Franciscan Charism of
Penance is the
indispensable condition for entering the Kingdom of God. The announcement of Christ
"Be converted and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1,15)
THE CHARISM OF
MEANING OF PENANCE is found at the very start of His preaching. It is a
call for an openness to conversion, to change one's life which is above all a work of self
sanctification. But whatever the personal action, through becoming conformed to Christ,
always finds itself in relation to the social dimension and serves therefore "for the
upbuilding of the community" (I Cor 14,12). The "Ordo Paenitentiae" (Dec.
2, 1973, n.4) refers to the supernatural connection and reference which sustains and
inspires the penitent when it states:
In many and diverse
ways the People of God carry out this continual penance and exercise themselves in it.
Taking part in the sufferings of Christ, doing the works of mercy and charity, and
intensifying day by day their conversion, they become a Sign to the world of how one is
converted to God.
Penance is a
distinctive quality of Christian life.
The Christian life
remains characterized by a permanent readiness to change, to break out of one's
selfishness, to open oneself to God's work in us and to utter in the wonderful freedom of
the sons of God (Rom 8,21) a "Yes" ever more complete to the Saving Will of God
which became visible in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son, Crucified and Risen again. Fr.
Charles Finnegan, OFM has described the reign of God as God's gift to us, and penance as
our acceptance of that gift.
In their Lenten
Pastoral Letter of 1967 the German Bishops invited Christians to the practice of continual
penance and have highlighted that Christian Penance as the following of Jesus Crucified is
a gift of grace which each baptized Christian must make concrete in conformity with his
Since the charism of
our Order is precisely that "of Penance," how can this gift of grace to every
Christian be specific to our religious fraternity? It is not that we have some kind of
monopoly on "penance" but that our existence within the Church as an Order of
Penance reminds it of the special value of penance found in the scriptures. If we are
faithful to penance then our very existence is already a form of apostolate within the
Church .... apart from any functions we carry out. Our Rule and Constitutions direct us in
practical ways of living out this charism of "to do penance" in the
circumstances of modern life. The phrase is a familiar Franciscan expression from the
Middle Ages and means to consecrate one's entire life to God. It means to welcome the
invitation to be with Christ and to collaborate with Him in His Mission of salvation. (MK
the Pains of Daily Life
interior and religious nature of that penance demanded for the Kingdom really requires
that the friars in conformity to their specific vocation as penitents (Cf. TOR Rule, Art.
2) know how to accept in faith and serenity the sacrifices involved in fulfilling our
daily obligations and support the weariness and burden which often goes along with this.
Sometimes, it may be the monotony of the daily schedule. For many, there is the need for
patience to accept our confreres and our life in common. Many must bear with sickness,
poverty and weakness, or the burden of interior or exterior suffering. Some are tormented
by different anxieties. Some others feel ignored, their work or talents unappreciated. All
of these situations found in daily life furnish the material for our continual conversion,
to purify us and to increase in love, whenever we accept these inevitable burdens and
consent to the situation in which we live. The Disciple of Christ .... united to Jesus
Crucified and Risen understands that such sufferings can be fruitful for the Church and
God in Prayer
The commitment to
conversion includes prayer through which we come close to God and are in communion with
Christ. A daily Holy Hour or a weekly Desert Day gives a special space for reflection on
our life before the Lord and reorienting ourselves again to Him. The meditative reading of
Scripture will be the light and guide for our path. Throughout our day we are called into
His Presence in the Liturgy of the Hours to "return" our minds and hearts to
Him. The Rule (art. 13) reminds us that a frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Penance
is proper to penance its fullest sense for we make known externally through our confession
of sin our internal conversion. And anyone who frequently and humbly recognizes and
confesses his sin will grow in compassion to others. The traditional practices of devotion
such as the Rosary and the Via Crucis still have their appeal to the affective side of our
Whoever, out of love
for Jesus Christ, desires to live for others and to help them must deepen evermore His
communion with Jesus the source of fraternal Christian love. The Lord says: "I am in
the midst of you as One who serves" (Lk 22, 27). The friars should seek to renew that
love for the brotherhood which attracted and supported them. In place of avoiding or
resenting the duties involved in community life they can transform these into a willing
service to their brothers. In our dealing with one another we must put into practice the
words of St. Paul: "Your kindness should be seen by all" (Fil 4,5).
In the early
centuries of our history, the Brothers of Penance were noted for their practical service
to the sick, the aged and the needy. Our Provinces should make this a "preferential
option" among the many possibilities of serving the Church. And each friar should
find the opportunity to offer the gift of his personal attention to those in need.
