Our “Venerable” Fr. Fred Sucher, CP (retired at St. Heart Passionist Monastery in Louisville, KY) is with us for a few days this week. He just turned 95 years old and his spirit is undimmed (although he certainly has selective hearing!) Mother Catherine Marie arranged his days here to help us Sisters make a generous start of the Lenten Season.
Fr. Fred waxed eloquent this afternoon on the following letter of St. Paul of the Cross to Teresa Palozzi. Teresa would be one of the first Passionist Nuns, the first monastery being founded in 1771. There is no date on this letter but Fr. Fred guesses it was probably written in 1763. At this time Teresa was a single lay woman living in her home. She was in her 30’s by this time…waiting on God’s providence to unfold and hoping the Passionist Nuns would be founded soon. She lived somewhat like a servant in her family home. Sort of like St. Catherine of Siena.
I pray this letter blesses you and helps you start your Lent with a generous spirit, an interior spirit of self-denial and penance, bearing fruit in a generous gift of self with Jesus to the Father. No matter what state of life you are in you are called to be a saint. Remember…only saints get into heaven!
So, let us begin…
May the holy Passion of Jesus be always in your heart.
I did not answer your letter sooner because I was overly occupied. You would like to know how to govern yourself during this present Lent. I tell you that the life of men and women servants of God should be a continual Lent, that is, a continual exercise of mortification, internal and external. So distrusting yourself and depending much upon God, make your continuous Lent by always denying your will, being subject in exact obedience in the things most difficult and bitter to your self-love.
Mortify your external senses, that is, your eyes and your tongue, by speaking as little as possible and only when really necessary. Flee dealing with men, even with women, except when necessity demands it. Take the sweet as though it were bitter, the bitter as though it were sweet, and love contempt of self and that no one makes any account of you. Remain crucified with Jesus Christ, embracing every occasion to suffer for love of God with patience, with silence, and without ever justifying yourself, being resentful, or complaining. There, Teresa, is a short way to live a continual Lent and a short compendium to make yourself holy.
Do not be scrupulous about eating what they serve in the house in accord with the indult of the Highest Pontiff. God is pleased with your good will, and you will have the same merit as if you ate only Lenten fare. I am happy with the vow of virginity the confessor had you take until the Feast of the Annunciation. You may renew it from feast to feast, but do not take it perpetually. The time will come when you are consecrated to God for ever. Be patient. Be persevering and faithful to God, for you will see that the Lord will open a great pathway.
Meditate on the Passion of Jesus and the Sorrows of Mary Most Holy. When you feel yourself more moved by some affections of holy love, learn how to rest your spirit on the breast of your Beloved Good in a silence of faith and holy love, and allow your soul to be filled by this holy affection. When it dies down, continue your meditation with a peaceful spirit and without straining your head or breast. Be careful to do everything gently.
Keep your heart recollected in the Presence of God during your work. Your heart should be a living tabernacle for the gentle Sacramental Jesus. Remain within yourself in this tabernacle at the feet of Jesus, as did Magdalene. In spirit embrace those divine feet, listen to his sweet words, and let yourself be completely consumed with love for him.
Do not be scrupulous. Let any scruples be consumed in the fire of divine love. Have no scruples about your vow of virginity, for God will help you to keep it well. Pray for me and Jesus bless you. Amen. Greetings in the Lord to your mother.
Your unworthy servant,
Paul of the Cross