The lives of the saints are great sermons. They preach the Gospel by their deeds and their preachings are perpetuated by their history. The note of sanctity in the Catholic Church gets its fullest expression in their characters. The life of St. Paul of the Cross fits the above description perfectly. His personal sanctity was of the highest order, for his was a long life of heroic self-abnegation blessed with the choicest favors of heaven. The gift of miracles has never ceased to show its presence in the Church. St. Paul of the Cross, who was born in Ovada in Northern Italy on January 3, 1694, wrought stupendous miracles – not only in Italy, and not only in his lifetime, but in England, in Ireland and in America after his death. Proofs, natural and supernatural, of this great fact are so abundant in his life that it is difficult to choose which ones to record.
The childhood of St. Paul had everything in it which could mold a future saint. His parents, pious and simple, were content with their lot and had rather see their children free from sin than raised to honors and riches. The father read the lives of the saints to his children and perpetually cautioned them against two things, gambling and the bearing of arms. The mother took great care to make them admire the beauty of modesty. She kept them away from society until they were grown up and had them all instructed in their catechism. It is very refreshing to go back in spirit to this holy household; the father and mother were models of virtue and the children so fervent that they were obliged to be watched lest they might injure their health by the severity of their penances or the length of their prayers. Donna Anna, the mother of sixteen children, had her failings like all mothers, but we are told by her son that her most angry exclamation was: "May the Lord make saints of you all."
After Father Paul became a priest, he dealt with his family's spiritual needs without limit but he chose not to better their material well-being even though they were approaching real poverty. They were above absolute want and that was enough for him. Here is an extract from one of his letters to his family: "Believe me my dear brothers and sisters, you are the most fortunate people in the world; poor in this life, but rich in a faith which will make you rich indeed in heaven. Do you know why God leaves you to contend against so many trials and miseries? In order that you may thereby receive your eternal salvation. Brief and transitory is the day of suffering, but long and lasting is the day of eternal joy. Courage then, God will never abandon you, and you shall always have what is necessary."
St. Paul always celebrated Holy Mass with great fervor. To the end of his life, he had the gift of tears and his humility made him continually repeat mentally to himself as he approached the altar: "The hour cometh, and now is, when the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of a sinner." Often at the mysterious parts of the sacrifice his face was seen to glow with heavenly beauty. He was often raised aloft in the air while contemplating his Incarnate God as he lay open the Corporal and he was often again enveloped in a strange but livid cloud.
His devotion to the Passion of Jesus would not be complete without its counterpart – devotion to the Dolors of the Blessed Virgin. He had a tremendous devotion to Our Blessed Lady. He began everything with her blessing. Nearly all his greatest favors were received on her feasts and he was blessed with many surprising visions of her glory. He never pronounced the name of Mary without bowing his head or taking off his cap. The mystery of her life which had the greatest attraction for him was her sufferings at the foot of the Cross. He used to say, "Whoever goes to our crucified Lord will find His Mother with Him; where the Son is, there is the Mother."
During the last months of his life, he was troubled with some scruples about the confessions he had heard. The Blessed Virgin, with the infant Jesus in her arms, appeared surrounded by rays of glory. The saint cast himself upon his knees and our Lady said to him: "Son, ask me for graces." St. Paul asked for the salvation of his soul. Mary answered: "Be in Peace; the grace is granted." Rosa Calabresi, a witness to this vision, was deprived of sense and feeling with wonder and reverence. When she came to her senses, she saw the saint, raised about five feet from the pavement in the air. He was about an hour in this position. In this vision, the Blessed Virgin foretold him the day and hour of his death. Such was the great reward he received for his devotion of the Cross of the Son of God and Dolors of His Mother.
This will give the reader some idea of the daily routine of St. Paul and his confreres: They were clothed in a simple tunic of coarse black cloth. They used no better food than legumes and herbs, except fish occasionally when they received it in alms. They fasted every day except on Sundays and the principal feasts and they ate meat only three times a year: Christmas, Easter and the Assumption. After a few hours of sleep, they arose at midnight to chant matins, after which they made an hour's meditation, and four times a week, took the discipline (self imposed scourge).
St. Paul had a close friendly relationship with Pope Clement XIV. When the Pope first met him he was struck by his simplicity, sincerity and straightforwardness. In all the marks of respect which he received in the Vatican, it only made him the more reverent in the presence of the Vicar of Christ. The Pope used to ask his blessing sometimes and he could scarcely conceive it possible that he was in real earnest. The Pope's confessor had a stroke of paralysis and fears were entertained of his recovery. Saint Paul was sent for, blessed him and he recovered perfectly and speedily.
St. Paul was kind and gentle in invoking the power of Our Lord to aid those in need and for those who persecuted him. But all did not respond to his warnings that were in habitual sin or those who were working against his apostolate. There are several examples of this in his life such as the one in Viterbo where an old woman, who bore hatred against her neighbor, who refused to forgive her neighbor even after much effort by our saint to have a change of heart. He finally threatened her by merely saying God would punish her. In a few days she became suddenly ill, no priest could be found to attend to her and in a few minutes she was one of the most hideous and deformed corpse that the neighbor ever laid eyes upon.
