St Paul of Cross & conversion of sinners


St Paul of the Cross and his zeal for the conversion of souls

The Passion of Jesus moved Paul with a fervent desire to reach out to others because its message had deeply penetrated his own heart. The remembrance of the Passion of Jesus was for him a special way of en­countering and approaching God. In his extraordinary love for God, he fervently desired to bring souls to Him. On the Cross, Jesus cried out "I thirst" ...it was not a physical thirst, but a thirst for the conversion of souls that came forth from the loving heart of our Jesus! And through his special devotion and union with Jesus in His Passion, Paul too "thirsted" for the conversion of sinners.

One day the Saint was at the foot of the crucifix, pleading for the salvation of sinners, whose souls were specially dear to him. Long and fervent were the sighs of that loving heart, as he reminded his Lord of all that He had suffered, and be­sought Him not to let His sufferings be in vain. He was so thoroughly absorbed in this prayer for souls, that he forgot all about himself. After a long period of prayer and contemplation he said: "Oh, Lord, I pray for others, yet my own soul is only fit for hell." Scarcely had he spoken, when he heard his crucified Lord said to him, "Thy soul is in my heart."

The crucifix which he used in his missions, and which may be seen at present in the room in which the Saint died in the Basilica of SS. John and Paul in Rome, was the instrument of many miracles. Once he passed by a farmer ploughing in the field who was cursing and swearing at a yoke of oxen which were not sufficiently obedient to his wishes. The Saint reproved him, saying that cursing could not improve either man or beast. The man was not at all in the mood for being preached to at the time, so he took up a gun which lay beside him, and leveled it at Paul. The Saint raised his crucifix, and said, "Since you will not obey the voice of God, nor respect His image, let us see if these poor brutes will not." At that very moment the oxen fell to their knees. -Oh, the power of God as revealed through His saints! The man lowered the gun in utter shock and disbelief, and understandably the word of this miracle spread throughout the surrounding towns like wildfire.

In his Diary on December 4, 1720 St Paul writes:
At holy Communion I had much sweetness. My dear God gave me infused knowledge of the joy which the soul will have when we see him face to face, when it will be united with him in holy love. Then I felt sorrow to see him offended and I told him that I would willingly be torn to pieces for a single soul. Indeed, I felt that I would die when I saw the loss of so many souls who do not experience the fruit of the Passion of Jesus.”

Reaching out to those who were not experiencing the love of God, the fruit of the Passion of Jesus, would be an essential mission of the Passionists. Paul believed that God wanted this new community to be founded so that His love could touch the hearts of those who felt cut off from him. In his diary on December 7, 1720 Paul wrote:
"I had likewise great fervor mingled with tears in praying for the conversion of poor sinners; I kept telling God that I could no longer bear to see him offended. I had also special tenderness in imploring God in his mercy to found the holy Congregation quickly, and to send forth some people for His greater glory and for the good of their neighbors - this with great desire and fervour. I asked Him to accept me as the least and lowest servant of his poor, and it seemed to me that I was utterly unworthy (as indeed I am) to serve Him as a slave."

St. Paul would prepare for his missions with prayer, fasting and many sacrifices. Although not generally accepted today, Paul often used the discipline (lash) as a means of obtaining graces for the conversion of sinners . When giving a mission in the year 1750, a local resident discovered his method of preparing for a sermon. As it was near the time for the sermon, the gentleman was sent to the saints room to retrieve him. Peering through the door, he called Paul and discovered that Paul had been kneeling on an iron plate studied over with short, sharp spikes. It was with these and other penances that Paul obtained the necessary graces from God for the conversion of sinners during the mission.

A Canon (Priest) of St. Lorenzo delle Grotte, in the Diocese of Montefiascone named Don Giuseppe Paci gives the following account of one of Father Paul's mission sermons. The Saint asked him to come on the platform and hold his missionary crucifix while he preached. "As soon as the sermon began" he said "I heard a voice and could not tell what it was like a scene like the voice of a prompter. And I distinctly observe that every word, father Paul spoke. I had heard already be few moments earlier by the "prompting" voice. This circumstance, exceedingly surprised me as nothing of this kind has ever or occurred to me before or since. I then began to try and find where the voice was coming from. There was no one on the platform, except Father Paul and myself, and there was no one near enough to be able to be heard in a whisper such as I heard the voice. It must have come from God, and it continued throughout the sermon, for no human words could produce such affects. There was not even one person present, who did not weep abundantly; and well they did, for the words of the missionary would have softened a heart of flint."

"I felt most fervent during the night and even shed some tears when praying to the Lord for holy Church and for sinners." -St Paul of the Cross

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