Category Archives: Passionists

The Legacy of Paul of the Cross

October 20 is the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross in the United States.

June 29th marks 150 years since Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was canonized by Pope Pius IX. I like the letter Fr. Joachim Rego, superior general of the Passionists, wrote to the Passionist family recently in which he expressed hope that “ this event would be an enriching time for us, individually and communally, to focus on the mind and heart of our Founder and delve into his vision of the Congregation and its mission in light of our present times.”

“’Our present times’ have been dark and dismal indeed! The world continues to experience so much suffering: wars, hatred, discrimination, denial of human rights and freedom, terrorism, indiscriminate killings, natural disasters. Very much to the fore in our memories at this present time are: the senseless Las Vegas shootings; the unimaginable destruction caused by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and landslides; the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and other refugees and displaced peoples; the struggle for self-determination in Catalonia and Kurdistan; the racial discrimination and promotion of hatred by white supremacists in the US….

“I ask myself: What would be the mind and heart of the Founder in these present times? In fact, it seems that our present times are not too much different from the times of the Founder. He also experienced in his time of history: wars and domination by foreign powers, lawlessness and fear, disease and climate change, the tyranny of existential distance and the marginalisation of peoples, the unequal gap between the rich and the poor.

“Yet, Paul of the Cross was convinced then, and would be equally convinced now, that it is in the Passion of Jesus that we can find meaning and see possibilities for a renewed future. It is there, in the Passion of Jesus, that we find HOPE for visioning and seeing life differently!”

I like Fr. Joachim’s insistence that Paul lived in the world of his day. He could have become a hermit and shut himself up somewhere, but he lived in the world that was present to him.

Fr. Fabiano Giorgini offers a thorough description of Paul’s world in a book he wrote “La Maremma Toscana nel Settecento”, a study of the Tuscan Maremma where Paul spent most of his years of ministry in the 18th century. That’s where the church told him the Passionists should be.

The Tuscan Maremma, an area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, is almost 2,000 square miles, roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together. When Paul ministered there, it was the poorest and most troubled part of Italy. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s did it begin inching towards recovery.

It’s an area of hills and valleys–now a popular tourist destination– but then because of wars, political turmoil and natural disasters its farmlands had been abandoned to become swamplands. Malaria was widespread. It was an unhealthy area. People moved away, if they could. The roads were often impassible, often dangerous because of bandits. The area near Monte Argentario, where Paul lived, was a place where troops were billeted troops on their way to fight in other parts of Italy. A number of wars were fought there. The area had immigration problems, migrant workers were stranded, without work. Beggars were everywhere. The people living in isolated villages and hill towns tended to be suspicious of outsiders.

Paul wasn’t blind to this world. He didn’t hide from it. Most of his popular missions are in the Tuscan Maremma and he reminded people that living here you were living the mystery of the passion of Jesus, but don’t lose hope.

None of the passion narratives in the gospels are hopeless. They all say new life is coming, God is present, hidden for sure, but God is present. Don’t miss the signs. The mystery of the Passion is not hopeless. It gives hope. “HOPE for visioning and seeing life differently!”

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The Disciple

By Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 10: 1-9) it says:

The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit. He said to them, “ The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘ Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘ The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”

A friend of ours has been a member of our prayer group at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens for the past two years. Through a series of unfortunate events, a few months ago, he lost the apartment that he had inherited from his parents. His Social Security check is not enough for him to get a place, and he has no family left, so he lives in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. He is trying to get affordable housing through the social workers there. It has been a slow process.

Like the apostles that Jesus sent out he’s practically penniless and homeless, and lives out there like a “lamb among wolves.” He takes a series of trains so the he can come from Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Jamaica Monastery for Mass during the week, and to celebrate the Eucharist and praise the Lord with our prayer group on Sundays. We have raised a decent sum of money for him, but he prefers that we hold it until he can get a place of his own. One of the members of our group is dealing with the social workers to work something out so that he can rent an apartment in her house. We are waiting to see what happens.

He is lonely. He loves the company of our prayer group. He comes with an affable disposition and a positive attitude. He enters our chapel where he is indeed welcomed, and can “eat and drink” the best food in the world. He loves to praise and dance with our group, but sometimes he just sits there quietly and looks quite sad. People come and pray over him, and ask him how they can help him. He’s embarrassed and says he’s okey.

Sometimes he tells me that he thinks that God has put him in the doghouse and he doesn’t know why, but he keeps on coming, and praying, and participating. The other day I realized that he was like those 72 homeless disciples, coming to our House of God to bring his peace and brotherhood to all of us, to share his dignity, his patience and his faith —to represent our Lord. My spiritual director, Fr. John Powers,CP, says that being in need is one of the greatest ministries. It can inspire us to empathy, compassion, respect, and sacrifice for our hurting brothers and sisters. Jesus is there in so many ways. Our beautiful, humble, persevering friend is indeed coming to announce Jesus, to tell us by his very presence “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand for you.”

