Fr James Sweeney CP
Celebrating Three Hundred Years of the Passionists
Catholic life is richly populated with great and saintly figures. They’re very particular people, from their own particular places and traditions, but they belong to us all. The Apostle Paul says the Spirit’s gifts are bestowed for the good of the whole Church. So we all have a bit of St Francis and the Franciscans in us, and St Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity – and something of St Paul of the Cross and the Passionists too.
Three hundred years ago this month St Paul of the Cross, a young layman at the time, had a profound, and at times harrowing, spiritual experience during a lone forty-day retreat which he undertook at the suggestion of his bishop who had just clothed him in a penitential habit. Eventually his deep spiritual encounter in a small church room in Castellazzo in Northern Italy bore fruit as the founding inspiration of a religious order – the Passionists.
Paul’s struggle during his retreat wasn’t about believing in the saving power of the Cross – as might be the issue for many people today. It was the struggle to experience the Cross in the depths of his own heart. The Cross claimed him – he became Paul of the Cross.
Sometimes we try to avoid this kind of faith struggle – which is in fact the struggle of human living. We give in to wishful thinking that everything’s always going to be all right and, when it’s not, retreating into bitterness. If we’re religious, we might comfort ourselves with God’s love as ‘cost-free’, costing us nothing, and a sentimentalized devotion to the Passion. But in the end, it all breaks down.
Today we see suffering in so many places, in our own lives and in the harsh injustice and despair experienced by others. We can try to turn away from it, as it can seem overpowering. St Paul of the Cross shows us how to respond to suffering, taking it on board within ourselves, uniting it with a deep loving regard for Jesus Crucified.
Paul was able to live the Passion of Jesus as his own, alongside Mary and the beloved disciple and the women on Calvary. What he saw on Calvary, with luminous clarity, was love. An immense Divine Love was at work: Jesus giving everything – for his own people, for us, for his Father. It was Love that transformed the horror and absurdity of the crucifixion into the Passion. Love transforms us too and our world. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, dares to call for love even in social and political affairs. The Divine Love inspires love, even in inhospitable places.
This year the Church grants the Passionists the privileges of a Holy Year of Jubilee to celebrate our foundational event. It’s a great joy to share this with all of you, the holy people of God. Holy Years are for everyone! We invite you, along with us, to draw benefit from Paul’s unique spiritual gift, his charism of loving regard for Jesus Crucified. It’s our mission as Passionists to keep that central feature of Christian faith alive in the Church.
This Holy Year will be celebrated in all Passionist churches around the world, and through events such as retreats or missions or pastoral or social projects. I invite you to join with us in your own way – to find your ‘inner-Passionist’, because the Passion – the Paschal Mystery – is the heart of our Christian life – living out what our baptism does in us, plunging us into the death of Jesus that we may rise to new life in him.
Fr. James Sweeney CP is the Provincial Superior of the Passionists in Ireland and Scotland.
About the Passionists
Founded in 1720, the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (the Passionists) came to Ireland in 1856. With communities in Dublin, Belfast, County Fermanagh and County Down, they serve in retreat houses, parishes, chaplaincies and media ministry, with an emphasis on preaching, the teaching of prayer, spiritual direction. In Belfast they are also engaged in counselling and peace-reconciliation work. One of their members, St Charles of Mount Argus was canonised in 2007. Revered for his ministry of healing and reconciliation, St Charles promoted the devotion to Mary Mother of Holy Hope. His shrine at Mount Argus in Dublin is a much loved place of pilgrimage today.
You can learn more by visiting their website: http://passionists.ie/
Feature sponsored by The Passionists.