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St. Paul of the Cross: The Virtuous Life as Imitation of Christ

Happy Memorial of St. Paul of the Cross!

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists religious order. Like all of the saints, Paul of the Cross demonstrates a deep devotion to the Eucharist. Again, as all the saints are inclined to do, Paul reminds us that the Eucharist is something we must not merely receive, but that our experience of this intimacy with Christ must transform the whole of our lives:

“Do not neglect to make due preparation for the Holy Sacrifice…watch day and night over the interior tabernacle…Guard cautiously this living tabernacle, and keep always burning there the lamps of faith and charity. May it be ever adorned with virtues! Imitate the perfect dispositions of your Savior. Since the Mass is the renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, enter into the sentiments of compunction and of love which animated the Blessed Virgin, St. John, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus” (St. Paul of the Cross, Flowers of the Passion, 31).

Here St. Paul reminds us that not only is our reception of the Eucharist transformative, but the degree to which it transforms us in part depends on how it is that we participate in the liturgical celebration thereof. In this St. Paul finds resonance with one of the principle aims of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council that sadly is often overlooked and misunderstood, i.e., active participation in the liturgy. That we should be actively engaged in the Eucharist would have been obvious to patristic thinkers, who spoke of the liturgy as a spectacle not simply to be watched but participated in. Often, when we hear the phrase active participation and if we consciously try to cultivate it at all, we think of joining in the hymns and prayers of the liturgy, but these more overt actions are only a very small part of what is meant by active participation. Rather, as St. Paul suggests, we participate in the Liturgy through the exercise of virtues. Countless virtues could be named, but we might limit ourselves to three for today.

First, the simple act of attending the Liturgy requires the virtue of detachment, the setting aside of every day affairs to dedicate this time to God. Detachment is closely related in this case to the virtue of religion, a virtue which Aquinas annexes to the virtue of justice, because the worship of God is giving to God something which we, as human creatures, owe to Him. But this must be done in a certain manner, which points to the need for the virtue of reverence. Closely related to religion, reverence enables us to see that to participate in the Liturgy is “right and just” and to behave accordingly not only within the liturgy proper, but that the whole of life is to be animated by this right and just worship of God. And this is the message of St. Paul today, to live the Christian life of virtue requires the training ground of the liturgy, not simply to be moral people, but to be holy people whose lives are not characterized simply by doing nice things, but by giving continual worship to God.

St. Paul of the Cross, pray for us that we might heed your teaching, and aim at making our worship of God through, with and in Christ the source and summit of a life of eucharistic praise.

Your servant in Christ,

Tony

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