Three Lessons Prior to Pledging
"We have to serve God in His way, not in ours." -- St. Teresa of Avila
"You cannot choose God and mammon." (Luke 16:13)
Pledging to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions will be one of the most important and life changing things you will ever do. It is vital that you understand what you are undertaking.
To help you in this regard, you will be assigned a mentor or you may request the mentor. The mentor will be someone already pledged for life in the Confraternity of Penitents other than your formator. This experienced penitent will be available to you for support, prayer, and guidance during this time of preparation for pledging.
The following three lessons are intended to help you review the pledging commitment and to understand what you are undertaking. The lessons may be done in any order and in any time frame. They must, however, be completed successfully before pledging and your answers shared with your mentor.
Those who pledge to live the Rule of Life for a year must complete these lessons yearly with new answers submitted to their mentor. The last time the lessons must be completed is the year in which a penitent pledges to live the Rule for Life.
The lessons are meant to be not only read and answered but also prayed over and through. The call to live a life of penance comes from the Holy Spirit, and He is the One Whose guidance you must seek.
Ask God to reveal His Will to you regarding your pledging to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions. Then "do whatever He tells you." The CFP promises prayers for you as you prepare for pledging. Your mentor especially, who will work with you through these lessons, will hold you in prayer as will your formator who has reviewed your lessons up until this point.
Take time to do the lessons thoroughly and well. Not only your own spiritual life but also the lives of your fellow penitents in the CFP depends on your upcoming decision regarding pledging. May the Lord bless you as you move forward in love of Him, through a life of penance.
PREPARATION FOR PLEDGING--LESSON 1
The Seriousness of the Pledge
"A good vocation is simply a firm and constant will in which the person who is called must serve God in the way and in the places to which almighty God has called him." -- St. Francis de Sales
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
Congratulations! You have completed all four years of formation in the Confraternity of Penitents and are now on the threshold of pledging to live the Rule.
Pledging is not automatic, however. Some penitents may complete formation and then discern that they ought not pledge, or at least not pledge right now. It is vitally important that you clearly and deeply consider what you are planning to do.
Whether you pledge to live the Rule and Constitutions for a year or for life, you are making a very serious promise to God that you will do what you are pledging. You are also making a very serious commitment to the Confraternity of Penitents.
Here are the words that you will be writing out and then saying and signing before a Roman Catholic priest or deacon who will also sign as having witnessed your pledge:
I (NAME) promise that I will strive to live, to the best of my means and ability, (for all of my life) (FOR ONE YEAR), according to the Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity of Penitents in fulfillment of the Gospel and for the Love of God. As part of my commitment I promise to live the Gospel more fully and to pursue more fervently the virtues of poverty, chastity, and humility, which the Saints all loved and promoted. On this journey, I ask the support and prayers of my brothers and sisters in the Confraternity and God's blessing.
The priest or deacon will receive your pledge in these words:
With my blessing, I accept your promise, (NAME), to Christ, and encourage you to strive to live it joyfully for the Love of God and the good of the Church. This promise of yours is binding, though never under pain of sin, because it carries with it the binding promise of eternal life to you on the part of the Lord, if you do as you say, and is a true gesture of love for the Lord and His Gospel, as given to us by the Saints.
May you, by the grace of God, persevere in your promise until the day of your death so as to join the Lord and His Saints in heaven.
I accept and acknowledge you as a (brother or sister) in the Confraternity of Penitents with joy, and ask God's blessing on us and on your commitment.
You will note that your pledge is not binding under pain of sin. But it is binding. Remaining faithful to the Constitutions and this way of life, as one has promised, is a way in which God continues to grow the life of grace and charity in a person, leading them to eternal life.
WHY SHOULD A PERSON PLEDGE?
The pledge to live the Rule and Constitutions of the Confraternity of Penitents must be made because the penitent has a true love of God and His Gospel. Saying how much you love God is not enough. Actions speak much louder than words.
Those who truly love God and His Gospel are willing to follow the dictates of God, given by Christ through His Church, whatever they say, wherever they lead. Of course, those dictates extend to you, as a penitent in the Confraternity of Penitents.
In addition to following those dictates, your pledge includes your faithful adherence to all of the CFP Rule and Constitutions as well as our Directory. As a Catholic, you cannot pick and choose or water down what you will follow in the Gospel and in the teachings of the Church. Moreover, as a pledged penitent, you cannot pick and choose or water down what you will follow in the Rule, Constitutions, and Directory of the Confraternity of Penitents—they are to be followed as written.
