The Importance of Passionist History for a Contemporary Understanding of Our Congregation

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by Fr. Clement Pavlick, C.P.

With this issue of the Passionist Heritage Newsletter, we welcome Fr. Clement Pavlick, C.P., to the Historical Commission of St. Paul of the Cross Province.

Fr. Clement’s publications on the Pittsburgh foundation, the retreat movement and many other ministries and individuals show the extent of his researches and his love for the Congregation and the people of the Church. His style has been able to provide historical data in the context of an interesting Passionist story. He has made it possible for the average person to learn about the diverse Passionist ministries and all the Passionist personalities.

The following article was written by Fr. Clement. It is a thoughtful and inspiring reflection, and we thank Fr. Clement for sharing his thoughts with us. Passionist history is a responsibility for the members of the Congregation and all those affiliated with it.

Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P., Co-Editor

People and events usually go together, and they tell a story. The retelling of that story in writing or speech, chronologically, constitutes history. How important is Passionist history for a contemporary understanding of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ?

In the Passionist story, which needs faithful and constant retelling, there are events that are compelling and significant. And there are persons associated with those events who have helped to clarify and shape our identity and destiny. We need to know something about them.

The most important event in our history was the founding of our Passionist Congregation, which was but the beginning of many subsequent events that have taken place during the two hundred seventy-five year history of our institute.

We believe it was the Lord Himself who instituted this marvelous work in His Church in 1720—the Passionist Congregation. And for its foundation He provided a charismatic leader, mystic and saint: Paul of the Cross. Paul, his companions and their successors became God’s chosen instruments for keeping alive the paschal mystery, with its special emphasis on the Passion of Jesus. “Lift high the cross!” became the slogan of the spiritual sons and daughters of Paul of the Cross as they marched down the highways and byways of many lands—from the beginning of the eighteenth century until the present time when we stand on the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era.

The cross of Christ whose ignominies and glories we Passionists proclaim stands at the crossroads of history—at the very center of history—for all time. For that reason the cross is as meaningful for the world today as it was when Jesus hung upon it for the salvation of humankind and when Paul Daneo raised it high above the heads of the multitudes to whom he preached so eloquently and powerfully in the 18th century.

Our constitution states:

We Passionists make the Paschal Mystery the center of our lives. This entails a loving commitment to follow Jesus Crucified, and a generous resolve to proclaim His Passion and death with faith and love. His Passion and death are no mere historical events. They are ever-present realities to people in the world today, “crucified” as they are by injustice, by the lack of deep respect for human life, and by a hungry yearning for peace, truth, and the fullness of human existence. Our vocation as Passionists prompts us to familiarize ourselves with the Passion of Christ, both in history and in the lives of people today, for the Passion of Christ and the sufferings of His Mystical Body form one mystery of salvation. (Constitutions, no. 65, pp. 140-141)

The message of the cross that Passionists have announced with power, unction and conviction—they still do it in over fifty countries of the world—and the events flowing from that powerful proclamation have forged our history.

We and our contemporaries have much to learn from that history. We study history principally to learn from history. History is a good teacher. But we also need to be good learners. Not to know our history is to run the risk of gradually losing sight of our spirit, purpose, vision and charism; it is needlessly condemning ourselves to repeating many of the mistakes made in the past. On the other hand, to know our history can be a great help toward making the present good and the future better. Knowledge and appreciation of our Passionist history will help to make us wiser, more determined and inspired. Actions for our preferred future will take on greater meaning for our lives and ministry. Meeting the challenges to serve the present and future needs of people, especially in the areas of justice and peace, will make us more credible witnesses and prophets to the “crucified” of today’s world. Besides, the cross will continue to loom large in our personal lives and also in the mission fields where we labor. We will be encouraged to be faithful and true to our calling, and the scripture saying of Paul the apostle will ring true: “We preach Christ and Him crucified.”

I think most of us surely like to know our roots and the background of the origin of our institute which intimately affects and effects our way of living. Our Passionist Congregation is an institutional force which touches our lives and apostolates. Our history and the people who have played an important part in it, both in its beginnings and subsequently, is a worthy subject for historical study. We shall surely come to know the present well and the future better in the light of the study of our history. It is up to us to tell and retell our story with as much power, unction and conviction as we can to the present generation of men and women. However, if we do not know our roots sufficiently well or what influenced and formed us, how will we really know who we are and what we are about?

These are untapped riches in our past—events and Passionists associated with those events—and all kinds of records that help tell us who we are and what we have done. “He who seeks, finds.” And he who finds is all the richer for it and becomes better equipped to meet the challenges of the present time and of the future.

How has the study of Passionist History deepened my own faith experience?

I have had the desire, more so in later years of my life than perhaps in earlier times, to learn more about our identity in the Church and about what we were founded to do. That desire put me on the path of discovery through more assiduous study of our history. Using some of the tools of discovery, such as reading, research, reflection and prayer, I was able to learn more about events that have shaped our identity and destiny; and I also gained a greater insight into the lives of so many Passionists who have walked before us and showed us the way; beginning, of course, with Paul of the Cross, St. Gabriel, St. Vincent Strambi, and so many others, not to mention the many good Passionists of the American provinces.

Then I began to search the rich store of historical material conserved in our archives. So I was able to come upon a veritable gold mine of information and historical data, some of which I have included in the booklets I have produced over the past eight or nine years.

What I discovered through reading and research came alive in my reflective moments and in times of prayer. I had the feeling that I was indeed being shaped by the events of our history and by the many Passionists who have told our story through the faithful living of the Passionist life. What I felt, I also believed. And so, faith in God’s providence deepened, as the way God marked out for us Passionists to follow became more clearly outlined. I trust I have been influenced by our history in a healthy, sound and positive way. Furthermore, I have the assured hope that I am being strengthened in my resolve to follow the way marked out for us by Paul of the Cross in his holy rule. All of this, I believe, has deepened my faith experience.

What I have discovered through the study of Passionist history has also edified and inspired me. And it has made me more humble because of the realization of God’s attentiveness to me as a Passionist and of the support of my Passionist brothers who have encouraged me to persevere and grow, fortified by their good example and by God’s grace.

The study of Passionist history has also made me proud of being a Passionist (not withstanding the failures and departures on the part of some of the members). I am proud, not in a triumphalistic sense, but proud because Christ crucified has been preached, by word and example, throughout the long history of the Passionist Congregation and continues to be preached today.

Lastly, I am grateful for all that the Congregation has meant to me and given to me during 60 years of my religious life as a Passionist. Why, then, should I not continue to study its history? Why should I not want to know more and more about the “mother” who nurtured me, protected me, guided me, believed in me, hoped in me and loved me? How can I not be grateful?

In conclusion, let me say that some of the better spiritual reading I have done is that which told and retold the stories of good and faithful Passionists who have brought honor and glory to our “mother,” The Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ: saints, canonized and uncanonized; martyrs; brave missionaries—all facets of that most precious diamond—which is the crucified Christ.

There is indeed a wisdom in our history that is Spirit-inspired. There are values worth preserving at all costs. And there is a vision that is timeless, exciting and contemporary.

We need to tell and retell our story. The study of our history will enable us to acquire a contemporary understanding of our Congregation and make it more believable by others.

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