The Brothers’ Life of Penance
While proclaiming the Kingdom, Jesus Christ called people to penance, that is, to a complete trasformation of themselves, through which they begin to think, judge, and conduct their lives according to that holiness and love of God that are manifest in the Son.
This conversion into a new creature, which has its beginning in faith and baptism, demands a continuing effort of renouncing ourselves more thoroughly each day. Living for the Lord alone and having new ties with people, especially with the poor, we are strengthened by penance to build a gospel fraternity.
Saint Francis, by the grace of the Lord, began his life of penance-conversion expressing a heart full of mercy toward lepers and left the world.
With great fervor of spirit and joy of mind, he ordered his life according to the Beatitudes of the Gospel, preached penance without ceasing, inspiring everyone by deed and word to carry the cross of Christ, and desired that his brothers be men of penance.
The spirit of penance in an austere life is characteristic of our Order; for we have chosen a strict life after the example of Christ and Saint Francis.
Moved by that same spirit and perceiving sin in ourselves and in human society, let us continually strive for our conversion and that of others so that we may be conformed to the crucified and risen Christ.
Through such striving, by completing what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, we participate in the work of the Church, holy and at the same time always in need of purification. We promote the coming of the Kingdom of God within the human family which is in need of being united through perfect charity.
Penance, as an exodus and conversion, is a disposition of the heart that demands an external manifestation in daily life.
Penitent Franciscans must always be conspicuous by their gentle and affectionate charity and joy like our saints who, while harsh with themselves, were filled with kindness and respect toward others.
At all times, moved by the spirit of conversion and renewal, let us devote ourselves to works of penance according to the Rule and Constitutions and, as God inspires us, so that the paschal mystery of Christ may be more and more at work within us.
First of all, let us remember that our consecrated life is in itself an excellent form of penance.
For our salvation and that of others, therefore, let us offer our poverty, humility, the hardships of life, the faithful fulfillment of daily work, the availability for the service of God and neighbor, and the fostering of fraternal life, the burden of sickness and old age, even persecution for the Kingdom of God. Thus, suffering with those who suffer, we might always rejoice in our conformity with Christ.
Let us follow the same path of conversion of Saint Francis especially by going out to meet those who, in our times, are marginalized and in need of help.
Christ the Lord, the exemplar of all, after accepting a mission from His Father and being led by the Holy Spirit, fasted in the desert for forty days and forty nights. His disciple, Saint Francis, burning with the desire of imitating the Lord, also spent his life in fasting and prayer.
The time of Advent and, above all, the Lent before Easter, as well as every Friday, should be considered by us as times of more intense private and communal penance.
Moreover, [the observance of] the Lent, commonly called the ‘Lent of Benediction’, and of the vigils of the Solemnities of Saint Francis and of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also recommended.
On these days let us dedicate ourselves more readily to those works that favor conversion: prayer, recollection, listening to the word of God, bodily mortification and communal fasting. In a brotherly spirit, let us share by our greater frugality with other poor people whatever comes to us from the table of the Lord, and let us practice works of mercy more fervently according to our traditional custom.
As regards the law of abstinence and fasting, let the brothers observe the prescriptions of both the universal and the particular Church.
It is the responsibility of the provincial chapter, however, to determine more precisely both days of fasting and abstinence as well as the manner of fasting according to various circumstances of place and time.
To lead a truly gospel life and mindful of the passion of Christ, let our life be simple and frugal in all things as is appropriate for the poor, after the example of Saint Francis and our holy brothers. Let us also practice voluntary mortification, willingly moderating ourselves in food and drink, in attending the theater and other forms of entertainment.
Superiors should keep in mind the precept and example of charity of Saint Francis when providing things, especially for the sick.
Grieving in our hearts over our sins and those of others and desiring to walk in newness of life, let us practice works of penance adapted indeed to the differing mentalities of time and place.
Explicitly recommended are: the fratemal correction that Jesus taught, an exchange among the brothers concerning each one’s life in light of the Gospel, and other forms of penance, especially those done in common.
Let the provincial chapters promulgate appropriate norms concerning these and other forms of communal penance according to local conditions.
In the sacrament of penance or reconciliation not only the brothers but the community of brothers as well are purified and healed for the restoration of their union with the Savior and, at the same time, for their reconciliation within the Church.
By means of the sacrament [of penance], moreover, we participate more intimately in the Eucharist and in the mystery of the Church while we experience the benefit of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Purified and renewed by means of the sacraments of the Church, we live our Capuchin Franciscan life each day more perfectly.
For this reason, let us place great value on frequent confession of our sins, as well as on daily examination of conscience and spiritual direction. The communal celebration of penance is also recommended.
In addition to the local Ordinary, the major superior may grant the faculty for hearing the sacramental confessions of the brothers. The local superior may also do so ad modum actus in individual cases.
Any priest of the Order, approved by his own major superior, may hear the confessions of the brothers anywhere in the world.
The brothers may freely confess their sins to any priest having faculties from any Ordinary.
Let confessors keep in mind the warning of Saint Francis that they do not become angry or disturbed at the sin of another but treat him with all kindness in the Lord.
Loving one another with that love with which Christ loved us, should a brother be in difficulty, let us not avoid him, but rather be eager to help him. If he falls, let us not be his judges but his protectors, preserving his reputation; let us love him even more, remembering that each one of us would have done worse had not God in His goodness preserved us.
Let the ministers show a heart of fatherly mercy to sinful brothers or to those in danger so that they might offer them appropriate and efficacious help as God would have it.
Let them not impose penalties, especially canonical ones, unless compelled by manifest necessity, and then with all prudence and charity, maintaining nonetheless the prescriptions of universal law.
Let them always remember the words of Saint Francis in his letter to a certain minister: “In this way I wish to know that you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours, if you do this: may there not be any brother in the world who has sinned – however much he could have sinned – who, after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. If he is not looking for mercy, you should ask him if he wants mercy. And if he sins a thousand times before your eyes, love him more than me that you may draw him to the Lord”.