Paul Daneo, known as St. Paul of the Cross, founded groups of men and women to remember the sacrifice of the Cross and to see in our world the 'contemporary suffering' of Christ in the lives of today's downtrodden and forgotten.
The cross of Jesus is central in Passionist spirituality but it is a difficult concept for many of us to understand. Passionists recognise that the cross of Jesus is to be found wherever we meet suffering humanity and the suffering of God’s earth. Prayer is essential to our identity, inspiring us to act on behalf of the crucified ones and crucified earth of today. It is an ever evolving expression of our community and charism.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., a Passionist scripture scholar, addresses this when he asks the simple and direct question in his book, “Why the Cross?”. In his book, he examines this question from historical and theological viewpoints. And he concludes with these words:
“Why the cross? Because, in fact, Jesus of Nazareth was crucifed in Jerusalem by Roman authorities in the first third of the first century. He suffered what the ancient world considered a particularly heinous form of capital punishment - one meant to be a profound humiliation of its victim and a deterrent to crimes that challenged or disrupted public order and civil authority.
"Why the cross? Because Jesus' death by crucifixion was the unimpeachable proof of his humanity. Through his suffering and death on the cross Jesus of Nazareth demonstrates solidarity with all human suffering, especially with innocent suffering, and offers it the possibility of new meaning.
"Why the cross? Because Jesus was innocent and just, his death on the cross was an act of supreme injustice, an act of violence and oppression whose roots are radically evil. Because his mission of justice led to his death, the cross also stands, therefore, as a sign of condemnation of all injustice and oppression, of all infliction of violence and suffering of the innocent.
"Why the cross? Because the reality of Jesus' death on the cross makes room for the paradox of suffering within human experience. Suffering can be redemptive but human suffering is not to be embraced or condoned as valuable and purifying without the Christian community first standing in opposition to human suffering and seeking to alleviate it. Jesus is first of all a healer, determined to overcome human suffering and to liberate humans from the power of sin and death. In the face of death, Jesus is portrayed as lamenting and praying for deliverance.
"Why the cross? Because Jesus’ death on the cross is recognized as the culminating expression of a life animated by self-transcending love, a love that reveals God’s gracious love for humanity and the world God created. That death liberates humans from the burden of sin and death. Through participation in the paschal mystery the Christian shares in Jesus’ own victory over death and is reconciled with God.
"Why the cross? Because through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Son of God, we come to realize that the wisdom of God is different from human wisdom and that God's ways are not our ways. Through the cross we recognize the God who cares for those who are poor and vulnerable, the God of the "ungodly," the God who embraces all peoples.
"Why the cross? Because in taking up the cross and following Jesus, Christians through grace are able to shape their lives in the pattern of Jesus' own life-giving mission: animated by self-transcending love, serving rather than being served, giving their lives for those they love, confronting evil and injustice, being healers and reconcilers in the world.
"Why the cross? Because in contemplating the love of God revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus and in trusting in the way of Jesus as a way to life, Christians under duress can persevere in their journey to God.
"Why the cross? Because the community formed in the name of Jesus Crucified and Risen is a community that strives for mutual love and respect, is patient with weakness, is willing to forgive and be forgiven, a community that is, in fact, the body of the Crucified Christ who is triumphant but still bears the wounds of his cross, a community able to give a witness of hope and meaning to the world.”
Senior, Donald. “Why the Cross?”: Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2014. Pgs. 135-136.
Quotes from our founder, St Paul of the Cross
“Our special vow is to proclaim the Word of the Cross in season and out of season and to contemplate and recall devoutly the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The Passion of Jesus the greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love.”
“The name of Jesus is written on the forehead of the poor.”
Quotes from constitutions of the Congregation of the Passion
“We are aware that the Passion of Christ continues in this world until he comes in glory; therefore we share in the joys and sorrows of our contemporaries as we journey through life to our Father.”
“We wish to share in the distress of all, especially those who are poor and neglected; we seek to offer them comfort and relieve the burden of their sorrow.”
Founded in eighteenth-century Italy by St Paul of the Cross, the Passionists are a Congregation of priests and brothers living and working in sixty countries worldwide. Their mission is to keep alive in the hearts of Christ’s faithful people the remembrance of the love of God revealed in the Passion of Jesus:
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. (Passionist Constitutions, 1)
Our founder believed that what messes up people’s lives is forgetfulness of the personal love God has for them: when we forget about God and his love, then we lose perspective and direction in our life. Paul of the Cross saw the Passion of Jesus as “the greatest and most overwhelming sign of God’s love” and as the remedy for our troubles in life. Through a personal experience of conversion, he had learned the value of meditation on the Passion, deciding to devote his life to teaching people how to pray. Drawing from the Church’s rich spiritual heritage, using sources as diverse as the Desert Fathers, the Rhineland Mystics and Saint Francis de Sales, Paul elaborated a form of life based on three core values: Prayer, Penance and Solitude.
St Paul of the Cross and his companions used retreats, missions and spiritual direction as ways of opening up to others the possibility of a deep relationship with God. They realised, however, that they could only speak of this kind of relationship if they had first experienced it themselves. They called their houses “Retreats” to show that they were to be places of silence and peace where the noise of everyday activity would give way to the stillness of contemplation.
Passionists see their vocation as a call to be alive to Christ in the embrace of love that is his Passion, and to draw others – the whole world – into that embrace. We are easily forgetful of love – of being loved and of the love we owe others – and the world today risks losing its memory of Christ’s love. Our many desires, so easily satisfied in a consumer way, can suppress our deepest longings – what St Paul of the Cross in his day saw as a “profound forgetfulness of the Passion”.
The Passionist Family and Addresses of Its Generalates
Who are the Passionists?
Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, C.P., newly beatified martyr of the Cold War
The Way of the Cross with Saint Paul of the Cross
The Passionists, Tobar Mhuire, 1950-2000 (pdf)