SAINT PAUL of the CROSS
The eighty-one years of this Saint's life were modeled on the Passion of Jesus Christ. In his childhood, when praying in church, a heavy bench fell on his foot, but the boy paid no attention to the bleeding wound, and spoke of it as "a rose sent from God." As a young man, he wished to be a religious, but his confessor, who had determined to humiliate him, commanded him to go to a dance. As he stepped out onto the floor out of obedience, the strings of the musicians' instruments broke, and the event ended.
About this time, the vision of a scourge with "love" written on its lashes made him understand that "God wanted to scourge my soul, but out of love." His thirst for penance would indeed be satisfied. In the hope of dying for the Faith, he enlisted in a crusade against the Turks; but a voice from the Tabernacle told him to return home, because another war, a spiritual one, was awaiting him there.
At the command of his bishop, he began while a layman to preach the Passion, and a series of crosses tested the reality of his vocation. He made a retreat of forty days in a damp outbuilding near the church of Castellazzo, and there he wrote in five days the Rule for a Congregation which he knew he had to found. A penitential trip across the Apennines in winter, without coat, hat or sandals, and with virtually no food, made under obedience to consult a bishop, was only the first of his long journeys. The bishop could not give approbation to his intentions. Having been jeered at on the road, he said, "These scoffings were of great benefit to my soul."
In the hermitage where he dwelt on his return to Castellazzo, several companions came to join him, but all of them save his faithful younger brother, John Baptist, deserted him. He taught catechism to the children, and when he preached before adults he held them spellbound for two hours. The Passion's full sanctifying power was bearing fruit through him. Nonetheless, when he went to Rome the Sovereign Pontiff refused him an audience; it was only after a delay of seventeen years that papal approbation was obtained and the first house of the Passionists opened on Monte Argentaro, which was the site Our Lady had pointed out.
Saint Paul of the Cross established for his Order, on the breast of their black habit, a badge he had seen in a vision, having on it the Holy Name of Jesus and a cross surmounting a heart with three nails, in memory of the sufferings of Jesus. But he invented another more secret and durable sign for himself. Moved by the same holy impulse as Blessed Henry Suso, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal and other Saints, he branded on his chest the Holy Name; it was still found there after his death. His heart beat with a supernatural palpitation which was especially vehement on Fridays, and the heat at times was so intense as to scorch his shirt in the region of his heart.
Saint Paul of the Cross suffered for forty-five years from spiritual desolation, an expiatory suffering which he bore with perfect patience. Despite fifty years of incessant bodily pain and all his trials, he read the love of Jesus in all things, though demons were tormenting him constantly. At one time his sciatica prevented him from sleeping for forty days; he prayed for the grace of an hour's sleep, but to this Passionist's prayer, heaven saw fit to remain deaf. Such was the life of one of the greatest disciples of Christ's Passion. He died while the Passion was being read to him, and so passed like his Lord from the cross to eternal glory.