Passio in Cordibus


The Passionist Charism - Rooted in the Experience of Saint Paul of the Cross
                                                               (Talk given at the International Meeting of Young Passionist Religious held in Melbourne in 2008)

I want to talk today about the experience of Saint Paul of the Cross: first, about his family experience; then, about his experience as founder; and finally, about how his experience relates to what we call the Passionist Charism.

The Family Experience of Saint Paul of the Cross
When we look at the formative years of Saint Paul of the Cross, the years spent with his family before he embarked on his new way of life, we see certain experiences which would have shaped his future life.
Paul was the second of fifteen children, only six of whom would survive to adulthood. His older sister, born a year earlier, had lived only three days. She was called Catherine, and was the first of six children in the family to bear that name. Throughout Paul’s early years, his mother was expecting a baby or nursing a baby, or often mourning the death of a baby. This must have had a very significant influence on his life. His mother would have had certain concerns in her own life because so many of her children died, and less than half of them lived to be adults. As well as growing up in a home where his mother was always taking care of children, there was for Paul the experience of the death of many brothers and sisters. Death was always very close to him in his childhood, and so also were pain and suffering. A sense of loss, alternating with the hope of new life, must have permeated the life of his family. His parents were constantly coping with bereavement, while trying to provide a loving environment for the children who survived.
There was also great financial instability during Paul’s years at home. The family had to move frequently, usually crossing borders from one civil jurisdiction to another. Dealing in tobacco, on which duty (tax) was required to be paid, Paul’s father was imprisoned for fraud on one occasion at Acqui Terme. Indeed, it seems that he had originally moved to Ovada (Paul’s birthplace) from Castellazzo to escape imprisonment for smuggling.
All through those early years, the parents were trying to do what was right, to take care of their children, to have them educated properly, but in the background there was always the precarious nature of life. There was no regular, stable income and at times a sense of dependence on providence would have been a necessity. This instability would only be resolved with the death of his uncle and the subsequent inheritance.
Family obligations and a realisation that he was tied to his father’s business kept Paul from following his own inspirations. There was during these years a certain conflict between what he himself wanted to do with his life and what he felt obliged to do to support his family.
In his teenage years, Paul experienced conflict between obligations and desires, between the things he wanted to do and things he had to do:
- he wanted to study but he had to work in his father’s shop;
- he had to care for his family but he was having inspirations to found a community; he says that he had these inspirations but he couldn’t follow them because of his family’;
- he felt pulled between what he wanted to do and what other people wanted him to do;
There is no doubt that Paul grew up in a loving family. We can see from the accounts of his life that he had good parents who had a clear influence on the direction his life would take. His mother taught him to read and write. It was she who introduced him to the link between our own sufferings and the Passion of Christ and who would read to Paul and his brother from the lives of the Desert Fathers. If Paul’s mother was also his teacher, his father was also his carer, bringing food to him at night in the hermitage at Castellazzo when Paul otherwise would have gone hungry. They were kind and loving parents, but life was not always without struggles for them and for their family.
All of this forms part of the early experience of Saint Paul of the Cross and, when we say that the Passionist Charism is rooted in his experience, this is part of what we mean. Usually, when we talk of the experience of such a saint, we mean his mystical experience, his experience in prayer, but his human experience is also real. What life was like for him, especially in those formative years, helped to shape the person who developed in those years and, in this way, helped to shape his Charism.
How would we describe the early experience of Saint Paul of the Cross? First, there was a continual experience of loss: death, bereavement, loss of a home and the consequent loss of contact with friends and family. There was also a strong element of instability: moving from one place to another, starting again after each period of difficulties. There was the decline into impoverishment, with business not going as well as it had before and the financial strains this would have caused. This was accompanied by a great sense of uncertainty about the future, not just his own personal future but also concerns about what effect his pursuit of his own aims would have on his family.
What words, then, could we use to describe the early experience of Saint Paul of the Cross? It was an experience of loss, instability, impoverishment and uncertainty, but this experience was lived in the context of a loving and believing family.
The lessons the young Paolo Danei learned from his early life experience would have been about death and poverty, but also about the importance of faith and human relationships. Detachment has been described as knowing how ‘to care and not to care’.[1] This was a skill Paul had to learn in order to deal with his life experience. He had to know how to be fully engage in life and when to walk away. This skill is about letting go when it matters. He also had to learn about money: the need to plan for the future and the importance of keeping out of debt, but at the same time the lesson that money, or the pursuit of money, can be an obstacle to us on our way to God. The years of having money and not having money taught him that life has to go on, and that it has to be lived on a different level.
He had to learn how to love in an unselfish way. Through all of these years, Paul was learning how to love. His mother must have played a major role here. Bringing children into this world and then seeing so many of them passing from this world, while at the same time continuing to be present for the children who remained: this must at times have called for unselfish love on a heroic level.
Later in his religious life, when he was fifty-three years old, Paul would sketch out the kind of person he hoped the Passionist Constitutions would form; in this text we can see an outline of the kind of person that he, even in his early years, was trying to become:
a man totally God-centred, totally apostolic, a man of prayer, detached from the world, from things, and from himself so that he may in all truth be called a disciple of Jesus Christ.[2]
Paul learned from his own experience the value of God-centredness and of detachment ‘from things, from the world, and from himself’. It is not surprising, then, that when he looks for a name for his new community, the name that comes to him is ‘The Poor of Jesus’. This name sums up what Paul himself wants to become at the beginning of his religious life. At the heart of all the inspirations and desires of his early life is the focus on this name which expresses what he and his companions are to be. In the Preface to the First Rules, the document from 1720 in which he gives an account of the experiences which led him to found his community, when he speaks about gathering companions and about writing a Rule for them, he calls these companions ‘The Poor of Jesus’ and, when he speaks of himself, he refers to himself as the ‘least servant of the Poor of Jesus.’
Paul’s Experience as Founder
In its discussion on the Passionist Charism, our 2006 General Chapter affirmed that the Charism of the Passionists is rooted in the experience of Saint Paul of the Cross. We see this already in the Constitutions, in Chapter 1, which is entitled Fundamentals of our Life. In the very first part of this chapter, in the section on Our Passionist Vocation, the Constitutions underline the place of Paul’s experience in the vocation which is lived out by each one of us:
Saint Paul of the Cross gathered companions to live together and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to all.
The first name he gave his community was The Poor of Jesus. This was to indicate that their lives were to be based on evangelical poverty, which he held to be so necessary if they were to observe the other evangelical counsels, to persevere in prayer, and to preach the Word of the Cross in season and out of season.
Moreover, he wanted them to live their lives like [the] apostles. They were to foster and develop a deep spirit of prayer, penance and solitude so that they could reach closer union with God and witness to His love.
Keenly aware of the evils that afflicted the people of his time, he was never tired of insisting that the most effective remedy is the Passion of Jesus, “the greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love”.
                                                                                                                                             (Passionist Constitutions, 1)

