St. Paul of the Cross, Mystic
The mysticism of the Passion dominated the life of Paul of the Cross. We can trace the role of the Passion in the mystical life of Paul to the time of his infancy and to the education he received from his mother, Anna Maria Massari. In his Spiritual Diary, Paul reveals his intimate knowledge of some of the mystic writers, especially St. Francis de Sales and St. Theresa, and indirectly, St. John of the Cross. He later came to perfect knowledge of the works of the latter as well as those of Tauler, his favourite. His knowledge indicates a well developed passion for the mystical life, especially after his conversion, at the age of 19.
At the end of his life in his Spiritual Testament, speaking of the chief characteristics of the Congregation as prayer, poverty and solitude, he again manifested his passion for union with God. For Paul of the Cross, prayer was a listening to God, intimate contact with God, experiencing the fruits of God’s Spirit. Poverty and solitude were the defenses of prayer. They permit one to take a critical stance at a distance from the structures which dominate a world separated from God and caught up in idolatry. So long as one remains subject to such structures it is impossible to enter that union with God which is proper to the mystic.
School of prayer and Gospel authenticity. From its beginnings, the ministry of Paul of the Cross had a twofold purpose: the first and most evident was that of promoting a general renewal of Christian life, depending not so much on the multiplication of rites and ceremonies as on listening to the Word of God and on teaching people how to pray. His second goal was to be of help to those desirous of setting out on a spiritual journey. We might well consider why Paul dedicated so much of his time to spiritual direction, both in conferences with individuals as well as in thousands of letters he wrote. It certainly was not a form of spiritual elite, a kind of spiritual aristocracy. Rather we must say that he was convinced how much those who lived a profound spiritual life contributed to the growth of the Church. According to the testimony of many individuals, he considered them the leaven in the mass. It was for this reason that he initiated a school of prayer and spiritual direction, both of which have born fruit in the Church even until our day.
Identification with the Crucified. The objection might be made that the life of the mystic could lead to deviation and distortion. This can certainly be avoided, but even the possibility of this happening would not justify abandoning the mystic life itself. Our Passionist Constitutions, which are the better translation of the spirit and rule of St. Paul of the Cross, by definitively addressing our ministry to the concrete challenge of service to the crucified of today destroys any possibility of falling into the dangers of distortion and hypocrisy.
Tracing the Passionist Constitutions back to Paul of the Cross, we can see how his mysticism was cased on the truth, avoided any and all deceit, was realistic, well balanced and rooted in tradition while at the same time open to and leading towards radical renewal of the life of the Church, especially those in position of authority and the well educated. We marvel at how, in the midst of the widespread distortions and Jansenism and Quietism and other deviations, Paul forged ahead with absolute certainty and clear discernment as to the authenticity of his spiritual journey to God. Mysticism for him was not an evasion of reality or responsibility. On the contrary, since it was the work of the Holy Spirit, is offered him a secure foundation for shouldering responsibility for the Church and for those given to his care. This distinction separates the true mystic from the false mystic within the Church itself, as happened in the synagogue at the time of Jesus; it is the most difficult of conflicts. The message of St. Paul of the Cross is an encouragement for those who struggle for authenticity.
Edited from St. Paul of the Cross, Mystic by Fr. Adolfo Lippi, C.P.