The Priesthood 2-1
RECIPE FOR HOLINESS
ST. PIUS X AND THE PRIEST
Nihil Obstat: Joannes
McCormack, Cens. Dep. die 2 Maii 1959
Imprimatur: + Joannes Kyne Epus. Miden. die 2 Maii 1959
HOLINESS OF LIFE
MEANS TO HOLINESS
PIETY AND PRAYER
DIGNITY AND PROPRIETY
St. Pius X, as a model of sanctity, is so near to most of us in time and simplicity of background that to try to imitate him does not discourage us.
This presentation is a synthesis of his recipe
for holiness culled from his own words.
The table of contents shows the various points of the spiritual life that Saint Pius wished to stress as means towards holiness.
Priests especially will derive benefit from these excerpts-----the laity too can read it with profit for the words of the holy Pope are as simple and sincere as his own character. The Compiler deserves credit for this labor of love.
+ John Kyne Bishop of Meath
12th March, 1959
IntroductionFrom the time he was the humble and hard-working curate of Tombolo [1858-1867] Pius X always had the qualities of a true priest and one worthy of Christ: the sacred person who brings God to men and men to God.
Even if there were no other testimonies, the evidence of his learned and prudent Parish Priest, Father Anthony Costantini, would be enough. Father Costantini wrote as follows on May 2nd, 1867:
"I certify in all truth that the Reverend Father Joseph Sarto, who has been a curate in this Parish for about nine years, was always exemplary in his conduct and his life as a priest was worthy of the highest praise. He was exact in observing ecclesiastical discipline, led a spotless life and was zealous and indefatigable in the interests of souls. He studied assiduously, carried out his priestly duties carefully and on every occasion justified by his practical conduct the well-founded hopes of seeing him become a true Minister of God and of the Church. A just and well-merited proof of this fact-----and one which is more valuable than any private testimony-----is his public fame and good repute among those who had occasion to know and appreciate his true virtues."
In the period from 1875 to 1884 when he was spiritual director of the Seminary of Treviso, he was able to educate in virtue and in holiness of life a group of young priests who became the ornament of the diocese and the glory of three Bishops.
As Bishop of Mantua and Patriarch of Venice, nothing was dearer to him than that his clergy should wed sound and substantial learning to a true and authentic "sense of Christ."
After becoming Pope, and aware that the religious welfare of peoples depends largely on the priesthood, the constant object of his preoccupations, his anxieties and his cares was the sanctification and instruction of the clergy for the work of saving souls.
Without considering many other such documents, we find an unequivocal expression of his state of mind in that remarkable Exhortation to Catholic Clergy which he wrote as a souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of his Ordination. It is a document which will ever remain as an unmistakable revelation of his holiness and as the classic code of priestly duties, or-----as his faithful Cardinal Secretary of State put it-----"a precise and complete program of priestly holiness." In this work he indicates those means which all the experts on Christian ascetics agree are necessary in order to reach a stable balance between the needs of the sacred ministry and the duty of one's own sanctification, avoiding the extremes of exterior activity to the detriment of interior virtues, and of living only for oneself, closed in a false quietism and forgetting that a thirst for souls must be the anxiety and the passion of the priest who is called to bear the burden of the day and the heats in the mystic field of Christ.
One of the most distinguished members of the French Academy thus expressed his mind on the subject: "When we have finished reading this Exhortation, the thought strikes us that Pius X, in listing the signs by which men may recognize in the priest the true Minister of God, has inadvertently outlined the features of his own sanctity, of a devout man, one dedicated to prayer, who is absolutely upright and who observes exactly every point of both law and counsel. He was also intrepid. Just as from his youth he had no fear of any duty, so also he was afraid of no man. Neither the powerful ones, nor their plots,. nor their Press, nor his own intimate sufferings when he had to strike a member of his faithful or one of his own nation, frightened the son of Margaret Sanson and of the Riese postman. Those very people who live far from the Catholic Church, those who ignore it and combat it, cannot, if they be in good faith, refuse their admiration and more than their admiration, their veneration for this Priest who is so meek and humble of heart, so enlightened, so terrible for the powers of darkness and who resembles his Master in the measure in which the human can resemble the Divine."
In his first allocution to the Sacred College, November 9th, 1903, we have this expression of his which has few to equal it and which shows an infinite charity:
"Ours is a sublime mission because it is a mission which goes beyond these transitory worldly goods and extends to eternity, which is unfettered by local limitations and embraces all the nations of the earth; which includes the defense of the Gospel in every field and excites Our care for all men for whom Christ died."
Who is the priest? He is the man of God who brings to souls enlightening truth, conquering love, edifying sanctity. He must show forth in himself the beauty of the God-Man Whom he represents.
