The Passionist Laity
IN THE FALL OF 1721, an anguished young man knelt in prayer before the icon of Mary in the basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Shortly before, he had failed in his attempt to see the Pope in order to gain approval for his newly written Rule of life.
As he poured out his soul before the ancient image of Mary, the young man, whom we now venerate as Saint Paul of the Cross, was inspired by God to make a vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Jesus.
At the time, Paul had no idea of becoming a priest. Only later, at the urging of the pope, was he ordained. He was a layman when the mystery of the Passion of Jesus first seized him, and as a layman he first preached and taught this mystery to others. The young man saw that this grace, or charism, was meant for ordinary people, too -- not just for religious and priests. right: Icon of Mary in Saint Mary Major Basilica, Rome. Before this image, Saint Paul of the Cross vowed devotion to the Passion of Jesus.
From the beginning, lay people were attracted to the charism of the Passion that they saw revealed in Saint Paul of the Cross, and great numbers of men and women sought spiritual guidance from him. He wrote more than 20,000 letters in his lifetime, though we have only 2,000 now. Through thousands of conversations, he shared his experience with others.
However, formal organizations arising from the charism and affiliated with the Passionist community were not possible in Paul's time, because of the circumstances. "It is sad to note," writes Passionist historian Fabiano Giorgini, "how some juridical and contingent situations impeded the Congregation from creating lay movements open to its spirituality and enlightened by the love of the Crucified."