11 - 15 minutes readApril 28 – St Paul of the Cross, Confessor ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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April 28 – St Paul of the Cross, Confessor


SPLENDIDLY ADORNED with the sacred sign of the Passion, 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 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 eighteenth 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 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. 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 Spirit, who guides the Church throughout the admirable course of the liturgical cycle, has no other and in view for the souls who abandon themselves unreservedly to his sanctifying power. 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 to man to utter. 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. He saw on the throne of God the Lamb standing as though slain, and giving light to the heavenly city, 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 flowers 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 eighteenth century, even among the holiest. 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 every one that is born of the Spirit.” The Holy Ghost chose 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 Liturgy gives the following short account of St. Paul of the Cross:

Paulus a Cruce Uvadæ in Liguria natus, sed a Castellatio prope Alexandriam nobili genere oriundus, qua futurus esset sanctitate clarus, innotuit miro splendore qui noctu implevit parientis matris cubiculum, et insigni augustæ cœli Regnæ beneficio, quæ puerum in flumen delapsum a certo naufragio illæsum eripuit. A primmo rationis usu, Jesu Christi crucifixi amore flagrans, ejus contemplationi prolixius vacare cœpit, et carnem innocentissimam vigiliis, flagellis, jejuniis, potu in sexta feria ex aceto cum felle mixto, ac dura quavis castigatione conterere. Martyrii desiderio incensus, exercitui se adjunxit, qui Venetiis ad bellum Turcis inferendum comparabatur; cognita vero inter orandum Dei voluntate, arma ultro reddidit, præstantiori militiæ operam daturus, quæ Ecclesiæ præsidio esse, æternamque hominum salutem procurare totis viribus niteretur. Reversus in patriam, honestissimus nuptiis, sibique delata patrui hereditate, recusatis, arctiorem inire semitam, ac rudi tunica a suo Episcopo indui voluit. Tum ejus jussu, ab eminentem vitæ sanctimoniam, et rerum divinarum scientiam, nondum clericus Dominicum agrum, maximo cum animarum fructu, divini verbi prædicatione excoluit. 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 chastized his innocent flesh with watchings, scourgings, 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 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 upon a straiter 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.
Romam profectus, theologicis disciplinis rite imbutus, a summo Pontifice Benedicto Decimo tertio ex obedientia sacerdotio auctus est. Facta sibi ab eodem potestate aggregandi socios, in solitudinem recessit Argentarii montis, quo eum beata Virgo jampridem invitaverat, veste illi simul ostensa atri coloris, Passionis Filii sui insignibus decorata, ibique fundamenta jecit novæ Congregationis. Quæ brevi, plurimis ab eo toleratis laboribus, præclaris aucta viris, cum Dei benedictione valde succrevit; a Sede Apostolica non semel confirmata una cum regulis, quas orando ipse a Deo acceperat, et quarto addito voto pergratam Dominicæ Passionis memoriam promovendi. Sacras Virgines quoque instituit, quæ excessum caritatis divini Sponsi sedulo meditarentur. Hæc inter, animarum inexhausta aviditate ab Evangelii prædicatione numquam deficiens, homines pene innumeros etiam perditissimos aut in hæresim lapsos, in salutis tramitem adduxit. Præsertim Christi enarranda Passione, mirifica ejus orationis vis erat, qua una cum adstantibus in fletum effusus quælibet obdurata corda a pœnitentiam scindebat. 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 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 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 should 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.
Tanta in ejus pectore alebatur divinæ caritatis flamma, ut indusium quod erat cordi propius sæpe veluti igne adustum, et binæ costæ elatæ apparuerint. Sacrum præsertim faciens non poterat a lacrimis temperare; frequenti quoque exstasi, cum mira interdum corporis elevatione, frui, vultuque superna luce radiante conspiciebatur. Quandoque cum concionaretur, cœlestis vox verba ei suggerentis audita fuit, aut sermo ejus ad plura millia passuum intonuit. Prophetiæ et linguarum dono, cordium scrutatione, potestate in dæmones, in morbos, in elementa enituit. Cumque ipsis summis Pontificibus carus et venerandus esset, servum inutilem, peccatorem nequissimum, a dæmoniis quoque conculcandum se judicabat. Tandem, asperrimi vitæ generis ad longam usque senectutem tenacissimus, anno millesimo septingentesimo septuagesimo quinto, cum præclara monita veluti sui spiritus transmissa hæreditate, alumnis tradidisset, Ecclesiæ sacramentis, ac cœlesti visione recreatus. Romæ qua prædixerat die migravit in cœlum. Eum Pius Nonus Pontifex Maximus in beatorum, novisque deinde fulgentem signis in sanctorum numerum retulit. The fire of the love of God burnt 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 teaching as an inheritance to his disciples in the beautiful exhortations he made to them on his death-bed. Pope Pius IX enrolled him among the Blessed, and after renewed signs and wonders proceeded to his canonization.

