Though he had converted to Christ and was already living a truly edifying life, Francis was often moved to deep contrition for the sins and wastefulness of his youth. On one occasion, as he stood before God in fear and trembling and hot tears, a consolation and peace swept over him. He knew that he had been forgiven. Experiencing the state of grace he could now stand apart from himself and all his passions and look upon life as a child of heaven. He could see with fresh hope the marvelous things God could accomplish through him.
As was mentioned before, Saint Francis was not merely a messenger of the Gospel. He himself desired to respond to that message. He did not merely preach penitence, he was himself a penitent. The Order he founded is an order of penance: not for saints but for sinners. It is not an Order reserved for those who are very holy or endowed with mystical experiences, but for the little poor ones who have been forgiven.
A Poor Clare is conscious of a continual movement of conversion in herself. She knows that God’s grace first turned her heart to Himself and it is this grace which sustains her. Life in a Poor Clare community provides a constant experience of reflection, mutual contrition, and gratitude as the sisters urge one another to be reconciled to God and to trust in His Mercy. Yet even in this there is a sense of surrender and confidence. Forgiveness and repentance are a source of healing and strength to our fallen human nature. God’s forgiveness freely offered on His own initiative and our acceptance of this forgiveness, as well as our response of repentance, place us back in a right relationship with God. They save us from the fear and dread of the fugitive. They give us peace in the midst of the confusion of our own passions.
To be reconciled to God is the only way to be in a right relationship with the world around us. By seeing ourselves as we are before God and humbly accepting our limitations we have the potential for growth. For Saint Francis and for his followers in the Poor Clare Order repentance is an occasion for freedom and joy.