Before Franciscans called themselves by that title (Franciscans), one of the ways they would introduce themselves as they went about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in imitation of St. Francis of Assisi, was as “the brothers of penance.” This may have been the title that St. Anthony of Padua himself used as one of the early followers of St. Francis of Assisi.
I share this insight as we prepare to enter the season of Lent. “Brothers and sister of penance” is a fitting way to describe us all, whatever path God has called us to.
While Lent is not normally a season associated with gift giving and opening, I’d like to suggest that we first unwrap the gift of Christian penance as it was thought of and expressed by St. Francis, and his early followers. The source of the attraction of the preaching of the brothers of penance was how in recognizing Jesus’ call to turn away from their sins, this led them through a change of heart to a life of joy. These down to earth men and women could be related to, not because they were perfect, but because gospel transformation was apparent in their very persons.
A change of the very direction of our lives away from self to the worship of the living God, what our tradition calls ‘metanoia’, results in joy. This Lent, as we take time to reflect upon our need for the conversion of heart offered to us in Jesus Christ, might we not get stuck in feelings of depression or sadness. Evidence of a true change of heart is revealed in becoming persons of joy, peace, hopefulness, trust, love, and praise. Our great saints give us the opportunity to see examples of ‘down to earth people’ whose limitations and human weakness lead them to a greater awareness of their total dependence on God. They teach us that all our penitential practices are to be done not to earn God’s love, but as a reply of love to the God who first loved us. Here are two Scripture passages that might help you to approach Lent 2024 in a life-giving way.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Cor 8:9
May God bless us with the ability to live this Lent in ways that are meaningful in His eyes.
Friar Gary Johnson, OFM Conv.