Saints are raised up by God to meet the needs of their time. What were the needs of St. Paul of the Cross’ time, the 18th century,? He was living in a church weakened and humbled by politics, revolutions and new ways of thinking. The popes then were losing their power and influence in Europe, the Jesuits were suppressed, revolutions, like the the French Revolution, brought persecution, the suppression of church schools, religious houses, the confiscation of church assets. The 18th century saw a church humbled; some said it was a dying church.
A humbled church needed to be reminded of the humble Christ, who took the form of a slave and died on a cross and was raised up by God’s power. That’s what St. Paul of the Cross did through his preaching and ministry. His message was a message his time needed to hear. It was a message of abiding hope.
An “abiding hope.” That was the hope needed then. Most of Paul’s preaching and ministry took place in the Tuscan Maremma, a region north of Rome in Italy, the size of Long Island, NY. “Maremma” means swamplands. It was then a region of small towns and a few small cities suffering from chronic poverty and neglect. Only at the end of the 18th century did the region inch forward with some reforms. Ironically, after Mussolini controlled the swamplands in the 20th century, the region became a tourist destination. The world loves Tuscany now. Many would love a villa there.
In Paul’s time, though, the place was known for disease, poverty, beggars and the homeless, and bandits. Year after year things never got better. Year after year the future never got bright. Year after year Paul and his companions went from town to town, set up a cross in a church or town square and spoke of the “abiding hope” promised by Jesus Christ to the people who gathered there.
His preaching of the Passion of Jesus brought an abiding hope to them. God was with them, no matter how dark things were, or how long the darkness lasted.
Are we living in a humbled church and a humbled world today? I wonder, as we struggle with politics, pandemics, climate change, if we’re becoming like the Tuscan Maremma. Some say it will all be over when the political scene settles, when wars are over, or when science produces a new miracle that makes everything perfect. But I don’t know.
I think we are going to need an “abiding hope” to keep us going. I think the Passionists still have something to do.
May God send laborers into our vineyard with that message. St.Paul of the Cross, pray for us.