This text sketches out the values which we have received from Saint Paul of the Cross, values which come from his own personal experience: evangelical poverty; a life like that of the apostles; prayer, penance and solitude; a belief in the power of the Passion of Jesus, the greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love; and all of this in the context of a group of companions who live together and proclaim the Gospel of Christ to all, companions who, in the beginning, were to be known as The Poor of Jesus. Here in the first sentences of our Constitutions we see a clear summary of the values which shape our Congregation and give it a distinctive identity in the Church, all of which are seen as flowing from the founding person, Paul of the Cross.
To be a Passionist, then, is to be in some way in relationship with this founding person, in whose personal experience the Passionist Charism is rooted. But how do you develop a personal relationship with someone who has been dead for more than two hundred years? How do you get to know Paul as a person, to know him from the inside? We are fortunate that he has left us a huge quantity of written material: over two thousand letters, plus his Diary and other writings. (Not all founders were such prolific writers; the foundress of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, Elizabeth Prout, left only seven or eight letters and a few notes on the Constitutions of her community.) In addition, there are the many pages of testimonies about Paul in the processes of canonisation, during which those who had known him well were interviewed. Together these documents help us to build up a picture of the person who founded our community.
One of those who lived with Paul in community, his first biographer Saint Vincent Mary Strambi, said that the Holy Spirit raised up Paul of the Cross to help people find God in their hearts. This phrase tells us so much about Paul and about the Passionists: the founding of the Congregation was the work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul himself continually insisted; the Congregation has a clear apostolic purpose, helping people to find God, in Paul’s words, in the most direct and easiest way possible; and finally, the place where Paul (and we, his companions) will help people to find God is in their hearts, for Paul’s spirituality is essentially a mysticism of the heart, an affective spirituality which is different from the Ignatian kind of apostolic spirituality, with which ( at least in the English-speaking world) we are more familiar today.
Paul’s basic approach to life is one of trusting his heart. He believes that his own inner experience is what guides him in life, although he always adds that he submits in all things to the judgement of the Church. For example, in the Preface to the First Rules, he writes:
...according to the understanding God gave me, I have greater certainty about what I saw in the spirit with the sublime light of our holy faith than if I saw it with my bodily eyes.... In this I defer to the judgment of my superiors, submitting to whatever they decide with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And in the conclusion of the Preface, referring to the earliest text of the Rule (from 1720), he writes:
Let it be known that when I was writing I wrote as quickly as if someone were dictating to me; I felt the words coming from the heart. I have written this to make it known that this was a special inspiration from God because as for myself I am but sin and ignorance. In all, however, I submit to the judgment of my superior.
Especially in his early years, we see Paul as someone who trusted his own inspirations and who, as he might say himself, desired to be faithful to the inspiration God gave him. This must have made him seem a little bit pretentious at times, if it were not for his other gifts of humility and kindness. Imagine, for example, how his brothers and sisters must have read these words he wrote to them in February 1722, when he was just twenty-eight years old:
I, Paul Francis, your brother, a most miserable sinner and most unworthy servant of the Poor of Jesus Christ, am by divine decree about to leave these parts to go and follow the holy inspirations from heaven.[3]
The divine decree was, of course, related to him only and was not an order from the local bishop. Indeed, the bishop himself had been on the receiving end of Paul’s certainties less than a year earlier:
My dearest and most reverend pastor, I beg you, for love of Jesus Christ, to console me by granting me permission to enable me to carry out the holy inspirations of my dear Spouse Jesus. Then, as to companions, I shall say no more, knowing for certain that when I am at the feet of His Holiness, God will reveal his mercies to the whole world. My confidence in my Crucified Lord is such that I am more than certain all will succeed. God gave me the inspiration and a very certain sign that God wills it. What should I fear? I would believe I sinned by infidelity were I to doubt.
