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January 13, 2002|
Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The next day, the electors' votes went, as anticipated, to Cardinal Sarto. The latter abandoned himself to the hands of God, declaring, «If it is not possible that this cup be taken away from me, may the will of God be done! I accept the Pontificate as a cross.»«By which name do you wish to be called?»«Because the Popes who suffered the most for the Church in the previous century bore the name Pius, I will take this name.» He thus became Pope Pius X.
Of quite humble origins, Giuseppe (Joseph) Sarto was born in Riese, a small village in the diocese of Treviso in Veneto state (northern Italy) on June 2, 1835. His father was a town employee, owning but a humble little house and a poor field. His parents' only wealth was a simple and profound faith which they passed on to their children, ten in number. Giuseppe heard the call to the priesthood at a young age. He responded eagerly and received priestly ordination on September 18, 1858. Divine Providence led him to serve the Church in various levels of the hierarchy, successively becoming assistant priest, pastor, spiritual director at the seminary in Treviso, Bishop of Mantua, and finally Patriarch of Venice, before being elected Pope, an overwhelming responsibility which might justifiably frighten him!
The path to Jesus Christ
From his first encyclical, E supremi apostolatus, of October 4, 1903, Pius X made known to the whole world what the program of his pontificate would be: «To restore all things in Christ, so that Christ may be all and in all (cf. Eph. 1:10 and Col. 3:11)... To lead back mankind under the dominion of Christ; this done, We shall have brought it back to God... Now the way to reach Christ is not hard to find: it is the Church... It was for this that Christ founded it, gaining it at the price of His blood, and made it the depositary of His doctrine and His laws, bestowing upon it at the same time an inexhaustible treasury of graces for the sanctification and salvation of men... The duty has been imposed of bringing back to the discipline of the Church human society, now estranged from the wisdom of Christ; the Church will then subject it to Christ, and Christ to God.» Vatican Council II teaches in the same vein: «God Himself has made known to the human race how men by serving Him can be saved and reach happiness in Christ. We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the task of spreading it among all men...» (Dignitatis humanæ, 1).
To find a cure for ignorance
Don Sarto's charity towards all was made apparent from the first years of his priesthood, to the point of becoming legendary. Quick to give everything away, he never had a penny in his pocket. He prided himself on being born poor and living poor. The call to exercise the greatest responsibility in the Church did not make him lose his kindness and humility, particularly towards those of low estate. Feeling responsible for the lot of all the poor, he gave with reckless generosity. When he was advised to moderate his charity so as not to send the Church into bankruptcy, he showed his two hands, and replied, «The left receives and the right gives. If I give with one hand, I receive much more from the other.» This inexhaustible charity flowed from his intimate union with God. Cardinal Merry del Val, his Secretary of State, testified, «In all his actions, he was always inspired by supernatural thoughts and showed that he was united with God. In his most important dealings, he would glance at the Crucifix and was inspired by it. When he was in doubt, he would postpone his decision, and had the habit of saying, as he kept his eyes fixed on the Crucifix, 'He is the one who will decide.' »
Evil in the heart of the Church
The Modernist system rests on erroneous philosophical principles. One, absolute agnosticism, means that the human mind is incapable of reaching some certitudes. The other is immanentism, according to which God cannot be known objectively by proofs based on reason, but solely by the individual's subjective experience. These principles lead to the denial of the existence of objective truth, and, as a result, the denial of the possibility of Divine Revelation. Lastly, religion is reduced to symbols. God Himself is no longer the transcendent Creator (meaning that He exists before and beyond the universe) but only an immanent force, «the universal soul of the world.» This error leads directly to pantheism, the identification of the world with God. Jesus Christ is just an extraordinary man whose historical person was transfigured by faith. From this comes the Modernist distinction between the Christ of history, who is no more than a man who died on a cross in Palestine, and the Christ of faith, whom the disciples imagine to be «resurrected,» and whom they «deify» in their hearts. In this way, Modernism leads to the dissolution of all definite religious content. It is for this reason that the holy Pope defined Modernism as the synthesis and the meeting place of all the heresies which lead to the destruction of the foundations of the faith and the annihilation of Christianity.
