The 20th of August 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Saint Pius X. As with every saint, there is much we can learn from his life; indeed, what makes the saints so endearing and enduring is that their message—the message of holiness—transcends time, cultures and borders.
During his years as priest, bishop, cardinal and Supreme Pontiff, St. Pius X certainly made an impact on the world and the Church. His life was a chain of powerful and touching moments … many forgotten by now. But a number of significant reforms and actions took place during his pontificate.
All the good he’d done and wanted to do, all the sufferings and sacrifices, the acts of charity—all have accompanied him into eternity. But his memory and achievements remain. What are they? How is he remembered today? What can we learn from his legacy?
He was a gentle, poor, country pastor. He didn’t vie for higher positions. He remained simple and humble. He loved his priesthood, loved the Church and was always mindful of the poor and those in need. Yet, for all his gentleness and compassion, Pius X exhibited extraordinary strength when it came to defending the truths of the Church, correcting injustices and preaching and teaching the message of Christ.
Through his reform of the reception of Holy Communion, he touched the lives of individual Catholics. He had an enduring influence on the Church through his reform of Church music. Through his the codification of canon law and his teachings on Modernism, he made significant contributions to the Church. By his work for peace among nations, as well as his efforts to promote and secure basic God-given freedoms for all, he had an impact the world.
The individual, the Church, and the world.
St. Pius died at the onset of the First World War. Some biographers have asserted that the Holy Father had prior knowledge of this devastating global war. He fervently prayed and entreated nations to do everything possible to avoid military conflict, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. It is fitting that we should pray for the intercession of this Pope of Peace in our current era of global unrest. Surely, he knew the suffering and the widespread disrespect for life that inevitably accompanies war, violence and hatred.
We also remember Saint Pius X as the one who opened the way for the frequent reception of Holy Communion, and for early First Holy Communion. How much in need we are today of frequent holy reception of the Bread of Life! How greatly we need the strength of this Holy Sacrament in our daily lives, living in a world that constantly presents dangers to body and soul—dangers that St. Pius could never imagine. Pius X was well aware that one needs strength from on high to battle the temptations of life and to pass the tests of faith. He enabled the Church militant to be fortified with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, much in the way that young David was equipped for his encounter with Goliath. David had his sling-shot and stones, but he knew, of course, that it was the Almighty who would make him victorious over the giant threatening his people. So we, too, nourished by Holy Communion can face life with Him whose grace does not fail us.
We are also in debt to St. Pius X for how he steadfastly confronted Modernism that threatened to undermine the Church. Modernism espoused a series of errors that masked the truth. Proponents sought to sow disbelief and doubt among the faithful. If allowed to spread in the media and universities, this heresy would breed doctrinal confusion and cause the faithful to question the teachings of the Church and her authority. Pius X stood squarely in the way of Modernist errors.
During his papacy Pius X strove to raise sacred music to a more reverent and spiritual level. He worked to reform the Roman Curia, proposed the codification of canon law and oversaw improvements in the Divine Office, otherwise known as the Liturgy of the Hours.
At the end of his life, Pope Pius X’s final struggle was for peace. Although he always championed the human rights and dignity of mankind, especially in the areas of religious freedom and justice, in his last weeks his prayers, speeches, writings and suffering were singularly focused on maintaining peace in Europe and throughout the world.
With his wisdom and tender heart for suffering humanity, St. Pius X left his mark on the world. He showed himself to be a pastor—a spiritual father—and a brother and friend, as well.
His motto was “Instaurare omnia in Christo”—“To restore all things in Christ.” Throughout his life, his efforts were always directed toward this great goal, and this is what his legacy continues to foster. For individuals, for the Church and the world, Pius X remains a shining example of what is means to be a priest and a father.
In our families today, in our Church and most certainly in our world, we need strength and courage to fight the falsehoods all around us, the weakening of faith and the lack of knowledge of Christ and His teachings. We must in humility recognize that we are helpless in this struggle without God’s grace. With the example of Pope Pius X before us, we should seek to restore all things in Christ: in our homes, workplaces, schools and media. His goal is still the answer for our times, one hundred years after his death.
May St. Pius X pray for us, pray for our Church and our world in this our time of need.
Sr. M. Michele Jascenia, SCMC
is a religious with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church and resides at their Holy Family Motherhouse in Baltic, Ct. She is an elementary school teacher and a freelance writer.