, but it must be practiced with discretion. This is one reason why the Constitutions for the Confraternity of Penitents insist that every penitent have a spiritual director. A spiritual director will see that penitents who wish to practice mortification beyond that in the Rule do so wisely. A spiritual director will also be able to help penitents, who have health or other limitations, determine whether the mortification in the Rule should be practiced or modified.


The Rule for the Confraternity of Penitents is grounded on a three-legged stool of mortification. The first leg, worked on during the First Year of Formation, is mortification of time. By requiring the penitent to spend about ninety minutes of the day in prayer, the Rule is saying, "Prayer must have first place in your life. In order to make time for this much prayer, you may have to detach yourself from other legitimate pleasures." Perhaps you must relinquish your favorite news program or newspaper. Perhaps you must turn off the snooze alarm the first time or forgo that extra cup of coffee in order to have the time to pray. For many people, mortification of time is the most difficult and yet most beneficial part of the Rule. In this mortification, penitents model Jesus Who, despite how busy He was, constantly took time to pray.


The second mortification, worked on during the Second Year of Formation, is mortification of the appetite. The days of fast and abstinence in the Rule are intended to detach the penitent from gluttony and desire for foods. Jesus practiced this mortification as well. Recall how He fasted for forty days in the wilderness before beginning His mission and then observed the other days of fast and abstinence common to the Jews.


The mortification involving food has much in common with some aspects of modern culture. Vegetarians eat no meat ever. The penitent is limited to eating meat three days per week. Dieters watch their food intake carefully for weeks and months. Penitents fast daily except Sundays during Lent and Advent and fast throughout the year on Fridays and part of the year on Wednesdays. While vegetarians and dieters are fasting and abstaining for health or other reasons, penitents do so for the sake of spiritual growth. The mortification undertaken is certainly not difficult for penitents, who should be a bit hungry on fast days, but not famished.


In the Third Year of Formation, the penitent begins to practice mortification in the area of clothing. This mortification mirrors that of Christ Who relinquished His heavenly glory to be clothed in human flesh. Moreover, while on this earth, He wore only the plainest, meanest clothes. Penitents are not asked to wear poor clothing but only to limit their wardrobe in specific ways. Such mortification is intended to help the penitent detach from personal possessions and appearance.


A penitent can and should still look attractive, but the wardrobe he or she uses is limited in colors. Thus some penitents will have to give away to others their favorite clothes. Giving away one's favorite clothes can be a penance that will bring great fruit. It may help for a penitent to realize that, at death, all one's clothes will be given away anyway. Better to begin now and reap the spiritual fruit of detachment.


Moreover, the clothing colors permitted in the Rule and Constitutions are varied enough to hide from others what the penitent is doing. Thus, the penitent is spared the satisfaction of having others know how self sacrificing he has been in weeding out his wardrobe. The idea that "I will give up all the things I like and no one will even know" is perhaps the greatest mortification in that it directly attacks the vice of spiritual pride.


Spiritual pride is deadly to anyone, but particularly to a penitent. For this reason, all mortification is to be done without fanfare and without discussion with others outside the Confraternity of Penitents. No penitent should be praised for his or her mortification because no one but other penitents should know about them. Moreover, the penitent must bear in mind that the penance in the Rule is not excessively difficult or restrictive. Poor people in underdeveloped nations practice such mortification daily because they never have enough to eat or wear. Most penitents have many more things to eat and wear than do the marginalized poor. So penitents have nothing at all of which they can be spiritually proud. If mortification is done in a spirit of humility and surrender to God's will through the Rule, then the fruits of performing them will be great. Penitents will begin to find that they have attained a new degree of trust and peace in whatever befalls them.




1.  How do you feel about the mortification in the Rule?


2.  What can it do for you?


3.  Do you believe that God will give you the grace to embrace mortification when the time comes to practice it?




Look at Chapters II: ABSTINENCE, and III: FASTING, of the Rule and Constitutions as well as Appendix A to the Constitutions. Remember that postulants need not embrace the full fasting and abstinence provisions of this way of life until the second year of Novice formation. Postulants, however, should begin to abstain from eating meat on Fridays of the year. Note how the Rule and Constitutions define fasting and abstinence.


What precautions should penitents take when doing fasting and abstinence?


Look at section 7 of the Rule and Constitutions. What prayer is a penitent to pray before and after meals?