A few examples of great miracles that St. Paul worked throughout his priestly life need to be mentioned. He had the gift of perceiving a stench from souls infested with the sin of impurity and would often walk up to a friend and say; "Brother you have committed such a sin; go to Confession at once." Certain individuals, who were not present at his sermons, heard him distinctly even though they were a mile or more away. He restored life to a child who had died falling out of a window. St. Paul often had visions of souls in Purgatory. A priest friend of his had some small failings which St. Paul tried to correct without success. After his death, the priest appeared to him the night he died and told him that he was condemned to Purgatory for the faults that St. Paul had tried to correct. "Oh, how I suffer," said the priest, "it seems a thousand years since I passed from this temporal existence," though he had been dead only fifteen minutes. The power that Our Dear Savior gave St. Paul to convert hardened sinners was tremendous. In a mission he was giving, the captain of a band of smugglers, armed to the teeth, came with his gang of ruffians to hear the saint. It was enough; he threw aside his arms, and himself and all of his followers became so penitent that they were the edification of the town. The leader led the life of a saint for fifteen years and then died in peace with God and man and fortified by all of the rites of the Church.
In Gaeta, the mother of the local archbishop had the privilege of a talk with St. Paul. He told her at parting to prepare herself, for that on the next feast of St. Joseph, she would die. Her death came about just as our saint had predicted.
The effectiveness of St. Paul's preaching was tremendous. Don G. Paci, a Canon of the Church, was asked by our saint to hold the cross on the platform on which he was speaking. The Canon gave testimony that he heard a voice as of a prompter and he observed that every word Fr. Paul spoke, he had heard already. The Canon concluded that the voice was supernatural as there was no other explanation of where it came from. Divine it must have been, for no human words could produce such effects. There was not one present who did not weep abundantly. The words of the missionary would have softened the heart of a flint.
In Arlena, a poor woman was very deaf and wished to hear the mission sermons. In following the saint one night, she applied his habit to her ear and recovered her hearing perfectly. In another miracle, he cured a malignant cancer by making the Sign of the Cross upon it with the oil of the lamp before the Blessed Sacrament. In a year of great scarcity of corn, a charitable lady, who every year supported many poor, told St. Paul that she must omit her charity this year because her granary was almost empty. Our saint told her: "Give the usual alms and even more and God will multiply your store." She obeyed him strictly. With only 30 quarts of grain at the time of his visit, they used it themselves and gave larger alms and at the end of several months, found exactly the quantity of grain they had in the beginning.
Once he passed by a plowman who was cursing and swearing at a yoke of oxen which were not sufficiently obedient to his wishes. The saint reproved him and said that cursing could not improve either man or beast. The man was not in the humor for being preached to at the time, so he took up a gun which lay beside him and pointed it at him. The saint raised his Crucifix and said, "Since you will not obey the voice of God, nor respect His Image, let us see if these poor beasts will not." The oxen fell on their knees immediately, with such an effect that the blasphemer dropped his gun and reformed his evil habits.
There is no doubt of St. Paul's being always spotless in purity. His maxims on the point of treating with the opposite sex deserves attention. "As long as our bones are covered with skin, there is reason to be afraid." He states that many persons, advanced in years, even though meritorious in most walks of life, have fallen into sins for want of caution. Beautiful and practical were the rules laid down for the custody of this virtue. His advise to priests and religious was: Let your conversation with ladies be brief and stiff. One fruit seen everywhere the saint had been was that his penitents could be distinguished from their companions by their modesty in dress and deportment. He performed miracles more than once to save female modesty from the surgeon's knife and many were deprived of his friendship because they would not come up to his standards of decorum.
At a mission given in Orbetello, our saint preached strongly against the immodest dress that even occurred in the church. His sermons had great effect with the exception of a French woman who resented his restrictions on her vanity so that she resolved to defy the saint. She planted herself in church under the missionary's eyes. The saint said not a word. He gave one reproving look at her and in a moment her face, hands and arms became as black as charcoal. All were horrified. Grace did its work, she repented. By the prayers of the saint, in a few days she recovered her former color but such was the effect of the incident, that about 40 of the most respectable ladies in the town dressed henceforward almost like nuns (traditional).
On his missions he preached with great force and caution upon impurity. He gave practical lectures for raising children to have a love and admiration for chastity imprinted on their minds while they were still tender and capable of receiving good impressions. He strove to abolish the destructive practice of company-keeping and he inveighed against the evil of scandalous tongues of older people, who by obscene language or impure jokes, kill daily innumerable souls.
The Hand of God was always with him and demonstrated to his own age and to all succeeding ones how acceptable in His sight was a soul which loved Him so much and suffered so much for the glory of His Holy Name. St. Paul died on the 18th of October, 1775, at the age of 81 years. His life teaches us how to live and his death animates us to a holy death. The body, after death, was found to be as flexible as when he was alive; a fragrant odor emitted from it and the Sacred Name of Jesus was found engraved over his heart.
This article was taken from the book on St. Paul of the Cross by Rev. Fr. Pius A Sp. Sancto, a Passionist, published in 1867.
"The Catholic Faith alone produces miracles, which are never seen among heretics. Plants of this sort cannot grow in a soil cursed by God; they can take root only in that Church where the True Faith is professed . . . God cannot sanction the performance of a miracle except in favor of the True religion; were He to permit it in support of error, He would deceive us." (St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church)
In Our Dear Savior's dialogue with St. Catherine of Siena, He tells us that nearly all of the evils that are done by souls subject to the priests are the fault of bad pastors, because had they corrected them... these evils would not have been. God demands of us, says St. Catherine, that, instead of cursing such faithless priests and prelates, we earnestly pray for them, begging God's mercy and forgiveness, lest they be damned forever in hell. If all of us did this, God promises, "I will have mercy on My Spouse (the Church), reforming her with good and holy pastors then the good pastors will reform her, correcting by force, those under them." Let us all pray that Our Dear Lord will raise up in the Church, many holy priests such as St. Paul of the Cross.