A criterion of faithfulness to God
Pius X thus carried out his mission to «preserve God's people from deviations and defections and guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error» (CCC 890). However, the Supreme Pontiff's paternal solicitude must be matched by a filial attitude of docility and submission on the part of the faithful. Jesus Christ said to His apostles: Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). Obedience to the Magisterium of the Church and especially to Her visible leader, the Pope, is an essential criterion for faithfulness to God. Pius X emphasized this in a speech on May 10, 1909: «Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the cunning statements of those who persistently claim to wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight so that people do not leave Her... But judge them by their works. If they despise the shepherds of the Church and even the Pope, if they attempt all means of evading their authority in order to elude their directives and judgments..., then about which Church do these men mean to speak? Certainly not about that established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).»
«My people must pray in beauty,» the saint was fond of saying. Observing that sacred music does not always attain its goal, which is to emphasize the liturgical text and thus to dispose the faithful to greater devotion, the Pope, without ruling out other legitimate forms of sacred chant, recalled, in the Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini, of November 22, 1903, that Gregorian chant eminently works toward the end of the liturgy, which is the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful. He consequently encouraged restoration of this chant. The Second Vatican Council would likewise affirm: «The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being proper to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services» (Sacrosanctum concilium, 116).
In 1905, in accordance with the wishes expressed by the Council of Trent, but until then not enforced, Pius X, through the decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus, seized a pastoral initiative of great importance. Contrary to an age-old practice, he offered access to frequent, even daily, Communion, for all those who desired it. One merely need to be in a state of grace and to have the proper intent, meaning to receive Communion «not as a matter of habit, or of vanity, or for human reasons, but to satisfy the will of God, to unite oneself to Him more intimately through charity and, by means of this divine remedy, to do battle against one's faults and weaknesses.» It is equally necessary to observe the proscribed fast (today, at least one hour before Communion) and to be suitably dressed. Five years later, Pius X authorized children to make their First Communion from the age of discretion. Until that time, it was customary to wait until the age of 12 or 13. The Pope considered this reform to be an inestimable grace for the souls of children: «The flower of innocence, before it has been handled and stained, will go to seek shelter near Him who loves to live among the lilies. Entreated by the pure souls of little children, God will restrain His arm of justice.» It is thus for good reason that Saint Pius X is sometimes called «the Pope of the Eucharist.»
In order to scientifically respond to the objections of science and Modernist exegesis, the holy Pope founded the Biblical Institute in 1909, to which he gave the mission of advancing studies in linguistics, history, and archeology, thus promoting better understanding of Sacred Scripture. He was firmly convinced that the Church had no reason to fear true science, and that the most modern methods of research could and must be placed in the service of the faith.
So as to render the Church ever more prepared for and open to mankind's progress towards Jesus Christ, Saint Pius X ordered the ecclesiastical laws, which had become numerous and complex over the course of the centuries, to be updated and codified. This work would be brought to completion by his successor, Pope Benedict XV, in 1917. In addition, to make priests' ministry easier, he carried out a reform of the Roman Breviary, reallocating the psalms for each day and revising the rubrics.
Let us lose the churches, but save the Church!
At the beginning of his pontificate, Pius X wrote, «To seek peace without God is an absurdity.» Having often foreseen and foretold a great war between European nations, he stepped up diplomatic measures to prevent this tragedy. Nonetheless, in the summer of 1914, the First World War broke out. The Holy Father's heart was broken. In his distress, he repeated day and night: «I offer my miserable life as a sacrifice, to prevent the massacre of so many of my children... I suffer for all those who fall on the battlefields...» On August 15, he felt unwell, and on the 19th, he was on the verge of death. «I place myself in the hands of God,» he said with otherworldly tranquillity. Around noon, he was given the last Sacraments, which he received, calm and serene, in complete lucidity and admirable devotion. On August 20, at one o'clock in the morning, making a slow sign of the Cross and joining his hands, as if he were celebrating Mass, having kissed a little Crucifix, the holy Pontiff entered into eternal life.
Beatified in 1951, Pius X was canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 29, 1954. During a pastoral visit to Treviso in 1985, Pope John Paul II praised the saint in these words: «He had the courage to proclaim the Gospel of God amidst numerous conflicts... He worked with great sincerity to expose the deceptive recesses of the theological system of Modernism, with great courage, prompted in his commitment solely by desire for truth, so that the Revelation might not be distorted in its essential content. This great purpose compelled Pius X to continual interior labor, in order not to seek to please men. We know well what adversity he had to endure precisely for the unpopularity to which he exposed himself by his decisions. As a faithful disciple of Jesus the Master, he wished to be pleasing to God, who tests our hearts.»
Let us ask Saint Pius X to inspire us with the desire to please God alone, as well as a spirit of filial submission to the Holy Catholic Church.