Any exceptions regarding the CFP life must be confirmed for you by your spiritual director who has the authority to adjust the penitential life in certain particulars for penitents who, because of physical needs or other inescapable conditions, are unable to live the Rule and Constitutions as written.
The pledge is also to be kept for as long as you have stated--for one year (for a year pledge) or until you die (for a life pledge).
The Confraternity is not a club, association, or prayer group where folks can come in, stay as long as things work out for them, and then drop out when they get busy or their interest wanes. You are to remain in the Confraternity for as long as you pledge to do so. For some people, this might mean living the Rule for fifty or sixty or even more years.
SERIOUSNESS OF THE PLEDGE
The Confraternity of Penitents has a Rule of Life which very clearly states the seriousness of the pledge. Here is what the Rule and Constitutions say about departing from the CFP once a pledge has been made:
31. No one is to depart from this brotherhood and from what is contained herein, except to enter a religious Order.
31a. A penitent who has pledged to live this Rule must have the consent of his or her spiritual director in order to be released from the pledge. The penitent must also petition, in writing, the spiritual assistant, minister, and Visitor for release and shall give the reasons for the request. The minister and spiritual assistant should thoroughly explain the seriousness of asking for release from this promise to God. They may also question the penitent to see if the Confraternity has failed the penitent in some way.
31b. Those who wish to depart from this Confraternity to enter a religious Order should receive not only permission but also the blessing of the entire Confraternity. It is the norm of the Church that individuals should always move towards a greater commitment to Christ and His Church when they leave any lifestyle for another.
In the Original Rule, once their formation in a life of penance was completed, penitents were in the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (as the group was then called) for life. They could not leave except to join a religious Order, which would certainly be a valid reason to ask to be dispensed from a pledge.
A penitent who wishes to leave the Confraternity after pledging cannot simply depart. His or her spiritual director must, first of all, consent to the relinquishing of the pledge.
Then the penitent must petition the spiritual assistant of any local group, the minister of that group, and the Visitor of the CFP for release and must state the reasons. The penitent can expect a "lecture" on the seriousness of asking for release and may also be asked to reveal if the CFP caused the penitent to make this request.
Therefore, the penitent should not undertake the pledge lightly, with the intention of rescinding the pledge or dropping out of the Confraternity if one’s ardor cools or if living the Rule becomes more difficult or inconvenient due to changes in one’s health, family, employment, or other circumstances.
You are promising God that you will live the Rule and Constitutions and all promises, especially those to our Lord, should be given much thought and then made with firm purpose and love.
COMMITMENT TO A FAMILY IN THE CHURCH
Is your pledge really THAT serious or is this all exaggeration? It really is THAT serious. Why?
Because you are making a promise to God that you will do what you say, for as long as you say, and within the family of the Confraternity of Penitents.
Just as spouses marry into families and create their own family by having children, you are coming into a family in the Church and will have contact with and influence on others in your spiritual family. As in any family, you may not like all the members, and you may not see eye to eye with everyone, but you still have a commitment to them and are bound to treat them with love and respect. This is always true, even if you disagree with them, reprimand them, or disapprove of some of the things they do.
You see, it is impossible to live the Rule for the Confraternity of Penitents on your own. Why?
Because community is built so firmly into the Rule.
The Rule and Constitutions speak about meeting with sisters and brothers, being at their funerals, praying for them, exhorting them to penance, supporting them with alms, and serving them in office.
Although a person may say that they are going to "live the Rule on their own," they simply cannot do it outside of a community of brothers and sisters who are living it also.
Trying to live the Rule on one's own is like trying to make soup without liquid. We talk about beef soup, vegetable soup, chicken soup, and so on. Those are the main ingredients in the soup, just as Our Lord and His Will are the main ingredients in the Confraternity of Penitents. Nevertheless, ingredients without liquid make a casserole, not a soup, and penitential acts without community make good Lenten discipline, not a Confraternity.
DISCERNING YOUR CALL
At this stage of your spiritual journey, when you have completed formation in the Confraternity of Penitents, go back over the Rule and Constitutions with an open mind and with an open hand. Read each section carefully and honestly ask yourself. "Am I willing to follow this for as long as I promise to do so (for life or for a year)?"
Then take a good bit of time to review the CFP Directory which details the government, legalities, formation details, and so on for the Confraternity. Can you accept and live by these regulations?
Truthfully share the results of this activity with your mentor and spiritual director.