In our praiseworthy
efforts to present the positive and dynamic aspect of penance we may have run the risk of
neglecting the aspect of self denial. Works of mortification, so dear to St. Francis, are
important precisely because they express and nourish an interior change. Article 13 of the
TOR Rule reminds us that we are called to an ever more intimate conformity to Jesus Christ
crucified and risen. This demands that each one deny himself and take up his cross to walk
each day in newness of life. It recalls that Christian life is austere (cf. Matt. 7, 13
-14) and that it is a life of the Cross (Acts 14,22, 2 Tm 3,12) but there can be no
authentic life of Penance without a participation in the sufferings of Christ. He has
"left us an example that we should follow in His footsteps."
The self-donation of
Jesus is a lesson Francis calls us to follow (2LF 11-13). Along with the possibilites
offered daily in our life there exist also forms of renunciation which may be adopted to
expiate and make reparation and by doing so be enabled to have the means of alleviating
others' needs. Hunger in our world, the psychic and physical misery so often unimaginable,
demand of Franciscans of Penance a simple way of life. Luxury and waste must be completely
foreign to us, for how could such things be justified in the face of so much misery in the
Besides the witness
of a simple life style set down in Article 13, it also reminds us that in comnion with all
the Disciples of the Kingdom cf. Matt. 9,15) we are to fast. And the verb (debent)
presents this as a necessity! The fast for the Franciscan is the fast of Sacred Scripture
... always in
relation to God and accompanied by prayer. These give us ample opportunity to participate
actively in the fight against grinding misery and to fulfill our Christian duties to our
neighbor at the same time. In addition it is necessary to discipline our senses. Each
one can discover for
himself the area where mortification and temperance might be especially helpful: shows,
TV, alcohol, cigarettes and other consumer addictions, the desire to be first by ignoring,
putting down or stepping on others.
vocation of the Franciscan TOR is "to serve the Lord in Penance," which is
different from the Friars of the First Order called "to serve the Lord in
Poverty." This service of the Lord is seen in the fruits of penance which testify to
a life converted to a closer following of Jesus. Like Jesus, sensible to the cry of their
suffering brothers and sisters, they will do the works of mercy and justice. The Church's
approval of our Rule and Constitutions recognizes our specific vocation/mission for
building up the Church. We must not be confused as to what we are about or how can we
expect vocations who will follow the "uncertain trumpet"? In all the discussions
about the lack of vocations we recognize that many factors have played a part. However, it
is an evident fact that there has been a notable levelling, or kind of ministerial
homogenization, which has cancelled or at least greatly dimished the difference between
the diocesan and religious clergy, and between one religious institute and another!
Contemplative Orders, or Mendicant Orders or Missionary Congregations have changed, at
least in practice, their institutional purposes: monks are out giving workshops and the
majority of friars have turned into parish priests and not in poor "inner city"
parishes either, while "missionaries" as they used to be called are professors
or pastors, etc. In the history of religious life ... and certainly in our own Order's,
..never has so much been written about the specific charism of each Institute as in the
present and perhaps, never as in our time have the different religious been involved in
just about anything but what the Lord of the Harvest called them into existence to do! It
might be well to do a formal study done on the reasons for so many leaving after
profession in spite of revamped formation programs. They often leave without any
bitterness and many times with gratitude to find themselves," "to serve in other
ways." Would it be too farfetched to think that they have not found with us the
setting and clarity for the penitential call given them by the Holy Spirit?
As we pray and
explore different approaches which seem useful for vocational promotion and the process of
formation today, it is essential that we also examine whether the charism of penance is
evidenced in our lives and in our apostolates.
ofm, Charles. Becoming in Christ a New Creation. Franciscan World Care, vol. 1,
1991, Silver Spring, MD.
Alfred. La Confessione, una practica superata?. Edizioni Paoline, Milano, 1989.
Carlo. L'identita' Francescana dei Fratelli e Sorelle del Ordine Regolare di San
Francesco. Movimento Francescano, Bologna, 1986.
VI. Apostolic Constitution "Poenitemini" Feb. 17, 1966.
Luigi M. Crisi vocazionale, Crisi sacramrntale. Rogate ergo, 1989, n. 8 - 9, pp.
TOR, Lino, ed. Th e Franciscan Charism of Penance Today. Analecta TOR, Rome, vol.
XXI (1989) Fasc. 146, Penitential Spirituality in the Franciscan Sources. Franciscan
Publication, USA, 1963.
of the Brothers and Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Franciscan Federation, USA,
Jim. The Call to Conversion ... recovering the Gospel for - these times. Harper
& Row Publishers, New York, 1982.
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