Why do you think sections 9 and 11 are in the Rule and Constitutions?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 9: Encouragement. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.





Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




  • · Begin to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year with the exception of Church Solemnities and special celebrations. Pray an Our Father, or another form of meal blessing, before and after every meal.


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Ten




Choosing a Spiritual Director


The Constitutions for the Confraternity of Penitents require that every brother and sister, beginning in the First Year Novitiate, have a spiritual director. All penitents are to have spiritual directors as long as they are living the Rule. Why?


The Rule and Constitutions for the Confraternity of Penitents are intended to foster in the penitent the discipline, faith, and detachment needed to foster total surrender to and union with God's will in prayer, works of mercy, and contemplation. Guidance from a competent director is crucial to this progression. A penitent can encounter many difficulties.


Is the penitent living the penitential life in its spirit or is he or she too lax or too scrupulous? Are the inner promptings and/or revelations that the penitent receives truly from God? Is the penitent being led by the Spirit of God or by his or her own personal desires? What is the best way for the penitent to deal with obstacles and sufferings? Does the penitent have a good balance between prayer, activity, and relaxation? If God begins to draw the penitent into the dark nights of the soul that precede contemplative prayer, what should be the penitent's response to the possible confusion, frustration, and questioning that these dark nights can bring? An experienced spiritual director can give guidance in all these matters.


A penitent must remember that, to grow in sanctity and to reach the highest levels of prayer, he or she is to confide everything to the spiritual director and must obey the director's guidance. Therefore, the penitent must choose a spiritual director with whom he or she feels comfortable, someone the penitent can trust. A spiritual director offers spiritual guidance. He (she) is not a marriage, family, or addiction counselor nor a psychologist. Nor should he (she) be at odds with the Church on any issue. The spiritual director may be a priest, deacon, or a male or female religious, but not generally a lay person. A priest is to be preferred because the penitent can then also go to confession with the spiritual director. However, many people have both a spiritual director and a confessor (someone from whom they regularly receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation). Spiritual direction is best done in person, but spiritual direction by mail, telephone, or private email is also allowed.


The best way to choose a spiritual director is to determine who might be a good first choice and then make an appointment with that person to discuss your prayer life and desire for conversion as a penitent. One logical candidate is the penitent’s regular confessor. At this first meeting, be honest. Tell the potential director about your yearning for holiness and your discovery of the Confraternity of Penitents. Share the Rule and Constitutions with the spiritual director. Ask the potential director if he or she might be able to help you progress on this way of penance (conversion) into union with God.


Ask yourself these questions about your spiritual director:

  • · Am I comfortable with this person?

  • · Can I understand how this person expresses himself or herself?

  • · Could I confide my innermost self in confidence to this individual?

  • · Is this person perceptive? Able to give me concrete guidance?

  • · Does this person understand contemplation and do they accept the idea that God intends contemplation for everyone, not just for a select few?

  • · Is he (she) in total communion with the Roman Catholic Church?

  • · Can he (she) guide me without making me slavishly dependent?

  • · Can this person understand and accept different spiritual temperaments and prayer styles?

  • · Does he (she) use the Gospel as the primary mode of guidance? Does he (she) seem accepting of the CFP way of life?


All these questions must be answered with a "yes” before the individual can qualify as a logical spiritual director. If they are, ask the person if he (she) might consent to be your spiritual director. If the answer is affirmative, give the person a copy of the Rule and Constitutions. Request a second appointment.


At the second appointment, discuss the Rule and Constitutions, and ask for spiritual direction. You should be able to confirm that this person is right for you by what they say. Ask how frequently you should meet. Formulate what you would be discussing in your sessions. Bring the matter to prayer as well.


If you would be seeking a spiritual director by mail, phone, or email, it is best to have a phone conversation for these first two meetings. That way you and the possible director can get to know each other and have a sense of who each of you are.


Be prepared to change. A good spiritual director will see the darkness and the light that you may have hidden in yourself. He (she) will not be content to let you be as you are. The spiritual director's job is to help you become who God intends you to fully be. This means change for you, good change, but change nevertheless. You can only surrender to God's will for you if you are willing to face yourself as you are. This a spiritual director will help you do.


