Passionist Charism: Identity – Part I
Thank you so much for this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts and reflections on the Passionist Charism. By this time of our lives, we all have been schooled in the gradual evolution of our understanding of the concept, “Charism.” I hope to build upon that understanding in this reflection.
I also want to give you a sense of how this hour and a quarter will unfold. I hope to talk for about 15 minutes, and then give you a chance to talk among yourselves. Then we will have an open conversation for questions and comments. The second half will follow the same format. The theme for our second half is our Passionist Mission.
First a little about myself.
I was born in the great state of Texas in 1943. My Dad was born in Mexico in 1908 and eight years later, my Dad’s family made their way to the United States. It was a time of great social unrest in Mexico and people were fleeing revolution, economic hardships and lawlessness. Some came with visas and others did not. But in 1916, it was pretty much an open border. The traffic flowed both ways.
My Mom was born in the United States in 1912, and her family came from the Rio Grande Valley. Her grandmother was Native American and married a man from Scotland. My Mom’s Dad was born in Mexico, but settled in Texas.
I was born in Palacios, Texas located half-way between Houston and Corpus Christi, for those of you who know a bit of the Texas geography. Shortly afterwards we settled down in another small town not that far away. At the time, there was institutional segregation based upon the color of our skin and ethnic origin. For example, there were three schools systems, one for the Anglos, one for the Blacks and one for the Mexican. There were “Whites Only” drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurants and stores. By the mid-fifties, things began to change, but attitudes didn’t. The Catholic Church was also segregated. Most parishes would not welcome Mexican or Black Catholics.
I entered the Passionist High School seminary after 8th grade, in 1956. Our Province had a Prep-School in Warrenton Missouri, some 900 miles away. In 1962, I entered Novitiate in St. Paul, Kansas with about 35 classmates. In 1970, I was ordained in Chicago, Illinois with 7 classmates. Only one left the priesthood after ordination.
For the first five years as a Passionist priest, I was assigned to Retreat Centers, but did mostly Spanish-speaking ministry. In 1975, the Province established a presence in San Antonio, Texas, and I was a founding member. We Passionists gave bilingual parish renewals. Later, I worked at the Mexican American Cultural Center, then for the Bishops of the United States, at a regional office. I also served as the National Chaplain for the Movimiento Familiar Cristiano. My passion is to serve the Spanish-speaking community.
In 1991, I was elected to the Provincial Council and served for eight years. Then I was appointed as Province Vocation Director for 8 years, then elected to the General Council for 6 years and finally, appointed as the Passionist Director of the Province Development Office located in Chicago, Illinois.
While this is a bit of a long introduction, I do think it has some bearing upon my understanding of the Passionist Charism, and its power to redeem, restore and bring new hope into our lives and the People of God. I will try to make a connection later on.
At this moment of our Church history, we have come to some basic agreements regarding our understanding of Charism.
First and foremost, it is a Gift from God to the whole of creation. It comes to us by way of the Incarnation, the Word Made Flesh and finds its full expression in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary.
Every Charism exists within this context. A Charism is not the exclusive possession of a given individual, a religious community or a given nation or people. The different Charisms that have been identified and incarnated in religious communities will never die. Maybe a religious community that claimed a particular Charism will die out, but the Charism itself will never die out. It is possible that another individual or community will be endowed with it at a later time.
Those of us who look at St. Paul of the Cross as a founder recognize that he gave expression to what we now call the Passionist Charism. He taught us that the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross was God’s most visible sign of Love for us and the World. He wanted us to awaken this memory among the faithful. But this Charism was alive and well long before St. Paul of the Cross was born. But Paul Daneo allowed it to be incarnated in his body and soul. He not only began our Congregation, but inspired many other Passionist congregations to take root. The newest members to find this Charism meaningful and significant are the Lay Passionists associations that are springing up throughout the world, even where there are no vowed members present.
Thus, it seems to me, that one of the most important aspects of any Charism, indeed its core identity, is that of “Gift.” As “Gift,” it is not merited. We are not entitled to it because of anything that we do, or because we are born into it or have been privileged to be present in a particular moment of time and history. We do not confer it to others. We do not own it. We did not create it. All Charisms come from God and God freely gives them to us and to the whole of Creation, for all of God’s Creation is in need of the Healing Love that comes from God.
But such individuals as St. Paul of the Cross and Sister Mary Joseph Prout, allowed the Passionist Charism to flourish within them and, indeed, to clothe them from head to toe. They symbolized this by putting on the Passionist Habit, with its sacred Sign. They first experienced it in their lives, in their homes and within their family life. Then they allowed the Passionist Charism to form them, shape them, direct them and eventually consume them totally.