Orlando Hernandez

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Visiting Gregory the Great

Today, October 9th is the anniversary of the death of Fr. Theodore Foley, who died in Rome on this day in 1974. Father Theodore loved to visit the churches of the city and delighted taking visitors to them.

He’s a candidate for canonization, and as a tribute to him I’m offering this visit to the church of St.Gregory the Great, a holy pope who reached out to the world in hard times, a man of hope and deep faith.

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Guardian Angels

Ángel_de_la_Guarda

 

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

 

Artists picture Guardian Angels with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a world that has its dangers.

 

Yet, St. Bernard reminds us that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

 

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

 

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

 

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

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A Church with a Mission

Saints John and Paul, Coelian Hill, Rome

 


A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St. Jerome, the great 4th century scripture scholar and controversialist. These days I’m staying in a place well known to him in Rome– the Caelian Hill and the church of Saints John and Paul.

In Jerome’s day Rome’s rich and powerful lived on the Caelian Hill, across from the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum. Among them were some prominent friends, Pammachius, the ex- Roman senator who built Saints John and Paul, the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eutochium, who joined Jerome in his venture in Bethlehem to study the scriptures, her other daughter Blaesilla and others.

Interest in the scriptures was high then among well-off Caelian Christians, but the place was also keen for gossip and religious controversies. Jerome loved the scriptures, but he also loved the fight. His relationship with Paula and her family probably figured prominently among the reasons he left Rome for the Holy Land. Paula and Eutochium followed him there, creating a monastic community in Bethlehem and undoubtedly playing a bigger part in his scriptural achievements than they’re credited for.

Jerome’s a saint, but I appreciate why so many artists picture him doing penance for his sins. He needed God’s mercy.

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Excavations, Saints John and Paul

Underneath Pammachius’ Church of Saints John and Paul are remains of Roman apartments going back to the 2nd-4th centuries, probably the best preserved of their kind in the city and a favorite for tourists. I went through them yesterday.

Years ago, when I studied here, one of the rooms in the excavations was pointed out as part of a house church with Christian inscriptions , but I see archeologists today consider it not to be so. That doesn’t mean Christians didn’t meet or worship in these buildings, only they didn’t create a special liturgical space for meeting or worship. Early Christian evidence says a “house church” was here early on.

Why then did Pammachius build the imposing basilica of Saints John and Paul here at the end of the 4th century? There were many retired soldiers settled on the Caelian Hill then. Did he wish to win them to Christianity by honoring two soldier saints, John and Paul, with a church built over their remains, which are still found under the church’s main altar today?

I wonder if there’s another reason. According to Richard Krautheimer, an expert on Rome’s early Christian churches, the emperor Constantine built St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Lawrence, the first Christian churches, on the edge of the city at least partially In deference to the sensibilities of the followers of Rome’s traditional religions. He didn’t want any Christian church in the “show areas” of the city, near the Roman forum or the Palatine hill.

Saints John and Paul, Interior

Was Pammachius’ church now a statement to the city that Christianity had arrived and wished to speak its wisdom here at the heart of traditional Roman religion, near the Palatine Hill and the Roman forum? Jerome’s new translations and commentaries, along with the works of St. Augustine and others, gave them something to say.

So this was a church with a mission. A reminder for the church of today?

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St. Vincent Strambi

I find the biographies of most of our saints–I’m thinking now of the saints of my community, the Passionists– weak in history, which tends to remove them from their time and their interaction with it. That makes them less challenging. They can make you believe that holiness means withdrawing from the world you live in when, actually, to be holy means engaging your times, not leaving them.

The world we live in is the path we’re put on when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we are displayed. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’ve been thinking of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist who lived in Italy as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century. His cross was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dreams of conquest and the changes brought about by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which for him was inspired by the sufferings he saw in the world around him.Some say over 4 million people were killed in the Napoleonic wars, military and civilians. So much innocent blood was shed then.

Strambi was part of that world; his blood was being shed too, not literally, but in the crucifying events of war, confusion, famine, sickness and change that affected his church, his community, his diocese, his country and the people he served. His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus came mainly from his experience of his time, I think.

Father Fabiano Giorgini, a fine historian who died recently, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

I wonder, too, if a new generation of hagiographers is needed, drawn from the laity and not from religious communities who may be too prone to promote their own heros.


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United Nations: World Leaders Meet


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

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