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Pope Saint Pius X

Feast Day: September 3

by Susan Vennari

The great “Pope of the Eucharist,” Saint Pius X, was born of pious peasant stock in 1835. Giuseppe Sarto was an intelligent and energetic child, but with an angelic quality that bespoke his vocation even at an early age. His natural abilities in his studies and his serious application to learning about God gained him assistance from those around him, such that he was able to attend school. Returning from the eight-mile round trip walk each day, he would accomplish his farm and family chores cheerily.

sotw070608With serious purpose, prayer and patience, he prepared to become a priest. He finished his seminary studies with honors in every subject, and was granted a dispensation to be ordained at twenty-three, a year earlier than the canonical age.

After he had been a little while at his first assignment, the pastor wrote to a friend of this young cleric: “They have sent me a young man as curate, with orders to form him to the duties of a parish priest. I assure you it is likely to be the other way about. He is so zealous, so full of common sense and other precious gifts that I could find much to learn from him. Some day he will wear the mitre — of that I am certain — and afterwards? Who knows?”

The senior priest’s comments proved prophetic. The zeal with which the younger priest applied himself to his duties, the eloquence of his preaching, the humility of his being — all these testified to the virtues of the young priest. Father Sarto had planned his priestly life before his ordination: to study deeply, the better to preach well; to do as much good as possible in the confessional and from the pulpit; to help his people both materially and morally; to visit the sick, to succor the poor and to instruct the ignorant. As a priest, he gave himself over completely to this simple plan.

His career was built on a series of promotions given him for his abilities. To each new larger flock, he applied himself as diligently as he had done in his first assignment. With each weightier charge, he turned more completely to Our Lady and Our Lord for the graces to fulfill his duties of state.

At the death of Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Sarto set out from his See of Venice with full intention to return after the papal election. But as the conclave began its work, the mind of the electors became clearer with each scrutiny. “I am unworthy, I am not qualified,” he adjured his fellow electors. But his grief and profound humility convinced the conclave even more that Cardinal Sarto was extraordinary. Some of his colleagues visited him one evening to beg him not to refuse the burden if God should call him to bear it. When he was finally elected, he accepted with resignation to the Divine Will. But he took up the office with every human effort and Divine grace to meet the responsibilities of the Universal Shepherd.

Pope Saint Pius X rose to the papacy against his wishes. He accepted the responsibility of office gravely. Trusting in Our Lord and Our Lady, he plunged into the work that God had asked of him. With zeal he countered the old heresy of Jansenism and the encroaching heresy of Modernism. He addressed political problems, doctrinal errors, renewal of the priesthood, abuses in the liturgy — and much more. He is the first Pope since his predecessor of 350 years, Pope Saint Pius V, to have been canonized. In the month of his feast day, it is a joy to recall his teaching, which never departed from what the Church has always said and done since the time of Jesus Christ.

On the priesthood: “I ask you, therefore, to remember the words of the Apostle: ‘Walk carefully, that our ministry be not blamed’; let our actions be such that our enemies shall find nothing in us worthy of reproach. You are full of zeal for souls: seek to win them rather by love than by fear. The supreme wish of Our Lord for His own was that they should love one another, and this wish found its fulfillment in apostolic times, when the Christians were one heart and one soul in Christ. A priest’s life is a continual warfare against evil, which cannot fail to raise up powerful enemies. In order that they may not prevail against us, let us be united in charity amongst ourselves; thus we shall be invincible and strong as a rock.”

On the Eucharist: “Holy Communion is the shortest and surest way to Heaven. There are others, innocence, for instance, but that is for little children; penance, but we are afraid of it; generous endurance of the trials of life, but when they come we weep and ask to be spared. Once and for all, beloved children, the surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Eucharist. It is so easy to approach the holy table, and there we taste the joys of Paradise.”

On science: “The Catholic Faith has nothing to fear from knowledge, but much from ignorance.”

On the rich and poor: “Tell the rich to be generous in almsgiving; tell the poor to be proud of being chosen as the loving representatives of Christ on earth. Bid them neither envy nor hate others, but have resignation and patience.”

To some peasant visitors from Moravia: “I bless you all, great and small, rich and poor, the good that they may remain good; those who have strayed from the right path, that they may come back to it; parents that they may bring up their children well; children that they may honor the white hairs of their parents and the country that has nourished them.”

Lastly: The great Pope forbade any outbreak of the applause which had become customary at papal services. “It is not fitting that the servant should be applauded in his Master’s house.”

Truly, this saintly Supreme Pontiff bore well the daily Cross he invoked for his own pontificate: “to restore all things in Christ.” Pope Saint Pius X, pray for us.

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