His mere duty is not sufficient for a true priest. He needs something higher: sanctity. Jesus Christ requires a simple Christian life of the faithful but of the priest He asks a life of heroism. And, therefore, if Christian perfection is an ornament, a glory and a halo for any member of the faithful, for the priest it must be his normal way of life: a life of faith which helps him to discern the dark arms of the enemy, a life of hope which sustains and strengthens him in his daily struggles, a life of burning and inflaming charity, a life of angelic purity, of sacrifice, of a spirit of poverty, of meekness and of a patience which remains unmoved and unperturbed under the blows of the most atrocious injuries. It must be all this because the priest, raised aloft, must by the light of his example enlighten God's people and warm them with his fervor.
Of what use is knowledge if one's behavior is not what it should be? For this reason, young levites, venerable priests, tread sure-footedly on the path of ecclesiastical perfection, ordering your life and behavior in such a way that in your bearing, your gestures, your walk, your conversation and in all other things you show forth nothing that is not holy and which does not waft the odor of sanctity.
The priestly ministry which is not corroborated by authority and by a holy life is a complete failure.
The priests are the representatives of Jesus Christ. But in order to represent Jesus Christ one must have His sentiments in oneself and have-----as might be said-----His very words on one's lips. As the stars are visible after the sun has gone down so priests must be so many stars to illuminate the firmament of the world in the absence of the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.
Those who have had the priesthood conferred on them should know that they have the same mission in the midst of their people as St. Paul acknowledged that he had received and which he expressed with those tender words: "My little children with whom I am in labor again, until Christ is formed in you!" [Gal. 4, 19]. Now how can they carry out a duty like this if they themselves have not previously put on Christ and put Him on in a way which entitles them to say with the Apostle: "It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me." [Gal. 2, 20]? Hence, though the exhortation to "attain to perfect manhood" [Eph. 4, 13] is addressed to all, it is addressed first of all to those who exercise the priestly ministry, and who are called another Christ not only because they have received Divine powers but still more because they imitate the works of Christ and on account of these must bear in themselves His likeness.
The priest must be a man of such irreproachable habits that the world may believe him to be a "Divine man," a man whose virtue is superior to that of every other good Christian.
To make Jesus Christ reign in the world, nothing is so necessary as the holiness of the clergy, because the faithful are impressed more by the example than by the word or by the learning and-----as the old proverb says-----they will always be as their priests are: "sicut sac erdos,
As we must be the light of the world by our doctrine, so by the example of our life we must be the salt of the earth [Matt. 5, 13-14]. Only on this condition will we be loved by good people and respected even by our enemies.
As the priesthood is a reflection of Christ's priesthood, priests must reproduce His virtues. They must be one with Jesus in affection, in feeling and in thought.
Priests are Christ's friends, the ambassadors and ministers of God. But how can they be so if they have not holiness of life? If we desire to be Jesus Christ's friends, we must have His Will. If we wish to be ambassadors of God, we must have not only His word but the sense and the love of Him Who sends us. If we want to be ministers of God, we must show forth in ourselves His holiness.
In his every action the priest must show himself a man of God, as the Apostle desires [Tim. 6, 11], and remember that on his example depends the destiny of his people. Jesus Christ Himself compares him to light and salt, to indicate [Matt. 5, 13-14] where his actions must lead him. But if he fail to confirm by the example of his life what he teaches by word of mouth, his ministry is useless.
Jesus Christ, Who made Himself the model of priests, first taught by deed and only later by word. For this reason, if the priest neglects holiness of life he cannot be the light of the world nor the salt of the earth, because where holiness is lacking there we find corruption.
There must be as big a gap between the life of the priest and the life of an average honest Christian, as there is between Heaven and earth. Hence the priest must avoid not only serious sins but even the slightest sin, in conformity with the viewpoint of the venerable Fathers of the Holy Council of Trent [Twenty-second: De Reform., C.I. Session] who warn clerics and priests to avoid even slight faults because in them such faults would be serious-----not serious in themselves but taking into consideration the priests and clerics who commit them, who are holy in an even more strict sense than the holy temples:
" Domum tuam decet sanctitudo" [Psalm 92, 5].
If the priest is lacking in Christly knowledge which is summed up in holiness of life and purity of habits, he is lacking in everything. Even learning and practical ability, although they may be advantageous to the Church and to others, are very often the cause of harm to the priests. On the other hand a priest who is rich in sanctity can-----even though he have the lowest place-----work wonders for the salvation of God's people, as examples in every age prove to us and in an especially striking manner in recent times John Baptist Vianney [Beatified by Pius X on September 8th, 1904], a pastor of souls whom we should imitate. Only holiness makes the priest what he should be according to his Divine vocation: a man crucified to the world, living the newness of life directed towards heavenly things in order to lead Christian people to them.
As the priest is called alter Christus, and is so because he shares in the Divine powers which he has had conferred on him, he must be so also in imitating the life of Jesus Christ.