In this instance, Paul is talking about a trip to Rome which he would carry out later that year, but which would not be marked with the success he anticipated. The heart-felt certainty that when I am at the feet of His Holiness, God will reveal his mercies to the whole world had to face the reality of Paul’s being turned away from the Quirinale Palace and not having any opportunity to share his inspirations with the Pope.
In spite of this and other setbacks which he would know in life, Paul always maintained his conviction that the inspirations that he had received were from God and that he must remain faithful to them. Like Saint Anthony in the desert, who was described by Saint Athanasius as being a daily martyr to his conscience, Paul would cling to his experience of the Spirit even in times of suffering and temptation. Here his conduct exemplified the words of Shakespeare: This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.[4] In the development of the Passionist Congregation from its origins as the Poor of Jesus, Paul will seek always to be faithful to the inspirations God has given him and not depart from the certainty he has about what he has received from God.
Sometimes people present Saint Paul of the Cross as someone who was unsure of what the Congregation was about and who only found his way through trial and error. What we find in the life of Saint Paul of the Cross, especially in his early years, is a certain degree of opportunism by which he embraces chances which come his way, often as a way of achieving one of his more important aims. If he becomes aware that this is in fact leading him away from the direction of fulfilling the inspirations he has received, he abandons the new direction in favour of being faithful to what he calls the special inspiration God gave me.
Father Marcel Viller, in his study of The Will of God in Saint Paul of the Cross, says that one of the striking things about Paul is his concern for the essentials. He is not someone who gets lost in the details of life; he focusses always on what he sees as the essential elements of the life to which God has called him. Paul himself uses this language of essentials when, later in his life, he confronts the question of the various revisions of the Rules and Constitutions which were made by the Holy See before the text would receive approval. For example, in July 1741, he writes to a bishop:
I would emphasize that our Rules and Constitutions were allowed to remain in their essence except for a very few things which do not touch on the essentials of the Institute. They were approved as written because they were based on the infallible truth of the Gospel.[5]
In a letter to the Abate Garagni, one of the members of the Commission which had examined the Rule for its first approval in 1741, he writes:
I have read the Constitutions and see that God has directed his heart, his tongue, his pen, and all, for they remain in essence as the Divine Goodness inspired them. And whatever has been taken out or added does not touch the essentials, for in this beginning our Great God, who strongly and gently disposes everything, has permitted this, but in time His Divine Majesty will make his Divine Will known quite clearly.[6]
He states this last point more clearly in a letter to Canon Biaggio Pieri, written a week later:
...this work [the approval of the Rule] has been guided by God in a way incomprehensible to me. You should know that the holy Rules and Constitutions have not been changed in what touches their essentials; there were some small and insignificant things removed, which do not merit notice. But with time I strongly believe that God will make his will known for these things as well.[7]
We see here that Paul is able to distinguish clearly between essentials and non-essentials in the way of life mapped out by the Rule. The question which arises here is what are the essentials of the Rules and Constitutions? We can list a number of elements which we know, from Paul’s writings and other contemporary sources, were considered by him to be essential. Examples of these would be:
  1. gathering companions – much of his early wandering around Italy was connected with the search for a bishop who would allow him to have companions;
  2. apostolic freedom – we see this in his dealings with Monsignor Cavalieri, who would have given him everything, except freedom from the jurisdiction of the local bishop;
  3. solitude – Paul’s correspondence with the Stuart Cardinal, Henry, Duke of York, shows that he was ready to abandon a foundation rather than compromise on this element;
  4. poverty – much of the discussion over the question of Solemn Vows centred on the kind of poverty which was to be practised in the Congregation, and especially on the issue of stable income. Although Paul wanted the privileges which would come from having Solemn Vows (for example, in relation to ordinations), he preferred to leave the Congregation’s structures unchanged with regard to poverty;
