Tag Archives: Paul of the Cross

Passionist Saints

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 The Passionists, are a small and relatively new community in the Roman Catholic Church, but we have a good number of canonized saints and members proposed for canonization. Beginning with our 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 who died in 1974 may join the ranks of Passionist saints such as Paul of the Cross, Vincent Strambi, Gabriel Possenti, Dominic Barberi, Gemma GalganiCharles Houben, Isidore DeLoor and Eugene Bossilkov.

Saints are God’s answer to the poison of their times, and it’s important to see them as they oppose it. Saints are firm believers and examples of heroic virtue. 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 followed the Enlightenment, a 17th century movement that denied or minimized the role of faith and religion in human life. We’re still feeling the effects of the Enlightenment today.

St. Vincent Strambi opposed the Enlightenment 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 Bulgaria in the 20th century.

Gabriel Possenti resisted the lure of the Enlightenment in the 19th century. As a young man, he chose religious life rather than the inflated promises of success that tempted so many of his contemporaries.

Saints like Gemma, Isidore de Loor, Charles Houben seem to be people who fit St. Paul’s description of those called by God. They were not wise by human standards, they don’t have a lot of human power, they’re not of noble birth. They’re “the weak of the world God chooses to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1, 23-28)

Our Passionist saints tend to be ordinary people, of no special note, easily unnoticed and misunderstood, subject to the sufferings, disappointments and failures that come in life. God chooses them to be signs that he does not abandon his people 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 know saints like these. That may be because we often don’t understand our own times and the poison afflicting it.

Thursday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1

Readings

We listen in John’s gospel today (John 5, 31-47) as different witnesses take the stand  to testify for Jesus as he faces his interrogators in Jerusalem.  John the Baptist, “a burning and shining lamp” speaks for him. Moses speaks for him. In our first reading from Exodus, Moses pleads for his people. Jesus takes that role on himself; he pleads for his people.

The miracles and works of healing Jesus performed testify for him. Above all, his heavenly Father, who through an interior call draws to his son those unhindered by pride, speaks for him. The scriptures, long searched by the Jews as the way to eternal life, “testify on my behalf.”

Faith in Jesus still comes to us in these ways. Do we accept them? The church, like John the Baptist and Moses point Jesus Christ out to us; are we guided by its light? His works and words and miracles witness to him;; do we search into them? Our heavenly Father draws us to his son; do we pray for faith and humility to accept his grace?

We’re reminded by scholars that “the Jews” in these passages of John’s Gospel are not the whole Jewish nation but those who opposed Jesus because pride and position turned them against him. Ever since, people still oppose him.

In lent, the voice of the Father says once more: “listen to him.”

Mystics like Paul of the Cross knew that faith is a gift of God; we don’t get it by reason alone. It’s God’s gift. He recommended prayer, steady prayer, as a means to gain, nourish and strengthen faith.

“Someone who left his community once wrote to Fr. Paul and signed the letter pretentiously , Archpriest, Lawyer, Theologian. Answering his letter, Fr. Paul signed himself, N.N.N., which means Paul of the Cross, who is nothing, who knows nothing, can do nothing, desires nothing in this world but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. This was his wisdom: to see with eyes of faith his own nothingness and to allow God who works within us to be born there.” (Life of Blessed Paul of the Cross, by St. Vincent Strambi, Chapter 35)

Prayer

O God
I come to you
who have given so much to me. You know “my inmost being” and “all my thoughts from afar.” I want to listen to you
and be changed by what I hear. Amen.

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Call no one on earth your father;

you have but one Father in heaven.

The greatest among you must be your servant.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;

but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

     Last week’s lenten readings were centered on prayer, this week’s are about mercy. We’re reading from two gospels,  Matthew and Luke. Each, written for a particular audience, describes who Jesus is and what he taught. Each do it with an eye on their own time and place. 

   Matthew’s gospel was written for Jewish Christians while they were still living, rather uneasily, among their fellow Jews, possibly in Syria or Palestine, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The synagogues Matthew describes in today’s gospel are more the synagogues of his time than the Galilean synagogues of Jesus’ day. Now they’re in the hands of Jewish leaders who are trying to salvage Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. 

These current teachers “on the chair of Moses” are honored in Jewish society and on the streets. They’re keeping Judaism alive in the synagogues and Jews are living together, praying and keeping their traditions under a new discipline, replacing the former discipline of the temple in Jerusalem. 

The followers of Jesus aren’t welcome in this new order, Matthew’s gospel indicates, and so they need to remember that Jesus is their teacher, even if he is not recognized. Having power isn’t the most important thing. Being a servant is.

Of course, that’s an important lesson to remember in any society, at any time, especially in one where following Jesus makes you an outsider.

