On a summer evening in Castellazzo, while on his way home after Mass, St. Paul of the Cross tells us,
“While walking I was recollected in prayer: when I turned the corner to go home I was raised up by God to the heights of recollection to the point of forgetting everything else and sensed an interior sweetness: it was at this moment that I saw myself, in spirit, vested in black from head to toe, with a white cross on my breast and under the cross the Most Holy name of Jesus in white letters.”
The special insignia of every Passionist is the “Sign,” the heart-shaped emblem you see on this page. It catches, in an image, the meaning of Passionist life.
In the middle of the emblem are the words, “Jesu XPI Passio.” Written in Greek and Latin, the languages of the early Church, these words mean: “the Passion of Jesus Christ.” (The three nails at the bottom and the cross at the top remind us symbolically of His suffering and death.)
Every Passionist takes a special vow, a solemn promise, to spend his energies in promoting remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus. This vow defines the purpose of the Passionist community. We pledge to keep deep in our hearts the memory of the cross and to do what is in our power to remind others of it.
A Special Vow
Why promise to do something like this? The answer lies with the meaning of the cross and death of Jesus Christ for the world. First, the death of Jesus was no mere brutal execution of an extraordinary Jewish teacher and prophet long ago. His death was an event that changed human history. Jesus died that others might live. God so loved the world that he allowed his only Son to give his very life for us. The cross becomes the symbol telling us God’s love is stronger than death. Passionists want to tell the world about that love.
But there are other reasons for the Passionist vow. Jesus’ death on the cross was a death in the cause of justice. He was executed because he challenged accepted values. He sided with the poor and the outcasts. He condemned oppressive structures. Jesus was a prophet and prophets meet strong opposition.
His cross reminds us that Christians must listen to the cries of the poor. We are in solidarity with those whom society may forget or even exploit. The cross is a sign of justice. To remind the world about the cross is to challenge the world for its injustice and neglect. Passionists are pledged to that challenge.
Finally, remembering the cross means remembering those in the world who bear the cross today: the disabled, the sick, the dying, the grieving, those isolated and alone — all who bear the burden of pain. Jesus identified himself with the “least”. He shared their burdens and brought them hope. He, too, bore the cross.
Belief in the Resurrection
Christians who believe in Jesus find strength in the memory of his Passion. Jesus knew pain and death. He also tasted the victory of everlasting life. Death is not the final word for those who believe. This, too, is part of the Resurrection message Passionists proclaim to the world.
The special sign we wear is meant to symbolize a solemn commitment to proclaim God’s great love made known through the cross of Jesus. We nourish that memory in our hearts through prayer. We share that good news with all the world. We proclaim it through preaching, in our parishes and retreat centers, through radio and television, and by our presence in hospitals, classrooms, campuses, missions and those ministries of service to the community.
Don Senior, C.P. Copyright © 1999 Passionist Community, all rights reserved.