Introduction to the Letters of St. Paul of the Cross
By Roger Mercurio, C.P.
February 22, 1997
St. Paul of the Cross did not write an autobiography as did St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese Martin or many other saints. No, but he did write letters, hundreds and hundreds of them. Over two thousand are preserved. These letters are very valuable because in his correspondence he tells of his hopes, his secret desires, his problems and sufferings. Yes, in these letters Paul Daneo revealed himself and his teachings as did his namesake, St. Paul the Apostle.
In his letters of direction he shares his own spiritual experiences with his correspondents. He tells them of his own problems, sufferings, trials and frustrations. His words comfort the scrupulous, encourage those bearing a heavy cross. Quite frequently he writes a letter of thanks to a generous and thoughtful benefactor. He offers suggestions to assist the superiors of the Congregation.
His life takes on a new meaning as we read his letters. Each letter uncovers something of the spirit, the heart, the mind of this great mystic and spiritual guide, this founder and religious leader, this kind confessor, ardent preacher, zealous missionary.
The diary and the preface to the rule reveal to us how God called Paul to share in the cross of His Son and to found a new religious order in the church. These two documents are written as letters to his bishop in 1720. His final letter is dated August, 1775. Many of his letters have been lost.
Father Amedeo Casetti did not publish the letters in the strict chronological order. He found them in the archives in collections according to the recipients, the persons to whom Paul was writing. For example all the 165 letters to Agnes Grazi form a chronological collection showing Paul’s guidance of Agnes towards a profound mystical union with God. The collection of nine letters to Cardinal Altieri inform us of Paul’s difficulties with this prelate concerning the building of the first monastery.
In this present English translation, the work of Father Frederick Sucher, all the letters are arranged in the strict chronological order in which Paul wrote them. This gives the reader the opportunity to meet Paul in his daily life. Sometimes he will write to several persons and share the same spiritual teaching with each one. Other times we will find Paul writing about a matter of personal health to one and advising a parish priest on how to arrange the opening of a mission, or suggesting to a rector how to deal with a stubborn religious, etc. All the while in a fourth letter he may open his heart to the recipient, either to share a grace he received in morning prayer or unburden his heart in the bleakness of the dark nights of which St. John of the Cross had written. We can sometimes follow him throughout a day! A reminder! Paul rarely wrote when on a mission, nor when he was sick, and of course many of his letters were lost!
Letter-writing was for Paul part of his apostolate. Through his correspondence with so many people he was teaching the spirituality of Christian love. He wanted the one who received his letters to grow in Christian love, to be on fire with love for God and all of God’s people. He hoped his letters achieved this goal.
Scholars have studied his spiritual teaching; so rich and clear are the theological foundations of the instructions he offers each individual. Other students of his letters have been able to trace the story of his own ascetic practices and mystical experiences. There is a wealth of spirituality awaiting the scholars of tomorrow!
Frequently Paul concluded a letter with the simple words “God (Jesus) inflame you with love” or “May Jesus (or God) inflame you with love.” The Italian reads: “Gesu (Iddio) la bruci di amore.” Sometimes in beginning a letter he would refer to the fire of Divine Love burning in the Heart of Jesus. “May the holy Fire which burns in the Heart of Jesus inflame everyone with love. Amen.” (Letter dated May 22, 1730 to Marianna della Scala del Pozzo.)
Should we not trust that he would wish this same blessing upon those who today read his letters? Cannot this translation stir up this divine love in the hearts of today’s readers? Yes, just as the concluding prayer touched the hearts of an Agnes Grazi, Francis Appiani, Thomas Fossi, etc., may it not also touch us? Yes, his letters can also kindle us with the fire of love. When he writes about God’s love for us and God’s plan to save us through the Passion of Jesus he would want the readers of today to burn with love. In other words Paul is still contacting God’s people through his letters as he did long ago.
Now that the letters are translated into English our reading them enables us to meet St. Paul himself—one burning with love for Jesus. Yes, the love which he experienced in his own lifetime, of which he wrote so personally to his contemporaries, today has the power to inspire us as if he were just now writing to you and me! We pray that as you read his letters you too will meet St. Paul at the deepest spiritual levels. May you be inflamed with love as was he.
