On the Cross of Christ: St. Paul of the Cross

by Gabriele Cingolani, C.P.

St Paul of the Cross - Michael Moran, C.P.In experiencing God, [around the age of 30] Paul reached the peak of the spiritual life, which is spiritual marriage. In technical terms, that is the highest level of love of God that can be reached in this life; it is much beyond the marriage of man and woman -- the highest level of human love. Beyond it is paradise, but that cannot be attained in this life.

From then on, God's love so possessed him he could hardly resist it. He often spoke using the analogy of burning fire:

"I want to be entirely on fire with love. More, more, I want to sing in the fire of love. but that is still not enough: I want to live in a continual agony of love for our divine lover.

"Someday we will burn with love, we will become only fire and the flames will enter us. O dear flames, dear fire. When so fired, we will inflame each other and everything will be aflame in the fire of love."

The phenomena which accompany such a state were common to him: his ecstasies and visions even led him to the Trinity and to being embraced by the Crucified One.

His experience of God's love flowed from and converged in Christ Crucified. he spoke in a language of love and sorrow we find difficult to understand. We find it hard to see sorrow in positive terms, but one who loves beyond ordinary limits comes to the depths where love and sorrow need each other and are no longer distinguishable.

Listen to him:

"I enjoy remaining on the Cross. How beautiful to suffer for Jesus!"

"How sweet to remain crucified with Jesus! How can you explain the magnificence of these precious treasures?"

"Your crosses, dear God, are the joy of my heart. How beautiful to suffer with Jesus!"

"I am Paul of the Cross in whom Jesus has been crucified."

"O my good God, how gentle you are, how sweet you are. O dear Cross, I embrace you and press you to my heart."

For a pleasure-seeking mentality, these expressions seem mad. For him it was a madness of love -- a challenge to today's world which finds no sense in sorrow, even as it is dying within and cannot admit death, not even at a funeral.

A unique participation in the sorrow of Jesus was part of Paul's mystical experience. It lasted more than fifty years. It is a phenomenon not found in many saints.

"I suffer a sort of punishment of the damned, far from God, as if I were his greatest enemy. I am tempted against the theological virtues, against patience, outbursts of blasphemy and despair, horrible troubles in my soul I cannot explain."

It was insupportable "because my soul has tasted heavenly caresses and then feels abandoned by God." It seems God no longer wants him. It is a kind of punishment of the damned, punishment that is greater than any other.

Yet he never falls into despair, the state of those truly damned: "I am attacked on every side. Long live Jesus in whom is victory."

"I hope that God will save me through the merits of the Passion of Jesus. The more difficulties, the more I hope in God. By God's grace, I will not lose my soul, but I hope in his mercy."

Excerpted from "St. Paul of the Cross" by Gabriele Cingolani, Passionist Press, Union City, New Jersey USA

Icon by Michael Moran, C.P.; prints available through Br Michael's Web site, Angel Studio

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