For a small and relatively new community in the Roman Catholic Church, the Passionists have a large number of canonized saints and members proposed for canonization. Beginning with their founder, St. Paul of the Cross, who died in 1774, each generation of Passionists has produced men and women recognized for their holiness.
We’re hoping Father Theodore Foley may join the ranks of Passionist saints such as Paul Danei, Vincent Strambi, Gabriel Possenti, Dominic Barberi, Gemma Galgani, Charles Houben, Isidore DeLoor and Blessed Eugene Bossilkov.
Saints are God’s answer to the poison of their times, and it’s important to see them in the light of the poison they combat. The Catholic tradition sees saints as firm believers in church teaching and examples of heroic virtue, but it also sees them as powerful figures opposing the poisonous influences threatening the world in which they live. They’re signs of God’s power in a sinful world and God marks them out as saints through miracles performed through their intercession.
For example, St. Paul of the Cross was an antidote to the forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus which came from the Enlightenment, a 17th century movement that denied or minimized the role of faith and religion in human life.
St. Vincent Strambi opposed this same movement as it was expressed in the political schemes of Napolean Bonaparte, who tried to subordinate religion to his own dreams of European domination. Vincent was a brave Italian bishop who resisted the emperor and suffered for it. Like him, the Bulgarian Bishop Eugene Bossilkov suffered and died under an oppressive Communist government in the 20th century.
Gabriel Possenti can be seen in the light of the 19th century lure of the Enlightenment. As a young man, he chose religious life rather than the inflated promises of success that tempted so many of his contemporaries.
St. Gemma, St. Isidore de Loor, St. Charles Houben are figures that fit St. Paul’s description of those called by God, not wise by human standards, not powerful, not of noble birth. They’re “the weak of the world God chooses to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1, 23-28)
We might call them ordinary people, of no special note, easily unnoticed and misunderstood, subject to the sufferings, disappointments and failures often part of ordinary life. God chooses them to be signs that he does not abandon ordinary people like them and, in fact, can do great things through them. Charles Houben was a healer. Gemma bore the signs of Jesus’ passion in her body.
It takes awhile to see a saint, because we often don’t understand our own times and the poison afflicting it.