Passio in Cordibus


   (Paper prepared for a meeting of the North European Conference of Provincials in 1993)

This short paper is intended as an aid to reflection on the theme of reconciliation in relation to the life and writings of St Paul of the Cross.  It looks at reconciliation in relation to:

            a) Paul's original inspiration
            b) his pastoral activity.
            Before embarking on this brief visit to eighteenth-century Italy, we must remind ourselves that it is a world very different from our own.  Even a word such as "reconciliation", which is part of our everyday theological vocabulary, is notably absent from Paul's writings and from those of his contemporaries.  It would be wrong to conclude from this that the meaning behind the word was also absent from their scale of values.  If we want to find "reconciliation", and indeed many other gospel-values, in Paul of the Cross, we have to look for them in the language of his time and in his cultural setting.
a) Reconciliation and Paul's Original Inspiration

            In our looking at reconciliation in Paul's original inspiration, we can highlight three things: his own experience of conversion to a life of penance, his desire to found a congregation which would seek to reconcile people to God and to each other, and his prayer for reconciliation with separated Christians through the Eucharist.

            The inspiration to found the Congregation was preceded by a number of experiences, the first of which was always referred to by Paul as his "conversion".  As a result of listening to a sermon, at the age of nineteen, Paul experienced a deep sense of the reality of God both as the all-powerful and as one who loves in a personal way.  This twofold awareness of God as totally Other and at the same time Intimate was to mark him for the rest of his life.  Paul was moved to deep contrition, made a general confession and resolved "to give himself up to a holy and perfect life".  Writing seven years later, in 1720, Paul would refer to this moment in his life as being when "the good God converted me to a life of penance"[1].

            In the text we have just quoted, the Preface to the Rule written in 1720 during his forty day retreat at Castellazzo, Paul says that the aim of the congregation he was to found was in the first place to observe the evangelical counsels, particularly poverty, and "in the second place to have zeal for God's glory, to promote the fear of God in souls by working for the destruction of sin, in a word, to be indefatigable in works of charity that our beloved God may be loved, feared, served and praised by all for ever and ever.  Amen."[2]  For Paul, as for the New Testament, reconciliation is the response to sin, whether personal or social.  In working for the destruction of sin and the increase of charity, his congregation was to be engaged in a ministry of reconciliation.  The absence of God, in which the one who refuses to be reconciled is living, is answered by the Passion of Jesus, because it is the love shown by Jesus in his Passion which makes us one again with God.  Paul writes in his retreat journal:
            My dear God gave me infused knowledge of the joy which the soul will have when we see him face to face, when it will be united with him in holy love.  Then I felt sorrow to see him offended and I told him that I would willingly be torn to pieces for a single soul.  Indeed, I felt that I would die when I saw the loss of so many souls who do not experience the fruit of the Passion of my Jesus.[3]

            During the Castellazzo retreat, Paul prayed for the people of England and the neighbouring kingdoms, and in thinking of the need for a healing of the divisions between Christian churches, he saw that the answer to this is to be found in the Eucharist, the source of unity and reconciliation in the Church:
            I had a particular impulse to pray for the conversion of England, especially because I want the standard of the holy Faith to be erected so that there will be an increase of devotion and reverence, of homage and love, with frequent acts of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament, the ineffable mystery of God's most holy love, and so that his holy Name may be glorified in a very special way.[4]

            We can see then that reconciliation, particularly as conversion, is a significant part of Paul's founding inspiration.
b) Reconciliation in Paul's Pastoral Activity

            If we go on to look at Paul's activity as a missionary, we see that much of it was taken up with the ministry of reconciliation.  This ministry had a threefold thrust: reconciliation with God through conversion and the sacrament of reconciliation, reconciliation of enemies by the "peacemakers", and an inner reconciliation with oneself through the sacrament of reconciliation and also through the daily practice of meditation.

            According to Giorgini, "For Paul and his companions the importance of the mission rested on the fact of instructing the people by catechism and meditation in order that they be converted and reconciled to God in the sacrament of reconciliation.  For this reason, when missionaries were not engaged in preaching, they were to be wholly dedicated to hearing confessions."[5]

            Another important task during missions was the settling of disputes and reconciliation of enemies.  In the section of the Rule entitled "On the choice of the assistants, and the regulation of the chief things to be performed in time of mission", we read:
            When the Mission is begun, let two influential men be chosen as deputies, who are fit to settle discords....
            If it should happen that one of our Brethren be called upon to make up quarrels, or to reconcile enemies, let him fulfil his part pacifically and wisely, and always master of himself, never fall into injurious language against any one.  Let him not grow warm, nor for any reason, though grievous and very aggravating, give way to anger.  Let him take pains to remove obstinate hindrances and difficulties with patient charity, and not once, but a second and a third time return to work, till he succeeds.  If, after all, his endeavors prove vain, let him with the same tranquillity and sweetness of mind leave them in their obstinacy, commending their cause to God.[6]

In his teaching of prayer, Paul gave others an effective means of inner reconciliation. Commending to God the one who refuses to be reconciled is a way of keeping our heart open to that person and of maintaining our own inner peace and harmony. In a letter to a religious who was experiencing difficulty with another sister in her community, Paul wrote:

            Say to your heart: "My heart, do you love this dear sister?  Do you love in her the image of your God?  Love her, my heart, in the Blood of Jesus Christ!  Oh, my poor sister, I love you in God.  I excuse you!  I do not want to cherish hard feelings against you any more!"
            Say all this with a gentle mind.  If you falter and show some resentment follow it up by asking her pardon.  Above all don't grow worried but humble yourself calmly before God.[7]

            Paul realised that in certain situations where an interpersonal reconciliation is not possible, interior prayer can bring about a sufficient healing of hurts received to permit a person to live in openness to the other.


These few pages do not pretend to be anything more than a brief look at some texts of St Paul of the Cross which have some bearing on the theme of reconciliation. An exhaustive treatment of this theme in relation to his spiritual teaching would take too long to write and would probably also take too long to read. However, I hope that these few words will be of some help in your reflection on the link between reconciliation and conversion, evangelisation and the power of the Cross.


    [1]Mercurio, Roger & Rouse, Silvan (Eds), Words from the Heart - A selection from the Personal Letters of St Paul of the Cross, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1976, p.11.

    [2]ibid., p.14.

    [3]ibid., p.22.

    [4]ibid., p.32.

    [5]Giorgini, Fabiano, History of the Passionists, volume 1, Isola del Gran Sasso, Edizioni ECO, 1987, p.451.

    [6]Rule and Constitutions of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, Rome, 1984, p.62.

    [7]Words from the Heart, p.82.