Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19 - Paul of the Cross, Mystic, Passionist, Spiritual Director

Paul was born at the end of the seventeenth century in northern Italy. As he grew, he received spiritual direction from the Capuchin monks near where he was raised. Paul felt a distinct calling to a life of prayer and mystical union with the God he experienced regularly. Intoxicated by his experience of the God who is Love, Paul continued to explore what kind of God had left this kind of mark and calling on his life. Intoxicated as he was, he was regularly trying to find his way back into the communion that salved and comforted his soul so sublimely and so completely. Paul began to realize that he could only think of one guaranteed place to find and commune with God: in the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote:
"It is an excellent and holy practice to call to mind and meditate on our Lord's Passion, since it is by this path that we shall arrive at union with God. In this, the holiest of all schools, true wisdom is learned, for it was there that all the saints became wise."
Paul advised any who would listen to engage in a regular process of contemplative prayer with Jesus' passion and death as their focus. In the passion,Paul saw a condensation of God's love into one body undergoing great suffering because of furious and unrelenting love. Jesus' crucifixion and death are the holy ground where we are confronted by the scandal of God's love for sinners and outcasts.

Paul would spend his whole life begging people to take a few moments and consider the ridiculous and amazing idea of the crucifixion and death of God Almighty--the King of the Universe. He was eventually granted the right to go and become a hermit so that he might found an order of people devoted to dwelling on the holy ground of the passion. They became known as the "Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ" and later known as "Passionists" for short.They found great sustenance in thinking on the incredible and incomprehensible love of God--the root and ground of all being and reality--who chose to die so that we might live.

Paul went on to draw others into the new group and establish "retreats" where others might take a moment to escape the pressures of the world and encounter a God who was changing the people of the world. When other groups were growing explosively, Paul opted to grow slowly and methodically. The vowed state of the order meant that few people immediately felt much desire to join with them in prayer and contemplation. But, people were called to join with them and did so gladly once they too found the God who is Love in the crux of the moment where Love was displayed most grandly.

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