Splendidly adorned with the sacred sign of the Passion, St. Paul of the Cross comes today to pay homage to the Conqueror of Death. It behooved Christ to suffer and so enter into His glory. It behooves the Christian, the member of Christ, to follow his Head in suffering that he may share His triumph. Even as a child St. Paul penetrated deeply into the ineffable mystery of the suffering of a God. He was filled with an ardent love for the Cross, and ran with giant strides along this royal road. He passed through the torrent, following his divine Head; he was buried with Him in death, and has won a share in His Resurrection.
The diminution of truths among the children of men seemed to have dried up the fount of sanctity, when Italy, ever fruitful in her vivid Faith, gave birth to the Christian hero, who stands out in the arid waste of the 18th century, like a saint of olden times. God never deserts His Church. He confronts a century of revolt and sensualism veiled under the name of philosophy with the Cross of His Son. A new Paul, recalling both in his name and his works the great Apostle of the Gentiles, rises in the midst of a generation intoxicated with pride and falsehood, to whom the Cross has become once more a folly and a scandal. This apostle was weak, poor, isolated and long misunderstood, but his heart was full of love and self-abnegation, and he sought to put to confusion the wisdom of sages and the prudence of prudent men. Clad in a coarse habit, with bare feet, his head crowned with thorns and a heavy cross on his shoulder, he journeyed through cities, claiming the attention of both the humble and the mighty, and desiring to know nothing but Jesus Crucified. The Cross made his zeal fruitful and showed itself to be indeed the power and the wisdom of God. Those who prided themselves on having banished the miraculous from history and the supernatural from the life of the people, might exult in their triumph, but, unknown to them, wonderful prodigies, countless miracles, were making whole peoples submissive to the voice of this man who, by completely destroying sin in his own person, had regained the power which Adam once had over nature, and seemed to possess in his mortal flesh the qualities of a glorified body.
But the apostolate of the Cross was not to end with St. Paul's death. The resources of ancient times were no longer sufficient for a decrepit age. We are far from the days when the exquisite delicacy of Christian sentiment was strongly moved by the sight of the Cross amid flowers, as it is seen in the paintings of the catacombs. Man's senses have been dulled by unhealthy emotions, and there is need of a stimulant in the form of a constant representation of the tears, the Blood, and the gaping wounds of our divine Redeemer. St. Paul of the Cross received the mission to supply this need. At the cost of unspeakable sufferings he became the father of a new Religious family, which adds to the three ordinary vows of religion a fourth vow—to propagate devotion to the sacred Passion of Our Lord, the badge of which each Religious wears visibly on his breast.
We must not forget that the Passion of Our Lord is for the Christian soul only a preparation for the great mystery of the Pasch,
the glorious term of the manifestations of the Word, the supreme end of the elect, whose piety finds therein its completion and its crown.
The Holy Ghost, Who guides the Church throughout the admirable course of the Liturgical cycle, has no other end in view for the souls who
abandon themselves unreservedly to His sanctifying power. St. Paul's desire was to be nailed to the Cross on Calvary, but he was often
carried thence to the heights of Heaven where he heard mysterious words such as it is not granted man to utter (2 Cor. 12: 4).
He assisted at the triumph of the Son of Man, Who, after having lived on earth a mortal life and passed through death,
is living now forever and ever (Apoc. 1: 18). He saw on the throne of God the Lamb standing as though slain,
and giving light to the heavenly city (Apoc. 21: 23), and this sublime vision of the realities of Heaven inspired him
with that divine enthusiasm, that intoxication of love, which, in spite of his terrifying austerities, gives an incomparable
charm to his whole person.
Fear not, he said to his children who were terrified by the furious attacks of the Devil,
fear not, cry 'Alleluia.' The Devil is afraid of the Alleluia; it is a word that comes from Paradise. He could not restrain
his feelings when he saw nature born again with her Savior in these days of Spring, the flower blossoming under the steps of his Risen Lord,
the birds celebrating His victory in their harmonious songs. His heart was full to overflowing with love and poetry;
he touched the flowers gently with his stick and upbraided them, saying:
Hold your peace, hold your peace
To whom do these lands belong? he said one day to a companion,
to whom do these lands belong, I say? You do not understand.
They belong to our great God. And his biographer relates that he was rapt in an ecstasy of love and carried some distance through the air.
