Recently, Father Joachim Rego, superior general of the Passionists, sent a letter to “the Passionist Family” commemorating the approval of the Passionist Rule 275 years ago, on June 11, 1741, by Pope Benedict XIV. Father Joachim addressed the letter to ‘brothers, sisters and friends in the Passionist Family.” He was writing not just to professed members of his community but to everyone attracted to its charism.
When Pope Benedict approved the Passionists as a religious family in the Catholic church 275 years ago, he was heard to say, “This is the last community to be called into the church; it should have been the first.” The pope, considered the greatest pope of the 18th century, was devoted to the Passion of Jesus. He renovated the Church of the Holy Cross in Rome, where the ancient relics of the passion, brought to the city by Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, were venerated. Still more, he wanted to rebuild faith in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus at a time when many were becoming forgetful of this great mystery.
In our times, too, many forget this mystery, as well. Let’s keep it in mind.
In his letter, Father Joachim calls attention to a “rescritto”, a special condition that was part of the pope’s letter of approval: “This ‘special condition’ required the Passionists to commit themselves to preach and serve in those areas and islands where, due to the unhealthy environmental conditions, the people are abandoned and forgotten.
“From our very beginnings, the Church has named our special vocation to show a preferential option for the suffering, the marginalized, and the “the crucified” of their times. As we remember this joyful moment for Paul of the Cross and his first companions on 11 June 1741, may we – his companions today ‐ also take the occasion to review and renew our commitment and vocation to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus as the greatest act of God’s love and mercy, and to promote this memory in the lives and hearts of people today…” especially those who are poor and neglected; we seek to offer them comfort and to relieve the burden of their sorrow.” (Const.#3)
“Let us keep challenging ourselves as Passionists to ‘look back’ and appreciate with greater depth the SPIRIT of our Holy Founder, so that we may ‘look forward’ to live and practice with fidelity our Passionist vocation in the various contexts of the church and the world of today.”
I like Father Joachim’s call to look back to the spirit that brought the Passionists into the church and then ask how can we make it present today. A religious community’s rule is important, but charism precedes a rule and keeps it alive. How do we reach out to the suffering, the marginalized and the crucified today?