Francis began his Testament to his brothers with these words: “The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance. . .” And Clare told her sisters: “After the Most High Heavenly Father saw fit by His grace to enlighten my heart to do penance. . .” And the early name for the lay people inspired by their example was the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. All early Franciscans thus saw themselves as part of the great penitential movement of their times: men and women who heard the Gospel afresh and turned their hearts to the Gospel in a deeper way. Therefore, the liturgical season of Lent, dedicated to a deeper conversion of mind and heart, always occupied a special place in their lives.
That call of Francis still comes to us: “Do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance: Give and it will be given to you. Forgive and you shall be forgiven. If you do not forgive people their sins, the Lord will not forgive yours. Confess all your sins. Blessed are those who die in penance, for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven. . . Beware of and abstain from every evil and persevere in good till the end” (Earlier Rule, 21).
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.