Certainly if you have difficulty with what your spiritual director tells you to do, discuss it. Understand the reasons why your director is guiding you in a certain way. Pray to accept these reasons. A good spiritual director will never tell you to do anything unethical or immoral, but he (she) may have you change certain ways you do things, cut back on certain activities, alter your prayer life, and so on. This you must do if you wish to grow spiritually.


If you are having a great deal of difficulty because it seems that your spiritual director does not understand you, speak to another trustworthy priest or religious for help in discernment. Often the problem lies, not with the director, but with the penitent who does not wish to face the truth. We are often not good judges of ourselves. We need to trust the director's judgment. If you cannot do this, either you need to change yourself or else you need a director whom you can trust.




1. Am I eager for spiritual direction?


2. What aspects of my life, especially my prayer life, would I like to discuss with a spiritual director?


3. Can I confide my innermost thoughts to another person?


4. Am I willing to make the changes in my life that I will need in order to grow in sanctity?




Look at the ADDENDUM to the Constitutions of the Confraternity.


Why is a spiritual director necessary to a penitent? What will a good relationship with a spiritual director be like?


Look at Chapter VII: VISITING THE SICK/BURYING THE DEAD, of the Rule and Constitutions, especially sections 25 to 34.


Why do you think each of these is important to the penitential life?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 10: Eucharistic Reverence. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.




Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




  • · Continue your prayer life as you have been doing.


  • · Continue to abstain on Fridays.


  • · Continue to wear the crucifix or cross.


  • · Continue to go to Confession monthly.


  • · Make a list of people who could be possible spiritual directors for you. Go over the list, numbering your choices from one to five with the person you think you'd feel most comfortable with as number one. Feel free to review your list with your Chapter or Circle Minster, Regional Minister, or with any other leader in the Confraternity. They may be able to help guide you. Contact the first person on your list, and see if he or she is comfortable offering you spiritual direction. If not, proceed to your second choice and so on down the list. Remember, you do not need a spiritual director until the first year of the Novitiate.


  • · Submit  your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Eleven



 A Life of Penance


Penance is defined as conversion, as doing's things God's way instead of our own. When God's way conflicts with ours, we chose His plans. He will let us know His plans when we embark on a penitential life.


Our life is like a garden. A garden is a place where flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables are cultivated and grow. To be fruitful, a garden requires work.


First the soil must be tilled, turned over, and the rocks picked out. Clumps of grass must be removed, clods of dirt broken apart. Isn't this how conversion begins? God enters our consciousness and we feel dug into, sifted, pulled apart. What our lives had been, they are no longer. We are like an upturned field, once with its own wild but unkempt beauty but now, to our untrained eye, barren and ugly. What satisfied before now satisfies no longer. But nothing has yet taken its place.


Then God begins to increase the fertility of the garden of our soul. Into us He pours the right amount of grace, making our souls fertile enough to grow the flowers, fruits, and vegetables He intends to plant. At this stage of conversion, we do not see growth nor do we understand grace. We only know that, despite our losing what had thrilled us before, we feel an odd but real peace. We know something is coming. We do not know what.


Into this prepared ground, God plants the seed of what He calls us to do, to be. It is this purpose that He has envisioned for us from all eternity. It was for the growth of this seed that He created us. Now we are ready. We feel something moving within us, something swelling. It is strangely exhilarating, but we don't know what it is.


The seed grows; the plant begins to take form. We begin to sense what it is that God has called us to do. It is wondrously satisfying even though a bit frightening in its power, beauty, and usefulness. We begin to understand, we begin to embrace, this plan. We begin to feel a deep wonder and gratitude to God.


At this stage, as the young growth moves toward maturity, we find the old life, the old ways creeping up on us, crowding us, threatening to suffocate the seed. We may not recognize these desires, options, or busyness as weeds, but weeds they are. At first, we think that we can ignore them because they are small and the beautiful goal that God is growing in us seems so much larger and stronger than the peppering of weeds about us. But the weeds grow quickly, more quickly and wildly than the new growth. They begin to choke the growth. Precisely at this stage conversion often dies, and the garden of the soul becomes once again overgrown with vices and activity that squeeze out thoughts of God.