May unblemished living habits, which are the greatest glory of Christ's priesthood and the ornament which makes it honored in the eyes of the world, thrive and shine forth among the clergy.
If you are holy you will have all the qualities necessary for the good of your soul and of those souls entrusted to your care. God will be the consolation of your Archbishop and will have the most sweet rewards. Be holy, and convince yourselves that it is impossible to be good priests if you do not desire to be holy.
Ignorance or poverty of doctrine is something unworthy of a priest who must instruct the people in the law of God, but it is still more unworthy that a priest should exercise his ministry without having a care for holiness of life.
Everybody knows from experience that good living habits in the people. are a consequence of holiness of life in the priests.
If the priest has at all times need of a decorous store of virtues and of virtues of a high order, in our times very much more is required because unfortunately the corruption of good habits has increased and become widespread out of all proportion. For this reason it is proper that a singular preeminence of virtue and strength should shine forth in the priest. Actually priests cannot live in solitude but, because of the very offices of their ministry, must come into contact with the people and this in the centers of the city where every passion is not only permitted but licentiously borne in triumph. And from this it is clear that in our day a priest's virtue must be so strong that he can defend himself courageously and emerge unharmed just as much from alluring enticements as from the danger of bad example.
The terrible times in which we live require in the clergy as never before not merely ordinary virtue but a full and willing one prepared to work and to carry out and suffer great things for the love of Christ.
The priest must set apart every day a certain time for meditating eternal truth because, as he is in the midst of the world's seductions, he must be wary lest the snares of the infernal enemy be hidden even in the exercise of his ministry.
He must meditate so that with renewed vigor his mind and heart may resist the enticements of evil and draw from eternal truth those lights which are necessary in the exercise of his extremely difficult ministry in the care of souls.
The priest must follow up his meditation by reading books of devotion and above all the Divinely-inspired Books of Holy Scripture which are necessary if he is to preach the word of God in a worthy manner.
Nowadays many go astray because, instead of works of piety and the Divine Books, they prefer very different writings and papers which are sometimes full of poison because they contain hidden errors even though these may not be of a very serious nature.
Besides Mental Prayer and Spiritual Reading, the Examination of Conscience so much counseled by masters of the spiritual life is of considerable help in acquiring Christian virtues. For this reason every priest at the end of his day should recollect himself and ask judgment of his conscience. He should be a diligent self-examiner in order to know himself and see how and in what manner he has carried out his duties. He should present himself before his conscience as he would before a tribunal and weep over his sins.
We can preach it without fear of being contradicted, that the good priests of a Diocese, the priests who are exemplary and zealous in their duties, are those who withdraw from time to time in Spiritual Exercises in order to dedicate themselves to their sanctification and nourish themselves with words of life.
For us priests there is always the danger that, being in the world for the purpose of reminding it of its depravation, we may become corrupted by its poison while we are trying to heal its wounds.
There is the risk that
the spiritual infirmities which we see in others may diminish our idea
of our own, and weaken the view which faith gives us of their enormity.
There is the danger that we may compare ourselves with men of the world
and think we are holy because we are less guilty, or perfect because we
have less defects. We must listen, however, to the exhortation of the
"Rogamus vos, fratres, ut abundetis magis et operam detis ut quieti
sitis et ut vestrum negotium agatis et honeste ambuletis ad eos qui
[1 Thes. IV, 10-11]
From this follows the necessity of recollection, a necessity which is all the more pressing the more external the work we do. In the midst of so many distractions fervor must inevitably grow cold, the zest for piety must as a matter of course be diminished, the consequent languor must of necessity penetrate the soul a little at a time like a slow fever and destroy every principle of priestly life. To avoid all these disorders we have a powerful help in recollection and retreat: "magnum in secessu subsidium." [1 Cor. III, 7]
Finally, we very often grumble about the unfruitfulness of the field which has been given us to cultivate, and complain of our fruitless labors and the religious indifferentism which spreads out and surrounds us. But are we instruments of God worthy of meriting the helps of grace? "Neque qui plantat est aliquid, neque qui rigat, sed qui incrementum dat Deus est." [1 Cor. III, 7] Hence just as the Baptist withdrew into a desert place in order to carry out his mission, just as Jesus remained for forty days in the desert and the Apostles gathered for ten days in the Supper Room, just as the Church herself withdraws in prayer to invoke help from on high before assembling in Councilor Synod, so we must be recollected "quoadusque induamur virtute ex alto." [Luke XXIV, 49] This is all the more true considering that recollection and retreat are the only means of getting away from the miseries of life and making us grow in those virtues which must form the ecclesiastic's patrimony.
Even if we feel no need of freeing ourselves of the imperfections acquired while living in the midst of the dangers of the world, the holy and pure life which is required in a priest is a sufficient proof of the need of a spiritual retreat. The retreat is absolutely necessary for progress in perfection, for renewing in us the flame of zeal for God's service and the good of souls, and for developing in ourselves more and more what is called in ascetic language illuminative and unitive life.
