Catholic Digest Preview September 2011 : Page-24

PRAYING Praying with the Passionists Tap into a spiritual tradition that can enrich your prayer life p BY FATHER VICTOR HOAGLAND, CP n 1714 a young Italian named Paul D anei had a striking expe-rience of God. As he listened to an ordinary sermon in an ordinary church, preached by an unknown priest, a profound sense of God and a desire to serve Him sud-denly filled his heart. Paul’s expe-rience stayed with him during the following years and his faith grew, centered on the Passion of Jesus Christ. He was so taken by this mystery that eventually Paul D anei began signing his name Paul of the Cross. Religious movements begin with a call. Usually God calls an individual first — like Peter, James, or John — who in turn calls others. The Passionists are an internation-al movement of priests, Brothers, women Religious, and laypeople founded by St. Paul of the Cross I to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus. D uring the 1 8 th century, when D anei received his call, Italy’s econ-omy was severely depressed. While countries like England, Spain, and France successfully captured world markets, Italy’s trade prospects dwindled. Poverty and unemploy-ment stretched across the Italian peninsula, plunging the population into an anxious existence. As the people suffered, so did the Church. It was the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, and “enlightened” scholars and scientists were teaching that real progress came through human efforts alone, and that there was no need for religion, prayer, or spiritual help. If God existed at all, they taught, He was little involved in human affairs. To subs c r ibe: 800-678-2836 24 catholic digest

