Eight inches or so high, simply crafted of wood and silver, the crucifix was worn from years of doing much more than hanging on a wall. It rested in his left hand as he preached. He kissed it at the end of each homily and each Sign of the Cross. He shifted it from one hand to the other as he greeted people after Mass.
And one day, he passed it to me.
Somehow, even after years at this parish, it was the first time I had ended up in the confessional with my favorite priest. He had encouraged me profoundly week after week, officiated my wedding, and baptized my son. On this day, he listened to me pour out my sins with compassion in his eyes. He offered brief counsel and wisdom in his ever-gentle, but challenging way.
“And now,” he said, holding his cherished crucifix out to me, “please make your Act of Contrition.”
I hesitated. My hands trembled as I tentatively reached out, wrapping my fingers around the crucifix. Tears filled my eyes as I gazed onto this figure of Christ on the Cross. For all the crucifixes I have seen and touched throughout my entire life as a Catholic, this one meant the most. I had witnessed firsthand the deep love that this holy priest had for Christ Crucified. How his love for Jesus in His Passion defined who he was and how he lived. The weight of my sins suddenly felt so heavy. This is what they had done, but this is what He did for me.
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…”
A Few of My Favorite Passionist Saints
It may come as no surprise that this holy priest—so deeply in love with Jesus that the Cross was never far from his mind or heart—is a Passionist. The order was founded in 1725 by Saint Paul of the Cross, so named because he, likewise, was rarely without a crucifix in hand.
Passionists are most easily recognized by their black wool habits, simply adorned with the Passionist symbol: a white Sacred Heart and the words “Jesu XPI Passio” (the Passion of Jesus Christ).
Between the two incredible Passionist priests who served at my home church during a few formative years of my life and my Confirmation Saint, this order holds a special place in my heart. In honor of Saint Paul of the Cross’ feast day, which we celebrate today, get to know a few of the Saints this order has instructed and inspired.
Saint Paul of the Cross
The founder of the Passionists, Saint Paul of the Cross, was born in Italy in 1694. A series of visions—first of himself clothed in a black habit, and later, of the Blessed Mother in a similar black tunic and the Passionist sign—inspired him to form a community dedicated to the Passion of Jesus. He fervently believed there was no greater indication of Christ’s love for us than His Passion. He once said:
The world lives unmindful of the sufferings of Jesus which are the miracle of miracles of the love of God.
His life’s work was bringing the Passion, and therefore, God’s infinite love, to the forefront of people’s minds.
It took 21 years to found The Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ. During that time, Saint Paul served as a hospital chaplain, ministering to the sick and suffering, and as a traveling preacher, encouraging the faithful in devotions to Jesus’ Passion.
Along with his poignant preaching and deep love for Jesus and the Blessed Mother, he was best known for his frequent sacrifices and penance for the conversion of sinners.
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
Saint Gabriel Possenti, also known as Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, grew up in a large family in Italy. Throughout his youth, he endured the deaths of his mother and multiple siblings. Despite these family tragedies, he was exceptionally sociable and well-liked amongst his peers.
Twice during his youth, Saint Gabriel (then known as Francesco) fell seriously ill. During both illnesses, he promised God he would enter religious life if his life was spared…and both times, upon his recovery, he forgot about his promise. Soon after, at a church procession, He encountered the Blessed Mother. Her eyes, as shown in a banner of Our Lady, Help of Christians, turned right toward him and he heard the words “Keep your promise.”
Finally, he did, entering the Passionisit novitiate as soon as he completed school.
While Saint Gabriel hoped to become a missionary priest, he died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, before he could reach ordination. Along with Saint Aloysius, he is one of the patron Saints of young people.
Saint Gemma Galgani
Although she was never accepted to the Passionist Convent she deeply desired to join, Saint Gemma Galgani is one of the most beloved Saints that the Passionists claim as their own. Intensely devout from her childhood, Saint Gemma was an ardent follower of Saint Paul of the Cross’ teachings. In particular, she shared Saint Paul’s deep devotion for Jesus in His Passion and his commitment to making sacrifices for the conversion of sinners.
Saint Gemma’s life was filled with suffering, from losing both of her parents, to experiencing debilitating illnesses, to being turned away from the convent due to her poor health. However, it was also marked with miracles. She communicated freely with her guardian angel (even sending messages through him to her spiritual director), experienced miraculous cures, saw visions of Jesus, Mary, and other Saints (including Saint Gabriel Possenti), and bore the wounds of Christ in the stigmata.
After her death, she was finally clothed in the Passionist habit.
Saint Charles of Mount Argus
Most Passionist priests are known for their preaching, an essential part of their commitment to spreading devotion to Christ in His Passion. Saint Charles of Mount Argus, however, was not a very good preacher.
The Dutch priest spent most of his life at a Passionist monastery in the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. The fact that he never fully mastered the English language further hindered his preaching, but what he may have lacked in his homilies, he more than made up for in the Confessional.
Known for his holiness, compassion, and devotion to the suffering, he was a highly sought-after spiritual director. He also had the gift of healing, which furthered his popularity with people across the country. Following his death in 1835, the Superior of his monastery wrote to his family, “The people have already declared him a saint.”
Pope Benedict XVI made it official in 2007.
Hope in His Mercy
While these Saints—just a few of the many associated with the Passionists—vary in age, vocation, and personality, they clearly shared in this belief of Saint Paul of the Cross:
I hope that God will save me through the merits of the Passion of Jesus. The more difficulties in life, the more I hope in God. By God’s grace I will not lose my soul, but I hope in His mercy.
Do you have a favorite Passionist Saint? Let us know who in the comments below!
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