Family Commission

Sonia Bernardo, SFO
In-Coming Chair, National Family Commission

As the new millennium approaches, we ponder Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (“On the Coming of the Third Millennium”), seeing the Church as a pilgrim on a journey, who has not yet arrived, but is continually moving ahead to reach the destination.

The Pope's  theme for 1999 is our journey to the Father. As pilgrims who have set out on a long journey, we need to stop now and then to see how far we have traveled. Are we on the right path?  It is always possible that we are heading in the wrong direction.  After asking someone, we are told to "turn around".  If speaking in Greek, he would say "metanoeite", meaning "turn around".  In English it means to "convert", "repent", or "do penance".  In the year 1999, the Pope encourages us to do penance, to undertake "a journey of authentic conversion".  In simple words, we will find it necessary to turn ourselves around in a new direction and change our lives. Conversion primarily means putting our minds to Jesus, and conforming our thoughts and actions to those of Christ, so that when others see us, they see a reflection of Christ.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to move along on our journey.  It not only helps us to correct our course, but it calls us to continue.  Francis said, "This is how God inspired me, Brother Francis, to embark upon a life of penance."

The "Letter to All the Faithful", written by Saint Francis, and included as the prologue to the 1978 Rule, has a great impact on new members of the Secular Franciscan Order.  It has two sections: "Concerning those who do penance" and "Concerning those who do not do penance".  The purpose of this letter to all the faithful is to bring about a change of heart.  Saint Francis called his Franciscan Third Order the Order of Penance.  As Francis emphasized in his letter, we should love the Lord and our neighbor, center our lives on the Eucharist, remove the distractions that prevent us from seeing God as we should, and fulfill God's will.

As Secular Franciscans, we can turn away from sin and turn ourselves towards God.  Sin, or worldliness, turned Francis toward himself, but God's grace helped him, and he became totally turned towards God. This is conversion also called reconciliation, transformation, or change.

We must recall that, when we were professed, we promised to follow the Gospel after the example of Saint Francis.  In this Franciscan tradition "gospel living means knowing and experiencing the Lord intimately, seeking His presence intensely, and sharing his mission in the Church thoroughly."

So, a life of penance is a life turned towards God, maintaining that dynamic rhythm that allows us to go "from gospel to life, from life to the gospel" so that we are united with Him, and His life becomes our own.

But we are weak human beings, and this change of heart or conversion or penance seems to be difficult to reach.  It demands a radical interior change, from a life of sin to a life of perfect charity, from being self-centered to becoming an all-loving person.  As Franciscans, our lives must be directed towards this destination - lives with Franciscan accent, filled with Francis’ charism.

Questions for Discussion:

1.   How do we set up for ourselves a program of spiritual renewal to achieve this goal of conformity to Christ through radical interior change?  

2.   What does "penance" mean to you personally?

3.   On your personal journey or renewal, what place does the Sacrament of Reconciliation hold?