Here, at this stage, we must work the hardest. We must recognize the weeds of the past for what they are, and we must be ruthless with them. We must uproot, not simply break off, the weeds. We must shake the dirt from their roots and toss these habits onto the fire of God's consuming power. Some weeds will be easy to eliminate. Others will require more effort. A few will be so deeply rooted that we must go after them with shovel or plow. The implements to uproot the weeds are the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession and the virtue of Persistent Prayer. With God's grace, we will overcome and eliminate the forces that threaten the new life within. We will clear the garden of our soul so that God's new growth will push upward toward the Son.


When the weeds are out, the garden again looks barren except for the new growth. But we have learned something. We cannot take for granted that weeds will not again come. We begin now to mulch the plants, piling grass, leaves, and straw about their roots to keep in moisture, add nutrients, and prevent the seeds of any weeds from sprouting again. The mulch is like the friends with whom we associate, new friends who will foster the new growth within us. Their words are like fertilizer to our souls; their friendship keeps us supple with the warm, sweet dew of God. For us, these friends are our brothers and sisters in the Confraternity. They are the mulch that bolsters our spiritual growth.


We now seem to be growing stronger, grander. But then the unexpected happens. Something is plucked from our lives. Then something else. What is happening? God is pruning our lives to make us bear more and better fruit. Too many little shoots on the plant cause a poor yield of small fruits. Better to have a few strong shoots that produce large, abundant crops. We must trust God with the pruning and even help Him with it. He knows what will foster our life with Him and what, although good, must go.


If we are patient, we will eventually see a yield. With some plants, the yield comes quicker than with others. The fruits of all plants are not the same. If God is growing pumpkins in us, we must not yearn to yield tomatoes. We must cooperate with the Master Gardener so that our pumpkins are the best and biggest possible for us. Now we may realize that the fruit we thought God was growing is a bit different from what we actually intended. We need to look at God and answer, "Yes, Lord. This is not what I thought, not even what I wanted. But it is certainly what I needed and exactly what You wished."


We will begin to see now why the fruit God is growing in us is what it is. We will begin to meet those who benefit from this growth. And we will sometimes be humbled into silence by what God is working through us. Truly His plan is perfect, and we have nothing to do with it. We have merely cooperated with His plan and allowed the seed He planted within us to grow. It is not to our credit that it grew well but rather to His planting, tending, and encouraging. Anything good that happens because of us is His doing not ours.


As the fruit or vegetables or flowers that God is growing within us mature, they form seeds that God will plant in others. As we age, we will slow down, shrivel, die. But the seeds fostered in others from our growth will live and God's Will shall continue. The life of conversion does not end with death, for a converted life is an inspiration to those still living. And in God's eternal garden there is a precious place for all those who have been fertile ground for His planting.




1. Review the stages of conversion. How am I cooperating with God?


2. What progress do I see in relation to the past?


3. What is meant by the term "ongoing conversion?"






What power does this Chapter give to the Visitor (spiritual assistant) of the Confraternity? Why does the Visitor have these powers?


What does section 39 of the Rule and Constitutions say to you? Why do you think the language here is so strong?




In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 11: Evangelization. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.





Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




  • · Make appointments with your chosen spiritual director. See how you feel about the first meeting Consult your Chapter or Circle Minister, your Regional Minister, or any other leader in the Confraternity if you have any questions or need assistance.


  • · Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

Postulant Lesson Twelve



On the Threshold of Change


Having completed the months of postulancy in the Confraternity of Penitents, you are on the threshold of change. Hopefully God's grace has been active and you are a different person now than you were when you first heard of the Confraternity. You can rest assured that, if you persist in your vocation, one year from now you will be someone far closer to God than you are today.


You are about to embark on a changed existence. To live a Rule of Life is not like changing jobs or changing homes where externals change but the person involved in the change remains essentially the same. No, your external environment is not likely to change this year. What is going to change is your internal, spiritual environment.


During the upcoming year, you will be making a commitment to spend at least ninety minutes daily in prayer (unless you receive special instructions otherwise from your spiritual director). Spending this much time in prayer may require a major adjustment on your part. But if you have come this far, and if you feel that God is leading you on, then be assured that God will reveal to you how you can make time for Him.


In this lesson, we will examine three things.

1. Am I prepared and willing to enter this period of spiritual intensity and growth with the changes it will necessarily entail?

