by Maryanne Rusinak
The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross, in three volumes, was published in 2000 during the time I was in formation as a Passionist Partner with a large group that met at the former Passionist Monastery in Chicago. We were fortunate indeed to have had the two editors of these volumes—Roger Mercurio, C.P., and Fred Sucher, C.P.—sharing and participating at many of our meetings. The years have gone by quickly, and both are now deceased, along with some of those in the initial group who were professed as Partners. The monastery has closed and the church connected with it formerly run by Passionists is now under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Yet, we have have the gift of their important work in compiling these letters.
A small group of the Chicago Partners continue to meet monthly. In discussing our future directions, I suggested reading the letters of Paul of the Cross. I feel they are central to our charism. I also felt it was something I wanted to do, especially after speaking with Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., who said that he was reading through the volumes of letters for three hours each morning and greatly enjoying it. It was a spiritual reminder to me to read them too, which I sometimes do late into the night.
The Letters are compelling reading. They embody Paulacrucion spirituality. My plan is to write some reflections as I read through the letters, and I recommend and encourage you to do the same since there is much food for the soul in these volumes. I find myself reading a few lines and then looking up, trying to absorb what Paul was experiencing as he wrote. Perhaps you can respond to my reflections and add some of your own on this blog.
I began by reading the editors’ introduction to the volumes, the Preface to the Rule, and Paul’s Diary written on retreat at Castellanzo in 1730, where he composed his Diary as a letter to his bishop.
Paul had a definitive vision (about 1719) in which he was presented with a long black garment with a white cross on the heart. He describes his religious or mystical experiences as being understood through an “interior movement of the heart and infused knowledge in the mind.” Fundamental to Paul’s vision was always a sharing in the Passion of Christ.
The elements of Paul’s calling and spirituality are evident in his Diary entries: a deep devotion to prayer and solitude, a desire to live his inner calling in community, a determination to save souls, working especially among the poor and to live in poverty. Roger Mercurio writes that “These initial documents are fundamental in any effort to understand Paul of the Cross: his longing to be informed with divine love and his intense desire to be on the cross with the Suffering Christ.” (p. xiv)
Mercurio writes in his Introduction that Paul professed his vow in 1721 in a small chapel at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major before an image of Mary. Paul “professed for the first time the Passion Vow, the determination to spend the rest of his life seeking ways to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus in his own heart and in the hearts of the faithful to whom he ministered. This distinctive vow is the mark of every Passionist to the present day.” (p. xv)
Paul’s next step was to find companions to share his vision, collected in the first volume at his letters in Search of Companions (1721-1727). I’ll keep reading.