As we know, Paul Daneo was born in 1694, the second of 15 children, to a very young mother. Only six survived into adulthood. Many of the surviving children lived long lives, like Paul of the Cross. His father was a tobacco salesman. He would travel a lot and once was jailed for making illegal sales. His mother was a sickly woman and she was always pregnant. Death was a reality in the Daneo household and Paul’s early years was spent in seeing new babies born and very young children die: his own brothers and sisters. I believe that this experience of death and dying and new life became the backdrop of the Passionist Charism. Death did not mean finality. A new life would soon emerge.
When Paul of the Cross prayed in front of a crucifix, he saw what he experienced early on in his life. He saw the love of his mother wrap a beautiful baby for burial. He also saw his mother bring into the world another new life, a new hope for the future, a new gift from God.
Elizabeth Prout had a very different family experience, but one which was also filled with pain and suffering. She was an only child, an Anglican and educated. At the age of 20, she converted to Catholicism and began the long, painful journey as founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. She was greatly influenced by two Passionists, Fr. Gaudentius and Fr. Ignatius Spencer. Yet, the Charism was hers from the very beginning, and she allowed it to shape her life and directed her to gathering companions whose hearts and desires were centered in the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ as God’s visible express of love for us and for the world.
I cite these brief descriptions of the early life of Paul of the Cross and Mother Mary Joseph to illustrate how our Passionist Charism is imbedded within our very lives and in our lived reality. I believe that each one of us have had a family life and social circumstances that have prepared us to be receptive to the Passionist Charism and its richness. When I was doing vocation ministry, I would often ask our candidates to talk about their early life, their joys and challenges. Our lived experience will call us to have an encounter with the Crucified Jesus.
The Passionist Charism is not bound by time and place, country or geography, by social boundaries and human expectations. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verses 18 and following, talks about the whole of creation is groaning for the redemptive love of God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that “we hold these treasures in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (2 Cor. 7).
May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be ever in our hearts!
This ends part one. Thank You.
Let us have a minute of silence and then when I give the signal, you can turn to your neighbors and chat about what you heard or what’s in your own heart.
Passionist Charism: Mission – Part II
My second reflection on the Passionist Charism has to do with “Mission.”
It is easy for us to confuse Mission with Ministry. In my opinion, Mission and Ministry are not the same thing. In my mind, they are not interchangeable.
In my travels on behalf of the Province and the Congregation, I’ve discovered how creative our Passionist are in connecting ministries with our Passionist Mission. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. We are in places where traditional Passionist ministries will not flourish. For example, in China, there is limited freedom to move from diocese to diocese. Also, the Bishop is the only one authorized to move a priest within his diocese. All such moves are monitored by a central government committee. We cannot be fully independent in China, and our ministries will be partly defined by the Bishops of the diocese where we are. I can cite many other examples.
Ministries, in my opinion, are the expressions of our Passionist Mission. And our Passionist Mission flows from our Passionist Charism. It seems to me that there needs to be ownership on the part of both the individuals and the Congregation for there to be a fruitful Passionist Ministry. With this presentation, I hope to contribute to that dialogue as I reflect upon our Passionist Mission.
If, indeed, our Passionist Mission flows from our Passionist Charism, then I will try to describe it in this reflection.
Forgive me if I begin with the obvious. I will make three main points and then will give some descriptions of some challenges our Passionist Mission presents to me, personally. I hope you will find these helpful. Lastly, I will invite you to grapple with the question of which ministries do our Passionist Charism and our Passionist Mission calls us to incarnate here in our world today. This is a question I cannot answer for you, only you as individuals, united in community and as a Congregation can answer for yourselves.
First, our Passionist Mission is to create and live community within the Congregation and within the Church. Both Paul of the Cross and Mother Mary Joseph gathered companions the very first opportunity they had. While their efforts were modest at first, they have been successful to this day. I know that we are discovering what “community” means for us today, but there is no doubt that it is a theological starting point for everyone who believes that our God is a Trinitarian God. It is also our eschatological goal, to be in communion with our God and with all of God’s creation until the end of time, for all eternity. How can we experience God’s Love as Trinitarian and long to be in communion with all of God’s creation forever, if we do not find a way to live community here on earth, especially as a religious Congregation?
A second element to our Passionist Mission is to create and live community within the context of the Congregation and the Church. That does not mean that we are still discerning our relationship to Church. There is no doubt that both of our Founders took great pains to be approved by the Church as a religious institute. It was not an easy road for both of them, dealing with obstacles and frustrations at every turn, but they always kept coming back to this task. I believe that it took Mother Mary Joseph less time to have her rule approved than for Paul of the Cross. Maintaining that relationship with Church is not easy for anyone of us, but it is important for every religious congregation to do so. This, too, then is part of our Passionist Mission.