Do not fret about remembering every detail and sometimes forgetting some. You will have to go back often to review details in the Rule, Constitutions, and Directory. Forgetting is not the same as remembering and refusing to do what is required. You can certainly live the Rule and abide by the procedures and ordinances, even if you forget parts from time to time. But you cannot live those parts you refuse to live.
Do not fret about any modifications your spiritual director may have made. These are fine. They are your way to live the Rule. Review them yearly with your spiritual director to see if they still apply and be at peace.
Do not fret because you feel that you are not living this life as well as you could or as well as another penitent. Are you willing to try to do better? That is all that counts. You can pledge to live the Rule and keep striving to improve on the living of it.
Even St. Francis of Assisi, when he was dying, confessed to the brothers that he did not live his own Rule perfectly. He knew that the ideal of any Rule may well be beyond most human beings. The important thing is not perfection but the genuine, honest seeking of it.
Ask yourself why you want to embrace this life. Is it to give God glory, to surrender to Him, to do reparation for your sins and those of others, to grow more disciplined in the spiritual life, to bind yourself more closely to God, to become more Christ like? Any of those are excellent reasons to pledge.
If, however, you are primarily looking for a group of like minded people, then seriously consider whether joining a club or an association might be a better choice. While like minded people are vital to the CFP, you are pledging to live a Rule of Life, not to fellowship with others.
If communications disappeared and you were stranded in a city of people who thought penance was a joke, you would still be bound to live the Rule even if you could not find any community to support you in it.
If you are aiming at leadership and power, please look elsewhere as the CFP is meant to foster in you a spirit of humility and servanthood. CFP leaders are to adhere to the original vision of the Confraternity, to share leadership, and to listen. They are to disavow any craving for power.
If you feel that you have come this far and what would be the point if you didn't pledge, take time to consider whether the four years you have spent in formation is worth being uneasily involved with a group to which you pledged because you thought you had to, to avoid embarrassment or an awkward situation.
If you feel you need to pledge now, right away, before you change your mind, give yourself enough time to become firm in your desire to pledge. Take as long as you need to be sure. Being sure does not mean you won't feel some doubts.
Before this sounds contradictory, consider that living the CFP Rule, for those called to do so, is truly a path to a greater holiness and a fuller surrender to God.
Certainly the evil one is not going to want you to experience those graces. He is going to present all manner of doubts to your mind to dissuade you from going forward. How do you deal with these?
Prayer to the Holy Spirit will enable you to sift through the fog, to understand if the doubts are from God, from yourself, or from the evil one. If God wants you to hold off pledging, by all means follow His promptings. But if the doubts are from satan or from your own sense of inadequacy, yet you feel that God really wants you to pledge, then take a leap of faith and trust the Lord. He will not ask you to do something for which He will not give you the graces.
The very fact that you are questioning your pledge means that you are taking it as seriously as it deserves. Questioning is a good sign. But jumping into something to avoid the questioning is very dangerous. Work through your doubts and questions before making any decision.
If you feel proud that you can live all the tenets of the Rule while others are self indulgent and spiritually lazy, please refrain from pledging until you understand that those who live this Rule have no reason for any pride as it is a Rule for babies in the spiritual life.
No one needs more rules than little children who would certainly be in many unsafe situations if adults didn't have rules for them. The CFP Rule and Constitutions have many prescriptions precisely because penitents need them. Others who are more mature in the faith do not.
The Confraternity of Penitents involves a Rule of Life and a group of people, all trying to get closer to God.
Are you willing to live that Rule of Life as it is written and to the very best of your ability?
Are you willing to be a brother and sister to all fellow penitents, now and in the future, whether or not you always like every one of them?
Are you able to make a promise to God and to keep it, no matter what comes?
At this time in your spiritual journey, these questions are critical. Pray about them.
Talk over any concerns with your spiritual director and your CFP mentor. Take the time to discern well.
And then "Do whatever He tells you." May the Lord bless you no matter what you decide.
1. Why do I want to pledge to live the Rule and Constitutions of the CFP? Do my reasons seem to be valid reasons for this desire?
2. Do I understand that pledging is like a marriage between God, the CFP, and me? How do I feel about that?
3. Think of the very worst situation you can, involving you and your family. Are you willing to keep your pledge while dealing with that situation and suffering the consequences of it?
4. Can you honestly say that you will try to treat everyone with love and respect, even those you dislike, and most especially those you dislike who happen to be in leadership?
Share your answers to these questions with your mentor and spiritual director.
