Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Pius X, one of the great popes of the 20th century. He was born in 1835, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, and he grew up in poverty. His father was the village postman and little Giuseppe walked six kilometers to school everyday. This poverty characterized his whole life, and it was not just a matter of physical poverty. St. Pius X was a man who was truly poor in spirit. Our Lord said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Throughout his life as simple priest and Franciscan tertiary, then as bishop of Mantua, later as cardinal archbishop of Milan and finally as supreme pontiff of the universal Church, Giuseppe Sarto, remained a simple man and a lover of poverty. His last will and testament gives witness to this with the words: “I was born poor, I have lived in poverty, and I wish to die poor.”
Thus, this great man was single minded throughout his life and placed himself at the dispositions of Christ and His Church, without consideration for himself. This was his poverty in spirit. His whole life was to serve Christ and the Church.
His papal moto, instaurare omnia in Christo, or “to restore all things in Christ,” is taken from the letter to the Ephesians (1:10). It is part of St. Paul’s canticle of praise, in which the Apostle places Jesus at the center of all things as their beginning and final end. All things have their meaning from Christ. All things reach their perfection through Christ. And anything that has fallen away from the good can only be restored by Christ.
To this end, St. Pius X was a great defender and promoter of all things truly Christian. Most notably he worked to renew the liturgy and to make frequent Holy Communion available to all Catholics from an early age. He also waged an unremitting war against the heresy of Modernism, encouraged biblical studies, and brought about the codification of Canon Law. In these ways he worked untiringly to renew all things in Christ.
St. Pius X was a beacon of light at the beginning of the 20th century. He died just after the outbreak of World War I, weakened by melancholy and heartbreak at the tragedy of immorality, hatred and violence. The current of thought and the cycle of events he witnessed at that time were harbingers of the tragedies of our own age: unrelenting war and terrorism, the breakdown of the family, the culture of death, manifested especially abortion, the nihilism of a culture that makes men incapable of distinguishing between the natural and unnatural, between man and woman, between marriage and unnatural vice.
According to the teaching of St. Pius, there are two fundamental problems with much of modern thought: agnosticism and immanentism.
Agnosticism is the despair of the modern world. Agnostics don’t deny God’s existence. They just don’t know, and they don’t believe they can know. And in a world in which we cannot know anything definitive about God, we cannot be expected to live according to an objective code of morality—not even the natural law. No one wants to be on the receiving end of dishonesty, injustice or infidelity, but who really expects the great men of our age to be honest, fair and faithful.
So in the world today, we venerate celebrities instead of saints. To be fair, however, the current cult of the superhero might just be a turn in the right direction, because there is something certain about the superhero. At some level, at least, he knows right from wrong. But the superhero is not a saint, because his superpower does not come from God.
The other problem with modern thought St. Pius X identified is immanentism. The word “immanentism,” comes from “immanent,” meaning “coming from within.” The idea here is that if God actually speaks to us, He does so only from within ourselves.
So the immanentist rejects divine revelation, as we understand it in the Catholic Church. He doesn’t believe that the teaching of the Church is what the Apostles taught, and he doesn’t believe that what the Apostles taught was what Jesus taught. In other words he doesn’t really believe Jesus founded a Church at all, or that He speaks to us through the Church.
But the immanentist does believe that God speaks to him. Brothers and sisters, that is the religion of the modern world. Do you know what is the fastest growing religion in the world today? No religion.
That’s right, the Pew Research Center has found that the category of religious affiliation that has the highest percentage of growth in membership today is “no religious affiliation.” At the same time, however, a broad interest in religion of all kinds, including what are now called “New Religious Movements” like the New Age and neopaganism, is also on the rise. In other words, people now tend to make their religion up as they go along.
And, frankly, this is not just a problem among those with no religious affiliation. Even those who identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion have a tendency to have their own custom set of beliefs. And those with this tendency would include many if not most Catholics.
“I’ll take a little of this and a little of that.” We like the rice pudding, but we don’t like the broccoli. We don’t like our vegetables—especially when it comes to the six and ninth commandment.
But one of the fundamental ideas of Catholicism and one that St. Pius X insisted upon, because He wanted to restore all things in Christ, is that we can know the truth about God since it has been objectively revealed in Christ Jesus. And this necessarily means that the teaching of the Church is the teaching of the Apostles, and the teaching of the Apostles is the teaching of Jesus.
So think about this for a second. At the beginning of the 20th century St. Pius X called for the restoration of all things in Christ and expressed his hope that the Church was on the brink of such a restoration, but then he died broken hearted because he saw the ravages of World War I and had a premonition of things to come. Unfortunately, his fear about the errors of Modernism, particularly agnosticism and immanentism, were very well founded. Now we are at the point were most people, perhaps even most Catholics, don’t know what they believe, or believe whatever they want to believe.
So what’s the answer? Well, here and now, in the context of this liturgy, the answer is to plead for the intercession of St. Pius X. We should also pray for the current Holy Father, Pope Francis, who also holds the restoration of all things in Christ close to his heart. The world needs a new evangelization.
But besides this, we should also call to mind the Encyclical Letter of St. Pius X, Ad diem illum, “On the Immaculate Conception,” published on the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in 1904. Pope St. Pius believed that the restoration would be a fruit of that dogma. He noted that only four years after the dogma was proclaimed in 1854, Our Lady appeared in Lourdes and told the world: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Nor can we forget that only three years after Pius X’s death, Our Lady appeared at Fatima, and promised, “in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
In the encyclical, St. Pius points out that anyone who accepts the Mother, will also accept the Son and the Church. The advantage of Mary is that She has the heart of a mother—She has the Heart of the Mother. God made Her Heart immaculate, and for nine months He physically dwelled just beneath it in Her Immaculate womb. Jesus wills that we go through the Immaculate Heart of his Mother to get to Him.
This is why St. Maximilian Kolbe, who began his mission shortly after the death of St. Pius X and at the same time as the apparitions at Fatima, would give out the Miraculous Medal to all those in need, especially agnostics and immanentists. The Miraculous Medal is the Medal of the Immaculate Conception and was given to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830, even before the dogma, but also during a time in which modern skepticism was very much on the advance.
There is power in the Immaculate Conception. Our Lady can cut through any darkness, even agnosticism and immanentism. God has a Mother and was truly born from Her, though virginally. The Incarnation is real and we can know it. Christ and the Church are not myths—not mere ideas. The Church is the body of Christ, because God was given a body through the Immaculate Virgin. In the Church we find the truth in all its fullness.
Let us, then, practice the spiritual poverty of St. Pius X, who put all his trust in the Immaculate Conception and applied all his energies to the restoration of all things in Christ. St. Pius X, like St. John the Apostle, points to the sky, to the great sign in the heavens: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. In his encyclical he writes:
Yet in the midst of this deluge of evil, the Virgin Most Clement rises before our eyes like a rainbow, as the arbiter of peace between God and man: “I will set my bow in the clouds and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me and between the earth”. Let the storm rage and sky darken – not for that shall we be dismayed. “And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it and shall remember the everlasting covenant”. “And there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh”.
The Immaculate is the bow in the clouds, the great sign in the heavens. Through Her let us remember the everlasting covenant and have hope.
St. Pius X, pray for us. Help us through poverty of spirit and love for the Immaculate to restore all things in Christ.