Second, our Passionist Mission is to keep alive the memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ as the greatest sign of God’s love for us. This mission consumed the lives of our founders, as we find in their writings. Our Passionist way of life is organized around this inspiration to this day. This begins with prayer, personal prayer and contemplative prayer and ends up in proclamation.
Third, our Passionist Mission is to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified. We do this in two ways: by the witness of our lives and by the witness of our ministry. To keep our attention upon Christ as he dies on the Cross is difficult. Sometimes, we rather keep our eyes focused on other things. Moreover, to structure our life and ministry around the Crucified Christ takes a good deal of personal time, inner work and communal dialogue.
While much more could be said about these three elements of our Passionist Mission and has probably been said better by others, my purpose was to only mention them so as to bring them to our awareness as we reflect upon our Passionist Mission today.
For me, another important point in determining what is our Passionist Mission today is deciding where we should position ourselves as we reflect upon this challenge. The place I choose to stand as I reflect upon our Passionist Mission is at the foot of the Cross as Jesus is dying. It seems to me that our Passionist Mission is born out of the experience of the Passion and Death of Jesus, precisely at the time Jesus died on the Cross. Of course, we cannot arrive at the foot of the Cross without beginning at the Agony of the Garden, the trial and condemnation and the Way of the Cross. But it’s the final hours of Jesus’ life that helps us realize more fully that our Passionist Mission is but an extension of Jesus’ Mission. It is here that we recognize that Jesus’ work is not finished, but has only begun. And we are the ones who need to carry forward that Mission.
Standing at the foot of the Cross as Jesus is dying, we become aware that we are helpless, but not hopeless. It is our hope that sustains us. It is our Hope that drives us into the future. It is our Hope that helps us overcome our helplessness.
We are also aware that we are grief-stricken but not paralyzed by grief. We know by our own personal experience and by walking with others who have experienced such moments, that grief will tend to paralyze us, to make us stop and stay in the moment of sadness. But our grief at the foot of the Cross urges us to go beyond it: to take down the body of Jesus, to lay it in the tomb, to make plans for the future, just as Mary, Jesus’ Mother did with the others who were standing there with her.
Standing at the foot of the Cross, we become aware of our small numbers. Our numbers may be small, but our will to continue is strong and courageous. Our Passionist Mission is not about having numbers, it is about having Loving Hearts with a message of Hope to proclaim. It is about solidarity.
Only by standing at the Foot of the Cross will we be able to discover why we need community, a need for a communal memory of the Passion and Death of Jesus the Christ and the deep desire to tell God’s story of Love for us to those who are the Crucified of today.
Let me end up by giving you of some of my personal conclusions after so many years of Passionist life and ministry.
Our Passionist Mission calls me to be in community. I do this despite of the fact that the common trend is to be independent and self reliant. Yes, it’s easier and more efficient and effective for me not to be in community, but that’s not what Jesus died for.
Our Passionist Mission calls me to be contemplative. This is in spite of the fact that we are living in an age of total availability, with each waking moment we can talk, we can text, we can post, we can be updated on any current event. To take the time to stand still at the foot of the Cross as Jesus dies takes discipline and commitment.
Our Passionist Mission calls me to be compassionate. We live in a world that loves to show the horrors of human existence, the destructiveness of war and violence, the effects of global warming and the abuse of our natural resources. Superficial and simples solutions are offered. Our compassion has to be expanded to include all victims, no matter where they are found and no matter what causes their suffering.
Our Passionist Mission calls me to be in solidarity with those who live in the margins. Sometimes Jesus went out to seek those who were in need of healing and new life and sometimes they came to him. The margins is not a place, it is an attitude. It is a personal stance no matter where one lives.
Our Passionist Mission calls me to be a missionary. St. Therese of Lisieux never left the cloister, yet she had a missionary heart. Missionaries have left their home lands but never entered into another person’s world. We need to learn how to be missionaries, how to be transforming ministers of God’s Love and allow us to be transformed at the same time.
I could go on. But I hope you get a sense of what I mean.
The hard work is up to you, as Passionists and as a Congregation. One of our facilitators at one of our synods once told us: You Passionists are very fortunate. Unlike many Congregations and communities, you have a Charism that is easy to grasp and appreciate. And you have a Mission that is clear and it flows directly from your Charism. However, you need to do the hard work of taking the next step: incarnating your Mission in today’s world. This work is never done.