My good friend, Jim writes letters. Now, every time I receive one of these, I vow that I will write a response. You see, Jim doesn’t use email, so I can’t just send off a quick response. I used to be pretty good at writing letters. I started when I went off to another state for high school and pretty much kept it up until I discovered email and the Internet in the early 1990’s. It’s been downhill ever since, at least as far as letter writing goes.

Lakshmi Pratury in her 2007 Ted Talk, The lost art of letter-writing challenges her listeners by suggesting we should not give up on letter writing sharing how rereading her deceased father’s letters connects her to him realizing “…the paper that touched his hand is in mine…”

I’ve kept a few of the many letters I have received over my 73 years on this earth and periodically look at them and remember another person, time and place. One letter in particular from my older sister, Marianne who in the midst of starting and raising a family took the time to tell my what she thought of my “vocation” and how our family influenced that. I won’t go into the particulars here, but to this day fifty-five years later, I think of that sage advice and sometimes actually reread it.

The founder of the Passionist, Saint Paul of the Cross (1694 – 1775) whose feast day we celebrate this coming Saturday, October 20 wrote more than 20,000 letters.  In his day letter writing was the new technology, kind of like email today. In their book The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross, two Passionists I claim as friends and mentors  Fr. Roger Mercurio (1918 – 2001) and Fr. Frederick Sucher (1917- 2013), building on the work of other Passionists translated  over 2,000 of these opening to English readers the thoughts, struggles and mysticism of this simple man. Thank you Roger and Fred, for introducing this saint to me and happy feast day to all celebrating the gift of letters.

Posted by Dan O’Donnell, a layman who has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

A Tried and True Way

At the risk of sounding too much like an infamous contemporary tweeter who offered to send in the militia, I’d like to suggest a tried and true way to solve many if not all of our 21st Century Chicago problems. I didn’t invent this way and neither did Jane Addams whose story Amanda Forsythe tells so well in her 2012 YouTube video Jane Addams Founds Hull House in Chicago.

Jane Addams (1860 -1935) a wealthy heiress, not unlike the afore mentioned tweeter, from Northwestern Illinois with her friend Ellen Gates Starr, garnering financial and moral support from many of the wealthy women of Chicago, chose to purchase an old run down mansion in one of the worst parts of the city, that much like parts of today’s Chicago was facing unprecedented social upheaval, live there and open their home to the poor all around them. She truly got involved.

Ms. Addams was the first American Woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She is credited with starting modern day social work, influencing people like Ethel Percy Andrus, foundress of AARP, establishing the first juvenile courts in the world which separated juvenile offenders from the adult population. This only begins to tell the story of a woman who had the courage to live a tried and true way, one not too different from St. Francis or St. Paul of the Cross.

Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

St. Paul of the Cross Today?


Does St. Paul of the Cross have anything to say to 21st Century Americans? Let’s take a look at two simple things he did that might have some relevance to our quality of life and the way we live today.


Looking at his early letters we see he signed them as: “Paul Francis, Least of the Poor of Jesus”. Secondly when Paul finally obtains permission to gather companions, he adopts poverty as the way he and his companions would live their lives together.


Can this mean something to 21st Century Americans and in particular, Passionist Partners today? While it is not likely that any of us are going to run out and adopt a vow of poverty as the Professed do, I think there are things we can do that will effect ours and our fellow Americans’ quality of life. To begin with we can choose to live simple lives. We can commit to recognize the dignity of each person. We can work for more just distribution of wealth in our society. Will that make any difference in our world?


In the above TED Talk, Richard Wilkerson demonstrates the science of what St. Paul of the Cross seemed to intuitively know. Wilkerson shows us statistically how more equal societies in terms of income distribution are less violent, more trusting, better educated and live with less mental illness.


So I think the answer is yes, St. Paul of the Cross does have a lot to say to 21st. Century Americans. What do you think?

Are You a Good Leader?


Simon Sinek in this TED Talk asks: “Would you be upset if we gave Mother Teresa a $250,000,000.00 Bonus?” He doesn’t think so and explains why. He also explains why such bonuses to some CEO’s in industry would not elicit the same reaction in most of us.


I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis as Sinek describes good leadership. Sinek gives us a number of examples of good leaders and tells us the obvious, i.e. the leader goes first, she takes risks. The one characteristic however that struck me the most was, we sleep well when we trust the leaders in our tribe.


Passionist Partners, like our patron saint, St. Paul of the Cross, take leadership roles in their Church. That leadership is not one so much of rank as example of living compassionate lives, identifying with the outcasts, the oppressed and marginalized of our communities.

Success–What is it?


The May 12th issue of America has a great article by Brian B. Pinter, entitled “Redefining Success”. What struck me most (maybe because I am an educator) is the following quote: “As Jesuit educators we are being asked to do something great—to assist in leading the church to unequivocal solidarity with the poor, to a mystical consciousness, to maturity of Faith.”


