Day 3 – September 10
Having considered Mary as Queen and Co-Redemptrix, we now reflect on Mary as the inspiration of our Congregation. One of the Passionist Superiors General wrote the following:
The most sweet Mother of God is the loving Custodian of every religious order….Yet there are some who are more particularly obligated to her, because she appears as the one who communicated the idea, showed the form of its habit and intervened in its foundation. This most singular favor was granted to the least Congregation of the Passion.
We will not then be surprised to find Mary’s presence at all important and crucial moments in the founding of the Congregation. In the Consecration to her Immaculate Heart we pray:
It was you who inspired your faithful servant, Paul of the Cross, to found this humble Institute which would continually remember the Passion and Death of your Divine Son, Jesus; you who deigned to appear to him clothed in this habit of mourning and penance which we wear; you who lovingly indicated the spot where the first Retreat was to rise…
The idea of founding a new religious community developed slowly in the mind of Paul of the Cross. Yet, from the very beginning of his life, Mary showed that she had some special plan for him. We read in the processes for canonization that Mary saved Paul and his brother from drowning in a river. When Paul entered early manhood, he remained uncertain about his vocation. Then flashes of light began to illuminate the distant horizon.
In his preface to the primitive rule, Paul records his first strong desire for solitude. While on a journey, he saw a tiny church in the distance, “and seeing it,” Paul wrote, “I felt my heart moved with a longing for such solitude…Ever after, I kept this desire in my heart.” Was it only a coincidence that the tiny church was dedicated to the Most Holy Madonna?
Then in the summer of 1720, when Paul was returning home after Mass and Communion, he suddenly felt himself wrapped in ecstasy. How could he possibly think of anything else when before him was the Mother of God? She was clothed in a black habit of mourning and she said to him: “You see, my son, how I am dressed. This is on account of the most sorrowful death of my beloved Son Jesus. You are to dress in the same way, and to found a Congregation which will sorrow continually with me over the Passion and death of my Beloved Son.” Mary’s words show that she longs to share with Paul and with all of us her communion of pain and sorrow with her crucified Son. She wants to give Passionists what is such an intimate part of her own life: her loving sorrow for Christ Crucified.
On Nov. 22, 1720, Paul was vested in the black habit of the Passion, but without the Passion Sign. Then followed his 40 days’ retreat during which he wrote the primitive rule. Mary was slowly bringing into reality the great work for the Church which she had begun in Paul. On Sept. 8, 1721, Paul was sailing along the coast of Italy when in the distance he saw a mountain rising out of the sea. Only a narrow strip of land connected it with the coast. Within his heart he heard Mary’s call: “Paul, Paul, I am all alone. Come to Monte Argentario.” There on this lonely mountain, Mary indicated the spot where the first retreat was to rise. She appeared to Paul over the branches of an olive tree. When Paul built the retreat years later, the choir area occupied the place where the tree once grew.
In the critical years ahead, Mary remained by Paul’s side, directing and guiding him. Three of the Congregation’s most important favors from the Holy Father were all granted on the vigil of the Assumption. It was to acknowledge this that the first retreats and provinces were all named after Mary. This beautiful story of Mary’s inspiration for the Passionist Congregation will be continued tomorrow.