Praying

Father Victor Hoagland, CP

Praying With The Passionists<br /> <br /> Tap into a spiritual tradition that can enrich your prayer life<br /> <br /> In 1714 a young Italian named Paul Danei had a striking experience of God. As he listened to an ordinary sermon in an ordinary church, preached by an unknown priest, a profound sense of God and a desire to serve Him suddenly filled his heart. Paul’s experience stayed with him during the following years and his faith grew, centered on the Passion of Jesus Christ. He was so taken by this mystery that eventually Paul Danei began signing his name Paul of the Cross.<br /> <br /> Religious movements begin with a call. Usually God calls an individual first — like Peter, James, or John — who in turn calls others. The Passionists are an international movement of priests, Brothers, women Religious, and laypeople founded by St. Paul of the Cross to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus.<br /> <br /> During the 18th century, when Danei received his call, Italy’s economy was severely depressed. While countries like England, Spain, and France successfully captured world markets, Italy’s trade prospects dwindled. Poverty and unemployment stretched across the Italian peninsula, plunging the population into an anxious existence.<br /> <br /> As the people suffered, so did the Church. It was the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, and “enlightened” scholars and scientists were teaching that real progress came through human efforts alone, and that there was no need for religion, prayer, or spiritual help. If God existed at all, they taught, He was little involved in human affairs.<br /> <br /> The future of faith looked so grim that some 18th-century pundits predicted that organized religion — the Catholic Church in particular — was coming to an end. It was an era of uncertainty, and the perfect time for God to call for saints like Paul Danei.<br /> <br /> If you asked St. Paul of the Cross today what wisdom he might pass on to you, he probably would point to a cross he usually carried and tell you to look at the world you live in, and look at yourself, with this mystery of Jesus Christ in mind. Perhaps he would say:<br /> <br /> “Are times bad? Is your Church shaken? Is God nowhere to be seen? Well, look at Jesus and think of that dreadful time when faith crumbled and God seemed to have abandoned his Son!<br /> <br /> “Yet God was never closer than in that dark moment, just as God is close to you now. I found God first when times were bad, in an ordinary church, listening to an ordinary sermon. You can find Him too. Don’t be afraid of darkness. God often comes in the dark.”<br /> <br /> In his youth, Paul worked for his father, who moved his family and the small store he ran from one town to another in northern Italy to make ends meet. Six years after hearing the sermon in church Paul had another spiritual experience, one that would ultimately change how he would spend his days.<br /> <br /> “In the summer of 1720 at the time of the grain harvest, after Communion at the Capuchin church in Castellazzo … I was raised up in God in the deepest recollection, with complete forgetfulness of all else, and with great interior peace….”<br /> <br /> Shortly after, Paul underwent a 40-day retreat. In the small room of a nearby church, he experienced temptations and spiritual consolations, praying in imitation of Jesus Christ. For him, the Passion of Jesus was a door into the presence of God, where one rested “in the bosom of the Father” and received the blessing of “great interior peace.” His profound experience is one of the reasons Passionists pro-Mote retreats as important ways to discover God in our lives.<br /> <br /> When his retreat ended, Paul felt called to build a new community in the Church, but the times were unfavorable. After a disappointing attempt to interest the pope in his cause, Paul and his brother John Baptist lived as hermits, then as priests on Monte Argentario. The isolated mountain was, at the time, one of the poorest parts of Italy.<br /> <br /> In the beleaguered land of tiny towns built above unhealthy swamplands — where bandits roamed the lonely roads and foreign armies periodically fought for control of Italy — the brothers began to preach. Traveling from town to town, they would set up a large cross on a platform in the town square, preach to the people for two weeks, and then move on to another place. Paul emphasized daily prayer, especially meditation on the Passion of Jesus, as the door into the presence of God and strength in the darkness of life.<br /> <br /> After the missionaries left, townsfolk wrote to Paul for spiritual help. His letters back to them (over 2,000 letters remain) focus on helping them pray. The people told him their doubts, fears, temptations, yearnings, questions, and sufferings. He called these things their “darkness,” and drawing on John’s Gospel, told them that darkness is where the Light shines. “Darkness and suffering can be your friends,” he wrote. “Faith comes alive in the dark.”<br /> <br /> Paul warned against overanalyzing or focusing too much on yourself. “By thinking too much about yourself, you lose sight of the sovereign God.” The Passion of Jesus, a wise and tender book, Helps you understand yourself and your life, he said. Let it guide the way you pray and the way you live.<br /> <br /> The Passion of Jesus wasn’t limited to the words of the Gospel for Paul; he found it everywhere in life, especially in the poverty- stricken people to whom he preached. “I saw the name of Jesus written on the foreheads of the poor,” he wrote. Paul kept the Cross of Jesus before their eyes as they carried their own cross.<br /> <br /> Like Paul, today’s Passionists see the Passion of Jesus on “the foreheads of the poor,” and urge people to keep this mystery in mind. But also, they try here and now to build a just society and stand up for human rights in solidarity with the poor, especially in the poorest parts of the world. The struggle for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation is a way to take up the cross of Jesus today.<br /> <br /> In earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Father Rick Frechette, a Passionist priest and medical doctor, runs a free hospital for children and sets up schools for street kids near Portau- Prince. In Jamaica, Passionist Sister Una O’Connor built the Catholic College of Mandeville to train teachers for Jamaica’s youth. At the United Nations, Australian Father Kevin Dance and Sister Mary Ann Strain are part of Passionist International, which promotes the Passionist vision to the heads of 191 nations at the UN. Even young people belonging to Passionist Volunteers International are offering service to the rural poor in Jamaica and Honduras.<br /> <br /> Are you worried about your world falling apart and you falling apart with it? Keep his Passion in mind. Keep that wise and tender book close by and let it speak to you. Remember Jesus on the Cross. Who is He? God, become like you and me. Why is He there? To take our burdens on Himself. His love never fails. Don’t turn away. Do what you can for the world you live in, because by shouldering its burdens, big or small, you carry the Cross of Jesus.<br /> <br /> In the 18th century, God called St. Paul of the Cross to keep the Passion of Jesus in mind. Today, the call remains.<br /> <br /> Father Victor Hoagland, CP, is director of Passionist Press in Union City, New Jersey. He is the author of A Lenten Journey With Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross (Christus Publications, 2011).

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