The feasts of Saint Ignatius Loyola (July 31) and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri (August 1) are germane to the Rule, the Constitutions and the spirituality of Saint Paul of the Cross. Once the Passionist Rules were approved in July, 1741, he exclaimed in writing: “I would emphasize that our Rules and Constitutions were allowed to remain in their essence, except for a very few things which do not touch on the essentials of the Institute. They were approved as written because they were based on the infallible truth of the Gospel.” The Rules and Constitutions came after twenty years of examination by the Holy See. They represent an essential inspiration given to Paul Danei in Castellazzo. In many ways the Paulacrucian experience parallels the contributions of the Founder of the Jesuits and the Founder of the Redemptorists.
All three Religious Institutes are listed as Clerics Regular. This was a new type of Religious Community life which began in 1524 with the appearance of the Theatines. Life in community was lived with a horarium, but an active apostolate was conducted outside the Religious House. Some of these Communities are Religious Orders and ,of these, most have fundamental religious instruction (catechesis) as their scope. The Annuario Pontifico (The Vatican Directory) lists eight Orders. These are distinct from Monastics and Friars. The Passionists fall into the category of a Congregation of Clerics Regular, as canonically distinct from a Religious Order. They are an early example of a Congregation of this new type of religious life in the history of Roman Catholicism. Chronologically, the Community is followed immediately by the establishment of the Redemptorists in 1732, with a Rule approval in 1749. Many ecclesiastics wondered if Paul knew what he was doing. They saw him as unsure of what the Congregation was about. They thought of him as someone who was grasping in the dark, making his way only by trial and error. But the same can be said of Ignatius and Alphonsus. All three came tenaciously to the vision of their heart and in the end, success falls upon them.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori became a Doctor of the Church. Saint Ignatius Loyola was the founder of what is still the largest religious family within Catholicism. Saint Paul of the Cross is “perhaps the greatest mystic of the 18th Century.”
Of the Congregations, the Passionists are the fourth and the Redemptorists are the fifth. The first three are dedicated to religious education. The Passionists include preaching along with a vigorous prayer life at home. They are the first of the new religious societies to be called missionary. All of the above were considered, until the time of the Second Vatican Council, to be prime examples of the Mixed Life as identified by Saint Thomas Acquinas and Saint Bonaventure.
Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) is a Basque. Born into a noble family, he pursued a military career. As such, even as a young boy, he lived a very worldly life. He was addicted to fiction. In 1521 he engaged in a major battle with the French at Pamplona. Then he was shot through the leg by a canon. After some months, had to have the bone rebroken and reset. While recuperating, he was handed a copy of The Life of Christ and The Golden Legend, a medieval book of the lives of the saints, since no romance fiction was available to him. That was the beginning of his conversion. He left his brother’s home to become a pilgrim. He described this as the title of the rest of his life, “To be a pilgrim!” He bravely spent some time in Jerusalem where he encountered the Muslims, making them a priority of his prayer and concern forever. Then he returned to his homeland and placed himself near the Benedictines at Montserrat. There he received a mystical experience which impelled him to disseminate the life of prayer among the laity and secular clergy. He considered this an urgency. He produced, from his cave at Manresa, the renowned sacred classic, The Spiritual Exercises.
The Exercises were oriented “toward the making of choices”. They placed greatest emphasis on the virtue of generosity. The ambience of an Ignatian retreat is one of complete and total silence, while the points of meditation are based on the incidents of the life of Jesus and of Mary. Two elements of The Exercises are earthshaking! One of these is the prolonged examination of conscience which is relentless in the early days of the retreat, going over and over one’s failures, vulnerabilities and needs. This was intended to strengthen the client in a life of meditation on hope and required long hours of personal, affective prayer. The second part deals with the “Two Standards:” Should I opt for Christ or for the world? Am I content to be lukewarm? This became the heart of Jesuit spirituality. The 30 day exercises were meant to be given twice during the formation of Jesuits prior to their final vows. The importance of Ignatius for Paul of the Cross was monumental.
