Tag Archives: St. Paul of the Cross

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 

Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim that they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) As they look at the splendid buildings of the temple, its well-ordered worship, the structures of ancient tradition they know so well, they probably ask: “Why listen to this man? We have everything God promised to Abraham; they’re automatically ours”.

But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found the truth as it was revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. At that time were “descendants of Abraham”– Jews and Jewish-Christians– longing for the restoration and comfort of those ancient structures now gone? Does this gospel remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured onto paths unknown. One greater than Abraham leads all of us now.

In fast moving times like ours, this gospel offers the same lesson. We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith that seeks for light within? Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced changing times by strongly urging those who sought his advice to center themselves in the unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God within is our teacher.

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Leave yourself free to take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, all consumed by fire, absorbed, beside itself and in admiration of the divine perfections, especially at the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)

O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)

You guide my steps into the unknown. Lead me on.

St. Paul of the Cross

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October 20th, we celebrate the feast of  St. Paul of the Cross in the United States.

A saint leaves a legacy, a blessing for the church and especially for members of communities he founded or inspired. What legacy did the saintly founder of the Passionists leave?

Paul of the Cross died October 18, 1775, a year before our American Revolution and fourteen years before the French Revolution. Twenty three years after his death, the French revolution spilled over into neighboring Italy and the Papal States. Napoleon imprisoned the pope, Pope Pius VI, religious houses and church resources were taken over by French forces; the Catholic Church in Italy, like the Catholic Church in France, was seemingly crushed by the French general and his powerful army.

In May of 1810 the situation got worse. Napoleon declared an end to the Papal States and ordered the new pope Pius VII to be imprisoned in Savona, Italy. His police led thousands of religious from their religious houses back to their homes and told to start another life. Among them were 242 Passionists, the community Paul of the Cross founded in the previous century.

The old church was dead, the emperor said. He would replace it by a new one of his own. In that thinking, the Passionists too were dead; they would hardly have a role in Napoleon’s church. Of course, the church didn’t die and neither did the Passionists.

Historians usually credit the brilliant diplomacy of Cardinal Consalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, for keeping the church alive and getting it on its feet again after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. But diplomats weren’t the only ones responsible for the church’s restoration. Most of the credit belonged to ordinary believers who kept the faith and remained loyal.

The same was true for the Passionists. We certainly gave the church an inspirational figure at the time, St. Vincent Strambi, the Passionist bishop and first biographer of Paul of the Cross. Before Napoleon’s troops invaded Rome in 1798 Pius VI asked Vincent to preach in the city’s four major basilicas to strengthen the Roman people. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pius VII called Strambi to Rome again to preach a 9 day retreat of reconciliation–not everybody stood up to the French invaders.

But besides Strambi, what kept the Passionists alive were certainly those ordinary religious who were driven from their monasteries and came back to continue the work that St. Paul of the Cross envisioned a century before. They were the faithful ones, faithful to what they learned from him.

Paul of the Cross not only preached the mystery of the Passion of Jesus; he lived it. He held on to his dreams through hard times. Humanly speaking, the Passionists, the community he founded, should have gone out of existence many times, from its tenuous beginnings to the years it waited for acceptance by the church. The mystery of the Cross was present in its birth, its growth and its life.

Now as then, the Passion of Jesus brings life, not death.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Michael

St.Michael, Lucca, Italy

We celebrate the feast of three archangels today, September 29th. St. Gregory the Great says of the angels: “There are many spirits in heaven, but only the spirits who deliver a message are called angels.” Archangels like Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, “are those who proclaim messages of supreme importance…

“And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.”

Their names, Gregory says, tell the service they perform. “Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.

“Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power…

“So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

“Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first foundation on Monte Argentario in Italy to St. Michael and he said the archangel preserved his community from harm. Paul was a Lombard. Historians say the Lombards believed the Saracens where stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century by Michael and fostered devotion to the archangel afterwards.

In a world so convinced that human power is the only power, it’s comforting to have another level of power to look towards.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…”