THE CATHOLIC CLERGY ON PRIESTLY SANCTITY
St. Pius X on August 4, 1908.
which the Holy Father addressed to the catholic clergy on
the occasion of the Golden jubilee of his priesthood, was
written entirety in his own hand in the space of some weeks.
It is a document which truly comes from the heart of the
Pontiff. In it he presents his ideal of the priesthood,
and reveals the serious anxieties which he experienced at
a time when the modernist crisis was still a source of perturbation
to the clergy; the Exhortation rounds off the numerous
earlier instructions of the Holy Father. Saint Pius X was
fond of recommending this Exhortation to the members of
the episcopate: "This document, in which we opened
our heart to all sacred ministers, make it your business
to recall it and explain it for the benefit of the clerics
for whom you are responsible. Besides, realize thoroughly
and hold fast to this truth: when you have a body of clergy
who conform to the ideal outlined in that Exhortation, you
will certainly find your pastoral care greatly lightened,
and the fruits of your apostolate will be much more abundant."
upon our mind are those dread words which the Apostle of the
gentiles wrote to the Hebrews to remind them of the obedience
which they owed to their superiors: They keep watch as having
to render an account of your souls.
These grave words
apply, no doubt, to all who have authority in the Church,
but they apply in a special way to us who, despite our unworthiness,
by the grace of God exercise supreme power within the Church.
Therefore, with unceasing solicitude, our thoughts and endeavors
are constantly directed to the promotion of the well-being
and growth of the flock of the Lord.
Our first and
chief concern is that all who are invested with the priestly
ministry should be in every way fitted for the discharge of
their responsibilities. For we are fully convinced that it
is here that hope lies for the welfare and progress of religious
Hence it is that,
ever since our elevation to the office of supreme Pontiff,
we have felt it a duty, notwithstanding the manifest and numerous
proofs of the high quality of the clergy as a whole, to urge
with all earnestness our venerable brethren the bishops of
the whole catholic world, to devote themselves unceasingly
and efficaciously to the formation of Christ in those who,
by their calling, have the responsibility of forming Christ
We are well aware
of the eagerness with which the episcopate have carried out
this task. We know the watchful care and unwearied energy
with which they seek to form the clergy in the ways of virtue,
and for this we wish not so much to praise them as to render
them public thanks.
But though it
is a matter for congratulation that, as a result of the diligence
of the bishops, so many priests are animated by heavenly fervor
to rekindle or strengthen in their souls the flame of divine
grace which they received by the imposition of hands, we must
deplore the fact that there are others in different countries
who do not show themselves worthy to be taken as models by
the christian people who rightly look to them for a genuine
model of christian virtue.
It is to these
priests that we wish to open our heart in this Letter; it
is a father's loving heart which beats anxiously as he looks
upon an ailing child. Our love for them inspires us to add
our own appeal to the appeals of their own bishops. And while
our appeal is intended above all to recall the erring to the
right path and to spur the lukewarm to fresh endeavor, we
would wish it to serve as an encouragement to others also.
We point out the path which each one must strive to follow
with constantly growing fervor, so that he may become truly
a man of God, as the Apostle so concisely expresses it,
and fulfill the legitimate expectations of the Church.
We have nothing
to say which you have not already heard, no doctrine to propound
that is new to anyone; but we treat of matters which it is
necessary for everyone to bear in mind, and God inspires us
with the hope that our message will not fail to bear abundant
Our earnest appeal
to you is this: Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and
put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice
and sanctity of truth; that will be the most excellent
and most acceptable gift which you could offer to us on this
fiftieth anniversary of our ordination.
For our own part,
when we review before God with a contrite heart and in a spirit
of humility the years passed in the priesthood, we will
feel that we are making reparation in some measure for the
human frailties which we have cause to regret, by thus admonishing
and exhorting you to walk worthily of God, in all things pleasing.
In this exhortation,
it is not your personal welfare alone that we are striving
to secure, but the common welfare of catholic peoples; the
one cannot be separated from the other. For the priest cannot
be good or bad for himself alone; his conduct and way of life
have far-reaching consequences for the people. A truly good
priest is an immense gift wherever he may be.
I. THE OBLIGATION
OF PRIESTLY SANCTITY
sons, we will begin this exhortation by stimulating you to
that sanctity of life which the dignity of your office demands.
Anyone who exercises
the priestly ministry exercises it not for himself alone,
but for others. For every high priest taken from among men
is appointed for men in the things that pertain to God.
Christ himself taught that lesson when he compared the priest
to salt and to light, in order to show the nature of the priestly
ministry. The priest then is the light of the world and the
salt of the earth. Everyone knows that he fulfills this function
chiefly by the teaching of christian truth; and who can be
unaware that this ministry of teaching is practically useless
if the priest fails to confirm by the example of his life
the truths which he teaches? Those who hear him might say,
insultingly it is true, but not without justification: They
profess that they know God but in their works they deny him;
they will refuse to accept his teaching and will derive no
benefit from the light of the priest.
the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds
and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach.
Likewise, a priest
who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt
of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly
incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is
lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way. Hence
Christ, continuing this comparison, calls such priests salt
that has lost its savor, which is good for nothing any more,
but to be cast out and to be trodden on by men.
These truths are
all the more evident inasmuch as we exercise the priestly
ministry not in our own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle said: Let man so consider us as the ministers
of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God;
for Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors. This is the
reason that Christ has numbered us not among his servants
but as his friends. I will not now call you servants; . .
. but I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever
I have heard from my Father I have made known to you; . .
. I have chosen you and appointed you that you should go and
bring forth fruit.
We have, therefore,
to take the place of Christ: the mission which he has given
to us we must fulfill with that same purpose that he intended.
True friendship consists in unity of mind and will, identity
of likes and dislikes; therefore, as friends of Jesus Christ,
we are bound to have that mind in us which was in Jesus Christ
who is holy, innocent, undefiled. As his envoys, we must
win the minds of men for his doctrine and his law by first
observing them ourselves; sharing as we do in his power to
deliver souls from the bondage of sin, we must strive by every
means to avoid becoming entangled in these toils of sin.
But it is particularly
as the ministers of Jesus Christ in the great sacrifice which
is constantly renewed with abiding power for the salvation
of the world, that we have the duty of conforming our minds
to that spirit in which he offered himself as an unspotted
victim to God on the altar of the Cross. In the Old Law, though
victims were only shadowy figures and symbols, sanctity of
a high degree was demanded of the priest; what then of us,
now that the victim is Christ himself? "How pure should
not he be who shares in this sacrifice! More resplendent than
the sun must be the hand that divides this Flesh, the mouth
that is filled with spiritual fire, the tongue that is reddened
by this Blood!"
Borromeo gave apt expression to this thought when, in his
discourses to the clergy, he declared: "If we would only
bear in mind, dearly beloved brethren, the exalted character
of the things that the Lord God has placed in our hands, what
unbounded influence would not this have in impelling us to
lead lives worthy of ecclesiastics! Has not the Lord placed
everything in my hand, when he put there his only-begotten
Son, coeternal and coequal with himself? In my hand he has
placed all his treasures, his sacraments, his graces; he has
placed there souls, than whom nothing can be dearer to him;
in his love he has preferred them to himself, and redeemed
them by his Blood; he has placed heaven in my hand, and it
is in my power to open and close it to others . . . How, then,
can I be so ungrateful for such condescension and love as
to sin against him, to offend his honor, to pollute this body
which is his? How can I come to defile this high dignity,
this life consecrated to his service?"
It is well to
speak at greater length on this holiness of life, which is
the object of the unfailing solicitude of the Church. This
is the purpose for which seminaries have been founded; within
their walls young men who hope to be priests are trained in
letters and other branches of learning, but even more important
is the training in piety which they also receive there from
their tender years. And then, when the Church gradually and
at long intervals promotes candidates to Orders, like a watchful
parent she never fails to exhort them to sanctity.
It is a source
of joy to recall her words on these occasions.
When we were first
enrolled in the army of the Church, she sought from us the
formal declaration: The Lord is the portion of my inheritance
and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance
to me. St. Jerome tells us that with these words "the
cleric is reminded that one who is the portion of the Lord,
or who has the Lord as his portion, must show himself to be
such a one as possesses the Lord and is possessed by him."
How solemnly the
Church addresses those who are about to be promoted sub-deacons!
"You must consider repeatedly and with all attention
the office which of your own volition you seek to-day . .
. if you receive this Order, you cannot afterwards revoke
your decision, you must remain always in the service of God
and, with his help, observe chastity." And finally: "If
up to now you have been negligent in relation to the Church,
henceforth you must be diligent; if hitherto you have been
somnolent, henceforth you must be vigilant . . . if up to
now your life has been unseemly, henceforth you must be chaste;
. . . Consider the ministry which is entrusted to you!"
For those who are about to be raised to the diaconate, the
Church prays to God through the mouth of the bishop: "May
they have in abundance the pattern of every virtue, authority
that is unassuming, constancy in chastity, the purity of innocence,
and the observance of spiritual discipline. May thy commands
shine forth through their conduct, and may the people find
a saintly model in their exemplary chastity."
addressed to those who are about to be ordained priests is
even more moving: "It is with great fear that one must
approach this high dignity, and care must be taken that those
chosen for it are recommended by heavenly wisdom, blameless
life and sustained observance of justice . . . Let the fragrance
of your life be a joy to the Church of Christ, so that by
your preaching and example you may build up the house, that
is, the family of God." Above all the Church stresses
the solemn words: Imitate that which you handle, an injunction
which fully agrees with the command of St. Paul: That we may
present every man perfect in Jesus Christ.
Since this is
the mind of the Church on the life of a priest, one cannot
be surprised at the complete unanimity of the Fathers and
Doctors on this matter; it might indeed be thought that they
are guilty of exaggeration, but a careful examination will
lead to the conclusion that they taught nothing that was not
entirely true and correct. Their teaching can be summarized
thus: there should be as much difference between the priest
and any other upright man as there is between heaven and earth;
consequently, the priest must see to it that his life is free
not merely from grave faults but even from the slightest faults.
The Council of Trent made the teaching of these venerable
men its own when it warned clerics to avoid" even venial
faults which in their case would be very grave."
These faults are grave, not in themselves, but in relation
to the one who commits them; for to him, even more than to
the sacred edifice, are applicable the words: Holiness becometh
II. NATURE OF
We must now consider
what is the nature of this sanctity, which the priest cannot
lack without being culpable; ignorance or misunderstanding
of it leaves one exposed to grave peril.
There are some
who think, and even declare openly, that the true measure
of the merits of a priest is his dedication to the service
of others; consequently, with an almost complete disregard
for the cultivation of the virtues which lead to the personal
sanctification of the priest (these they describe as passive
virtues), they assert that all his energies and fervor should
be directed to the development and practice of what they call
the active virtues. One can only be astonished by this gravely
erroneous and pernicious teaching.
of happy memory in his wisdom spoke as follows of this teaching:
"To maintain that some christian virtues are more suited
to one period than to another is to forget the words of the
Apostle: Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be
conformed to the image of his Son. Christ is the teacher
and the model of all sanctity; all who desire to take their
place in the abode of the blessed must adapt their conduct
to the standard which he has laid down. Now Christ does not
change with the passing of the centuries: He is the same yesterday
and to-day and forever. The words: Learn of me because
I am meek and humble of heart, apply to men of every age;
at all times Christ reveals himself obedient unto death;
true for every age are the words of the Apostle: They that
are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the vices and
apply, no doubt, to all the faithful, but they apply more
especially to priests. Let priests take as directed particularly
to themselves the further words which were spoken by our predecessor
in his apostolic zeal: "Would that at the present day
there were many more who cultivated these virtues as did the
saints of former times, who by their humility, their obedience,
their abstinence, were mighty in work and word, to the great
benefit not only of religion but also of public and civil
It is not irrelevant
to note here that Leo XIII in his wisdom made special mention
of the virtue of abstinence, which we call self-denial, in
the words of the Gospel. He was quite right to do so, for
it is from self-denial chiefly that the strength and power
and fruit of every priestly function derive; it is when this
virtue is neglected that there appears in the priest's conduct
whatever may be of a nature to cause offense to the eyes and
hearts of the faithful. If one acts for the sake of filthy
lucre, or becomes involved in worldly affairs, or seeks
for the highest places and despises others, or follows merely
human counsel, or seeks to please men, or trusts in the persuasive
words of human wisdom, this is the result of neglect of the
command of Christ and of the refusal to accept the condition
laid down by him: If anyone will come after me, let him deny
on these truths, we would likewise admonish the priest that
in the last analysis, it is not for himself alone that he
has to sanctify himself, for he is the workman whom Christ
went out . . . to hire into his vineyard. Therefore, it
is his duty to uproot unfruitful plants and to sow useful
ones, to water the crop and to guard lest the enemy sow cockle
among it. Consequently, the priest must be careful not to
allow an unbalanced concern for personal perfection to lead
him to overlook any part of the duties of his office which
are conducive to the welfare of others. These duties include
the preaching of the word of God, the hearing of confessions,
assisting the sick, especially the dying, the instruction
of those who are ignorant of the faith, the consolation of
the sorrowing, leading back the erring, in a word, the imitation
in every respect of Christ who went about doing good and healing
all that were oppressed by the devil.
In the midst of
all these duties, the priest shall have ever present to his
mind the striking admonition given by St. Paul: Neither he
who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives
the increase. It may be that we go and sow the seed with
tears; it may be that we tend its growth at the cost of heavy
labor; but to make it germinate and yield the hoped for fruit,
that depends on God alone and his powerful assistance. This
further point also is worthy of profound consideration, namely
that men are but the instruments whom God employs for the
salvation of souls; they must, therefore, be instruments fit
to be employed by God. And how is this to be achieved? Do
we imagine that God is influenced by any inborn or acquired
excellence of ours, to make use of our help for the extension
of his glory? By no means; for it is written: God has chosen
the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and
the weak things of the world God has chosen to confound the
strong, and the humble and contemptible things of the world
God has chosen, the things that are not, in order to bring
to nought the things that are.
