St Vincent Mary Strambi, a fellow Passionist and friend of Paul’s in the last few years of his life wrote the first Biography of Paul only 11 years after his death. He stated that the “God raised up Paul of the Cross to help people find God in their hearts”. It was Paul’s deep lifelong conviction that God is most easily found by us in the Passion of Jesus. He saw the Passion as being the most overwhelming sign and pledge of God’s infinite love for us, and at the same time the door to union with Him. Thus Paul’s life was devoted to bringing this message of God’s love as revealed in the Passion to all, and to founding a Congregation devoted to the Passion of Jesus and spreading its message of love.
Through extraordinary mystical graces God gave Paul a deep experience of the Passion. Rosa Calabresi, a spiritual friend of Paul’s tells it this way: "His devotion to the most holy Passion of Jesus Christ was so singular that I never heard him speak of it without being deeply moved interiorly. His words, especially when he spoke of the Passion, seemed to be fiery darts. He managed to speak of it on all occasions, and further he exhorted others with great ardor and effectiveness to speak of it always and meditate on the most atrocious sufferings of Jesus to move hearts to compassion. He did this with such an abundant flow of tears, with a countenance so lighted up, with such lively expressions, that it seemed that he wanted to stamp it on the hearts of all.”
"One day he confided to me in deepest secrecy that one Good Friday while he was at prayer before the holy sepulchre, that Jesus deigned to stamp and impress on his heart His most holy Passion. Three of his ribs near the heart raised. 'If they had not been raised,' he said to me, 'I could not have endured it or stayed alive. All all the instruments of his Passion were carved in my heart, and in the midst was the most holy sign, the Passion of Jesus Christ. Along with His own Passion, He printed on my heart the sorrows of His dear Mother. Daughter, he said to me, oh what sorrows I experienced, oh what love! A mixture of extreme pain and excessive love.' "
St Paul also told her of another beautiful experience he had of Jesus crucified. While meditating on the Passion of Jesus, he remained in prayer at the foot of a large Crucifix. He said to the Lord, 'Lord, hide me in Your wounds, because I cannot stand without showing the sorrow.' Then the most holy Crucifix before which I was praying, detached His arm from the cross and embraced me closely, very closely and put me in His most holy Side where He held me for three hours, and it seemed to me that I was in paradise.’
For his Canonization, a large picture of this miracle was painted, showing Paul raised in mid-air before Jesus on the Cross, with Jesus embracing him and holding him with one arm, and drawing him to the wound in His sacred side. Also in the picture, the holy Angels are all around, holding the instruments of the Passion.
Truly, what means could be more efficacious than devotion to the Passion of our Redeemer? In contemplating His infinite sufferings, when His every member and every sense was horribly afflicted, do we not find our own senses and perceptive faculties sympathizing with Him? What is more capable of moving our hearts than the consideration of another undergoing pain for our sakes, and pleading for a return of love in every pang which afflicts Him? This is the message that Saint Paul of the Cross felt himself sent for, and the history of his life shows us how he fulfilled his mission. It is for us to reflect on his life and devotion to the Passion, for it is precisely this that will be most powerful in persuading us to follow his example.
Concerning our own sufferings, in his diary on Dec 21, 1720 Paul writes:
“I would like to make everyone understand the great grace that God in his mercy bestows when he sends us suffering, especially suffering de¬void of consolation. Then indeed the soul is purified like gold in the furnace; without knowing it. It becomes radiant and is set free to take flight to its Good, that is to the blessed transformation. It carries the cross with Jesus and knows it not ... I understand that this is a great and fruitful way of suffering most pleasing to God, because the soul thereby becomes indifferent to such an extent that it no longer thinks of sorrow or joy but solely of remaining conformed to the holy will of its beloved Spouse, Jesus.”
Going back to the subject of God’s infinite love for us as revealed in His Passion, in his diary Paul writes-
“I know that I also held colloquies on the sorrowful Passion of my beloved Jesus. When I speak to Him of His sufferings, for example, I say: 'Ah, my Supreme Good. What were the sentiments of your Sacred Heart when you were scourged? My beloved Spouse, how greatly did the sight of my grievous sins and my ingratitude afflict You! Oh, my only Love, why do I not die for You? Why am I not overwhelmed with sorrow? And then I feel that sometimes my spirit can say no more but remains thus in God with His sufferings infused into the soul- and sometimes it seems as if my heart would break.” -Diary of St Paul of the Cross, Nov 26, 1720
This loving and sorrowful contemplation was the core of his spirituality and the means by which the Congregation was to accomplish its mission. In the Rule for the Poor of Jesus, Paul had written:
“Dearly beloved, you must know that the main object in wearing black (according to the special inspiration that God gave me) is to be clothed in mourning for the Passion and Death of Jesus. For this purpose let us never forget to have always with us a constant and sorrowful remembrance of Him. And so let each of the Poor of Jesus take care to instill in others meditation on the suffering of our Jesus.” -St Paul of the Cross