2. Do I have the books that I will need?

3. Can I evaluate my life as it now stands and find the time in my day that I will need?




In order to enter first year formation, you must have completed the Novice 1 Application requesting entrance. The application is reproduced in this Handbook. The application will ultimately be submitted to the Confraternity of Penitents main office. If you have not yet completed the application, make a resolution to do so as soon as possible.


The application contains the following points:

  • · Why you wish to enter first year of formation as a novice

  • · Your willingness to obey all the teachings of the Catholic Church and your loyalty to the Pope and bishops, i.e. the Magisterium of the Church

  • · A brief autobiography and personal history

  • · Your next of kin




In first year formation, you will need a Bible and Rosary. You will also need The Catechism of the Catholic Church, either hardback or paperback, available from most bookstores and from the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop. Do not get an abridged version. The Catechism is also on the Internet.


An optional text is Difficulties in Mental Prayer by Fr. M. Eugene Boylan which is available from the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop. This is an excellent guide to developing a deeper prayer life. If this book is unavailable, the substitute is Conversation with Christ: The Teaching of St. Teresa of Avila about Personal Prayer by Fr. Peter Thomas Rohrbach, also available from the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop.


All penitents should have a breviary, either the one or four volume variety, also called Christian Prayer. Be sure that yours contains the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) in a Church approved version. Do not get any of the shorter versions which are often used when people travel. Religious communities may have used breviaries that they can give you. For a copy of The Divine Office for Dodos, which is a breviary instruction manual on how to pray the Divine Office, contact the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop.


If you cannot afford a breviary, you may substitute Psalms or Our Fathers and Glory Be's for the Divine Office, as the Rule and Constitutions state. The Divine Office is also on the Internet.


If you have difficulty paying for texts, please confide in your Chapter or Circle Minister or Regional Minister. They will see that everyone called to this way of life has the materials needed to embrace it. Donations from wealthier members or a fund raiser (bake sale, yard sale, etc.) could raise the funds needed. If a member cannot read, another Confraternity member should read the texts aloud to him or her at some mutually convenient time and place.




You will need to have ninety minutes per day to pray (unless your spiritual director approves of another option). No matter how busy your life may be, now is the time to evaluate it. Here are some things you can consider that may help:


Can you get awake a half hour earlier?


Can you go to bed a half hour later?


Do you watch television or read newspapers? Can you cut back on the time spent on these?


If you are caring for a house, where can you cut back to save time? Can you do larger loads of laundry? Cook simpler meals? Make fewer foods "from scratch?" Rearrange the house to make for less cleaning? Organize materials to keep them neater? Have a yard sale so there is less to care for? Make other adjustments?


If you are employed outside the home, can you pray on your way to or from work? Use part of your lunch break to pray?


Is there a church or quiet spot near your place of employment where you might spend some time in prayer?


How much time do you spend on hobbies? Recreation? Can you spend some of this time in prayer?


What clubs, organizations, committees, and so on do you belong to? How much do these mean to you? Should you continue to belong to all of them? Should you curtail your responsibilities in some of them?


Go through your typical week hour by hour. Where can you make adjustments to find time to pray?




 In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtue 12: Example. Spend at least five minutes meditating on the virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your formator.





Daily read Christ in the Gospel and answer for yourself the questions on the day’s reading, found in the back of the book.


Select one reading or section of the Gospel that particularly resonated with you. Share that passage and your thoughts with your formator.




This last month before entry into First Year Formation should be an intensified time of prayer and reflection. Make a day of recollection some time during this month to really solidify your commitment to embrace the way of life for the Confraternity of Penitents. If your Chapter or Circle can attend this day as a community, all the better. If not, do it on your own. Your spiritual director or local retreat center will certainly help you.


Every day pray this prayer or one like it. "Lord, not my will but Yours be done. I surrender my life to You. Accept me, Lord, as I am and make me, Lord, into who you want me to be. Amen."




  • · Review the entire Rule and Constitutions.


  • · Look closely at Chapter IV: PRAYER. This is the part that you will focus on in First Year Novice Formation.


  • · Do you have a breviary? If not, how will you obtain one?


  • ·       What prayer option do you think you will choose? Why?


  • ·       What adjustments might you have to make to fit in the prayer time? Are you prepared to make these?


  • ·       Do you think you will be able to attend daily Mass?


  • ·      What are your thoughts about entering the Novitiate? Are you ready?


  • ·    Submit your answers to this month's questions to your CFP formator.

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