LESSON ON THE FRANCISCAN VIRTUES
In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtues 49 and 50: Vulnerability and Wisdom. Spend at least five minutes meditating on each virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your mentor.
 These may be slightly adapted or added to with the permission of your Spiritual Director. The Minister General and CFP Visitor must approve the wording of any pledge that differs from the one shown.
PREPARATION FOR PLEDGING -- LESSON 2
Becoming a CFP Leader
"Those who are put in charge of others should be no prouder of their office than if they had been appointed to wash the feet of their comrades. They should be no more upset at the loss of their authority than they would be if they were deprived of the task of washing feet. The more they are upset, the greater the risk they incur to their souls." -- St. Francis of Assisi
"I am among you as one who serves." (Luke 22:27)
LEADERSHIP IN THE CONFRATERNITY OF PENITENTS
Congratulations on completing the four years of formation in the Confraternity of Penitents Rule of Life! You may have weathered many spiritual storms to get to this point, but God's grace has seen you through. Now you are on the threshold of pledging to live the Rule and Constitutions for life or for a year.
By now, you may have exercised some leadership in the Confraternity. Perhaps you have been a formator or a Chapter or Circle officer. You may have helped at our annual CFP Retreat/Reunion/Conference or you may have given talks or presentations to others. Maybe you even began a CFP Circle or Chapter.
All of these, and any others ways you have exercised leadership, have been wonderful means of helping others on their spiritual journey.
Or maybe you have not exercised any leadership in the Confraternity to this point. That is fine, too.
You need to be aware, however, that, upon pledging, you automatically become a leader in the CFP. How can that be if you are not elected or appointed to office?
Leadership in the Confraternity exists on two levels. The more obvious one is holding office. We'll discuss that later. The less obvious mode of leadership is in setting a good example to the other members of the CFP.
THE LEADERSHIP OF GOOD EXAMPLE
CFP members in formation rightly hold in high regard those who have completed formation and who have pledged to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions.
Those pledged members have weathered the trials of four years of formation. They have persisted, despite setbacks, to freely answer God's call to live a life of penance for His glory, for the service of others, and for their own sanctity.
Pledged members are the ones whose maturity and wisdom are sought by those beginning or journeying along the way. This does not necessarily mean that pledged members have attained the heights of holiness or acquired tremendous spiritual insights.
However, pledged members do generally know more about the Rule, the CFP, and a life of penance than those just starting out. Your expertise, even if it's not very expert, will be sought by others. Are you prepared for this?
How vital it is that every pledged member set a good example to others in the Confraternity! So far, you have been incorporating into your life the tenets of the Rule in the first five Chapters. These mainly deal with how you live the Rule privately in your own home, in the areas of prayer, fasting, abstinence, and simplicity of life.
Chapters 6, 7, and 8, however, deal with how to live the Rule in a community of fellow penitents. Let's look at those chapters more closely.
What is expected of you as a pledged penitent? The Rule and Constitutions make it clear that you are to set a good example in many areas. Go through Chapters 6, 7, and 8. Please answer these questions, jotting down as well which sections of the Rule and Constitutions provide the answers. Share your answers with your mentor:
What do the Rule and Constitutions say about:
1. Attending CFP gatherings?
2. Supporting the CFP monetarily?
3. Growing in the spiritual life?
4. Caring for the sick?
5. Caring for the dead?
6. Dealing with your own death?
7. Making peace with all?
8. Causing scandal?
9. Discovering scandal?
10. Obtaining spousal consent?
11. Readmitting someone accused of scandal?
Are you willing to try to provide good example in all of these areas?
What will be easiest?
What will be most difficult?
How can you observe the most difficult parts?
By trying to live the sections of the Rule and Constitutions that deal with the above topics, you will be providing a good example to fellow penitents. Upon pledging, you will become an automatic role model. If you live the Rule and Constitutions as they are written, you will be a good role model to all because you will be a good servant of Christ!
CFP OFFICERS AND OTHER LEADERS
The CFP Rule also has prescriptions regarding officers. These officers primarily refer to those in local Chapters and Circles.
Study Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the Rule and Constitutions.
List the officers mentioned therein and also list their duties.
How long is their term of office?
How are officers elected?
Share your answers to these questions with your mentor.
The CFP utilizes a Directory which details how the CFP, as an international group, is to be governed. The Directory adds governing details to those in the Rule and Constitutions. These additional details are due to the global nature of the Confraternity, the requirements for maintaining its non profit, tax exempt status, the necessity to stay in touch with members world wide, and the methods of managing its various apostolates, ministries, web pages, and gift shop.
