Today we celebrate the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time which has always been known as Mission Sunday and it is also the feast of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionist Community. The Passionists established and built this parish of St. Gabriel’s back in 1951.
I think we’ve been remiss in our public relations in the sense that our parishioners know little if anything about our founder and the works of the Passionists. St. Paul of the Cross was baptized Paul Daneo, born in 1694 in Ovada, a town in Northern Italy. Like the rest of us Paul had his own journey of faith. After what we would call a conversion experience he spent years trying to figure out what God wanted him to do with his life. For two years he served in the army in a crusade against the Turks. Eventually he gathered companions around him and started a religious community. With the permission of his bishop Paul starting preaching in towns and villages, later on he worked as an orderly in a hospital in Rome. Eventually Paul and his companions were ordained by Pope Benedict 13th on June 7, 1727 in St. Peter’s in Rome.
Paul of the Cross opened the first Passionist Monastery in a place called Monte Argentario in 1737 and in a few years he opened other Passionist Monasteries and finally in 1774 the Pope offered the church of Sts John and Paul in Rome as the community’s headquarters. On October 18th, 1775 Paul died in Rome. He was canonized in 1867.
Woven and intertwined through all these dates was the life of a very extraordinary man. He was a man of deep prayer. You may remember the surprise of many people when the letters of Mother Teresa were published and she told of how much of her life was lived in darkness and blind faith in the presence and love of God her. For years she felt none of the consolations of prayer. This was the experience of Paul of the Cross. For many years he lived in and preached out of such darkness.
Most of all Paul of the Cross was a great preacher. He established the Passionists to be itinerant preachers. He and his companions travelled over most of Italy going into towns and villages preaching to the poor and uneducated people. He travelled with a large mission cross and he would preach holding this cross. The crucified Christ was the text book from which he taught the people that they were loved by God. From the very beginning of the Passionists the theme of our preaching was to be the Passion of Jesus Christ and we were to keep alive in the minds and hearts of the people the memory of that Passion. Our community motto is, “May the Passion of Christ be always in our hearts.”
Pope Benedict 16th declared this year the year of St. Paul the Apostle. Paul of the Cross and the Apostle Paul had something in common, they were fixated with the passion and suffering of Jesus the Crucified. For both Pauls the crucified Christ was the love of God made visible, both Pauls knew nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. For both Pauls the crucified Christ was the magnet that drew people back to God – the love shown in the broken body of Christ was the motivation for people to turn their lives around and respond to such love by trying to live lives worthy of such love. Both Pauls wanted to spread the news of Christ’s love to one and all. Paul the Apostle is famous for his missionary journeys. Though it never happened in his life time Paul of the Cross wanted to send missionaries out to foreign countries. This dream was realized a few years after his death when Passionist missionaries were sent to Bulgaria.
Paul of the Cross had a vision of one day seeing his Passionists in England, a vision realized in 1850 when Passionists, led by a priest name Dominic Barberi established the community in England. Dominic Barberi was the one who received Cardinal Newman into the church. Passionists worked in China from 1922 until 1954 when all our priests were expelled. The bishop who ordained me was our exiled bishop from China, Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara who was originally from Ottawa. Now we have men working in Jamaica, Haiti and Honduras.
This is Mission Sunday, a day on which we pray for and support the priests, religious and lay people who spread the faith among many peoples. I ask you to be as generous as your means allow in today’s second collection. And on this feast of St. Paul of the Cross I ask you to pray for the Passionist Communities around the world that we be blessed with vocations to our community and that we always remain faithful to our original purpose – preach the good news of God’s love for humanity, a love made visible in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.