  5. the mission to the poor and the most abandoned – although the option for preaching the Gospel to the people in the neglected regions was inserted in the Rule by the commission, Paul embraced this wholeheartedly as expressing his own preference for being (as he wrote in the Diary) the least servant of God’s poor.[8]
However, the problem with a list like this is that it doesn’t tell us why some things are essential and others are not. What is really essential to the Rule is not a list of essential elements; as the 2006 General Chapter indicated, what is essential to our way of life, to our Passionist Charism, is the experience of Paul of the Cross.
Paul’s founding experience, a series of encounters with the Spirit which he refers to as inspirations, took place when he was between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six. He describes these inspirations in the little six-page document known to us as the Preface to the First Rules. This is a text which every Passionist should read and reflect on, since it is Paul’s own account of the desires and hopes which led him to found the Congregation. It tells of a series of symbolic experiences which came together in what Paul calls the strong, compelling desire to gather companions and... found a Congregation which would be called ‘The Poor of Jesus’.
The elements of the founding experience are described by Paul as follows:
  1. My most loving God converted me to a life of penance.
  2. My heart longed for [a] place of solitude.... My good God gave me this inspiration accompanied by great tenderness of heart.
  3. I had the idea of wearing a poor black tunic of coarse cloth called arbagio, the ordinary wool fabric found in these parts, and of going barefoot, of living in very deep poverty, in short, by God's grace, leading a penitential life. This desire never again left my heart.
  4. Sometimes I had another inspiration to gather companions who would live together in unity to promote the holy fear of God in souls (this was my principal desire). Although I paid no attention to the idea of gathering companions, still it always remained in my heart.
  5. [This next experience marks a turning point, bringing the series into focus.] Then this last summer (I do not remember the day or the month because I did not write it down but I do know it was the grain harvest time) on a certain weekday in the Capuchin church in Castellazzo, I received Holy Communion with a deep sense of my unworthiness. I remember that I was deeply recollected and then I left to go home. Walking along the street I was as recollected as if I were at prayer. When I came to a street corner to turn toward home, I was raised up in God in the deepest recollection, with complete forgetfulness of all else and with very great interior peace. At that moment I saw myself clothed in a long black garment with a white cross on my breast, and below the cross the holy name of Jesus was written in white letters. At that instant I heard these very words spoken to me: This signifies how pure and spotless that heart should be which must bear the holy name of Jesus graven upon it. On seeing and hearing this I began to weep and then it stopped. Shortly afterwards I saw in spirit the holy tunic presented to me with the most holy name of Jesus and the cross all in white, but the tunic was black. I pressed it joyfully to my heart.
  6. After these visions of the holy tunic and the sacred sign, God gave me a stronger desire and impulse to gather companions and with the approval of holy Mother Church to found a Congregation called: The Poor of Jesus.
  7. After this God infused into my soul in a lasting manner the form of the holy Rule to be observed by the Poor of Jesus and by me his least and most unworthy servant.
These inspirations come together when, as Paul says, God infuses into his soul the form of the holy Rule. He then speaks no longer of inspirations but of an intention:
Know that the intention God gave me with regard to this Congregation was none other than this: in the first place, to observe our beloved God's law perfectly, together with the perfect observance of his holy evangelical counsels, especially by total detachment from all created things with the perfect practice of holy poverty, so essential for the observance of the other counsels and for maintaining the fervor of holy prayer. In the second place, God wants the Congregation to have zeal for God's holy glory, to promote the holy fear of God in souls by working for the destruction of sin, in a word, to be tireless in the holy works of charity so that our beloved God may be loved, feared, served and praised by all....
The Rule, then, written in Castellazzo before anyone had lived it, is not a document expressing a way of life which has been tried and tested, as is the case with most other religious communities, but it is rather an account of how God has been working in Paul’s heart. The Preface to the First Rules is the summary of that experience of Paul which he expresses in the rule he wrote during his Castellazzo retreat of 1720. The rule, then, is simply the attempt to concretise the form of life which, as Paul says, God has infused into his soul.

For some religious communities, the founder is not very important; there are communities who have even gone through periods where they did not know who their founder was; only after the Second Vatican Council they discovered who actually founded the community. For those who follow the Passionist spirit, it is quite different, because the entire founding experience – the essential part of it – takes place in Paul’s heart. He is the crucial figure in all of this because the Passionists are founded and the Passionist Charism is established through what God does in his life. Paul has a unique experience of God and he invites us to participate in that experience.
In this light we can understand his certainty regarding the founding of the Congregation. Paul always said that it was God who brought the Congregation into existence and that he himself had simply spoiled God’s work by his sins. For Paul, the Congregation was above all a work of God which he, Paul, was called to make manifest. The founding experience is akin to what Saint Ignatius calls an experience of consolation without preceding cause. For Saint Ignatius, this kind of experience carries within itself a sense of certainty, because the recipient of the experience knows that it comes from God.[9] For Paul, the experiences which led to the founding of the Congregation were of this kind.
The Passionist Charism and the Experience of Saint Paul of the Cross
Being a man of the eighteenth century, Saint Paul of the Cross never uses the word charism. Perhaps the nearest he comes to the notion of Charism is when he speaks of the form of the holy Rule to be observed by the Poor of Jesus, which he says God infused in his soul in a lasting manner. In fact, Paul’s expression comes closer to the meaning of a founder’s charism than many so-called charisms of religious institutes today. Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given to individuals for the good of all. A charism is a manifestation of the working of the Spirit in the life of a person; it takes the form of a particular gift which the person receives and through which the Church is enriched.[10] In this sense, it could be said that it is more accurate to speak of the charism of a founder than of the charism of a congregation.
In another sense, however, the Passionist Charism is given to the Congregation, because it is the Congregation which makes this gift present in other times and places. The Congregation’s task, then, is to interpret the founding experience and make it present in the lives of the religious and laity in their age and in their culture.
In understanding the Passionist Charism, we have to return to the experience of Saint Paul of the Cross. A key expression here is the name Paul gives his Congregation: The Poor of Jesus. Because the Congregation’s name was changed to the Congregation of the Passion, we tend to spend little time reflecting on our original name. Yet the name was significant for Paul and was seen by him as some kind of synthesis of what his community’s form of life was to be. It is an evangelical name, symbolic rather than descriptive. No doubt it was unpopular with canonists, which may have accounted in part for the change, and its deeper meanings (or levels of meaning), while obvious to Paul, were perhaps not so readily grasped by his contemporaries. When understood correctly, The Poor of Jesus points towards the same reality as the Congregation of the Passion. Indeed, the name gives a programme for living, a way of discipleship, rather than just a label to put on a product.
The name Paul gives to himself and his future companions is an expression of who they are to become, a symbol of identity.[11] As Paul elaborates his understanding of the name in his early writings, we see that being (or becoming) the Poor of Jesus is also a kind of spiritual progression or programme. In the texts of the Diary, the Preface to the Rule and the Rule itself,[12] we find three levels of being the Poor of Jesus; these are
  1. poverty as imitation of Jesus Christ;
  2. poverty flowing from meditation on the Passion of Christ;
  3. poverty as transformation in the likeness of Jesus Christ, as a way to mystical union with Christ.
Poverty in Imitation of Jesus Christ  