The letters in the chronological order offer us the story of Paul’s life as found in his own words.
THE PRIMORDIAL DREAM
I . The Diary and Preface to the Rule (1720)
THE BEGINNING YEARS
II. Paul As Hermit (1721-1728)
- At Castellazzo (1720-1722)
- On Monte Argentario and at Castellazzo (1722-1724)
- At Gaeta and Troia (1724-1726)
- At Rome and Ordination (1726-1728)
DISCOVERING GOD’S PURPOSES FOR THE CONGREGATION
III. To Build a House on Monte Argentario (1728-1737)
- Settling In (1728-1730)
- Laying Foundations (1731-1736)
- Legal and Spiritual Matters (1731-1732)
- Delayed by War – Spiritual Director (1733-1735)
- Waiting to Enter (1736-September 13, 1737)
- Retreat of the Presentation (September 14- December 31, 1737)
AWAITING PAPAL APPROVAL
IV. “After the Storm He Gives Us Calm” (1738-1741)
- “Apostolic Missionary” (1738-1739)
- The New Pope Benedict XIV (1740-May 15, 1741)
- First Papal Approval (May 15, 1741-end of 1741)
“AFTER THE STORM HE GIVES US CALM.”
V. Awaiting The Papal Brief (1742-1745)
- “Small and Weak Foundations” (1742)
- “What Jokes God Plays on Us.” (1743)
- “Through Thunder, Storms, Clouds”
- “I Will Allow Divine Providence to Guide me.” (1744)
- “On the Bed of Sickness” (1745)
VI. “It Pleases Prospero:” Papal Approval (1746-1750)
- “It is a Miracle of the Mercy of God.” (1746)
- Missions, First General Chapter (1747)
- Ceccano and Toscanella Fighting Frati with Prayers (1748)
- “A Miraculous Grace”? (1749)
- Delays Continue
- “Our Affairs Are Asleep in Rome!”(1750)
- “The Case Has Been Decided in Our Favor”
WORKING FOR A WELL-FOUND CONGREGATION
VII. Missions & Foundations amid Sickness (1751-1758 )
- Missions, Spiritual Direction, Solemn Vows? (1751)
- New Retreat, Great Tribulations (1752)
- Missions in 1752
- Retreat of Our Mother of Sorrows Terracina
- Preparing for Second General Chapter
- The Second General Chapter (1753)
- Missions and Letters
- Missions and Convalescence (1754)
- “In the Midst of My Storms”
- “All My Tasks and Journeys” (1755)
- “I Find Myself Quite Weak”
- Missions and a New Retreat
- “Scarcely Afloat Amid Tempests on the Violent Sea” (1756)
- “I have Abandoned Everything” (1757)
- Death of Paul’s “Greatest Benefactor” (May 3, 1758)
VIII. Waiting in vain for Pope Clement XIII (1758-1768)
- “This Pope Will Be Favorable to Us”
- Waiting (1759)
- “Nothing is to be Changed for Now” (1760)
- “To Pray, to Suffer, to Work and to Wait in Silence and in Hope” (1761)
- “I Am Spending My Broken Old age Like a Dry Stump” (1762)
- Sickness and Famines (1764)
- “For Us on Our Journey, the Saying is not “Rest in Peace” (1765)
- “I Entrust Myself to Maintain the Congregation in Peace and Charity and True Observance” (1766)
- The Hospice of the Crucified in Rome! (1767)
- “Broken Down, Age of 76, Sick, Bent over, Deaf ” (1769)
- The Fifth General Chapter (May, 1769)
IX. Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774)
- The Election of Pope Clement XIV (May 1779)
- The New Pope, Clement XIV
- The Great Bull: Supremi Apostolatus (November 26, 1769)
- “Pray God to Give Me Health, Strength and Spirit for Such a Great work, for God.”
- He has Made Use of Me a Vile Fragile Weed” (1770)
- Dedication of Passionist Nuns First Convent (1771)
- “Pray for Me, the Needs of the Church and for His Holiness (1772)
- Sts. John and Paul (1773)
- Death of Clement XIV
X. “I Will Await All of You in Paradise” (1774 – October 18, 1775)
- Pius VI
- General Chapter