St. Paul of the Cross invited people to share his life, devotion, and spirituality of Christ crucified in order to better understand the immense love God has for us. Fr. David Colhour, CP, offers his reflections on the life and spirituality of our holy founder.
Convictions of Faith
Each of us, as we grow up; begin making formulations or conclusions about who we are in relationship to the world around us. These begin forming our belief systems or our convictions. St. Paul of the Cross was certainly no different. Specifically, those convictions around issues of faith and belief which are based on observation of repetitive patterns. For example in the Old Testament we look at story after story of how the Lord restores humanity, and we say, "Oh isn’t the Lord merciful and forgiving?" This is a faith conviction which is enlightened by reflection upon the experience. Each of us has the capacity to do this.
So what are some of the faith convictions of St. Paul of the Cross in his early years? We answer this question by looking at the experiences of his younger years: what he was reflecting on, the truths and conclusions he drew, and how he used these to provide direction for others. Certainly, having experienced so much death in his family, and seeing how his mother responded to death and suffering taught Paul a whole lot about suffering and love. And so when Paul looks at a crucifix and sees the suffering of Christ, he also sees the love of Christ. These are inseparable. Paul never looked at a crucifix and saw merely what was on the surface. He had the ability to see deeper than the scars and the blood into the compassion, mercy and love Jesus exuded while suffering. Perhaps this is one reason he stressed physical discipline. For the challenge of such a practice can’t be to merely tolerate pain or survive the ascetical practice, it must be to transcend the physical pain into something greater. So the practice of the strong asceticism of that time was to help one differentiate, to find the deeper drive and motivation beyond physical discomfort. If one can do this in their own personal life then how will it affect their prayer? Personally, I see this happening quite frequently when I look at a mother and her child. How many times I’ve watched a mother go through tremendous physical suffering motivated by the stronger drive which is love and compassion. And if I’m aware of this in my own life how does it affect my prayer?
On several occasions Paul will write, "The passion of Jesus is the greatest work and sign of God’s love." For Paul this is not something he tries to prove, it is something deep in his core belief. And he will repeat it in many of his letters to many of his spiritual followers. Frequently when they write about their own personal sufferings, Paul will redirect their interpretation, inviting them to try to begin to see this as a gift from God, something which will allow them to begin pondering more deeply the passion of Jesus. To one of his most trusted benefactors he writes, "I am totally immersed in that bottomless abyss of divine love and in the Red Sea of the most holy Passion of Jesus. This sea comes from the infinite love of God".
A second area of faith conviction is that Paul believed that most of the things that happen to us from God are good, but not necessarily good in terms of our own human definition of good. Frequently the things which challenge us the most and eventually lead to growth can be most uncomfortable. In Paul’s letters and counseling he frequently invited people to trust the "Divine good". And to allow that Divine good to take you where you perhaps may not necessarily want to go. (The Cross)
"Do not be disturbed by the passing trials you are going through, since you must know that similar trials will come often. Our divine Savior visits those servants who are dear to him and purifies them with trials to develop their fidelity." And in another letter, "The words of God always meet with opposition so that the divine magnificence may shine forth. It is when things appear to be crashing to the ground that you will see them even more be raised on high."
The problem some will have with Paul’s convictions deals with the question of the human being’s free will. Because if God is one who directs all things then how can it be that we have free will to choose? Paul’s answer to this is quite beautiful. While he knows many volumes have been written trying to explain this tension, Paul in a very beautiful way, leaves it a mystery, because he believes both are true. Yes, God guides and directs and yes, we have free will. He never tries to reconcile the two statements; he simply has the common sense to leave it alone. His goal and main interest is to lead people to God.
A third and very strong faith conviction which Paul operated under was the belief that God is doing something in everybody’s life every single moment of every single day. We may not always be conscious of it, but below the surface there is always some kind of divine presence and activity sometimes encouraging us and sometimes prodding us. We may find ourselves fully participating with it, or we may find ourselves even resisting. Nonetheless, God’s presence is there at work. Paul writes, "Remain in the divine presence in everything you do. If you are busy at work with your hands, let your mind and heart be inwardly on God". And in another place, "Be at peace in your sufferings without trying too hard to understand them in your mind. A true servant of God is praying always. I don’t mean kneeling down, but with loving attention to the divine presence. In so far as this involves a lack of feeling of God’s presence, so much the better." Strong faith certainly has very little to do with making one feel okay, rather it is more about finding obedience in a relationship of divine love that is perpetually calling us.
Perhaps, it may be good to look at our own faith convictions. What are your faith convictions? Can you distinguish these apart from what other people believe, or tell you to believe? Lastly, how is your life different because of these convictions of faith?
Click on one of the documents below to read Fr. David’s previous reflections:
- Enter into Divine Dialogue with God.pdf
- Gods Holy Spirit Calls Us into Contemplation.pdf
- The Formative Years of St Paul of the Cross I- His Childhood.pdf
- More Formative Years of St Paul of the Cross II The Late Teens.pdf
- Illumination of a Vocation The Call Intensifies.pdf
- The Influences of Quietism and Jansenism.pdf
- Submit Yourselves to Gods Divine Will.pdf
- Nothingness and ALL.pdf
- St Paul of the Cross the Mystic.pdf
- St. Teresa of Avila.pdf
- Mystical Death part i.pdf
- Mystical Death part ii.pdf
- Treatise on Mystical Death.pdf