5. Model of Sanctity

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists

His aim was perfection; his model was Christ Crucified; his patroness was the Mother of Sorrows; his guide was St. Paul of the Cross; his motive was the love of God. He gained his end, not by vainly longing to do great things that might never be given him to do, not by waiting for opportunities that might never occur, but by doing with all his might whatsoever his hand found to do. He wished to prolong his fasts, but his director told him to be satisfied with those imposed by the rules of the Congregation. He desired to practise great austerities, but was forbidden to attempt them. The rules of the Congregation were to him the expression of God’s will, and he fulfilled them to the letter as well as in the spirit. The sound of the observance bell was to him the voice of God calling him to his duty, and he hastened immediately to answer it. In the person of his superior he saw the person of Christ, and he humbly complied with his slightest wish. He ennobled the simplest act by the purity of his intention. What was trifling he made great by using it for an end. His constant occupation was the cultivation of the interior life by always subduing the defects of nature, by always corresponding with God’s grace, by always remembering God’s presence, and by always communing with Him in prayer. Charity is the bond of perfection, and Gabriel’s soul was aflame with charity. No one can judge us so well as our companions. One of Gabriel’s most intimate companions in religion said:

“I was never able to notice in him any wilful defect or imperfection.”

Father Norbert, his vice-master and spiritual director said:

“Such was his hunger and thirst for all virtues, such the assiduity with which he laboured for their acquisition, that he never lost an opportunity of practising them.”

It was this longing de sire for virtue, this continual reaching up to God that consumed Gabriel.

“UNLESS the grain of wheat falling unto the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” In the garden within the monastery walls at Isola stands a large crucifix. A seed fell to the ground before it. A plant sprang up, and twined itself around the cross until it reached the feet of the figure nailed upon it. It then bent outward, as if to behold what was above. A bud formed, swelled, burst into bloom, and gazed in loving awe upon the figure of Christ Crucified. Lo! it was a true flower of the Passion! Its heart was pierced and stamped with the signs of Him Who hung upon the cross. The seed that fell at the foot of the crucifix was Francis Possenti. The plant that grew there from and flowered was Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Passionist.

When Gabriel was clothed he received the habit of a Passionist. When he was professed, besides making the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, he vowed to spread devotion to the Passion of Christ, and the sign of the Passion was attached to his breast. But the mere putting on of a black habit does not make a true Passionist; the wearing of a sign upon the breast does not make a true follower of Christ Crucified. Gabriel faithfully fulfilled his vows. He made the interior correspond to the exterior. The heart-shaped sign of the Passion without was no false badge of the heart within. The sufferings and death of Christ were subjects of daily meditation with Gabriel. The crucifix was always before his eyes, sometimes on the table before him at study, sometimes beside his book, often in his affectionate hands, and again and again pressed to his loving lips. It strengthened him in his trials; it comforted him in his tribulations; it inspired him in his meditations; it urged him to deeds of mortification and penance; it moved him to sorrow; it in flamed him with love. “May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ be ever in our hearts!” is the meaning of the sign and motto upon a Passionist’s breast. The Passion of Christ was truly in the heart of Gabriel. It was heard in his words; it was seen in his actions; it was echoed in his life. He left the world, because Christ was not of the world. He was poor, because Christ was poor. He was chaste, because Christ was chaste. He was obedient, because Christ was obedient. He suffered, because Christ suffered.

Words fly, but example remains. Gabriel never preached from pulpit or platform. He never gave a mission to the people; yet very few have fulfilled their vow so well as he; very few have done so much to spread devotion to the Passion of Christ as he has done by the example of his life. He is preaching a sermon on the Passion that will never cease, a sermon that is heard at the ends of the earth.

IT was through Mary that Christ came into the world, and it is through Mary that the greatest saints have left the world and reached Christ. Mary, through her image at Spoleto, had warned Gabriel to leave the world and fulfil his vocation. One of Mary’s titles the title of Our Lady of Sorrows was added to the name of Gabriel.

Gabriel’s soul was a furnace of love for Christ Crucified. He could not love the Son without loving the Mother. He could not gaze upon the crucified Son without beholding the Mother at the foot of the cross. He could not meditate upon the sufferings of Christ without thinking of the sorrows of Mary. No one loved Christ as Mary, His Mother, loved Him. Gabriel tried to reach the heart of Jesus through the heart of Mary. No one fathomed the depth of Christ s sufferings as did his grief-stricken Mother. Gabriel tried to search those depths through her sympathetic eyes.

The Rule of St. Paul of the Cross advises all Passionists to “entertain a pious and ardent devotion towards the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God; let them strive to imitate her sublime virtues and merit her seasonable protection.” So well did Gabriel attend to this advice that Cardinal Parocchi, in his supplicatory letter to Pope Leo XIII. says:

“Mary was the very soul of Gabriel’s life, the source and model of the sanctity to which he attained; so that it may be truly said that in his devotion to the great Mother of God he has scarcely been equalled by any, even of the greatest saints.”

This wonderful love and devotion to his heavenly Queen and Mother manifested themselves by a thousand different acts. He begged, but was refused, permission to burn the name of Mary upon his breast, or cut it into his flesh. It was his constant pleasure to attend to the garden, that flowers might be cultivated to adorn her statue. He called to her in times of danger and temptation; he sang to her in times of joy and victory. Her name was ever on his lips. He was all interest and eagerness when she was the subject of conversation. She was often the subject of his long and fervent meditations. Sometimes, forgetting the presence of his companions, he would murmur in an undertone: “Maria mia!” and his face would light up with joy.

He did not rest until, by repeated requests, he obtained permission from his director to bind himself by vow to be Mary’s champion for life. Her image, as well as that of her Divine Son, was on the picture that he kissed in his dying moments, and pressed to his heart. Mary and Jesus, Jesus and Mary, were in his heart, and on his lips, until his soul took flight and left the body.