The first level, then, is that of poverty in imitation of Jesus Christ. The desire to imitate the poverty of Christ is a constant theme in Christian discipleship and in the history of religious life. In the Gospels, the invitation to follow Jesus is usually accompanied, implicitly or explicitly, by the requirement of leaving behind whatever might come between the would-be disciple and his Master who ‘had nowhere to lay his head’.

As we have seen, in the ‘Preface to the First Rules’, Paul of the Cross expresses his desire to live in poverty in imitation of Jesus Christ:
I had the idea of wearing a poor black tunic of coarse cloth called arbagio, the ordinary wool fabric found in these parts, and of going barefoot, of living in very deep poverty. (Preface to the Rule)
The members of Paul’s new congregation, will be called to live ‘in very deep poverty’. In their poverty, they imitate the poor Christ who gave his life for our sakes; in the Rule, Paul says:
Let none of the brothers of this Congregation seek a comfortable life but follow Jesus Christ who had nowhere to lay his most sacred head and then died naked on the hard tree of the Cross. (Rule of 1736)
This, then, is being the Poor of Jesus through imitation of Jesus Christ, trying to live the way that Jesus lived. We see this very clearly in the text of the Rule quoted above. Poverty is understood as a way to live like Jesus, above all in his Passion and death.
Poverty flowing from meditation on the Passion of Christ  