But again, this is a week about mercy. Matthew’s gospel tends to be hard on the Jewish society of his day, commentators note, so. how does it contribute to that teaching ?  I’m sure readings from Luke were introduced into this 2nd week of Lent for its wonderful perspective on mercy. We close this week with Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the greatest stories of mercy in the scriptures. 

Yesterday we had Jesus’ strong teaching on mercy, also from Luke.“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you. “

Still, we wonder, if mercy is the teaching this week, why read the gospel from Matthew we have today? Perhaps as a reminder mercy doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes time. People don’t change quickly, situations don’t change quickly. Mercy doesn’t come to us easily. 

Mercy is something we have to ask for every day,  we ask for it for ourselves and to be merciful to others. Lord, have mercy.

Lord,
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1


Today’s readings

Then Jesus said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Jesus offers a blunt challenge in this reading from Luke’s gospel;  a challenge to us now as well to his disciples then. He speaks to  all. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

No one escapes each day’s cross.  It may not look  like the stark cross Jesus receives from the hands of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in Jerusalem, but it’s there all the same.We may not see it as a cross because it’s so much a part of  life, but if we look closely our cross is there.

A traditional Christian practice is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves as we begin the day. We do it to remind ourselves of the daily cross we bear and remember that God helps us bear whatever life brings that day. Let’s start lent by consciously taking up this basic Christian practice.

St. Paul of the Cross wrote a letter to Teresa, a woman overwhelmed by life.  What shall I do? she said. Paul urges her to let God’s Will decide for her what to do. He wanted people to find their cross and embrace it:

“Teresa, listen to me and do what I’m telling you to do in the Name of the Lord. Do all you can to be resigned to the Will of God in all the sufferings that God permits, in your tiredness and in all the work you have to do. Keep your heart at peace and be recollected; don’t get upset by things. If you can go to church, go; if you can’t, stay quietly at home; just do the Will of God in the work you have at hand.” (Letter 1135)

Bless me, Lord,
and help me take up the cross
that’s mine today,
though it may not seem like a cross at all.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ

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The Passionists celebrate the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday as Lent and Easter begin. If you want to pray this feast with the Passionist, see here.

Here’s St Cyril of Jerusalem on this mystery:

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. Yet still, how many blind people are left in the world! Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of the countless numbers who die because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to all those now still starving in ignorance.

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of humanity!” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

“A book of life, it teaches the way to life and communicates life,” the Passionist bishop Vincent Strambi writes. “The one who reads this book day and night is blessed.”

“The Passion of Jesus is a “sea of suffering” but also a “sea of love,” St. Paul of the Cross writes. So many do not know the depths of this mystery.  “Like people living in a swamp,” he says,  an image probably taken from the swamp lands of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy where Paul ministered  much of his life.

“We must awaken them from their sad state. We must send them quickly zealous workers, truly poor in spirit and detached from every creature, that by the trumpet of God’s word they might, through the holy Passion of Christ, awaken those who ‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Almighty God,

awaken within us a spirit of prayer.

Give us devotion to the Passion of your Son

and the grace of fostering it in others

by our preaching and example,

and we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

st-paul-castellazzo


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Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.

———

In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.

———

The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.

———

I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


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—Howard Hain

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Life Comes from His Wounds

ICON

The Passionists celebrate the Feast of the Glorious Wounds of Jesus on Friday of the second week of Easter. The four gospels tell the great story of the passion of Jesus, each in its own way. More than the others, John’s gospel points to his wounds, unlikely signs revealing the mystery of the Word made flesh.

On Calvary  a small symbolic group stands beneath the cross of “the King of the Jews”– Mary, the mother of Jesus, the disciple whom he loved, and a few others. A gentile soldier joins them.

This group represents the “new Jerusalem,” “the inhabitants of Jerusalem who look on the one whom they have pierced…and mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child.” (Zechariah 11, 10 )

They receive a precious gift. “It is finished!” Jesus declares, and bowing his head, he pours out his spirit on them. A Roman soldier thrusts a spear into Jesus’ side. “Immediately blood and water flowed out.” (John 19, 34)

Blood, a sign of his life, flows on those standing beneath his cross. Water, signifying the Spirit within him, is poured out on the world they represent. Far from ending his life, his death is the moment Jesus shares his life.“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ.” (I John 5,6)

Artists afterwards picture the wounds of Christ as cosmic signs. They place the grave of Adam beneath the cross — generations wait for the new life Jesus brings. Creation, symbolized by the sun and moon, looks on expectantly, for Calvary is where creation too is redeemed. Angels collect the blood and water from Jesus’ wounds in cups representing the mystery of the Eucharist. All days are found in this one day. On Calvary, the glory of the Lord is revealed in his wounds.

