|Pope St. Pius X|
The world looks pretty frightening for the Church these days. Christians are being martyred around the world, whether it be by Communists in China or by Islamic radicals in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Western society is becoming ever more anti-religious, and the Church is facing increasing threats by secularists in many countries, including in the United States. As big as these external threats are, yet larger ones exist within the Church. Bad priests and religious educators have led, and continue to lead, untold numbers of Catholics astray; partially as a result, there are large numbers of Catholics who have either left the Church entirely, or who are Catholic in name alone, or who are lukewarm or heretical.
This picture can seem rather bleak. Fortunately, the Church has weathered such storms – and worse – before, and we have the example of our forebears to see how to survive. Consider, in particular, St. Pius X, who died 100 years ago today, and whose feast day we celebrate today. As I’ve mentioned before, Pius didn’t want to become pope, a fact he made no secret of. In fact, he talked about it openly in his first encyclical, E Supremi, giving two reasons: his own unworthiness, and the grim situation of the society of his day:
3. Then again, to omit other motives, We were terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deeprooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is – apostasy from God, than which in truth nothing is more allied with ruin, according to the word of the Prophet: “For behold they that go far from Thee shall perish” (Ps. 1xxii., 17).
Seeing the dismal state of the world, Pius dedicated his pontificate to a single aim: to restore all things in Christ. Since we face many of the same problems today that he faced a century ago, this call remains as relevant as ever. But how do we go about doing that?
1. Look to Jesus: Several years after E Supremi, Pius summarized the encyclical this way: “We stated in Our first encyclical that We would labor without ceasing “to restore all things in Christ.”We begged everyone to turn their eyes with Us to Jesus, “the apostle and high priest of our confession…the author and finisher of faith.”[Heb. 3:1; 12:2]” If you want to restore all things in Christ, live and act like Christ.
2. Take the Virgin Mary as Your Model: Christ isn’t easy to imitate, since He is more than perfect: He’s Divine. We’re not God, so acting like we are isn’t always the best model (that is, what is fitting for Christ might not be fitting for us, given the situation). Pius recognized this, and called upon us to imitate Mary as well:
Since the majesty of that Model may be too much for fallen human nature, God mercifully gave Us another model to propose for your imitation, the glorious Virgin Mother of God. While being as close to Christ as human nature permits, she is better suited to the needs of our weak nature.
|Antonello da Messina, St. Gregory the Great (1473)|
3. Imitate the Saints: In addition to Mary, Pius called us to imitate the Saints. This is solid Biblical advice: St. Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Cor. 4:16). The Saints show us how to imitate Christ. We might draw the analogy to early childhood: sometimes, the best way young children can learn to imitate adult behavior (walking, talking, and the rest) is by watching the example of slightly-older children.
For this reason, Pius wrote encyclicals on St. Gregory the Great, on St. Anselm, and on St. Charles Borromeo. He wanted the Saints before our eyes, partly because they had been through these problems before, and triumphed. As he said of Pope St. Gregory:
When Gregory assumed the Supreme Pontificate the disorder in public affairs had reached its climax; the ancient civilization had all but disappeared and barbarism was spreading throughout the dominions of the crumbling Roman Empire. Italy, abandoned by the Emperors of Byzantium, had been left a prey of the still unsettled Lombards who roamed up and down the whole country laying waste everywhere with fire and sword and bringing desolation and death in their train. This very city, threatened from without by its enemies, tried from within by the scourges of pestilence, floods and famine, was reduced to such a miserable plight that it had become a problem how to keep the breath of life in the citizens and in the immense multitudes who flocked hither for refuge.
So Pope Pius X looked to Pope Gregory the Great as a model for the exact same reasons we ought to look to Pope Pius X as a model today: because, guided by Christ, he lead the Church through some dark and troubling times.
