Fr. Ottaviano D’Egidio, C.P.
Superior General of the Passionists
Rome, 1 May 2007
Together with the Provincials of Holland, Fr. Leo Bos, and Ireland, Fr. Martin Coffey, I can think of no better way to begin this message on the joyful occasion of the canonization of our brother, Fr. Charles of Mt. Argus, than with the words which himself wrote from the Retreat of St. Joseph in London on 7 October 1873 and by means of which he tried to console a person who was afflicted with many sufferings:
“I hope that she will be resigned to do the holy will of God in this small suffering that she is experiencing. The cross that is borne with patience for love of God is of great benefit to one’s eternal salvation. I am certain that everything will be alright according to what is pleasing to God. Every day, for several minutes, try to think about the cruel sufferings of Jesus Christ.”
These words remind us that the life of Fr. Charles was deeply rooted in the cross and the last station of the via passionis was exemplified in his life: crucifixion and death. However, his canonization reflects the resurrection that Christ offers to his faithful servants and it offers us hope for the future of our religious and for the Catholics of those countries that Fr. Charles loved so much: Belgium, England, and especially Holland, his homeland, and his beloved Ireland where he is buried.
For him, the Crucifix was a book which always fascinated him and which he studied more profoundly every day. This was his great treasure, and he was often seen kissing the Holy Wounds of the small crucifix which he always carried in the palm of his hand.
He also frequently recommended to others that they use the Crucifix. In one of his letters to a man who was in danger of death and was who was alienated from the Church, among other things he advised that an image of Christ in Agony be shown to the man, who by his indifference was deprived of the light of Faith.
In another letter that was addressed to a woman he wrote: “If your dear daughter is sometimes impatient and screams, place a crucifix in her hands and say to her: My daughter, look how Jesus Christ suffered.”
Finally, many recall that when he celebrated Mass and he came upon Scripture passages that referred to the Passion, he could not hold back his tears. His heart was filled with compassion for Him who “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.” (Is. 52)
Therefore the message that Fr. Charles offers to the Church, to the Passionist Congregation and to today’s world is that of deep fidelity to Christ, even at the cost of one’s life. It is an invitation to keep alive the memory of Jesus Crucified – a gift that is given for the well-being of every person; a gift that for the Passionist becomes the well spring which in turn is poured out for others even to the point of death. This was the hope of St. Paul of the Cross when he wrote:
“The religious…effectively detached from earth and dead to themselves, are better disposed to receive the effects of divine grace so that afterwards in due time, with hearts filled with the love of God, they may undertake great things for the glory of God and for the defense of Holy Church even at the cost of their own lives, sparing neither privation nor labor.” (“Account of 1768”, Studies in Passionist History and Spirituality, No.1, p. 17, #5)
In those moments in which fidelity to Christ called for heroism, Fr. Charles, as a Christian and as a Passionist, turned to Jesus in Gethsemane through personal prayer and through the intercession of our Founder St. Paul of the Cross. He prayed for the strength to do the will of our heavenly Father as it was manifested in the lives of those who trusted in him and who assented to being a grain of wheat that is buried in the earth in order to rise to new life and become a source of sustenance for others.
Therefore, in this spirit of resurrection that emanates from the event of the canonization of Fr. Charles Houben, I invite you to join with me in prayer that in Holland, Ireland and every nation where the Congregation is present, and that all Passionists may enthusiastically announce and give witness with their lives to that Crucified Love that is Jesus who died and who rose for us.
Fr. Ottaviano D’Egidio, CP