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  • Writer's pictureOmar Gutierrez

St. Paul of the Cross, the Navy Seal of Saints

St. Paul was born in Ovada in Genoa, Italy in 1694. It seems that from a very young age he displayed particular spiritual gifts, gifts which he shared with his younger brother John. From St. Paul’s fifteenth birthday onward, though, Paul was known to have eaten very little, slept little, and spent many hours in prayer. After trying several times to lead a “normal” life he was convinced more than ever that he was called to a clerical vocation.

In the summer of 1720 he was granted several visions that included a man in a black habit with a patch of white characters that bore Christ’s name with the cross. In one vision he was told clearly by Our Lady that he was to found an order. You don't argue with Mama Mary, so that's what he sought out to do.

There were many fits and starts to this order whose proper full name is the Barefooted Clerks of the Holy Cross and Passion (C.P. in initials) but who are regularly called the Passionists. Those fits and starts were due mainly because the rule was so austere. You see, the aim of the order was to provide missionary preacher always with the theme of Christ Crucified. Their charism is the constant meditation and communion with the Passion of Christ. St. Paul’s missions were hugely successful, bringing many souls to Christ and drawing a good number of young men to his order. But, the rule was so extreme that the young men seldom lasted long. In 1741 the order began to increase in size because Pope Benedict XIV ordered that the rules be lightened.

St. Paul’s preaching was quite affective. One soldier is recorded to have said, “Father, I have been in great battles without ever flinching at the cannon’s roar. But when I listen to you, I tremble from head to foot.” But it wasn't just his preaching. Sometimes, after preaching St. Paul would self-flagellate, which means he would whip himself with a chord on his bare back. Men who saw the degree to which Paul was willing to suffer for the sake of the salvation of souls were known to break down in tears and confess all their sins to this missionary priest.

This is not recommended. St. Paul, as you'll recall, had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary from a young age. But it speaks to the kind of iron will that he had, the dedication that he bore, and the foundational believe he was gifted that he was following with will of the Father. Like the Navy Seals of our time, who are considered to be men who do not know the meaning of quitting, St. Paul of the Cross knew only one purpose to his life, which was to bring souls to Jesus through preaching the Crucified Christ. (1 Cor. 1:23)

On this Memorial of St. Paul of the Cross, we might consider Christ crucified. Leave out the child of the manger. Don't think of Jesus as a kind prophet . Forget, for the moment, the risen king clothed in heavenly glory. Today, just concentrate on the man on the cross, quivering in pain, who asks of us nothing more than that we acknowledge our sin and repent.

Two last points of trivia, upon the death of Paul's younger brother John, who remained by St. Paul’s side at all times, Pope Clement XIV granted the basilica of Saints John and Paul to the Passionist Order. It is there that St. Paul of the Cross is buried, as is St. Gabriel Possenti, patron saint of gun-owners. And it is this church which is the titular basilica of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. So it was also in this church that some interior scenes were shot for the 1983 film starring Gregory Peck:The Scarlet and the Black.

Finally, if you ever find yourself in Rome, across the piazza from the front of the entrance of the church of Sts. John and Paul there is the monastery of the Passionists. If you go to the door at the top of the long ramp and knock, the porter will greet you kindly. If you ask for relics, he’ll guide you inside and bring you to a room full of relics where, you can attain relics for St. Paul of the Cross, St. Gabriel Possenti, St. Gemma Galgani, and St. Maria Goretti and others.

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