Those elected or appointed to CFP leadership are required to read the Directory and to refer to it as needed. The Rule, Constitutions, and Directory are the governing manuals for the Confraternity.
The governing structure of the entire Confraternity of Penitents consists of certain officers and other leaders.
The CFP Officers consist of the Minister General (president) who has the authority, with the advice of the other CFP Officers, to make virtually all decisions in the CFP; the Ministerial Assistant (vice president) who assists the Minister General, the Messenger (secretary) who records minutes at meetings of the Officers, and the Treasurer who is responsible for managing the CFP funds.
The Minister General must be a life pledged member. The other CFP Officers must be pledged members elected by pledged members. (Note: This assumes that there are sufficient qualified pledged members to hold office. If not, non-pledged members may be elected.)
Other leaders include all Regional Ministers and other regional officers as well as Advisors to the Minister General.
The CFP Visitor and diocesan officials all have roles to play regarding CFP affairs. These roles are delineated in the CFP Rule, Constitutions, and Directory.
CFP leaders keep in touch by electronic means, phone, and at least one yearly in person meeting. As a pledged member, you will be eligible to be elected or appointed to CFP leadership. Do you have the time to be of service to your fellow penitents?
Leadership terms for all leaders, other than the Minister General and formators, are one year in length.
If an emergency arises and a leader cannot complete a term, the Minister General will appoint another penitent to fill the slot.
However, the position of leadership in the CFP is one of great responsibility and is not to be shrugged off lightly. It is better not to accept a leadership position than to accept with the idea of resigning if your life gets too complicated to continue.
Leaders in the CFP are making a commitment to their fellow penitents.
Just as parents, when going through a tough time, can't simply walk out on a family, so CFP leaders ought not just walk out on their CFP family. Obligations to others come with parenting and with leadership. When at all possible, any leader who feels compelled to resign must give a minimum of three weeks notice before the resignation takes place. This allows ample time to obtain and train a replacement.
The Holy Spirit may well call you into leadership in the Confraternity of Penitents. Ask Him to help you discern your answers to the following questions, and then discuss the questions and your responses with your mentor and spiritual director.
1. Do I see myself as a leader? Why or why not?
2. What are my strong points regarding leadership?
3. What are my weak points?
4. How do I respond to criticism?
5 How do I work with others?
6. Can I accept the authority of others above me in leadership, provided that their leadership is morally right? Why or why not?
7. Would I be willing to serve if elected or appointed? Why or why not?
8. Is my life such that I can serve the CFP in a leadership position? Why or why not?
9. What positions do I feel I am capable of doing well and why?
10. What positions do I feel I am incapable of holding and why?
11. Am I willing to accept and abide by everything in the CFP Rule, Constitutions, and Directory?
12. Do I accept the governing structure of the Confraternity of Penitents and the roles, duties, responsibilities, and authority of each person in it?
Review again Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the CFP Rule and Constitutions. Can you see that the CFP is a family in the Church and that, as a pledged member, you are being called to serve that family in prayer and action? Are you willing to say yes to this commitment, in humility and love?
LESSON ON THE FRANCISCAN VIRTUES
In Franciscan Virtues, read Virtues 51 and 52: Witness and Work. Spend at least five minutes meditating on each virtue. Answer the questions. Share your answers with your mentor.
PREPARATION FOR PLEDGING--LESSON 3
Living the Rule, No Matter What Comes
"Well and good if all things change, Lord God, provided we are rooted in You." -- St. John of the Cross
"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me." (John 12:24-26)
Congratulations on getting this far in your formation with the Confraternity of Penitents! Very few who begin make it to this point. The grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you here, to the brink of entering upon a very important promise to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the advice of your spiritual director and mentor, you will answer the following questions:
Will you promise to live the Rule and Constitutions for a year?
Will you promise to live them for life?
Will you privately vow to live them for life?
What will your pledge or vow mean for you?
DIFFERENT TYPES OF COMMITMENT
The three types of commitment in the CFP are the year pledge, the life pledge, and the private vow. Pray about which of these the Lord is asking of you at this time.
A year pledge means that you will pledge to live the complete Rule and Constitutions, to the best of your ability, for one year. This could be the best course of action if you are not sure if you can or wish to make a life long commitment. The year pledge may be renewed yearly for as many years as you wish.