4. Be a Saint: Sanctity wins more souls than argumentation. Pius again: “We are of the opinion that the shining example of Christ’s soldiers has far greater value in the winning and sanctifying of souls than the words of profound treatises.” Even if you have the best Catholic apologetics or theology in the world, that won’t matter for much if your life doesn’t reflect the love of Christ. So be a Saint!
5. Sanctify Your Family and Your Work, and Help Restore Christian Civilization: Restoring all things in Christ is even bigger than evangelization. It’s also about building a truly Christian culture, “not only for the sanctification of his own soul, but also for the extension and increase of the Kingdom of God in individuals, families, and society.” Every field of work, every aspect of daily life, should be filled with Christ, since the “light of Catholic revelation is of such a nature that it diffuses itself with the greatest brilliance on every science.” For this reason, Pius explains:
To restore all things in Christ” includes not only what properly pertains to the divine mission of the Church, namely, leading souls to God, but also what We have already explained as flowing from that divine mission, namely, Christian civilization in each and every one of the elements composing it.
6. Pray for Priests and Seminarians: One of the chief ways that people encounter Christ is through His priests: in the Sacraments, in the proclamation of the Gospel, and in the priest himself. This is why holy priests are so important. Pius instructed the world’s bishops to make the formation of good priests a chief concern:
This being so, Venerable Brethren, of what nature and magnitude is the care that must be taken by you in forming the clergy to holiness! All other tasks must yield to this one. Wherefore the chief part of your diligence will be directed to governing and ordering your seminaries aright so that they may flourish equally in the soundness of their teaching and in the spotlessness of their morals.
|Pope St. John Paul II|
7. Do Not Be Afraid: That’s a phrase more associated with another saintly pope, it’s also a good summary of St. Pius X’s reminder that the Church gains the most from these dark times:
When vice runs wild, when persecution hangs heavy, when error is so cunning that it threatens her destruction by snatching many children from her bosom (and plunges them into the whirlpool of sin and impiety) – then, more than ever, the Church is strengthened from above. Whether the wicked will it or not, God makes even error aid in the triumph of Truth whose guardian and defender is the Church. He puts corruption in the service of sanctity, whose mother and nurse is the Church. Out of persecution He brings a more wondrous “freedom from our enemies.” For these reasons, when worldly men think they see the Church buffeted and almost capsized in the raging storm, then she really comes forth fairer, stronger, purer, and brighter with the lustre of distinguished virtues.
We haven’t been abandoned by God: He’s still in control, and He permits these situations for the good of the Church. Let’s not forget that.
8. Trust in Christ, Rather than Yourself: It’s easy to imagine that the last seven points can be accomplished by your own strength. They can’t, and Pius was quick to acknowledge this, reminding the bishops:
But, Venerable Brethren, we shall never, however much we exert ourselves, succeed in calling men back to the majesty and empire of God, except by means of Jesus Christ. “No one,” the Apostle admonishes us, “can lay other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I. Cor.,iii., II.) It is Christ alone “whom the Father sanctified and sent into this world” (Is. x., 36), “the splendor of the Father and the image of His substance” (Hebr.i., 3), true God and true man: without whom nobody can know God with the knowledge for salvation, “neither doth anyone know the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him.” (Matth. xi., 27.) Hence it follows that to restore all things in Christ and to lead men back to submission to God is one and the same aim.
If your attempts to win over souls are causing you to pray less, or miss Mass, or behave in an un-Christlike way, those are signs that you’re trying to do it on your own strength, rather than trusting in Him. Submission to Christ starts with us.
9. Be Catholic! If restoration of all things in Christ is submission to Christ, how can we reach Christ? Pius has an answer for that:
Now the way to reach Christ is not hard to find: it is the Church. Rightly does Chrysostom inculcate: “The Church is thy hope, the Church is thy salvation, the Church is thy refuge.” (Hom. de capto Euthropio, n. 6.) 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.
So there you have it. While things might look dark sometimes, remember that Christ is in control, and that our mission is clear: to be Catholic Saints, to draw others to Christ, and to sanctify our daily lives. If we do this, everything will be more than fine.