Thou hadst but one thought, O Paul. Hidden in those “clefts of the rock,” which are the sacred Wounds of the Savior, thou wouldst bring all men to these divine fountains which quench the thirst of the true Israel in the desert of this life. Happy were they who could hear thy victorious word and save themselves by the Cross in the midst of a perverse generation. But in spite of thy apostolic zeal, thy voice could not make itself heard in all lands, and where thou wast absent evil was let loose upon the world. False science and mistaken piety, mistrust of Rome and the corruption of the great had prepared the way for the destruction of the old Christian social order, and the world was given over to teachers of lies. Thy prophetic gaze saw the abyss in which kings and peoples were soon to be engulfed. The successor of St. Peter, unable to quell the storm which raged against the Church, sought by his efforts and sacrifices to hold back the floods, even for a time. Thou wert the friend of the Pontiffs and their support in those sad days, the witness of Christ suffering in his Vicar. What sorrows were confided to thee! And what must have been thy thoughts when at thy death thou didst bequeath the venerated image of the Mater Dolorosa to a Pontiff who was destined to drain the cup of bitterness and die a captive in a strange land! Thou didst promise to watch over the Church from thy throne in heaven with that tender compassion which identified thee on earth with her suffering Spouse. Keep this promise today, O Paul! This age of social disintegration has neither made atonement for the sins of the past nor learned wisdom from misfortune. The Church is the victim of oppression on all sides, the power is in the hands of her persecutors, and the Vicar of Christ is a prisoner in his palace and lives on alms. The Bride has no bed but the Cross of her Spouse, she lives on the memory of his sufferings. The Holy Spirit who guards her and is preparing her for the final summons, has raised thee up to keep her perpetually in mind of those sufferings which are to strengthen her in the trials of the last days.

Thy children all the world over are true to the spirit of their father and continue thy work on earth. They have gained a footing in England where thy prophetic gaze foresaw their labors, and this kingdom, for which thou didst pray so earnestly, is being gradually freed, through their influence, from the bonds of schism and heresy. Bless their apostolate. May they grow and be multiplied to meet the ever-increasing needs of those unhappy times! May their zeal ever continue to minister to the Church, and may the holiness of their lives ever redound to the glory of their father!

Thou, O Paul, wast faithful to thy crucified Master in his humiliation, and he has been faithful to thee in her triumphant Resurrection. In the hour of darkness thou didst live hidden in the cleft of the mysterious Rock. But what must be thy glory, now that Christ victorious “enlighteneth wonderfully from the everlasting hills”! Enlighten and perfect us, we beseech thee. We give thanks to God for thy triumph. Do thou in return help us to be faithful to the standard of the Cross, so that we, like thee, may be illuminated by its glory, when it appears in the clouds of heaven on the day of judgment. O Apostle of the Cross, initiate us into the mystery of the Pasch, which is so closely connected with that of Calvary. Only he who has shared the combat can comprehend the victory and have part in the triumph.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)