This is why the CFP does not recommend pledging for three years or six months or any other interval of time other than a year. With a year pledge, you will be living the Rule and Constitutions just as fully as you would if you pledged to live them for life, but you may feel more comfortable knowing that you could "get out" of the commitment after a year with no penalties attached.
A life pledge is very serious. It means that you are pledging to live the Rule and Constitutions until you die. Can you really do this? Lesson 1 addresses this very topic with some in depth considerations.
Only those first pledged for life are permitted to turn that pledge into a private vow. The life pledge and life vow may take place on the same day, or may be years apart, but always the life pledge must precede the vow.
Usually, unless no one other than CFP members and Church representatives are present, the vow must be taken in private, generally with one's spiritual director. The person receiving the vow is usually the one who will direct the penitent and see that the vow is kept.
A life pledge is binding but not under pain of sin. A vow is binding and under pain of sin. Thus a vow is far more serious than a life pledge. Let's take an example. If you pledge to live the Rule and Constitutions for life and one night just don't feel like praying Evening Prayer, you commit no sin if you skip praying it. However, if you have vowed to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions for life and skip praying Evening Prayer just because you don't feel like it, you commit at least a venial sin.
A vow is binding as long as it can be kept. Suppose that you had an emergency in your family and spent the day in the hospital between concerned doctors and the bedside of a seriously ill relative. Late at night, you come home, hoping that you don't fall asleep at the wheel of your car. You get into the house and collapse into bed, not even bothering to undress. If you had vowed to live the CFP Rule and Constitutions for life and did not pray Evening Prayer on this night, you would not incur any sin. In fact, you may have gained merit for your charity to your very ill relative.
In the same way, if you grow old, infirm, and mentally deficient, and have vowed for life, you commit no sin if you cannot even remember the Rule or what you are to do. You are not bound by something you are unable to keep.
Likewise, for a greater or equal good, a vow can be commuted by the spiritual director, confessor, parish priest, the CFP Visitor, or the bishop.
Why would anyone vow?
Certainly the reason ought to be, "Because they feel that God is asking it of them."
A private vow, which is recognized by Canon Law (Canons 1191-1198), carries with it not only obligations but also graces.
Those who make a private vow are giving themselves totally to God through living a penitential life, that is, a life of ongoing conversion. They are saying that they are willing to make the Rule and Constitutions into commandments of sorts for them. They give God, through the Rule, that supreme authority over their lives.
The Confraternity recognizes this commitment by allowing vowed members to take a religious name which they can use in the Confraternity only, but with lower case letters for the sister and brother address, to indicate both our lay status and our littleness in God's plan.
Because vowed members give themselves totally to God through their living of a life of penance (conversion), they can anticipate great graces from the Holy Spirit. These may not be what one might expect, for vowed members are frequently made perfect through suffering. The living of a penitential life prepares them for this purgation and purification. God's penances are always far superior to any we can devise for ourselves.
Through prayer to the Holy Spirit you will discern whether to pledge to live the Rule and Constitutions for life or for a year.
If you choose the life pledge, you will then discern whether or not to vow.
Bathe these decisions in prayer and discuss them with your spiritual director and mentor. So much depends on your decision.
At this point, you have completed 48 formation lessons in the postulant and novice years of the Confraternity of Penitents. You are now completing these three lessons prior to pledging. And then you are done with formation! Yipee!
Whoops! Don't celebrate too soon. Maybe when you graduate from high school or college, you are done with studying, but that doesn't happen in the CFP. Why? Because the CFP is a school of ongoing spiritual growth. As penitents, we are to keep growing in the spiritual life. Our formation is to be on going.
Once you pledge, however, the formation which you will continue to do is between you and your spiritual director and other CFP members with whom you will be sharing in some way. Certainly invite the Lord to be the ultimate guide for this study, reflection, and sharing.
What will you study? The Confraternity of Penitents asks that pledged members continue their formation by reading the Documents of the Church or the lives or writings of the saints.
What you choose within these categories is up to you to discern through prayer, with input from your spiritual director. But it's not up to you to decide whether or not to choose at all.
We all have to "feed our souls," so to speak. Certainly attending Mass, praying, and receiving the sacraments does that the best. But spiritual reading provides good "soul food," too.
A little time spent daily or weekly in good spiritual reading will give you insights and support which you won't find anywhere else. Discern carefully what you would like to study as your ongoing formation. The Holy Spirit will direct you to different texts as you need them. Follow His guidance and let Him speak to you through those texts.
