"Elements of Passionist Spirituality"

Studies in Passionist History and Spirituality #29
Paul Francis Spencer, C.P.

Published by the Passionist Generalate, Rome, 1992.
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The author, Fr. Paul Francis Spencer, C.P., is a member of the Irish-Scot Province of the Passionist Congregation.  You are welcome to read his postings at http://passioincordibus.weebly.com/index.html .

This text was originally given as a two-part presentation at a seminar held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Blessed Dominic Barberi, C.P., in England (1842), and the beginnings of the Provinces of St. Patrick (Ireland/Scotland) and St. Joseph (England/Wales).

Of particular importance to us is the first part of the text,  pp. 1-16, "The Elements of Passionist Spirituality."  Here, Fr. Paul Francis, in a very pleasing and conversational exposition, describes some of the ways in which the Congregation begun by St. Paul of the Cross differed from the conventional standards of religious life in his time.  Thus, by contrast, we can see the particular elements that St. Paul of the Cross deliberately chose to define the spirit and shape of this new Congregation.

St. Paul of the Cross called the community to his bedside when he felt the approach of death (August 30, 1775; he died on October 18, 1775), and spoke what was to be called his "Last Spiritual Testament".  St. Paul appealed that the spirit of penance, poverty and solitude be ever maintained and flourish in the Congregation.  Father Paul Francis describes the challenge of maintaining this triad of values in today's world.

Fr. Paul Francis enunciates a working definition of "Passionist Spirituality": …a spirituality rooted in the experience of St. Paul of the Cross, which teaches a particular way of relating to the Passion of Christ, and in which community life is not subordinate to apostolic availability.  He then proceeds to explain this working definition.

In his first contrast with the conventional, Fr. Paul Francis describes how in the founding of the Passionist Congregation, there was a Rule of Life before there was a Community to live it.

The second contrast is between the different ways that memory is understood, and how, for St. Paul of the Cross, memory is an affective relationship with the person of Jesus in his suffering.  This is the foundation of the Passionist apostolic work.  Fr. Paul Francis writes: "the characteristic form of ministry in the Congregation is the promotion of the memory of the Passion: bringing others…to an affective sharing in the sufferings of Jesus."

In contrast with contemplation as a source of understanding to be expressed in a didactic preaching, for St. Paul of the Cross, a Passionist is someone who is a person of prayer and a teacher of prayer.  In other words, what he lives and what he does both revolve around the prayer experience of community life, and the prayer experience offered in ministry.

This brings us to the retreat-centered ministry of Passionists.  In both Holy Cross Province (midwest/west) and St. Paul of the Cross Province (east), retreat centers are a significant part of the ministry.  A retreat: "…cannot give the memory of the Passion to someone else; all you can do is set up an environment which will help you to promote this experience of the memory of the Passion of Christ" (pg. 11).

Finally, on page twelve, Fr. Paul Francis begins to explore the age in which the Congregation was established, and how many of its attributes are distinguished from other religious institutes already in existence or coming into existence at this time.

In his concluding paragraph to part one, on page sixteen, Fr. Paul Francis summarizes his description of "Passionist Spirituality."  In a citation from Doris Donnelly he ends this piece: "A contemporary writer has defined spirituality as 'prayer elevated to a lifestyle,' for Passionists, that seems to me as good a definition as you will find."

Some help with vocabulary: