Tag Archives: St. Paul of the Cross

The Legacy of Paul of the Cross

In the United States October 20 is the feast of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists. You can find more out about him here.

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 political opposition, 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 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 this pandemic, if we’re becoming like the Tuscan Maremma. Some say it will all be over when everyone is vaccinated, or when the political scene settles, 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.

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 were stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century by Michael, which 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…”

Friday, 5th Week of Lent

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Readings

In St.John’s gospel, read these final days of Lent and into Easter, Jesus goes regularly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. In John’s gospel, the Jewish feasts are signs that say who Jesus is and what he does.

In Jerusalem on a Sabbath feast, for example, Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. (Chapter 5); The Son does not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. At a Passover Feast (Chapter 6), Jesus calls himself the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9) he reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, which celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration, Jesus claims to be the true temple, dwelling among us and making God’s glory known.

The feasts are signs that what Jesus says and does are from God. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” he claims for all these feasts. 

For the most part, his listeners are blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, John’s Gospel says. They try to stone him and have him arrested. Instead of accepting him, Jerusalem rejects him. In today’s gospel, Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes to a place across the Jordan where John baptized. 

He will come back as a new sign. God will give a new sign, not in the temple and its feasts, but in One who is lifted up on a cross. John’s gospel, more than the others, finds glorious signs in the sufferings of Jesus. Intent on finding God’s glory in his narrative of the passion of Jesus, he often seems to ignore what really happened. 

The soldiers arresting Jesus in the garden fall to the ground before him. Pilate shrinks before him on the judgment seat, Jesus speaks calmly, majestically from the cross. Realists that we are, we find it hard to find suffering revealing God’s glory and power. It’s hard to see glory in someone suffering and dying on a cross..

We find it hard to see anything but absurdity in the pandemic we’re experiencing now. That’s why John’s Gospel may be an important guide today. “Look for the signs,” it says.  If we believe God is with us, there are signs of glory and a promise of resurrection, even in suffering and death.

The world is caught in a storm, like the disciples caught in their boat at sea. We need to know God is not asleep.   

Lead me on, O Lord,

through your holy signs, especially the sign of your Cross.

Through the One lifted up, show me the glory I don’t see. 

Morning and evening prayer here

Prayers for Children here..

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Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) They know well the splendid temple buildings, its well-ordered worship, its ancient traditions, and so they ask: “Why listen to this man? We have what God promised to Abraham; it’s 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 God’s promises revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time. So must we.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Jews and Jewish Christians in his time, “descendants of Abraham” may have longed for the restoration of ancient structures now gone and the surety they found in them.

This gospel would remind them, and us, that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured on paths unknown.

Does that sound like our times? We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith. In our first reading today from the Book of Daniel three children thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon sing in the flames.

Is God telling us to do that today? Sing in the flames and God will lead us on.

Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross urged those who sought his advice to hold on to the Unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God will be our guide..

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Freely take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, in God’s consuming fire. Rest in God’s divine perfections, especially in 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 our steps into the unknown. Lead us on.

Monday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Jesus meets a woman accused of adultery in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles, according to John’s Gospel. He claims to be the light of the world and living water. His enemies, fiercely disputing his claims, likely brought the woman before him to discredit him. He said, “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5:30) Here was a test.

Moses, the woman’s accusers say, commanded she be stoned. What is your judgment?

Adultery, though, is not the greatest issue here. Gender injustice is also on the table. Jewish religious law said if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system obviously led to abuse; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband might give false testimony and have her stoned to death. The woman becomes a victim and the man avoids blame.

Jesus, who brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age, brought life and light to the woman in the temple that day. Her accusers met his judgment.

The story of Suzanna from the Book of Daniel, like the gospel story, is also about injustice and  abuse of power. Two old men, judges with lots of power, think they can do anything they want. Abuse of power, combined with lust, is still behind many of our sexual crimes today. It’s found in the workplace, in politics, in the celebrity and sports world, and also unfortunately in the world of religion. 

Suzannah refuses to give in to their advances, and she finds a champion in Daniel who faces up to the powerful men. Her story calls for standing up for truth and fighting against abuse of power wherever we find it.  

Lord,
let me judge others fairly with your eyes, your heart and your mind.
Help me work for a world that is right and just.
Give me the grace to know myself.

Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1


READINGS
Our readings from John’s gospel continue today with the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda (John 5,1-18). Compare him with the official in our previous story who came from Capernaum to Cana looking for a cure for his son. The official was obviously an important man. He knew how to get things done and came to get Jesus to do something for him. He’s resourceful.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St. Anne in Jerusalem– and he can’t find a way into the water when it’s stirring. Paralyzed, too slow, he can’t even get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus; Jesus approaches him, asking: “Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk. The man has no idea who cured him until Jesus tells him later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians.

Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the last. The mystics saw weakness differently that most do. It’s a time God acts, St. Paul of the Cross say it that way:

“Be of good heart, my good friend, for the time has come for you to be cured. Night will be as illumined as day. As his night, so is his day. A great difference takes place in the Presence of God; rejoice in this Divine Presence. Have nothing, my dear one; allow yourself to be deprived of all pleasure. Do not look your sufferings in the face, but accept them with resignation and satisfaction in the higher part of your soul as if they were jewels, and so they truly are. Ah! let your loving soul be freed from all that is created and pay no attention to suffering or to enjoyment, but give your attention to your beloved Good. (Letter 41)

Lord Jesus,
like the paralytic I wait for you,
not knowing when or how you will come.
But I wait, O Lord,
however long you may be.

Saturday, 1st Week of Lent: Loving Enemies

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said,

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say to you, love your enemies,

and pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father,

for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,

and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 43-48) 

When people talk about love today, usually they’re focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.

 “Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love,  our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Is that love beyond us?

We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against  a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.

We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love.  Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:

“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them.  Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
 
  Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
 

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

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. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In fact, he speaks to all.

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.

In truth, taking up our cross is a way of choosing life, which Moses urges in our first reading for today, and our choosing affects not only ourselves but others too. Listen to Moses:

I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.

A traditional Christian practice as you begin the day is to make the Sign of the Cross. We do it to remind ourselves of the daily cross we bear and remember that God helps us bear whatever life brings that day. Can we start lent with 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. It’s there before us.

“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.

A Book for Lent

St. Paul Cross

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 14th. Some years ago a publisher asked me to write a book entitled A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross, to be part of a series of reflections on the daily lenten gospels that included thoughts of saints of different religious orders. The book has just been translated into Japanese.

I was initially skeptical about the project. From early on I’ve seen lent as a time to give up something and take up some devotional practice like the Stations of the Cross. Yes, Lent was a journey with Jesus, and I appreciate the daily scriptures that take us through the season with him, but where does a saint come in, even a saint important to me, like St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century founder of my community the Passionists ?

Working on the book made me see lent differently. First, for St. Paul of the Cross lent was a time to leave the quiet mountain at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived and prayed and go to work in the Tuscan Maremma, then a swampy, malaria infested region of Italy, overrun with robbers and desperately poor. All through lent, carrying a cross and a bible Paul went from village to village preaching God’s love to people whose lives were often on edge with fear and lost hope.

Lent isn’t a time for turning inward, away from world you live in, Paul reminds me. Lent is a time to go out to the wounded world before you.

Secondly, Paul engaged his world, the world of the Tuscan Maremma, in the light of the gospel, especially the Passion of Jesus Christ. For him that mystery was not limited to a time long ago, when Jesus suffered on a Cross; it was there in the people before him. From village to village, he held up a Cross to anyone who would hear as a mirror of their reality and a pledge of the great mercy of God. Jesus died and rose again.

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent. Last Friday we celebrated the Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we celebrate the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Both feasts come from our missionary founder.

I can see him packing his bags for his lenten journey down the quiet mountain for the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma. He must remind himself what he will see. He must pray so he doesn’t forget.

“May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.”

St. Thèrése and the Passion of Jesus

therese-child-face-a

St. Thèrése put two titles to her name after she became a Carmelite nun. She holds those two titles in this photo. One was Thèrése of the Child Jesus, the other was Thèrése of the Holy Face of Jesus. She wished to be known by these two titles: Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

The titles came from religious experiences she had. The first occurred on Christmas day, 1886, when she was 13 years old. Shorlty afterwards, she had an experience of the Passion of Jesus, which took place one Sunday of the next year, when she was 14. She describes the two experiences  in chapter 5 of her autobiography. Her experience of the Passion of Jesus involved a murderer.

“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground unnoticed. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls.

The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”

At the time a notorious murderer, Pranzini had been condemned to death and refused to see a priest. Thèrése was deeply affected by the sensational story and   asked Jesus, “feeling that I myself could do nothing,” to be merciful to him. She had Mass offered for him, she begged God’s mercy.

Afterwards the newspaper reported a priest offered Pranzini a crucifix as he went to his death and he kissed it fervently three times. Thèrése believed her prayers were answered “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

For Thèrése the Passion of Jesus was a sign of God’s mercy. His words “I thirst,” were more than an expression of physical thirst, they expressed his desire to show a merciful love to the world.

The teen age girl’s experience reminds us that God’s graces can come to anyone, at any time. The experience left her with a lasting conviction, “I myself can do nothing.” One of her prayerbooks carries a remembrance of her experience.

therese-holy-card