There are two words in this quote that strike me as particularly pertinent to our Passionist charism: poor and mystical. Most of us know what poor is but what is this other word, mystical? Earlier the author gives us a clue, using this quote from Karl Rahner, S.J. (1904 – 1984): “The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or he will cease to be anything at all.”


Again, what is a mystic? St. Paul of the Cross has been characterized as the greatest mystic of the 18th Century. Somewhere I remember hearing the difference between mysticism and theology. It went something like this: theology tells us what love (put in any term you want here) is; mysticism tells us an experience of love. Now we need both no doubt, but today it seems to me we have an overabundance of theology and a dearth of mysticism. How can we do what Pinter suggests above and as St. Paul of the Cross did?


Here is an example, I think, that answers that question. In the 70’s responding to the Second Vatican Council we at Immaculate Conception Parish, Norwood Park, Illinois decided to change the name of our religious education program from The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) to The Institute of Christian Encounter” (ICE). It was more than just a name change. In our programs we did not talk about doctrine or theology so much as create opportunities where we, and our students could experience what it means to be a Christian. For instance, instead of talking about what makes a good community, we went camping or CLAM Digging, (digging for Christian living Among Men). Anyone who has ever been camping knows it’s not an exercise in esoteric wondering as much as just simple real living and sharing in the tasks associated that.


In the above YouTube video, Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg discuss what redefining success means to them. For them, it means experiences such as: failing and proceeding on to an eventual success; listening to our intuition or gut feelings; sleeping more; meditating daily; enjoying silence; creating our own job or startup businesses; telling our stories. These are just a few of their ideas. The selection is long, and I believe it’s worth the time. Hope you enjoy.

The Way of the Cross

The story is a simple one. This week, Jews around the world gather in their homes and retell it, the story of how God’s people came from bondage, oppression and being lost for forty years in the desert to liberation and the Promised Land.

This week, Christians will also gather in their churches and through their liturgies, tell the story of Jesus, his mother and friends, and how they moved from the glorious promise of liberation (Palm Sunday) through a meal, the cross and the emptiness of Holy Saturday to the Joy of Easter.

This week as they do every week, Passionists will follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul of The Cross who loved to spend hours in quiet reflection, gazing on the Cross of Jesus, feeling Jesus’ Mary’s and His friends’ terrible agony and feelings of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. St. Paul of the Cross taught us to stay with this awhile. He taught us not to run away—it’s the way to liberation, to life.

AA’s as well as many other 12-Step Groups around the world will gather in the church basements this week, as they do each week and share their stories—stories of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. They won’t put an end to these experiences, but like their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, they will recall how their experience led them to freedom, joy and new life.

This week the people of Boston, recall their journey from the glorious promise of winning the race to the utter terror of the bombings last year. They will remember the loss of life, the loss of limbs and tell of their victory of coming together and promising to move forward.

Finally, this week’s TED Talk introduces us to Aicha El-Wafi and Phyllis Rodrigues, two seemingly very different mothers who by coming together find forgiveness and friendship.

It is the story of what binds us all. There are no exceptions. There is no we vs. they; us vs. them; good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; winners vs. losers. We are all that—we are one.


May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.


Join the Conversation


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.

St. Paul of the Cross–Pray for Us

 St. Paul of the Cross

by James Paulin

Saint Paul of the Cross, your devotion to the passion of Jesus
is an invitation to an intimate bond sealed in the grace of God.
The Lamb of God freely submitted to the scourging, the crown of thorns
and the nails of the cross to offer His love to us in a divine sacrifice
and His wounds heal us. Your words still speak to us of the way to follow.
Call us toward the path to Calvary where we place our hopes and fears.
Here, beneath the cross, I know that even if it were just for me,
the Good Shepherd would give His life to allow us to be
together forever as we are redeemed into His triumph over death.
Keep the memory of the passion in our minds and help us to see
the passion in suffering everywhere.
Guide us in choices, relying on the spirit of God’s unconditional love.

Pray for us.

Choose Life!

Post traumatic stress power—games can help us deal with traumatic stress! Can that possibly be true? In this 20 minute video, Jane McGonigal shows us how we can garner strength and a new zest for life through trauma. Of course she is not suggesting that we go out and create some traumatic stress to achieve this, but she is suggesting what Passionists have for the past three hundred plus years been telling us, i.e. trauma is part of our lives—it’s not meant to “do us in”, but to make us stronger, to help us choose life!

After watching this, I made my 2014 New Year’s resolution. Actually, realizing I rarely followed through for any length of time with such resolutions I quit doing this years ago but I’m going to try again, I’m making a resolution—I’m going to play more games.