Saint Paul of the Cross did not follow Ignatius in his method of government which was highly centralized. But he did place a heavy emphasis on the apostolate of retreats and on personal spiritual direction. He too required long hours of prayer of both his Religious and his directees. He also sought that his followers likewise experience a conversion and then, to revisit it over and over again. For Paul of the Cross and Ignatius alike, total obedience was the key virtue, but the obedience was to the Providence of God. Both men, although disparate, produced new types of religious life. However, while Ignatius did away with a choral observance, Paul maintained it and insisted on a more liturgical mode of existence in his Houses. Ignatius called his residences Colleges; Paul referred to them as Retreats. Ignatius prepared his disciples to be at the disposition of the Church and take any job assigned to them. The Paulacrucian way of life manifested the existence of a monastic church which implied that the home life was the Church-life itself.
Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) is beloved by Passionists because he was the direct contemporary of Saint Paul of the Cross. Despite differences in the way of life, he possessed the same purpose and scope for his Congregation. He came from an aristocratic home life and grew up in Naples where he studied civil and canon law, achieving his Doctorate at the age of 16. Paul of the Cross, on the other hand, came from a more rough background. Yet both were granted a parallel spiritual vision which said, “Leave the world and give yourself to Me.” Both lived in a time of increasing secularization and were considerably concerned with issues of morality. Both men, brilliant preachers, placed great emphasis on the value of the confessional. Both men, too, were highly influenced by the protection of Liguori’s uncle who was a Curical Cardinal at Rome.
Unlike Paul, Alphonsus became a priest before he became a religious. Even before, a spirituality and charism was formed for his Community, the Redemptorists, he displayed from the pulpit a remarkable transparency of the theology of the Cross. Sincerity from the pulpit converts people. While preaching, Alphonsus took a position as a professor of moral theology in a special college for those preparing for missionary activity in China. About this time, he met two people who would change the direction of his life – Thomas Falcoia (later Bishop) and Sister Mary Celeste, a Visitation Nun. Each of them, quite independently of the other, had interior experiences about a new community of religious women. These were destined to be called Redemptoristines. Thus a community of enclosed women preceded an Institute of home missionaries to be called Redemptorists. Bishop Falcoia briefly acted as Superior General for both. On November 9, 1732, the male community gathered for the first time and was ecclesiastically recognized. Bishop Falcoia died shortly after assuming his role as Supervisor. Sister Mary Celeste took over direction of the women’s community. Alphonsus Liguori was the compelled to examine his own role as Major Superior of the priests. Like Saint Paul of the Cross, he found it essential to realize that charism which had two parts, exactly like the Paulacrucian fourth vow, i.e. to love the Crucified and to promote devotion to the Love of God. Also essential to the same charism is “the gathering of companions”.
Both had mixed success in keeping vocations. Both engaged in preaching missions. When they reached a town to open a mission, they not only provided a course of sermons over a long period, but used dramatic effects in order to capture the attention of the people. Both men took over the parochial work of the parish priest and, in this manner, came in intimate contact with every household. Because of this, these fledgling Institutes began to flourish.
Alphonsus was destined to become Bishop of Sant’ Agata dei Goti. While he vigorously refused the appointment, the Pope would not listen to him. Alphonsus was then concerned with public morality, especially issues of modesty in his diocese. He also carried his concerns into the lives of those priests who celebrated a “fast” Mass and did not preach or catechize. Even though highly aloof, he displayed a tenderness and empathy to everyone. Hence, he was very popular. As he aged, he resigned and returned to his Religious Community On doing so, he experienced some of the greatest crosses of his life. Deafness, blindness, rheumatoid arthritis and, worst of all, the jealousy of his brothers plagued him. Tricked by some of his closest companions, he was led to misread an edition of the Constitutions which he did not draft. Due to his blindness, he signed the wrong document, thus dividing his religious family in two. It ended that he died in the wrong part of the Institute. His heart was broken. Prior to his death, the guilt over the schism of the Redemptorists plunged him into a long, terrible depression. When he died in 1787, his body had been twisted by rheumatoid arthritis. In 1793 both the Vatican and the Neapolitan government recognized his original Rule, reconciling the entire Redemptorist family at last.
Like Saint Paul of the Cross, he had great devotion to Mary. It is good to celebrate his feast on the first day of this month, which is dedicated to the Assumption and the Queenship pf the Mother of Jesus. In 1750 he had published the book, The Glories of Mary, his most famous work, the handbook of Saint Gabriel of the Mother of Sorrows, C.P.. That book has affected the Marian devotional life of the Church from that time to the present.
Passionists everywhere continue to admire and study the holiness of these three men together.
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.