St. Paul of the Cross and the Passion

We might expect someone with the title “of the Cross” after his name to pay special attention to the Passion and to its chief symbol, the cross. St. Paul of the Cross certainly does, not only by focusing on the cross of Jesus, but on the crosses in our own lives.  In his spiritual direction he emphasised primarily the surrender in faith necessary to have the Spirit guide us. But he knew that the crosses that come each day are the hardest things to which we have to surrender and often the most puzzling and confusing. So he gives much attention to the crosses that we are so much a part of our purifications and growth.

Paul found his own light in this matter in the cross of Jesus. From the cross he heard primarily the message of God’s love. God loved him and he knew it. He did his best to get that message of love across to those he directed. In the light of that love, he showed them how he saw God acting in their lives. He never saw unpleasant events in life as something that merely happen. Nor does he connect them primarily with the human beings through whom trials often come. For Paul of the Cross, they connected primarily with God. He saw them as a necessary part of our purification and growth.

He saw these trials too as an invitation to share in the Passion of Jesus, in the way they are described in the First Letter of Peter (4:12-13): “Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal which has come among us to test you, as if something strange was happening: instead, rejoice in so far as you’re sharing in Christ’s sufferings, so that when his glory is revealed you may rejoice and exult.” Paul of the Cross wrote in similar vain to Agnes Grazi, “How good it is to remain on the cross with Jesus” (I, 139). Acceptance of the trails of life as our crosses to carry after Jesus was a basic part of Paul’s spiritual direction.


Paul’s own secret of being able to bear his crosses was to accept them directly from God and not from others. This is certainly not the approach that most people have today, even most Christians. It is only natural for us to look at the human source of our sufferings; other people who are afflicting us in some way, unpleasant weather, circumstances which frustrate our plans, sickness, interior darkness and desolation, the disappointments of life, and so on. Paul always counselled not to look at the agents of our suffering that were visible to us, but at God who stands invisibly behind each one.

Paul wrote to Thomas Fossi, “Don’t take your trials from creatures, but take them directly from the hand of God. He uses creatures as his instruments. Love the divine will in the midst of naked suffering” (I, 620). Paul could do this because he saw God’s love behind each trial he sent. As Paul put it to Thomas, “Adore the most holy will of God in every happening. The love of God is as strong as death (Sg 8:6).”

To see suffering as coming from God’s love is a cardinal point in Paul’s direction, but it is most repugnant to our human sensibilities and reason. The question naturally arises, “If God loves us, how can he want us to suffer?” Our human inclination is to presume that God does not want these things to happen. He wants us to have joy, not sorrow; pleasure, not pain; healing, not sickness.


Paul did not see it this way. He saw trials are necessary for us and sent by a loving God for our purification and growth. He never went into the academic problem of how evil could exist in the world with a loving God in control of all things. If he were asked how bad things could happen to good people, he would reply that things were not really bad if God brought them to good, just as he brought the Passion of Jesus to Resurrection ….


Since Paul was a practical man, he applies what he has said about acceptance of the cross to specific situations. He speaks to Thomas Fossi about financial setbacks, “I rejoice to see your beautiful resignation in the merciful visits of the Lord during your financial setbacks. Let us adore the divine dispensation and fortify ourselves always more with patience and resignation (I, 627).”

It is not likely that many today would see financial setbacks as purifying trials purposely arranged by God’s love. Most would probably see them as bad things happening to good people and caused by a poor economic climate, poor management of funds, human carelessness and some other cause with which God had nothing to do. It changes the whole picture when we see God’s loving hand behind everything.

Paul speaks of domestic troubles in the same way. “Be at peace in trials within the house, in the events that happen, in accidents, in having too many mouths to feed, and so forth. Remain willingly on the cross with Jesus. The greatest trials are reserved for the greatest servants of God” (I, 528-9). Here too God’s love and God’s hand are seen in everything, but this is possible only with the eyes of faith. Paul never tried to guess the particular object God had in mind in sending some particular trial, but he accepted it from God’s love as purposeful and that was enough.

taken from “The Passion in our LIves” from SPIRITUAL DIRECTION ACCORDING TO ST. PAUL OF THE CROSS by Bennet Kelley, C.P.,  p. 49-53

by Bennet Kelley, C.P.

An eminently practical, commonsense approach to spiritual direction based on the wisdom and insights of one of the Church’s most skillful practitioners, St Paul of the Cross. His legacy of spiritual direction has been culled from the thousands of letters which he wrote to specific individuals as he guided them on the road to spiritual perfection. Readers will find remarkably down-to-earth, pertinent advice. Directors can find much in his approach that will assist them in guiding those entrusted to their care. And everyone can benefit enormously from Paul’s emphasis on the Passion of Jesus Christ as the source and inspiration for discerning the will of God each day.
161 pp.; paper

Available for internet purchase at PASSIONIST PUBLICATIONS



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