St. Paul of the Cross and Faith
According to McBrien’s ‘Catholicism’, faith is “a personal knowledge of God”. It is not a matter of knowing the Creed, but knowing that God exists, is real, is active, is loving, is our Saviour.
It could be surprising to some that St. Paul of the Cross had to suffer great temptations about faith. One witness said about him, “When he first devoted himself to the spiritual life he experienced strong temptations against faith. In his youth, they were so severe, that, at times, he was worn out by them; he went to kneel before the tabernacle and rested his head on the railing of the sanctuary. But on a certain Pentecost Sunday, he was raised to a high degree of prayer and all his temptations against faith left him.”
I believe that God sometimes allows temptations so that the person grows in the virtue that is attacked. Certainly, this is true of Paul of the Cross. He later wrote in one of his letters “Would to God that he would grant to everyone such knowledge of the truth, of faith as, in His mercy, He has given me! I can almost touch them with my hand.”
But it doesn’t always disappear so quickly. Paul wrote to Agnes Grazi, “You need be always prepared to do battle in order to fight courageously for the glory of God” (13th May, 1737). He wrote to Agnes Grazi again, “I prefer to walk in faith. This is surely the safe way. ‘Obscure faith, sure guide of Holy Love. Oh what sweetness its certitude enriches my heart’ so sang a devout soul (26th April 1736).
Let us think of this God who offers such personal knowledge:
THE GOD ALWAYS PRESENT
Paul of the Cross wrote to Sr. Maria Cherubina Bresciani, a Poor Clare Nun, “What I desire is that you live by faith. ‘The just one lives by faith’ is what Scripture says. The Presence of God: rest your heart in God with a sacred silence of love.” (14th December 1733 – Letters Volume 1, p. 88).
To Teresa Palozzi he wrote, “Make frequent acts of resignation to the Will of God .. Abandon yourself to the Will of God for he has thought of you.” (26th July 1757 – Letters II, p. 574).
To Ages Grazi’s sister in law, Maria Johanna Venturi Grazi, he requested that she “revive your faith, putting yourself in the Presence of God” (24th March 1737 – Letters I, p. 180).
Another lay person, Thomas Fossi, received lots of letters of direction. Paul wrote “If you continue to live abandoned to the Divine Good Pleasure, you will be blessed … The servant of God makes continual prayer, not, I say, on his knees, but with a loving attention to the Divine Presence. And the more he is deprived of sensible consolation, the better.” (12th December 1738 – Letters 1, p. 247).
Paul wrote to Lucy Burlini, and this long quote will bring memories to those who were at the Passionist Institutes in Templestowe,
“Live by faith and holy love. Stay entirely immersed in the love of God in your deepest interior. When our good God wishes you to speak, praying for the Church and for our needs of your neighbour and for yourself . Do this, however, with your interior tongue in a pure spirit of love. But when your soul wishes to remain all alone with your Sovereign Good, adoring Him in spirit and in truth, in a profound silence of faith and holy love, stay that way and feed yourself in a holy interior silence with that sweetest food of holy love.
I recommend that you go in spirit to fish in the holy sea of the pains of Jesus Christ and the sorrows of Mary Most Holy. In this great sea you will fish for the jewels of the holy virtues of the gentle Jesus, and your soul will come away always more beautiful and adorned with these previous pearls. This divine fishing in the sea of divine love, from which issues the dea of the holy sufferings of Jesus Christ – these two seas are one – is done in the interior kingdom of your spirit in purest faith and burning love” (4th August 1748 – Letters II, p. 44).
THE GOD WHO TAUGHT US TO DO HIS WILL
On 24th January 1737 Paul of the Cross wrote to Agnes Grazi: “Oh, how much I rejoice that your prayer is in faith! This is the loving conduct toward which God has always inspired me to guide you! …. May His holy Will be done.” (Letters, 1, p. 169).
Twenty years later Paul is writing to Teresa Palozzi. She was born a few months after the last letter to Agnes and this letter, one of forty four, was sent when Teresa was twenty. She later became one of the first Passionist Nuns: “Make frequent acts of resignation to the Divine Will … Abandon yourself to the Will of God, for he has thought of you.” (26th July 1757 – Letters 11, p. 574).
THE GOD WHO WANTS ALL
To Thomas Fossi, Paul wrote “There is need to seek nothing but God … Walk in lively faith because this is the safe way.” (23rd March 1739, Letters 1, p. 250).
Later Paul writes again to Thomas: “God permits that you are deserted by creatures so that your life may be hidden in Jesus Christ in true poverty of spirit … Oh, how much better it is to flee and hide oneself in the depth of the Divinity and lose all thought of self and disappear in the Divine Good Pleasure!” (18th January 1753 – Letters 11, p. 338).
Fr. Gerard Mahony C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community at St. Brigid’s, Marrickville (Australia).