Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Pius X, one of the great reformer popes and the first pope of the twentieth century. On this anniversary of his death, we should pay special attention to this pope’s life, and see what wisdom he has for us. When discussing his legacy, many will talk about the great strides he took against modernism, the “synthesis of all heresies” as he put it in the landmark encyclical Pascendi Domini Gregis. Others might talk about him being one of the great “pastoral popes”, with many of his reforms focusing on improving the life of the local Church. Still others will focus on his role in beginning the liturgical reform that is still ongoing in the Church today.
All of these are great topics for discussion, and many of them are great essays in and of themselves. Yet I think important as they are, there are other topics he covered that would be of importance to us, especially those of us who write and explain the faith at sites like Catholic Exchange.
In his encyclical Acerbo Nimis, Pius X tackled the importance of sound catechesis in the life of the Christian. Most people had neither the aptitude nor the desire for advanced theological degrees, but the lay faithful needed sound doctrine, and more importantly, a way to make it relevant. Most of the faults in society came from “ignorance of things divine.” To remedy this, he proposes several reforms on how to approach catechesis, but also some general guidelines catechists must follow. Even if we lack formal degrees or teaching positions at our parishes, we Catholic writers should consider the following guideline as binding to us as well. Why do we teach the faith?
The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of faith or of Christian morality and then explain it in all its parts; and since amendment of life is the chief aim of his instruction, the catechist must needs make a comparison between what God commands us to do and what is our actual conduct. After this, he will use examples appropriately taken from the Holy Scriptures, Church history, and the lives of the saints — thus moving his hearers and clearly pointing out to them how they are to regulate their own conduct. He should, in conclusion, earnestly exhort all present to dread and avoid vice and to practice virtue.
I do not think it is controversial to state that a lot of these things are lacking in the way we present the faith today. Recent popes (especially Benedict XVI) complained about how the Christian faith has long been presented as just a bunch of intellectual propositions that have no direct bearing in our everyday life. For example, any apologist or yokel with access to the internet can give you the biblical basis for the teaching of the papacy. Yet can we explain how the nature of the Petrine office (or any authority structure in the Church) helps us to live better lives as Catholics? We can quote at length the teachings on the sacraments, but can we talk about how knowledge of any of them (exclude for the moment the sacrament of reconciliation) should make us want to amend our life? Can we even talk about why amendment of life is so important, even for those who are Catholics in good standing? Far too often Catholics know what to believe, but never have an inkling of why we should believe it. Yes, our eternal salvation depends on belief in the Catholic faith, but why?
In addition to talking about why the faith is to be presented, he also spent time in another encyclical talking about how we should present that faith. The teaching of E Supremi is just as important:
But in order that the desired fruit may be derived from this apostolate and this zeal for teaching, and that Christ may be formed in all, be it remembered, Venerable Brethren, that no means is more efficacious than charity. “For the Lord is not in the earthquake” (III Kings xix., II) — it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity… This charity, “patient and kind” (1. Cor. xiii., 4.), will extend itself also to those who are hostile to us and persecute us. “We are reviled,” thus did St. Paul protest, “and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer it; we are blasphemed and we entreat” (1. Cor., iv., 12, s.). They perhaps seem to be worse than they really are. Their associations with others, prejudice, the counsel, advice and example of others, and finally an ill-advised shame have dragged them to the side of the impious; but their wills are not so depraved as they themselves would seek to make people believe. Who will prevent us from hoping that the flame of Christian charity may dispel the darkness from their minds and bring to them light and the peace of God? It may be that the fruit of our labors may be slow in coming, but charity wearies not with waiting, knowing that God prepares His rewards not for the results of toil but for the good will shown in it.
For a pope who was known to have a pretty severe attitude (who once remarked that the only way to stamp out modernism was to “beat them [the modernists] with fists”), one might find these remarks surprising. Bitterness is a popular commodity today, whether it be in political talk radio/cable news, our favorite catholic blogs, etc. Everyone loves seeing what the latest person had to say, or how they rallied the troops against this or that latest evil. While this makes people feel good, it often doesn’t make a difference, and Pius X helps us understand why.
God rarely manifests himself in anger. Even when He does, it is always as limited as possible. Why? Ultimately, God wants us to follow him. You won’t get someone to follow you by constantly displaying your anger and outrage at their conducts and beliefs. Sometimes that outrage is necessary, but it should only be used sparingly and to make your point. After that, it should be dropped.
This is because we never have all the facts in front of us. We can’t read minds and souls. Even those who believe in the worst things might not be the worst of people in doing so. When we don’t know all the facts, charity and prudence is the best course. When you adopt that course, you might not succeed in “converting” the individual to your point of view. But you will at least get a chance to present that message! Once you’ve done that, who knows what might happen in the future?
When one gives St. Pius X a serious hearing, his words are hard. They would probably entail the shuttering of most blogs and websites, especially a lot of the popular ones. Yet Holy Mother Church has canonized Giuseppe Sarto for a reason. As a man with extensive experience as a parish priest (a rarity in the papacy), he had a keen insight into how to reach people with the Gospel. Perhaps it is time that we considered the works of a saint before the latest empty catchphrase of Catholic reform.