St. Paul of the Cross in his letters often wished the one to whom he’s writing to be placed in the “wounds of Christ” or the “holy Side of Jesus” or his “Sacred Heart.”  “I am in a hurry and leave you in the holy Side of Jesus, where I ask rich blessings for you.”

These expressions may seem pious phrases until we read the story of Thomas from John’s gospel. Jesus shows the doubting disciple the wounds in his hands and side, and Thomas believes.

Belief is not something we come to by ourselves. God gives this gift through Jesus Christ. We all stand beneath the life-giving Cross of Jesus. May his life give new hope to us and our world.

The Passionists: Who are They?

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I’ll be preaching this Wednesday evening, March 18, at 7:30 at Mary, Mother of Jesus Church in Brooklyn. Their mission series this year is inspired by the Year of the Consecrated Life, in which the Catholic Church remembers the role of its religious communities. On Wednesday I’ll be speaking about St. Paul of the Cross and the Passionists.

I’ll talk about the life of St. Paul of the Cross and his impact on the world of his time and then lead the group in a meditation on the Passion of Jesus. Paul was one of the great spiritual figures of the 18th century; I’ve written about him on my blog. He’s worth knowing today.

Paul thought the world was falling into a forgetfulness of the Passion of Jesus, the great sign of God’s love, the mystery that reveals the wisdom and power of God. He carried a large cross with him from place to place where he preached and pointed to it as a book that opened up to us the mysteries of God.

The community he founded, the Passionists, are among those groups who embrace the consecrated life in the church today. We strive to follow Paul of the Cross in holding up the Passion of Jesus to a forgetful world as a sign of hope and God’s love.

The Widow of Naim

Widow Naim
As far as I remember there are three miracles in which Jesus raises someone from the dead. The most famous is the raising of Lazarus, his friend. His sisters, Mary and Martha, were also well known to him. Jesus stayed with them at Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. That miracle led his enemies to plot to put him to death.

Earlier, in Capernaum, Jesus raised the little daughter of Jairus, an official of the synagogue, from the dead. The official pleaded with him. Jesus goes to his house, where the mourning had already begun, and took the little girl by the hand and raised her up and told her parents to give her something to eat.

Today’s reading at Mass recalling the miracle in which Jesus raises the widow’s son as they carry him through the gates of the town of Naim seems somewhat different. The mother and son are strangers to him. We don’t know their names; they have no claim of friendship or position that may influence him. It’s the very opposite. The mother is a widow. Her son was the last asset she had and now he’s dead. She has nothing. Absolutely poor.

Our reading from Luke (Luke 7,11-17) provides the answer Jesus will give to John’s disciples as they approach him after this incident and ask “Are you he who is to come?” Tell John, Jesus says, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

“The poor have the gospel preached to them.” Those who have nothing and who know they have nothing, like the widow, are given the greatest gifts. God notices them. God’s heart goes out to them.

That was an important teaching of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. “Go to God in your nothingness,” he said to people looking for guidance. Learn from the poor widow. Go to God with nothing.

In the years Paul of the Cross founded the Passionists, a lot of men left his community for one reason or another, and Paul respected them, but he reacted when someone left for the wrong reasons.

St Vincent Strambi, his biographer, tells about a priest who left the Passionists to make a career for himself in the church. He wanted to be a success so he got a string of degrees and began to climb the church bureaucracy. He wrote Paul a very self-congratulatory letter informing him how much better he was now for leaving the Passionists. At the end he signed his name, noting all his new degrees and honors after it.

Paul answered his letter, thanking him for letting him know how he was making out and wishing him well. But at the end of the letter he simply signed his name: “Paolo, n,n.n”– “Paul, a nobody, no one, having nothing.”

Our first reading today is all about bishops and deacons. (1 Timothy 3,1-13) Our gospel is about a widow. Who’s more important?

Beauty every ancient, ever new

The recent blogs from America and Commonweal magazines mention Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, which is due out next week and which devotes a great deal of attention to the gospel narratives of the Passion. The bloggers, like the New York Times yesterday, seem interested mostly in what the pope says about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. Following Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council, Benedict says the Jewish people were not responsible for putting Jesus to death; the Romans and a few Jewish leaders were the primary culprits.

Yet, it would be regrettable to see the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives only as a lengthy statement about this issue, important as it is. From what I read, he’s doing more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God.

He seems to be using insights from modern scholars, new tools that can add to the way we reflect on this great story. The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today, and the pope is reminding us of its power and glory.

We tend to say “I’ve heard that already. I know the story.” But it’s a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Nearing his death, Paul of the Cross was supposed to have pointed to the crucifix over his bed and said to the brother caring for him, “Give me my book.” That seems to be what the pope is doing also.