Man is so naturally fickle-----as alas we know by experience-----that even the best intentioned person little by little grows cold in virtue and, after a period of weakness, falls into vice if he is not stimulated in the right way.
Now as even priests are not exempted from this, they must have recourse to those means which will enable them to restore their spiritual strength spent by work in the ministry and thus regain their early fervor. They must therefore withdraw for some days into some place of retreat for the purpose of giving a tranquil glance at their lives and thus following the invitation of Jesus Christ to His disciples when they had come back from the labors endured in preaching the Gospel through the villages of Juda and Galilee: "Venite seorsum in desertum locum et requiescite pusillum." [Mark VI, 31]
In fact, though the ornament of those virtues proper to a priest is the study of sacred things, we must also admit that such a study-----due to that inconstancy to which we have already referred-----in many cases wanes with the passing of time and in not a few dies out altogether. The very habit of dealing each day with the same situations is the reason why the priest little by little becomes lukewarm and forgets his duties.
To this must be added the various serious dangers to which he is often exposed during the exercise of his ministry in the midst of worldly allurements.
It is clear, therefore, that if we wish to reinforce our spirit, correcting in us what must be corrected, and to form firmer resolutions for good, we must leave aside every earthly care and cut ourselves off for a time from the clamor of our usual life, withdrawing into solitude in order to give docile ear to that intimate voice which warns us of our duties, reproves us in the interests of our salvation and exhorts and urges us to higher things: "Ducam eam in solitudinem et loquar ad cor eius" [Osee II, 14]
We are unable to understand how a priest, living in the midst of so many difficulties, distractions and not a few dangers, would not feel from time to time the need of that defense which is called Spiritual Exercises.
What merchant really interested in his business does not every year take a diligent stock of what he has gained, spent and lost? Will the priest who administers God's business, and who will one day have to render Him a very strict account of his administration, be the only one not to worry about reflecting severely on his duties and actions or about asking himself what is proper to his vocation and what is not?
May the Divine mercy convince all priests and clerics of the necessity of attending Spiritual Exercises at least every three years [Acta Ap. Sedis, I, p. 228] considering them the defense which offers many helps to make themselves worthy ministers and dispensers of God's mysteries [Cfr. I Cor., IV, 1] and thus cooperators by their personal example in that restoration of all things in Christ to which We have dedicated Our work in order to have an answer to the needs of the times.
Spiritual Exercises----as experience teaches-----are wonderfully effective in reawakening one's conscience and exciting one's mind to those virtues which should be the ornament of a minister of God, because the divine fire is enkindled while we meditate on Heavenly things and in recollection and solitude the Lord makes His voice heard.
Priests, if you do not wish to be deceived and if you wish to keep an integral faith and doctrine, you must cultivate piety. The devout man keeps his passions under control, does not boast, does not become proud, and cultivates all the virtues which are the sources and masters of doctrine because, besides knowing that he cannot convince anyone with his teaching if this latter is not confirmed by the authority and innocence of his life, he receives the Divine word with such reverence that he considers even the slightest alteration of it a horrible crime. We should be able to say of every priest what St. Gregory of Nazianzen said of his father: "Although second in learning, in piety he was the leader of the learned."
Everyone knows that holiness is the fruit of our will. But it is equally true that our will needs to be strengthened by God's grace, and only by prayer can this grace be obtained. "Arbitror cunctis esse manifestum"-----John Chrysostom observes-----"quod simpliciter impossibile sit absque precationis praesidia cum virtute degere" [De Predicatione: Orat. I], and Saint Augustine acutely notes: "vere novit recte vivere, qui recte novit orare."
[Horn. IV, ex. 50]
The person who is not accustomed to speaking with God in the intimacy of prayer will never be able to speak efficaciously of the things which have to do with eternal life. No matter how learned and eloquent his words may be, if they lack the breath of prayer they cannot have the power of convincing and persuading. The word of God is dead on the lips of such a person because the sense of Christ is lacking in him.
When we are perplexed by certain situations and do not know what to do, we must raise our eyes to God from Whom alone we can hope for enlightenment, inspiration and help: "Cum ignoramus quid agere debeamus, hoc solum habemus residue, ut oculos nostros dirigamus ad Dominum". [2 Par. XX, 12]
Hence, let all priests pray with that confident perseverance which the Book of Tobias teaches, because no matter what power God gives to men, it will never have the upper hand over His decrees and counsels, and everybody can be sure that if God is trying us with tribulations and punishments He is doing so in order to bring us to mercy and allow us to enjoy calm after the storm, to give us joy after sorrow and happiness after our weeping.
The priest's life is one of sacrifice. We are living in times in which it is the priest's lot to be despised, hated and persecuted. But a comforting thought is that from the spirit of sacrifice derives a virtue which frightens those who do not know the secret of it and strikes even ourselves with amazement.
We did not enter the priesthood to have an easy life. We must work: that is our first duty.
To put it more clearly: to be priests is the same as to be men obliged to labor. The Apostles taught it by their examples: all priests full of the spirit of God have taught it: the Church teaches it and, according to her spirit, the Fourth Provincial Council of Milan celebrated by St. Charles Borromeo in 1576 thus declares: "Unusquisque clericus saepe repetat se non ad inertiam neque ignaviam, sed ad spiritualis et ecclesiasticae militae laborem vocatum esse."
[Monsignor A. Ratti, Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, V, II, Col. 429, Mediolani 1892]
Do you know what an Apostle replied when they told him that he would fall ill from excessive work? He said: "Quorsum mihi valetudo nisi ut laborem?"
We may suppose that in order to procure the salvation of souls we run the risk of losing our health and shortening our life. But is it not a glory to die of labor or while we are laboring when Jesus Christ with so much suffering died for us on the Cross?
Some think that the glory of a priest should be made up entirely of outward activity. Overlooking almost entirely those virutes by which man is made perfect and which We call passive, they say that all his activity and study would contribute to the growth and exercise of the active virtues. It is really amazing how much falsehood and ruin this doctrine contains.
Our Predecessor of venerable memory, Leo XIII, in keeping with his wisdom, spoke of it when he wrote as follows:
"That Christian virtues should be accommodated to the times is the desire only of the person who does not recall the words of the Apostle: 'Quos praescivit et praedestinavit conformes fieri imaginis Filii sui' [Romans VIII, 29]. Christ is the master and type of all holiness and all those who wish to enter the kingdom of God must adapt themselves to His rule. Christ does not change as centuries pass but is always the same: 'Heri et hodie: ipse et in saecula' [Hebrews XIII, 8]. Thus that phrase: 'Discite a me, quia mitis sum et humilis corde' [Matt. XI, 29] can be applied to men at all times and Christ always shows Himself 'factus obediens usque ad mortem' [Philip. II, 8]. In every age the Apostle's remark is true: 'Qui sunt Christi carnem crucifixerunt cum uitiis et concupiscentiis' [Galat. V, 24]."
If these texts have in some cases an application to the faithful, in a particular manner they refer to priests who, more than any others, must take as said to themselves what Our Predecessor with Apostolic ardor added:
"Would to God that many more present-day people practiced these virtues as the holiest people of past ages practiced them, people who in humility of soul, in obedience and mortification, were powerful in word and work and of the greatest assistance not only to religious but to civil and public society". [Pope Leo XIII, Letter of Jan. 22nd 1899 to Card. Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore]
It will not be out of place to
consider that the exceptionally prudent Pontiff with good reason made
of mortification which, in the words of the Gospel, we call
of self, because in this maxim is contained the fortitude, the virtue
and all the fruit of priestly ministry; whereas if this be neglected
priest's habits may offend the eyes and minds of the faithful. For, if
the priest strive for illegal gains, if he become involved in worldly
if he give rein to flesh and blood, if he try to please men and trust
the persuasive ways of human wisdom, all this is the fruit of
Christ's commandments and of refusing to accept the conditions laid
by Him: "Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum" [Matt.
Vain is our hope of attracting souls to God by unwise zeal. Rough correction of vices often does more harm than good. Charity is called for: a patient and benign charity which will have to reach out, too, to those who are against us or are our persecutors. Perhaps they seem worse than they really are. Living with others, prejudice, bad example, counsel from others and an ill-advised shame have dragged them on the side of the wicked, but their will is not depraved as they themselves try to make us believe.
Why should we not hope that the flame of Christian charity will drive away the darkness from their minds and bring to them the light and peace of God? Sometimes the fruit of our labors may well be slow in coming, but charity never tires of waiting, remembering that God has prepared His reward not according to the results of our exertions but according to our good intentions.
But, even though we have to enter into the fight for truth, we should embrace the enemies and adversaries of truth lovingly, feel a great compassion for them and recommend them to the Divine mercy because, although it is a most holy law to approve and defend what is true, just and right, and to detest what is false unjust and evil, it is none the less a duty to abound in mercy and pardon towards the depraved, in imitation of Jesus Christ Who prayed for His transgressors.
In all his duties the priest must never lack the charity of Christ, raising up the fallen one, consoling those who weep, helping all those who ask his help. Our own affairs must always give way before this charity, and our personal interests and comforts take second place where it is concerned. It must make us "all things to all men" [1 Cor. IX, 22] in order to win all to Christ and should bring us to give up even our life in imitation of Christ Who imposes on the Pastors of His Church the duty of laying down their lives for their sheep. [John X, 11]
Priests, let that charity which seeks only the increase of God's glory, shine forth always in you.
A multitude of miserable and unhappy ones together with legions of adolescents-----dearest hope of the Church and of the country-----surrounded by evil on all sides await the gift of your charity. Continue industriously not only to teach Catechism, which We wish once again to recommend warmly to you, but to make yourselves ever better deserving of society by word and work, comforting, healing, defending and purifying in order to win souls to Christ or bring them ever closer to Him.
As often happens, your charity will
be met by hate, injury and calumny, but continue fearlessly in it
those numerous and meritorious legions who, following the example of
Apostles, in the midst of the roughest treatment, "ibant gaudentes et
maledicti benedicebant". We are the children of the Saints whose names
shine in the book of eternity and whose praises resound gloriously in
Church: "Non inferamus crimen gloriae nostrae." [1 Macch. IX, 10]
The priest's life calls for work, faith and sacrifice. All the terms which are applied to the priest in Sacred Scripture show him as a man dedicated to continuous work.
For this reason, he is called now a soldier because he must combat continually in order to win souls to Christ: "Labora sicut miles Christi Jesu" [2 Timothy II, 3]; now a workman because he must bear the burden of the day and the heat in order to cultivate the field and gather the harvest: "Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci" [Matthew IX, 37]; now a steward who must render an account of his stewardship; now a shepherd because he must feed the sheep and go in search of the lost ones to bring them back to the fold; and now debtor as the Apostle says: "Graecis ac Barbaris, sapientibus et insipientibus debit or sum" [Romans I, 14]. Hence St. John Chrysostom warns us that we have not been called to the priesthood to look after our own affairs but to promote the glory of God: "Non ideo vocati sumus ut operemur quae ad nostrum pertinent usum, sed quae ad gloriam Dei" [Homily 34], and St. Paul speaks warningly of himself: "For even if I preach the gospel, I have therein no ground for boasting, since I am under constraint. For woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" [1 Cor. IX, 16]
We must work continuously like the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ Who said these memorable words: "My Father works even until now, and I work" [John V, 17], or like the omnipotent God Who is not potency but continuous act.
The priest must be like Phinees who was filled with zeal for the Divine glory on seeing the law of God violated; [Numbers XXV, 7-8] like Moses who with the sword of justice exacts reparation for the injury done to God; like Elias who in solitude prepares himself to announce the commands of Heaven; like the Baptist who preaches just as loudly and strongly in the desert as in the royal palace; like Paul who yearns to be anathema for love of his brethren, who becomes sick with the sick and spends himself for all that all may be saved.
The priest who is moved by the spirit of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is not afraid of weariness, is not fearful of danger, does not consider sacrifices, does not indulge himself in comforts, knows no rest, does not trouble about repose. Though contradicted and persecuted he does not lose heart, because he knows that the heritage of the Church Militant is the hatred of the gloomy, and the greater obstacles he encounters the more there increases in him a burning desire to show himself a true Minister of God in everything, "in tribulations, in hardships, in distresses . . . in labors, in sleepless nights . . . in honor and dishonor, in evil report and good report . . ." [2 Cor. VI, 4-8].
Our times require courage and call for sacrifice and work. Be strong in the war against the eternal enemy of good and let us all imitate not by word but by example the leader of the Israelites who, while his people continued to prevaricate, never ceased to cry out: "Whoever is for the Lord, let him come to me!" [Exodus XXXIII, 26]
What is the duty of those who have been placed by God to rule His Church? What is the obligation of all those who have received from Heaven and accepted the sublime mission of saving souls? If in time of war every citizen is a soldier, while the fray is at its most desperate, will the captains remain inert and slothful?
If God has commanded everyone to have care of the eternal salvation of his brethren how much more He has commanded us priests.
The priests must announce truth. Hence those priests who think they are rendering a service to the Church and who with human prudence allow large concessions to false science under the fatal illusion of being able the more easily to win over erring ones, are making a serious mistake.
Such people run the risk of losing their souls. Truth is one and indivisible, lasts for all eternity and is not subject to the vicissitudes of time. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday today and down the centuries [Hebrews XIII, 8].
If there was a time in which human prudence seemed the only way of obtaining anything in a world which was unprepared to receive the doctrine of Jesus Christ, so repugnant to human passions and so opposed to the flourishing Roman and Greek civilization, that time was most certainly that in which the first preaching of the Christian faith took place.
The Apostles scorned that prudence
because they knew the designs of God Whom "it pleased to save, by the
of our preaching, those who believed" [1 Cor. I, 21]. As always, so
today this foolishness is the virtue of God. The scandal of the Cross
furnished and always will furnish the most powerful and unconquerable
and, as has already happened, by this scandal and by this foolishness
shall gain the victory.
In order never to be guilty of any disedifying act, the priest must regulate his actions, his movements and his habits in harmony with the sublimity of his vocation. He who on the altar almost ceases to be mortal and takes on a Divine form, remains always the same even when he
comes down from the holy hill and leaves the temple of the Lord. Wherever he is,
wherever he goes, he never ceases to be a priest and the serious reasons which compel him always to be grave and becoming accompany him with his dignity everywhere.
Hence he must have that gravity which will ensure that his words, his bearing and his way of working arouse love, win authority and excite reverence, because the very reasons which oblige him to be holy make it a duty for him to show it by his outward acts in order to edify all those with whom he is obliged to come into contact. A composed and dignified exterior is a sort of powerful eloquence which wins souls in a much more efficacious manner than persuasive sermons. Nothing inspires greater confidence than an ecclesiastic who, never forgetting the dignity of his state, demonstrates in every situation that gravity which attracts and wins universal homage. If on the contrary he forgets, the holiness of the sacred character which he bears indelibly impressed and engraved on his soul, and if he fail to show in his outward conduct a gravity superior to that of certain men of the world, he causes his ministry and religion itself to be despised, because when gravity is wanting in the leaders the people lose respect and veneration for them.
If the faithless modern world has stripped the priest of that halo of veneration with which he was formerly crowned, it is more than necessary that in our times he should by his bearing win once again the people's respect for his high dignity and propriety. The more so because experience teaches us that the world, always unjust and full of malice, is shocked not only by the slightest failings it discerns in ecclesiastics but even by their most innocent actions whenever these do not bear the seal of that gravity which it has a right to expect of them.
Priests, do not, therefore, give ear to worldly innovations whose profane maxims influence minds with arguments at variance with the teaching of the Church, and lead some boldly to accuse of ignorance those Fathers and Teachers whose sound and well-founded wisdom can never be replaced by the presumptuous pedantry of certain modern minds.
We recommend to you priestly gravity which condemns fickleness of thought, that fickleness by which certain persons are led to refuse contemptuously to listen to the teaching and experience of wise men, and are induced to allow themselves to be guided by foolish arguments, and the school of modern teachings which bring them to ruin. With St. Ambrose I say to you: "Nihil in sacerdote commune cum multitudine." [VI Epist. ad Irenaeum]
We recommend to you that gravity which makes you love the yoke of discipline: that yoke whose dispositions are censured by some who yearn after an unlimited liberty free from subjection, who refuse to realize that discipline is the only means of avoiding the evil of rebellion against authority, and who thus deceive themselves because they have not a firm and resolute love of good.
Priests, do not forget that priestly gravity and propriety must characterize your ministry, whereas everything which tends towards secular habits, shows up the priest as vain and flighty in the eyes of the world which is perfectly able to discern the more respectable priests even from their outward bearing.
If these are the facts, will it ever be lawful-----We ask you-----for clerics and priests to take from worldly people the example of certain habits which lead them to abandon their dignity and propriety?
Great is the priestly dignity, but great also is his ruin if he is not faithful to his duties, because unfortunately it is true that the corruption of the very good is a frightful thing. "Optimorum corruptio, teterrimum".
The preacher must have as his mainstay the spirit of piety and the study of his subject: "Without piety," notes the Angelic Doctor, "even if the doctrine is good it becomes an occasion of offense against the word of God" [Comm. on Matthew 5], because it is clear-----and experience confirms this-----that we cannot expect wise, moderate and useful teaching from those who are not rich in devotion and knowledge and above all in sacred knowledge, and who, trusting in their natural eloquence, go rashly to the pulpit with scarcely any preparation. Such people beat the air, expose the word of God to contempt and merit the condemnation: "Because thou has rejected knowledge, I will reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood to Me" [Osee 4, 5].
If the preachers of Catholic doctrine do not possess true piety towards God and love for Jesus Christ Our Lord, no matter what great oratorical talents they may have, they will not be any more efficacious than sounding brass or tinkling cymbal [1 Cor. XIII, 1] and they will lack that power which renders the preaching of the Gospel powerful and efficacious: zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
This devotion which is especially necessary for sacred preachers must shine forth equally in their outward conduct. The Divine Commandments and the Christian rules which they praise in their preaching must not be contradicted by their life if they wish to avoid destroying by their actions what they have built up with their words.
Hence the preacher must
flee that unapostolic, unholy, profane eloquence suitable to the law
which deprives the word of God of every sacred character and every
efficacy and from which the faithful derive no profit because, even
they fill the church, their souls remain empty. They applaud but do not
weep and leave the temple just as they entered it. "Mirabantur sed non
convertebantur" as St. Augustine would put it.
[Treat. 29 on John]
The subject of our preaching should be that indicated by the Divine Redeemer when He said: "Praedicate Evangelium, docentes eos servare omnia quaecumque mandavi vobis" [Mark XVI, 15; Matthew XXVIII, 19], or as the Council of Trent comments: "Annunciantes illis vitia, quae declinare et virtutes quas sectare oportet ut poenam aeternam evadere et coelestem gloriam consequi valeant" [V Sess. c. 2, De Reform.]. Hence discussions which are more suitable for the journalists' forum and for the academy hall than for the Church should be excluded absolutely from the pulpit. The preaching of morals should take precedence over conferences which are, to say the least of them, unfruitful. We must speak: "non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae sed in ostensione spiritus et virtutis'" [1 Cor. II, 4].
For this reason the principal source of our preaching must be Sacred Scripture, not interpreted, however, according to the private judgment of minds which in most cases are clouded by passion, but according to Church tradition and to the interpretation of the Fathers and Councils.
The Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Sacraments, the virtues and vices, man's last end, the duties proper to each state and condition, should be the matters to which the preacher devotes his special attention.
Some preachers praise the benefits which the Christian religion procures for Society, but are silent about the duties to which men are bound. They praise only the charity of Our Lord and say nothing about His justice. Thus it happens that worldly people hear this sort of preaching and become convinced that, without changing anything in their lives, they can be Christians merely by saying: "I believe in Jesus Christ!"
Such preachers do not seek the salvation of souls but rather what does not offend the ears of their listeners, and as long as the churches are full they are little concerned about the spiritual void in souls. Their only worry is to say what pleases and their eloquence is not sacred and apostolic but redolent of the law courts. What they seek is applause. Against such as they St. Jerome has these words:
"When you teach in church you must not seek for the applause of the crowd but that they should weep: the tears of your listeners should be your praise."
The faithful are much better catered for by a simple homily and by the Parish Priest's explanation of the Catechism than by sermons which are not penetrated by the spirit of Christ.
The success of our preaching of God's word is linked to the eloquence and example of our lives.
Listeners are not fond of long descriptions or flowery rhetoric such as were used occasionally in past times, but wish to be reminded of their duties and to meditate on the truths of faith. You need a good argument with a logical connection, not to long, well-ordered and suitably phrased.
The faithful should not be fed with wind but nourished by living food dispensed by priests who are commendable before God and men for the manifestation of truth.
Their minds must be enlightened
by the continuous preaching of truth, contradicting errors
with true and sound theological and philosophical principles and in
with all those means which are furnished by true progress in historical
research. It is still more necessary to inculcate in their minds the
teachings of Jesus Christ so that each one may learn to restrain his
to repress pride, to live in subjection to authority, to love justice,
to exercise charity towards all, to lessen bitter social inequalities
Christian love, to detach his heart from worldly goods, to live happily
in the circumstances arranged by Providence [even though he seek
to improve these circumstances by carrying out his duties] and, by
his life according to the laws of Christianity, to aspire to a future
in the hope of eternal reward.
The true apostle must become all things to all men in order to save all and, like his Divine Redeemer, must feel his heart moved to pity on seeing the wandering crowds, like sheep without a shepherd. By efficacious written propaganda, by the exhortation of the spoken word, by helping directly, he should dedicate himself to bettering the economic condition of his people within the limits of justice and truth. He should favor and promote those institutions which tend to this end, especially those which have the scope of properly disciplining the people against the encroaching predominance of Socialism and which save them simultaneously from economic ruin and from moral and religious disaster. Seen in this light, the co-operation of the clergy in Catholic Action has a highly religious purpose and will never become an obstacle to his spiritual ministry but rather a help, widening its field and multiplying its fruits.
We cannot, however, conceal the danger to which the clergy on account of modern conditions is today exposed: the attributing of excessive importance to the material interests of the people, neglecting the far more serious interests of his sacred calling.
The priest, raised above other men in order to carry out the mission which he holds from God, must equally maintain himself above all human interests, above all conflicts, above all social classes. The field proper to him is the Church where, as God's ambassador, he preaches truth and, by respecting the rights of God, inculcates respect for the rights of all creatures.
Working in this fashion he is not subject to any opposition, does not appear as a party man, supporter of one group and adversary of another. He does not put himself in danger of dissimulating truth or of being silent about it in order to avoid hurting certain tendencies and irritating embittered minds, and hence avoids the risk of failing in his duty in both cases and, seeing that he has often to deal with material things, of finding himself a partner in obligations damaging to his person and to the dignity of his ministry. He will not, therefore, take part in this type of association except after mature consideration and in agreement with his Bishop and only in those cases in which his help is immune from every danger and is evidently profitable.
The priest must keep himself aloof from every lay association even the most useful ones and even if he is moved by the best of intentions.
We very much desire that the clergy, whose duty it is to form the people's conscience, should take an interest in social problems and charitable works but without losing themselves in the maze of varying viewpoints or letting themselves be deceived by the mirage of a false democracy and avoiding completely the emphatic rhetoric of the worst enemies of the Church and the people whose speeches are full of promises as impracticable as they are alluring.