When I was going to Catholic school, one of our assignments in theology class was to read a spiritual book for the first ten minutes of class. Sr. Kateri had checked out a stack of Vision Books from the school library and we were told to choose one.
The first Catholic book I ever read was about St. Pius X. I’m not sure why I chose that book. The most likely reason was that it was the only one that the other guys in the class didn’t want to read. “If you read about Fr. Damien or St. Isaac Jogues, what’s the point of reading about St. Pius X?” they probably thought.
I remember reading that book over a few months. It was fascinating to see that a pope could come from a poor family and rise through hard work and the grace of God to become one of the best known modern popes. Truly, St. Pius X was born poor, lived poor, and died poor.
One of the stories in the book was about how his housekeeper would constantly finding St. Pius X giving away every last scrap of her food to the beggars in the city. She asked him one day why he was doing this. St. Pius looked at her and said, “Well, what do I need this food for if there are starving people who are in need of it more than I?”
Another story about St. Pius X came from the memoirs of a French ambassador. During his audience with the Holy Father, the noon Angelus was heard ringing throughout all of Rome. “Gentlemen, shall we pray the Angelus?” St. Pius X asked. The men said immediately went down on their knees and they began praying. The ambassador watched St. Pius X and noticed how absorbed he was. There was something about him that was not of this world. He had never known such piece as when he was in the presence of St. Pius X.
Yet St. Pius X was an intensely practical man and probably the first of the reforming popes. He lowered the age for First Communion and mandated that people receive more frequently than they did previously. He battled the modernists and ordered that the oath against modernism be recited by every seminarian before ordination. He reformed the Roman Breviary and shortened its lessons. (The Benedictines, interestingly enough, kept their 12 lessons for Matins well into Vatican II.) He also believed that Gregorian chant should replace the polyphonous music then popular in church. In all of this, he was a man of sound reasoning and one who was interested in what was best for the Church.
Indeed, St. Pius X showed me what one man can do with the grace of God. Without God, he would have been nothing, but he achieved all of these magnificent things for the Church with God’s hand guiding him. In a way, this is typical of all the great saints. At some point, they let go of themselves and tell God to drive them. Why can’t we do the same?
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Pius X, pray for us!