By sharing your ongoing formation with someone else (your spiritual director, other pledged penitents, other members of the CFP, prayer group members), you will gain even more insights and help spread the wealth of what you are learning.
If you get to the point where you simply cannot study any longer due to physical or age limitations, then ask your spiritual director how you might fulfill the ongoing formation requirements of our way of life.
Perhaps someone can read to you or you can listen to tapes or watch religious programming. If those things become too complex for waning mental faculties or physical abilities, then you can pray some rote prayers or just be still with a crucifix and study the lessons gleaned from gazing at or even "holding" our Lord.
However you can, keep growing in the spiritual life, even to the point where all you can offer to the Lord are your inadequacies and sufferings. From those you will learn the final lessons of life.
SUPPORTING THE CONFRATERNITY AND ITS MEMBERS
People today, especially Catholics, don't like to talk about money. But our CFP Rule is not that way. Your pledging to live the CFP way of life brings with it a commitment to support the Confraternity and its members monetarily. What do the Rule and Constitutions say?
20. And every member is to give the treasurer one ordinary denar. The treasurer is to collect this money and distribute it on the advice of the ministers among the poor brothers and sisters, especially the sick and those who may have nothing for their funeral services, and thereupon among the poor; and they are to offer something of the money to the aforesaid church.
20a. Every member shall contribute generously to the treasury of their Chapter or Circle or to the Confraternity in general.
20b. There are fixed expenses affiliated with running the Confraternity that are part of every member’s responsibility and apostolate. These include mail and newsletter costs, formation materials, miscellaneous printing, phone expenses, and the cost of maintaining the Web page. Monies will be used to cover these expenses and occasionally to provide alms for needy members, as approved by the minister and the council, who may be consulted to determine a fitting donation as well.
20c. A report of how this money is being utilized may be requested at any time by any member.
20d. If a Chapter or Circle in the Confraternity requests a visit from the Visitor or someone else, they should reimburse the expenses of the visit.
20e. In the United States of America, all monies donated to the Confraternity of Penitents are tax deductible. The CFP is a bona fide non-profit, tax exempt organization.
You may be on a fixed income or have debts to pay. You may be barely managing to live on the money you do have. How can you monetarily support the Confraternity?
This section of the Rule was never intended to be burdensome. An "ordinary denar" was the smallest denomination of coin minted at the time the Rule was written. Cardinal Hugolino, who wrote this Rule for the penitents, no doubt knew that many of them were destitute.
Still, this section indicates that he also knew that others are even more destitute (they had no money for funeral services, for example). The requirement of giving monthly "one ordinary denar" was probably intended to be the widow's mite. Anyone desirous of giving oneself totally to God ought to be able to give the smallest possible amount of money monthly to help others.
Use this section of the Rule and Constitutions as a guideline for what your monthly contribution might be. Certainly if you monthly give the smallest coin minted in your nation as your donation, that would fit the Rule. Maybe you can give more.
Pray about your contribution and then follow the Holy Spirit's lead. Your donation can be given at a Chapter or Circle gathering or mailed monthly or yearly to the Confraternity Treasurer.
Or you may prefer to spend your monthly "ordinary denar" on materials which can be offered through the Confraternity of Penitents Holy Angels Gift Shop, thus increasing the value of your contribution. However you monetarily support the Confraternity and its members, may the Lord reward you for your generosity and support.
LIVING THE RULE AND CONSTITUTIONS IN FULL
Living the CFP Rule and Constitutions in their richness and fullness is an ongoing journey into perfection and adjustment. As you embark on this way of life, you will be living the penitential life in one way.
However, circumstances or health issues may, down the line, force you to evaluate how you are living the Rule and Constitutions and may necessitate changes. At that point, danger enters in for penitents who have not focused on the flexibility present in our governing documents.
They may think that, because they cannot live the Rule and Constitutions as they had been living them up to that point, then they cannot live them well and ought not live them at all. This is a totally erroneous way of thinking. Options and flexibility are built into the CFP Rule and Constitutions. The Rule was never intended to be rigid. If your life changes, find the parts of the Rule and the Constitutions that deal with those changes and adjust your practices accordingly.
Study the Rule and Constitutions very carefully. Then consider these scenarios. For each situation, consider the section(s) of the Rule and Constitutions which address that situation.
Pray about the situation, then answer the question, "Can I live the Rule and Constitutions as a pledged penitent if this situation happens to me? What will I have to do to be able to keep my pledge in this situation?" Discuss your answers with your mentor.
