Reading biographies of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, one wonders how Francis Possenti went from a life attached to the world, to a life of almost perfect virtue practically overnight. In the scriptures, Christ condemns the lukewarm. These are the hardest to convert. But those who are full of energy and enthusiasm, though attached to the pleasures of the world, once converted give themselves wholeheartedly to Christ. Francis Possenti was one of these. He was a young man full of life. Though he was excited by the pleasures of the world, when his zeal was redirected towards the service of God he truly flourished and found what he was made for. His heart was made to be wholly given--and he would give it totally to the world or God. Like another young saint, Therese, he could not be a saint by halves.
What was Francis' secret to holiness? How was he captured by the love of Christ. The name he received as a religious reveals his secret: Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. He abandoned himself completely, totally to Mary. He truly belonged to her. It was Mary who called Francis out of the world, who gently rebuked him for dragging his feet in taking the step to become a religious. Mary revealed to him the heart of her Crucified Son. And Mary was Gabriel's secret to attaining holiness quickly and relatively easily. St. Louis de Monfort, about a century before Gabriel lived, made the bold claim that indeed giving ourselves entirely to Mary is the quickest, easiest, and surest way to holiness. He wrote: "we make more progress in a brief period of submission to and dependence on Mary than in whole years of following our own will and relying upon ourselves." Gabriel did indeed reach sanctity in a brief period, dying at the age of twenty-four. He gave up his will entirely, even his goal of becoming a priest.
St. Gabriel did nothing extraordinary to attain this life of virtue--nothing that we cannot do. He surrendered himself to Jesus through Mary and lived his state in life faithfully, with all the zeal of a young man in love. He did all for love of God and saw the eternal meaning in the tasks of everyday life.
"You should not be philosophizing so much about yourself. Walk in good faith, follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, continue your prayer, and always base yourself on the Divine Mysteries of the holy Life and Passion of Jesus, our Life. This is the secure way from which is born interior recollection, the gift of remaining in internal solitude in the Divine Presence, without danger of deceit. Never should you leave sight of your Divine Exemplar, Jesus , in his sufferings. 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me,' our Divine Master himself told us." (From a letter of St. Paul of the Cross to Thomas Fossi, May 30, 1752)
In anticipation of the Season of Lent, on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, Passionists celebrate the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Titular Feast of our Congregation. On this Feast we contemplate the suffering and sacrifice of Christ, "the greatest and most overwhelming work of God's love" (St. Paul of the Cross) We look to Our Lady of Sorrows and our Passionist Saints to teach us how to keep alive the memory of the Passion, as we remain with them at the Foot of the Cross.
"It is necessary to keep oneself in a holy indifference toward all happenings, and to allow all anxiety and solicitude to die, for they are the occasions for most of your useless thoughts. Let them die, I say, in the Divine Good Pleasure, rejoicing in God with the higher part of your soul, and let things happen as they happen. 'Lord,' said the heart of a great saint, 'let all things happen as they happen.' If you will do this, you will be at peace, in tranquility, and in a profound recollection without taking the least care beyond the single pleasure of God, keeping your heart turned toward heaven so that the strong winds of human surroundings and temptation cannot upset you." (From a letter of St. Paul of the Cross to Marianna Girelli, September 24, 1768)
“I recommend to you a strong, constant devotion to Mary, our most holy and sorrowful virgin. Think often of her and sympathize with her in her sufferings. Then, this loving mother, who is never outdone in kindness will in turn comfort you.
Pour out your heart to her. Speak to her of your trials and your needs. Commend your family to her, and the important concern of your soul. . . . How much we cost her! . . . She chose that her own beloved Son should die bleeding on the cross rather than that we should be forever lost."
(From a letter of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, CP)
"If you fall not merely seven times, but even ten and a hundred, you are not to lose your peace and confidence in God, but humble yourself sweetly with a loving sorrow and a sorrowing love. A word or two is sufficient; God will teach you. Here is the short way to consume imperfections. Say that you are drawn by God to interior recollection in that divine solitude and sacred silence of faith and love, rich with every good. Then you find yourself wounded by some imperfection or dissipation of spirit. Then why not flee immediately into the bosom of the Highest Good with a loving flight of faith, losing yourself entirely in God with a loving and peaceful sorrow and allowing what is imperfect to be consumed in that immense furnace of charity? Acting in this way, not only are the imperfections consumed, but also you are reborn in the Divine Word, Christ Jesus, to a new godlike life, and the soul is divinized." (From a letter of St. Paul of the Cross to Sister Maria Innocenza of the Sorrowful Mother, November 5, 1757)
When you approach the sacred altar, let your greatest aim in doing so be that your souls may ever more and more be dissolved in his holy love. Oh! dearest ones, I say nothing to you about preparation, for I think you do what you can. Remember, it is a question of performing one of the holiest possible actions. Our dear Jesus could do nothing more than to give himself to us as food. Then let us love this dear Lover and be very devout toward the Blessed Sacrament (From a letter of St. Paul of the Cross to his brothers and sisters, February 21, 1722).
The Contemplative Passionist Life
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