St. Paul of the Cross, Spiritual Director


The figure of St. Paul of the Cross is delineated in the history of the Church with a prominence which arises above all from his founding of the Congregation of the Passion. In the history of the eighteenth century, St. Paul of the Cross is further recognized as an outstanding mission preacher and mystic endowed with an extraordinary charism. Upon further reflection, however, one might say that in the overall evaluation of his spirituality and the relevance which he continues to have today, there emerges more and more, as a unifying and dominant characteristic, his example and teaching as a spiritual director.

His intention in the first Rule. “One of the principal ends of the Passionist Congregation is that each religious not only attend to prayer in order to arrive at holy union through love of God, but that he also labour to achieve the same end for his neighbour, instructing him in the most fitting and easily achievable way to attain that same goal”. The fundamental experience of St. Paul of the Cross was to always and in every way seek that union, or rather transformation in God and in his most holy will, as well as to communicate the same earnest desire to everyone, without exception.

We see this principle already at work at Castellazzo when, yet a layman, as “prior” or leader of the Oratory of St. Anthony he serves as guide in prayer and in the practice of the Christian virtues for many of his contemporaries.  His style and his dynamic will remain the same with regard to his first companions at their vestition. “To contemplate and lead others to contemplation”! Paul is always the spiritual director, even in the specific work as founder and as mission preacher. To help everyone to understand and follow the interior guidance of the Holy Spirit, he offers a “brief”, certain, secure way to achieve sanctity. It is the way of the “devout memory of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ our Lord, from whom, as from a font, issues every good. This beneficial and salutary thought is the most efficacious means to withdraw the soul from sin and place it on the road to Christian perfection, to which we all aspire.”

His religious teaching and his pastoral dynamic are based, above all, on this theological dimension, a principle well known to him: if one succeeds in implanting the memory of the Passion as the source of inexhaustible life and impulse towards charity, then he can do what he pleases! Thus St. Paul of the Cross was able to give “ordinary” spiritual direction, never excluding anyone from his guidance. Therefore in the Rule he desires that the missionaries “teach the people the ways of prayer, while at the same time, disabusing them of the error of thinking that meditation is just for ecclesiastics and religious; encourage all with fitting advice and a constant faith in God and let them teach that in prayer God will communicate his lights to them”.

Paul of the Cross was spiritual director in harmony with his natural and supernatural gifts; it was said that he had a keen sense of “compassion” from his infancy, that he was father to everyone he directed, in his understanding, his kindness, in his offering encouragement and consolation. In this, he admitted that he depended on St. Francis de Sales as his guide, but, always diffident of self, he was strengthened by his great confidence in God, and thus was able to open the hearts of those he was directing, leading them to serve the Lord “with great courage” … He was also inspired by another great spiritual master, St. John of the Cross.

Analysis of his letters and the testimony of many lead us to appreciate the concrete wisdom with which St. Paul of the Cross directed every sort of individual, not only religious but many lay people.

The optimism of the Cross.  In concluding, it seems we should, at least briefly outline the very heart of his “method”, which we call, paradocially, his awesome “optimism of the Cross”.  From the time he wrote his Spiritual Diary (see entry on 21 December 1720), Paul had clearly understood the transforming value of the cross in one’s life, “I would that I were able to say that everyone felt the great grace that God works by His mercy when He sends suffering, and especially when that suffering is without comfort … The soul comes thereby to be indifferent to such an extent that she no longer thinks  either of suffering or of rejoicing; but only holds herself firmly attached to the most holy will of her Spouse Jesus, wishing to be crucified with Him because that is more pleasing to her most beloved God, who during the whole of His most holy life, did nothing else but suffer”.

The mind habitually dwelling on the Crucified God knows that there is no glory greater than that of Him who humbled himself even to death on the Cross ad is now exalted above every other being. For this reason Paul of the Cross exhorts his religious, before they begin each hour of the Divine Office, to pray the magnificent of Pauline hymn, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”. The optimism of the Cross springs from the immediate relationship which exists between the primary cause, the Will of the Father, and the final object of every event lived in Christ, in order to share the glorified life of the Son in the bosom of the Father.

The courage to bear and accept every difficulty and suffering inherent on every journey to perfection, begins here: “The sure way to keep one’s heart in peace is to accept everything, without condition, as coming immediately from the loving hand of God … Keep your heart in continual tranquility, despite any adversity to die in the Divine Benevolence who only desires what is best for you …”
Constante Brovetto, C.P.

Fr. Costante Brovetto, C.P., was born on 24th September 1923 in Italy, he was professed a Passionist in 1946 and was ordained in 1949. A formation director in various communities, he was a great scholar of Passionist history and spirituality, giving conferences in many countries. He died in Carpesino, Italy, on 14th July 2002.



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