1. Suppose you get a job and have to wear a uniform that does not fit the Rule colors. Can you take that job as a penitent? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 1 and 1c)
2. Suppose you are in a serious accident and suffer horrible facial scarring. In order to conceal the disfigurement so as not to horrify others, your doctor recommends concealing makeup. Can you use the makeup? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 2 and 2f)
3. You marry (or remarry) and your spouse is much more materialistic than you. Your simple house becomes full of nifty appliances and latest gadgets. As a penitent, what is your response? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 3 and 3b)
4. You develop an illness. As part of your treatment, your doctor tells you to eat six times a day with red meat every day at one meal at least. Can you do what the doctor requires and still live the CFP life? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 6, 6a and 6c; 8, 8b; 9; and Appendix A)
5. You move to a region where people are extremely hostile to religion. Everyone with any visible sign of faith is persecuted and their families hounded. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 2 and 2g)
6. You get pregnant. How do you observe the Rule? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 10 and10a)
7. You have been praying the full Liturgy of the Hours. Then your parent gets Alzheimer's and needs round the clock care. You are selected as the caregiver. Your parent needs continual watching and your time is constantly interrupted. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 12, 12o, Option 5)
8. You are used to eating only lunch and supper. Suddenly you lose your office job and, after many months of searching, the only job you can land is a brick layer. The work is hot and strenuous and you find yourself getting faint by mid morning. Should you quit your job in order to keep your pledge to live the Rule? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 11, 11a, and 11b)
9. You have been attending daily Mass, but now you have consented to babysit your fifteen month old granddaughter while her parents are at work. If you take her to Mass, she fusses and insists on being put down, but then proceeds to run around the church. There is no cry room and only one Mass anywhere nearby. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 14, 14a, and 14b)
10. You had been giving $25 per month to the CFP, but then you lose your job. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 15 and 15b)
11. You had been joyfully attending a local monthly CFP gathering. Then your family moves to an area where you are the only CFP member within 100 miles. Your car is unreliable. How can you fulfill the obligation to attend gatherings of the CFP? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 19 and 19f)
12. You are elected to office in the CFP but, when you have served six months of your term, you are diagnosed with cancer and need chemo treatments which leave you ill and tired. You can no longer fulfill your duties and can barely get through the day. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 28 and 28d, and 37and 37a)
13. You have been faithfully keeping up with spiritual reading and on going formation. But now your eyesight is going. The doctor says that this is a progressive, irreversible condition and you will be totally blind in two years. How can you continue your ongoing formation? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 13 and 13a, and 37 and 37a)
14. You have tremendous debts which you ran up before even knowing about the CFP. Much as you have tried to pay them off, you have only made a dent in them. You want to tithe but you want to pay your debts, too. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 29 and 29c and 15 and 15b)
15. You've been living the Rule as a life pledged member for two years and then meet a lovely person with whom you fall in love. It appears that you are headed for marriage, but this wonderful other is not in favor of your living the penitential life. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 33 and 33a. Note that the clue to this answer is in the word RECEIVED which means "enter formation and then be pledged." You are already pledged in this scenario.)
16. You are pledged member of the CFP when you discover that the treasurer of your local CFP chapter has been pocketing some of the funds. You are dismayed that someone who seemed so pious and trustworthy could do such a thing and now you question the whole CFP. What should you do? (Refer to Rule and Constitutions 36 and 36a)
17. You lose your spiritual director. How will you find a new one? (Refer to the Addendum to the Constitutions)
If you have carefully studied the Rule and Constitutions and prayerfully completed the above exercise, you will have learned that, in every one of these situations and in many more, you can continue to live your pledge. The Rule and Constitutions are not strait jackets but rather elastic garments that will fit your situation. Elasticity does not mean that our way of life is a chameleon, changing appearances for this penitent or that one. Nor is it ball of clay that can be molded into any shape anyone desires. But there is enough elasticity in the Rule and Constitutions to help you to live the penitential life to the end of your days, if the Lord so calls you to do. Your job now is to pray about what He wants. Then "do whatever He tells you."
LESSON ON THE FRANCISCAN VIRTUES
Review the entire book Franciscan Virtues. Prayerfully spend at least thirty minutes of mental prayer and meditation on a review of all 52 virtues. Ask yourself:
Am I living all of these to the best of my ability?
If not, which ones need prayer and work?
What shall my resolution be to more fully implement these virtues into my life as a penitent?
Share your answers with your mentor.