Love God, my brethren, he repeated to all those whom he met,
love God, Who so well deserves our love. Do you not hear the very
leaves on the trees telling you to love God? O love of God, love of God!
We yield to the charm of a sanctity which is so sweet and yet so strong. It is a divine attraction, such as could never be
exercised by the false spirituality, so much in vogue in the 18th century, even among those reputed for holiness. Under pretext of
subduing man's evil nature and avoiding possible excesses, the new teachers allied themselves, though unwittingly, with Jansenism,
checked the flight of the soul, disciplined it, remade it according to their own fashion, and confined it within the limits of
certain rules which were supposed to lead all souls to perfection at the same rate. But saints are made by the Divine Spirit,
the Spirit of love and holiness, to whose essence liberty belongs. He does not confine Himself within the bounds of human methods.
Our Lord says:
The Spirit breatheth where He will... but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth.
So is everyone that is born of the Spirit (John 3: 8). The Holy Ghost chose St. Paul in his earliest infancy.
He took possession of this child, so richly endowed by nature, destroyed nothing and sanctified everything.
He formed him according to ancient models, always ardent, always attractive, and exceedingly holy.
Such a one could never have been produced by a school whose over-correct methods wear the soul out by a barren and self-centered asceticism.
The Breviary gives the following short account of St. Paul of the Cross:
St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada, in the province of Acqui, and was descended from a noble family of Castellazzo near Alessandria. His future holiness was foreshown by a wonderful light which filled his mother's room while she was in labor, and by a remarkable proof of the protection of the Queen of Heaven, who saved him from drowning in the river as a child. From the first use of reason he was filled with an ardent love for Jesus Crucified, and began to devote much time to contemplation of Him. He chastised his innocent flesh with watching, scourging, fasting, and all kinds of austerity, and on Fridays drank vinegar mingled with gall. Out of a desire for martyrdom he enlisted in the army which was being raised at Venice to fight against the Turks, but having learned in prayer what was the will of God, he gave up this career in order to serve in a nobler army which was to defend the Church and labor for the eternal salvation of men. When he returned home he refused a very honorable marriage and the inheritance left him by his uncle. He wished to enter a stricter way, and to receive a coarse tunic from the bishop, who, on account of his holiness of life and knowledge of divine things, commissioned him even before his ordination to preach the Word of God, which he did with great profit to souls.
He went to Rome, and after having gone through the theological course was ordained priest by command of Pope Benedict XIII, who also gave him permission to gather comrades around him. He withdrew to the solitude of Mount Argentaro, whither he had been summoned by the Blessed Virgin, who had also shown him in a vision a black habit bearing the emblems of the Passion of Her Son. Here he laid the foundations of a new Congregation which, through his labors and the blessing of God, quickly increased and attracted eminent men. It received the confirmation of the Apostolic See more than once, together with the Rule which St. Paul had himself received from God in prayer, and the addition of a fourth vow—to promote devotion to the Passion of Our Lord. He founded also a congregation of nuns, whose vocation would be to meditate upon the surpassing charity of their heavenly Spouse. His untiring love for souls caused him never to weary in preaching the Gospel, and he brought numbers of men, both heretics and criminals, into the way of salvation. So great was his eloquence when he spoke of the Passion that both he and his hearers would shed tears, and the most hardened hearts were moved to repentance.
The fire of the love of God burned so in his heart that his garments often seemed to be scorched, and two of his ribs raised. He could not restrain his tears, particularly when saying Mass, and he was often rapt in ecstasy and raised into the air, while his face shone as with light from Heaven. Sometimes when he was preaching, a heavenly voice was heard prompting him, and at others his words became audible at the distance of several miles. He was distinguished for the gifts of prophecy, of speaking with tongues, of reading the heart, and of power over evil spirits, over diseases, and over the elements. Though Popes regarded him with affection and veneration, he looked upon himself as an unprofitable servant upon whom devils might well trample. He persevered in his austerities until extreme old age, and died at Rome on the day he had himself foretold (October 18, 1775), after having received the Last Sacraments and the consolation of a heavenly vision. He left the spirit of his teachings as an inheritance to his disciples in the beautiful exhortations he made to them on his deathbed. Pope Pius IX enrolled him among the Blessed, and after renewed signs and wonders proceeded to his canonization.
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