On the second level, living as the Poor of Jesus leads to a kind of poverty which flows from meditation on the Passion of Christ. Through our meditation on the Passion, we enter into the mystery of the poverty of Christ on the Cross. Here we move from the level of imitation to that of an inner experience of encounter.
Faithful to the tradition of affective prayer centred on the Passion of Christ, Paul asks the Poor of Jesus, in the language of Saint Francis de Sales, to carry always the loving and sorrowful remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus and to teach others to do the same.

In the early Rule of 1720, there are two little extracts which speak of this:
Oh dearly beloved, one who really loves, whenever he brings Friday to mind, has reasons to die. To say “Friday” is to say the day when my God-Made-Man suffered so much for me that he gave up his life by dying on the hard wood of the Cross. (Rule of 1720)
Let us never forget to have always with us a continual and sorrowful remembrance of him. And so let each of the Poor of Jesus take care to instill in others the loving meditation on the sufferings of our gentle Jesus. (Rule of 1720)
The desire to be the Poor of Jesus, then, leads from imitation of Christ in his Passion to meditation on the Passion of Christ: the practise of a continual and sorrowful remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus makes the mystery of his love present in our lives and brings us to share that love through instilling in others the loving meditation on the sufferings of our gentle Jesus.
Poverty as transformation in the likeness of Jesus Christ, as a way to mystical union with Christ
Through meditation on the Passion, we pass to the third level which is poverty as transformation in the likeness of Jesus Christ. In our desire to become the Poor of Jesus, we begin by the imitation of Christ, moving then to meditation on the Passion of Christ, and through this meditation passing to union with Christ, as Saint Paul the Apostle says “becoming like him in his sufferings”.
In the diary, Paul uses the phrase ‘To feel his sufferings and be on the Cross with him.’[13] This expression is at the heart of what the third level of being the Poor of Jesus is about: transformation in the likeness of Christ as a way to mystical union with him. The way to this level is the way of kenosis, or letting go of self through abandonment.
In the early writings of Saint Paul of the Cross, we see a burning desire to experience the Passion from within. In the diary, he writes ‘When you were scourged, what were the sentiments of your Sacred Heart?’ For Paul, to become the Poor of Jesus means to enter into the experience of Jesus himself, and in particular the experience of Jesus in his Passion.
The symbol of this, inscribed by Paul in the daily life of his community, is that phrase from the New Testament which Passionists say every time they pray the Divine Office: ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:10; Rule of 1736) In the Rule of 1736, the text was to be said aloud ‘with great fear and reverence’, while those who said it prostrated themselves on the ground. This text from the Letter to the Philippians is, of course, the conclusion of the great Pauline hymn of kenosis which speaks about Christ who did not count himself equal to God but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humanity.
The third level of the Poor of Jesus, then, is entering into this mystery of the self-emptying of Jesus Christ, who stripped himself of everything so that he might be one with us. Following the way of self-emptying through abandonment, the one who seeks to become the Poor of Jesus is opened to that transforming union with Christ Crucified which, for the disciple, is the most profound meaning of poverty.
As Passionists, we recognise the centrality of our founder’s experience for a true understanding of our Charism and so we seek to know him better, across the barriers of the centuries. As we come to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Saint Paul of the Cross, we can share in his experience of the Spirit and so keep his Charism alive in our age and our different cultures.
Recently I was speaking to someone who is the marketing manager for a car company; this person explained to me that their approach to marketing today is that they are not selling a car; they are selling a lifestyle. In our case we can say that our Passionist Charism is not a commodity; it is a form of life. It is a form of life based on an experience, the experience of Saint Paul of the Cross. The expression which perhaps best sums up this Charism is the name which Paul originally gave his community: The Poor of Jesus.
Becoming The Poor of Jesus is the task of every Passionist; this means a progressive handing over of our life to the person of Jesus Christ through imitation, meditation and transforming union with him who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.


[1]Gerald Vann O.P., The Divine Pity.

[2]Brief Account of the Congregation, 1747.

[3]21 February 1722

[4]Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3.

[5]To a bishop, 6 July 1741.

[6] 1 June 1741.

[7] 8 June 1741

[8]I also experienced great fervor and tears which I prayed for the conversion of poor sinners. I kept telling my God that I could no longer bear to see him offended. I also experienced a special tenderness in asking God, in his mercy, to establish the holy Congregation quickly, and to send people forth for his greater glory and for the benefit of the neighbor. I prayed for this with great desire and fervor. I asked him to accept me as the least servant of his poor. Diary, 7 December 1720.


[9]Saint Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises

[10]New Testament reference

[11]Paul Francis Spencer, The Role of Symbol in Passionist Spirituality, p. 27.

[12]I include here the fragments of the Rule of 1720 and the text of 1736.

[13]Diary, 6 December 1720.