April 22, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Paul of the Cross

John F. Fink“It is very good and holy to consider the Passion of our Lord and to meditate on it, for by this sacred path we reach union with God.” That bit of wisdom comes from the writings of St. Paul of the Cross. His feast is on Oct. 20, but it seems appropriate to include his wisdom in this Good Friday issue of The Criterion.

St. Paul is the founder of the Passionists, or, more formally, the Congregation of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The whole order is dedicated to the Passion of Christ.

Paul lived in Italy from 1694 to 1775. As a young man, he joined the Venetian army to fight the Turks. Then he overcame many obstacles while founding his congregation, including the chronic threat of war against the Turks.

One of the greatest preachers of his era, Paul was also known as a miracle worker and spiritual director.

In the letter that included the quotation that began this column, Paul went on to say that we learn true wisdom by meditating on Christ’s Passion. Indeed, that was how all the saints learned it, he wrote.

Then he said, “Love is a unifying virtue which takes upon itself the torments of its beloved Lord. It is a fire reaching through to the inmost soul. It transforms the lover into the one loved.”

But it is more than that: “More deeply, love intermingles with grief, and grief with love, and a certain blending of love and grief occurs. They become so united that we can no longer distinguish love from grief nor grief from love. Thus, the loving heart rejoices in its sorrow and exults in its grieving love.”

After meditating on Jesus’ Passion and its demonstration of love, Paul said, we must practice every virtue. We should especially imitate Jesus’ patience “for this is the summit of pure love.”

He encouraged his followers to live in such a way that everyone will know that they bear outwardly as well as inwardly the image of Christ crucified, the model of all gentleness and mercy. If we are united inwardly with Jesus, the Son of the living God, he said, we will also bear his likeness outwardly by our continual practice of goodness.

He especially counseled patience, a patience reinforced by courage, which does not complain either secretly or in public. “Conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified,” he wrote, “and hope for nothing except that all people be thoroughly converted to his will.”

St. Paul of the Cross tells us how to celebrate this feast of Good Friday: We should do so joyfully. If we are true lovers of the Crucified, he said, we will endure in silence with a serene and joyful countenance whatever problems we have so that our suffering remains hidden from other people and is observed by God alone.

In this feast, he said, “there is always a solemn banquet, and the food presented is the will of God, exemplified by the love of our crucified Christ.” †

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