No matter who we are or what we face in life, we all have enough reasons to be grateful. One of the blessings that I constantly thank God for is our parish community. From her humble beginnings in 1911 the parish has grown to be a spiritual home to thousands. As we approach the feast of St Paul of the Cross (October 20), we express our gratitude to the Passionists who founded our parish under the leadership of Fr Scannell. In this column I would like to reflect on our spiritual heritage.
Paul Danei (that was his given name) was born at Ovada, near Genoa in Italy, being the eldest son of an impoverished businessman of noble ancestry. From an early age he was devout and his heart was set always on the Lord and on things spiritual. As a young man, he rejected the opportunity both of a rich inheritance and an advantageous marriage. After serving as a volunteer in the Venetian army in 1714, he spent several years in prayer before he decided in 1720 to found a new religious congregation. His decision came as a result of a vision.
Paul was an extremely effective preacher, especially on the subject of Christ’s suffering. He was also given the gift of prophecy, healing and reading the secrets of hearts. His one passion was to reconcile England with the Holy See. Even though he did not see this dream become a reality in his lifetime, one of his sons, Fr Dominic Barberi, had the privilege of receiving John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church. In his later years Paul resided in Rome near the basilica of Ss John and Paul which was given to the Passionists by Pope Clement XIV. He died on October 18, 1775. He was canonized almost a hundred years later, in 1867.
The saint was given the gift of heavenly visions and apparitions. The first of these took place when he and his brother fell into a raging river. A beautiful lady appeared and helped them to safety. The major vision came when Paul was twenty-six. When he was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, he saw an angel approach him with a golden cross. He also saw a scourge with golden cords. From that vision Paul understood that God wanted him to bear the Cross just like His Son. On another occasion while he was returning from daily Mass, he was given a vision of the habit which he and his companions were to don. The habit would be a black robe, with a white cross and the name of Jesus over the breast. This vision was confirmed when the Blessed Mother appeared wearing the same habit. Thus even today the Passionists wear the black habit, with the white heart and cross, and the words, Passion of Jesus Christ with three nails.
The life, spirituality and mission of Paul revolved around the cross. So much so, the saint gave up his given name and adopted the name, Paul of the Cross. His own personal journey was filled with crosses. His efforts to start his religious community were often stifled by numerous obstacles. The Rule that Paul wrote took a long time to obtain the Church’s official approval. On his way to Rome he fell in the snow exhausted and he could have easily died were it not for the kindness of the border patrol. Often the devil attacked him. However, the heaviest crosses came from good people who could not understand his austere way of life. Some even tried to destroy a retreat house that he built. Some of his novices left protesting that their life was too hard. In all his trials and tribulations he found consolation and strength in the passion of Jesus Christ.
The great apostle Paul exclaimed: “I must preach Christ, Him crucified.” That is what St Paul of the Cross did. He understood that there is no salvation except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Almost a hundred years later, St John Bosco, another Italian saint, would hear these words on the day of his ordination from his mother, Mamma Margaret: “To say Mass is to begin to suffer.” What she meant was that a priest must carry the Cross in his personal life so that his celebration of the Eucharist will be meaningful and effective. The same thing is true for all of us. In order to participate more fully in the saving work of Jesus Christ, we must take up our crosses and follow after the Master.
The crosses in our lives are the inevitable sufferings that come our way, sufferings over which we have no control. Sometimes the crosses visit us through the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the breakdown of a relationship, economic hardship, sickness or mental pain caused by those dear to us. Instead of allowing them to make us bitter, we must use them to make us better. If we offer them up for our sins and for the conversion of sinners, we will participate in the redeeming work of Christ.
Let me leave you with some powerful words from the saint:
Look at the number of pains, hurts, insults and tortures of every kind Jesus Christ went through for our sake, even though he was the Savior, the Son of God himself… Be happy to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to be ‘scorned by men and despised by the people’, to be hidden from the eyes of the world, and to do in everything what God desires.
Happy feast of our patron, St Paul of the Cross!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...