Pope St. Pius X, Greatest Pontiff of the Modern Era (1835-1914)
On 2 June 1835, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto saw the light of earth at Riesi, Province of Treviso, in Northeastern Italy. He was ordained a priest on 18 Sept 1858 during the reign of Bl. Pius IX, was consecrated Bishop of Mantua on 16 Nov 1884 at the behest of Pope Leo XII, elevated to Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice on 12 June 1893. He was elected Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church on 4 Aug 1903. On August 20, 1914, he saw the light of heaven; and on May 29, 1954, he was canonized by Pope Pius XII.
His motto is Omnia Instaurare in Christo, to restore all things in Christ. He introduced this phrase in his inaugural encyclical, although all his encyclicals are excellent and ought to be required reading for all confirmed Catholics. You can read them HERE at papal encyclicals.net
There is much that can be said about Pope St. Pius X, as many books have been written about him. Since I’m not about to write a book, I’ll just recount a few bullet points and stories which have always stuck in my mind as a tribute to him on his feast day today.Guiseppe Sarto (2 June 1835 – 20 Aug 1914) was born to a very devout Catholic family in Northern Italy (Riese). His childhood was challenging, especially on account of the family’s poverty, but his parents used the difficulties of life and their faith to form an excellent character in him. From his youth, Guiseppe was a brilliant student. He was at the top of all his classes and won scholarships to continue advanced studies and attend seminary. He always had a great affinity for beautiful music and had a great deal of natural musical talent. Everywhere he was assigned as priest, bishop or cardinal, he made sure the liturgical music offered due and fitting worship to God. As Pope he brought about much needed (true) reform in liturgical music and restored Gregorian Chant to its fitting place in the Church. Were if not for his efforts, I think many of us would never have been privileged to hear this glorious music that serves as a cradle for Western Civilization. He also had a great love for the Priesthood. As a bishop, his most important focus in the whole diocese was always on the seminarians and proper seminary formation. Under him lax seminaries devoid of seminarians were completely turned around and flourished greatly. He helped extend this reform to the whole Church as pope, especially insisting that seminarians learn the philosophy and scholastic theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s “Doctor of Doctors.” He had an ardent zeal for the Most Blessed Sacrament. As Patriarch he organized a tremendous campaign for Eucharistic Adoration in Venice to combat blasphemous art (the art was taken down). As Pope he lowered the age for children to receive Holy Communion, knowing that our Lord wishes pure and innocent children who have faith and know their basic doctrine and prayers to receive Him sacramentally. As Pope he also codified Canon Law, furthered biblical studies in full adherence and conformity to Catholic Tradition and the Church Fathers, and ushered in an authentic liturgical reform. He encouraged all the faithful to not just hear Mass but to pray the Holy Mass, meditating upon the Mysteries of our Faith presented in the liturgy and on the Passion and Death of Christ, which is made ever present at this most holy and august Sacrifice. He always knew that the greatest threat against the Church was heresy. He knew that modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, was growing like a malignant cancer in the Body of Christ and fought it with all his might. If it were not for his efforts, the grave crisis in the Church would have occurred much sooner. The only reason it did occur at all is because his successors did not heed his advice or example. Instead they allowed to fall into disuse all the measures and safeguards he had created to preserve the Church from the deadly poison of the modernist heresy. Pope Pius X did all he could to prevent the Great War (WWI). However the European leaders refused his counsel and dragged the world into the most violent century we have ever witnessed. It is said that he died of a broken heart.
Four vignettes which I have always found remarkable and wish we would see in our day. When I pray for a holy and heroic bishop and that all our bishops will be orthodox, it is the memory of stories like these that run through my mind...Bishop Sarto once heard that two of his priests had been remiss for several years in making their obligatory annual retreat. One day he paid them a spontaneous visit. Stating he had a very busy schedule that day but needed to speak with them he invited them into his carriage. Both priests who were eager to please their bishop readily joined him. The bishop’s driver then promptly drove the carriage out into the country to a monastery where the abbot hastily came to receive His Excellency. After all the passengers stepped off the carriage, Bishop Sarto informed the abbot that the two priests were here to make their annual silent retreat. He gave them his blessing, prayed they may have spiritually fruitful exercises, and then drove off, leaving the two priests rather shocked and dumbfounded. On another occasion, Bishop Sarto heard of a priest who was repeatedly arriving late to his confessional. Apparently the priest was giving in to slothfulness and oversleeping. One day the priest, tardy as usual, was surprised to arrive at his confessional and see the line moving. He realized someone must have supplanted his place and this enraged him. As soon as a penitent exited, before anyone could step in, he marched in a fit of fury to the priest’s side of the confessional and ripped open the curtain, ready to lay a tongue-lashing on the usurper. What a shock when he found himself face to face with his bishop. The saint smiled and spoke kindly, “Dear Father, I am always disposed to help any of my priests who are struggling to fulfill their duties. If you need my help anytime, please let me know.” Red-faced and shamed that priest never arrived late to his confessional again. Pope St. Pius X also had a great love for the poor. He gave them everything he could. Many times he went hungry himself because he had given his food and money to those in need. (I emphasize he gave of his own goods to the poor and not of someone else’s and he was willing to suffer need on account of his generosity – this is the true charity that should motivate civic leaders and pastors of souls.) A wealthy nobleman gave him a beautiful watch and chain with his crest when he was Patriarch of Venice. Yet Cardinal Sarto soon pawned it to get money for a poor soul. The same nobleman happened to enter the same pawn shop and immediately recognized the watch, especially since it had been engraved. He purchased the watch and then gave it to the Patriarch again. Cardinal Sarto soon found himself in need of alms to distribute and again pawned the watch. The nobleman again discovered it and repurchased and gifted it yet again. This actually happened a few more times. Finally, the nobleman simply told the Patriarch to call on him when he needed a donor, because he might as well just give him the alms to distribute since it would save them both the hassle of selling and buying the watch again! As Pope, St. Pius X had to correct and reprimand several bishops and priest who had fallen into heresy or were flirting dangerously close to that edge. Some of the French prelates who supported the Sillon (a precursor to modern Liberation Theology) were particularly problematic. One bishop who had been reprimanded continued to act against the Catholic Faith. Pope Pius X called him to Rome. When the bishop entered he made the customary genuflection before the Pope and waited to be acknowledged so he could rise. Pope Pius X remained busy at his desk ignoring the bishop for three quarters of an hour. This was a small penance which the saintly pontiff was imposing. At last, Pope Pius raised his eyes and looked the bishop directly in the eyes, holding his gaze steady and stern. Without a word he rose and walked over to the kneeling figure. Then he greeted him: “Good morning, your Excellency.” Before the Bishop could arise, Pope Pius X swiftly removed the zucchetto from the Bishop’s head and placed it on the edge of his desk. He then dismissed him, “Have a good day, Father.” And that was the end of the meeting. No more words had to be spoken. This great pope had sent a very clear warning shot across the bow of the Bark of Peter letting all know what the fate would be of those bishops, successors to Judas, who refused to resist and denounce heresy.
Pope St. Pius X, we desperately need your spirit to invigorate our clergy today. Ora pro nobis!