St. Pius X

Today (Friday) we celebrate the feast day of St. Pius X, the pope who founded the Diocese of Fall River in 1904. Last year Pope Francis greeted a group of pilgrims from his sainted predecessor’s homeland: “I am pleased to welcome the pilgrimages from the Diocese of Treviso, on the centenary of the death of St. Pius X, a pope inspired by great pastoral zeal.”

There are no other recorded comments by Pope Francis about our founder. His immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, dedicated one of his general audiences to St. Pius back in August 2010. He said, “I would like to reflect on my predecessor, St. Pius X, and to underline certain features that may be useful to pastors and faithful also in our time.” May what our German former-shepherd said also be useful for our reflection now.

Pope Benedict began by speaking about St. Pius’ service as a priest: “In these years of rich and generous pastoral experience, the future pontiff showed that deep love for Christ and for the Church, that humility and simplicity and great charity to the needy which characterized his entire life. In 1884, he was appointed Bishop of Mantua, and in 1893, Patriarch of Venice. On Aug. 4, 1903, he was elected pope, a ministry he hesitated to accept since he did not consider himself worthy of such a lofty office.”

It is rather unlikely that anyone reading this editorial will ever be elected pope, but humility when being honored is a great thing for all of us to strive to achieve (if we aren’t humbled now, we will be in the life to come).

Pope Benedict said that the saint’s “pontificate left an indelible mark on the Church’s history and was distinguished by a considerable effort for reform that is summed up in his motto: Instaurare Omnia in Christo, ‘To renew all things in Christ.’ Indeed, his interventions involved various ecclesiastical contexts. From the outset he devoted himself to reorganizing the Roman Curia; he then began work on the Code of Canon Law which was promulgated by his successor Benedict XV. He later promoted the revision of the studies and formation program of future priests and founded various regional seminaries, equipped with good libraries and well-qualified teachers.” In these activities, the saint was doing what he could to make sure that God and His people would have more than decent service rendered to them.

Besides working to make sure that the clerics who served under him were well-versed in theology, St. Pius wanted to help the laity directly grow in their understanding of God. As Pope Benedict noted, “Another important sector [of St. Pius’ work] was that of the doctrinal formation of the people of God. Beginning in his years as parish priest, he himself had compiled a catechism and during his episcopate in Mantua he worked to produce a single, if not universal catechism, at least in Italian. As an authentic pastor he had understood that the situation in that period, due partly to the phenomenon of emigration, made necessary a catechism to which every member of the faithful might refer, independently of the place in which he lived and of his position. As pontiff, he compiled a text of Christian doctrine for the Diocese of Rome that was later disseminated throughout Italy and the world. Because of its simple, clear, precise language and effective explanations, this ‘Pius X Catechism,’ as it was called, was a reliable guide to many in learning the truths of the faith.” What Pope Benedict said goes well with what Claire McManus writes on page eight of this edition of The Anchor — the importance of Faith Formation throughout our lives, so that we can become true disciples of our Lord.

Next Pope Benedict reminded us that the saint “paid considerable attention to the reform of the Liturgy and, in particular, of Sacred music in order to lead the faithful to a life of more profound prayer and fuller participation in the Sacraments.” This also goes well with what Claire McManus wrote, as well as what Deacon Tony Cipriano wrote above her on the same page — that we need to move from being disciples (students) to being apostles (sent out), through the power of our encounter with God in the Eucharist.

Summarizing St. Pius, Pope Benedict said that in 1903 the saint proclaimed, “that the true Christian Spirit has its first and indispensable source in active participation in the Sacrosanct mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church. For this reason he recommended that the Sacraments be received often, encouraging the daily reception of Holy Communion and appropriately lowering the age when children receive their First Communion ‘to about seven,’ the age ‘when a child begins to reason.’” 

Pope Benedict also discussed how St. Pius “strengthening his brethren in the faith, in confronting certain trends that were manifest in the theological context at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Pius X intervened decisively, condemning ‘modernism’ to protect the faithful from erroneous concepts and to foster a scientific examination of the Revelation consonant with the tradition of the Church.  He founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The last months of his life were overshadowed by the impending war. His appeal to Catholics of the world, launched on Aug. 2, 1914 to express the bitter pain of the present hour, was the anguished plea of a father who sees his children taking sides against each other. He died shortly afterwards, on August 20, and the fame of his holiness immediately began to spread among the Christian people.”

What St. Pius X faced 101 years ago sounds very similar to what we face today — erroneous ideas about God and humanity; wars and other injustices growing, along with their justifications; Christians still not united.

Pope Benedict closed with an appeal to our hearts (may it speak to our hearts and move them): “Dear brothers and sisters, St. Pius X teaches all of us that at the root of our apostolic action in the various fields in which we work there must always be close personal union with Christ, to cultivate and to develop, day after day. This is the essence of all his teaching, of all his pastoral commitment. Only if we are in love with the Lord shall we be able to bring people to God and open them to His merciful love and thereby open the world to God’s mercy.”

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts