St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”


We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.

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It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.

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The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

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To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.

 

 

Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel’s Snowball


fr__benedictI want to begin by expressing to the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal (CFR) the most profound condolences from the Franciscan Brothers of Life on the passing of Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  The Franciscan family may well have another icon in heaven.  Father was certainly an icon while he was still with us.

My first encounter with Father Benedict was at the retreat house on Long “Gisland” as it sounded to me when he pronounced it.  It was Advent 1980.  I can’t recall the exact date, but he was hosting a Christmas party.  I was attached to the Province of St. Augustine, but I had a Capuchin classmate at Catholic University of America from the Province of St. Mary.  He had told me all about this colorful friar whom he wanted me to meet.  As Providence would have it, we had to travel to New York for something and I got to meet the man whom I would later dub “Uncle Mame”.

He was loud, excited and to my young eyes, a little off.  But, since he was a psychologist, I didn’t think much of it.  All of us in this field are eccentric, neurotic or both.  Yes, I became a neuropsych, but not at that point.  Something remained with me.  Like Auntie Mame, Benedict’s energy came from a noble heart.  There was nothing pretentious about it.  It was very credible.

A few years later, I asked for a dispensation and left the Capuchin Order, married, fathered three children and was widowed with two surviving children.  Not having the Capuchins, having lost my wife and one child, and left alone to parent two children who were still in elementary school, life became terrifying.  Like all people who are afraid, I too found different routes of escape that only complicated my life rather than help.

One day, in 1997, I can’t recall if I was watching EWTN or listening to some Catholic radio station, but I clearly remember that Father Benedict was doing a live program and you could call in after the show and speak to him off the air.  I wish I could recall the name of that program.

In any case, I remembered my encounter with Uncle Mame, some 17 years before.  I didn’t expect him to remember me, why should he.  I was one of thousands of friars in the Capuchin Order and we had met in the midst of Christmas party.  There was no time to get to know each other.  Nonetheless, I had listened to him that morning and I remembered that energetic brand of kindness that emulated from him.  I decided to call, thinking that I would never get through, maybe hoping that I would never get through.  I’m not sure which.  The fact is that I did get through.

I quickly explained my situation to him and told him that I was a former Capuchin, now a widowed dad of two very young children whose life was upside down and I couldn’t find a way get it on its feet again.  I remember telling him of my fears as briefly as possible, figuring that this is a telephone interview, not a face to face spiritual direction.  To this day, I have no idea what he said and it does not really matter.  What matters is that whatever he said got me on the right path.

I remember his voice of concern for me, as if I were the only person on the queue waiting to talk to him.  His voice was strong, but soft and soothing.  Whatever his words were, they didn’t seem as important as the fact that this friar truly cared about me.  I felt loved and cared for in a very special way.  There was nothing mystical or magical about it.  My life was still difficult.  But as the days went by, whatever Father Benedict said to me started to kick in, kind of like a time-released medication.

That conversation led to other conversations with other holy men and women.  Father helped me to realize that more than afraid, I was hungry.  I was hungry for the Church.  I was hungry for my Franciscan brothers.  I was hungry for the life that Saint Francis had given to his sons and daughters.  I was hungry for a tangible experience of God.  My short conversation with him was the little snowball that rolled down the hill and grew and grew.

Fast forward.  Today, my daughter is happily married.  My son has finished his education, owns his own home, and is financially and socially independent.  Both are model Christians.  In 2009, I returned to Franciscan life.  This time, not as a Capuchin, but as one of the founders of a new Franciscan brotherhood committed to preaching the Gospel of Life and living the Gospel as the first brothers lived it.  We are the Franciscan Brothers of Life or Fratres Franciscani Vitae (FFV).

Is Father Benedict responsible for this?  I would say that he set that little snowball in motion that turned into a very big snowball that led to my “reconversion”.  In simple words, Father Benedict was a crucial element in a process, a small yet essential pebble on my journey’s road.

When we wrote our constitutions for the Franciscans of Life, we borrowed heavily from Father Benedict’s writings on the Franciscans of the Renewal.  Though our mission may be slightly different from that of the CFR, our vision and roots are the same, St. Francis of Assisi and the early brothers.  An important spiritual benefactor was Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  His courage and that of the early CFRs inspires our brothers to look back and go forward to proclaim the Gospel of Life while living it as did those first brothers.

Thank you Father Benedict.  One never knows where the seeds will land.  But I can assure you, my good and faithful Franciscan brother that you planted a seed in my life, which was probably the first of many that I needed in order to begin again in a new garden.

Rest in peace my Brother.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 1:04 AM  Comments (1)  

Thank You Father Walker


The Franciscans of Life raise our voices in prayer to our Heavenly Father for the soul of Rev. Kenneth Walker, FSSP. We thank God for the gifts that Father brought to the people of God and for having sent him to serve us. May he celebrate eternal joy and peace with Christ the Eternal Priest.

We also pray for his family, especially his parents and for his confreres in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. May Our Lady, Mother of All Consolation, be with you at this time and always.

Finally, we pray for the conversion of those capable of such violence.

Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.

Rev. Kenneth Walker, FSSP

Rev. Kenneth Walker, FSSP

Published in: on June 17, 2014 at 4:42 AM  Leave a Comment