There is, indeed,
only one thing that unites man to God, one thing that makes
him pleasing to God and a not unworthy dispenser of his mercy;
and that one thing is holiness of life and conduct. If this
holiness, which is the true supereminent knowledge of Jesus
Christ, is wanting in the priest, then everything is wanting.
Without this, even the resources of profound learning (which
we strive to promote among the clergy), or exceptional competence
in practical affairs, though they may bring some benefit to
the Church or to individuals, are not infrequently the cause
of deplorable damage to them.
On the other hand,
there is abundant evidence from every age that even the humblest
priest, provided his life has the adornment of overflowing
sanctity, can undertake and accomplish marvelous works for
the spiritual welfare of the people of God; an outstanding
example in recent times is John Baptist Vianney, a model pastor
of souls, to whom we are happy to have decreed the honors
of the Blessed in heaven.
makes us what our divine vocation demands, men crucified to
the world and to whom the world has been crucified, men walking
in newness of life who, in the words of St. Paul, show themselves
as ministers of God in labors, in vigils, in fasting, in chastity,
in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy
Spirit, in sincere charity, in the word of truth; men
who seek only heavenly things and strive by every means to
lead others to them.
II MEANS OF ACQUIRING
1 PRAYER, AN ESSENTIAL
CONDITION OF SANCTITY.
Since, as everyone
realizes, holiness of life is the fruit of the exercise of
the will inasmuch as it is strengthened by the aid of divine
grace, God has made abundant provision lest we should at any
time lack the gift of grace, if we desire it. We can obtain
it, in the first place, by constant prayer.
There is, in fact,
such a necessary link between holiness and prayer that the
one cannot exist without the other.
The words of Chrysostom
on this matter are an exact expression of the truth: "I
consider that it is obvious to everyone that it is impossible
to live virtuously without the aid of prayer;" and
Augustine sums up shrewdly: "He truly knows how to live
rightly, who rightly knows how to pray."
by his constant exhortations and especially by his example,
has even more firmly inculcated these truths. To pray he withdrew
into desert places or climbed the mountain alone; he spent
whole nights absorbed in prayer; he paid many visits to the
temple; even when the crowds thronged around him, he raised
his eyes to heaven and prayed openly before them; when nailed
to the Cross, in the agony of death, he supplicated the Father
with a strong cry and tears.
Let us be convinced,
therefore, that a priest must be specially devoted to the
practice of prayer if he is to maintain worthily his dignity
and to fulfill his duty. All too frequently one must deplore
the fact that prayer is a matter of routine rather than of
genuine fervor; the Psalms are recited at the appointed times
in a negligent manner, a few short prayers are said in between;
there is no further thought of consecrating part of the day
to speaking with God, with pious aspirations to him. And it
is the priest, more than any other, who is bound to obey scrupulously
the command of Christ: We ought always pray, a command
which Paul so insistently inculcated: Be instant in prayer,
watching in it with thanksgiving; pray without ceasing.
How numerous are
the opportunities of turning to God in prayer which present
themselves daily to the soul which is eager for its own sanctification
and the salvation of others! Anguish of soul, the persistent
onslaught of temptation, our lack of virtue, slackness and
failure in our works, our many offenses and negligences, fear
of the divine judgment, all these should move us to approach
the Lord with tears, in order to obtain help from him and
also to increase without difficulty the treasure of our merit
in his eyes.
Nor should our
tearful supplication be for ourselves alone. In the deluge
of crime, which spreads far and wide, we especially should
implore and pray for divine clemency; we should appeal insistently
to Christ who in his infinite mercy lavishes his graces in
his wonderful Sacrament: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people.
2 THE OBLIGATION
OF DAILY MEDITATION
A point of capital
importance is that a certain time should be given daily to
meditation on the eternal truths. No priest can neglect this
practice without incurring a grave charge of negligence and
without detriment to his soul. The saintly abbot, Bernard,
when writing to Eugene III, his former pupil who had become
Roman Pontiff, frankly and emphatically admonished him never
to omit daily divine meditation; he would not admit as an
excusing cause even the many weighty cares which the supreme
pontificate involves. In justification of this advice he enumerated
with great prudence the benefits of the practice of meditation:
"Meditation purifies the source from which it comes,
the mind. It controls affections, guides our acts, corrects
excesses, rules our conduct, introduces order and dignity
into our lives; it bestows understanding of things divine
and human. It brings clarity where there is confusion, binds
what is torn apart, gathers what is scattered, investigates
what is hidden, seeks out the truth, weighs what has the appearance
of truth, and shows up what is pretense and falsehood. It
plans future action and reviews the past, so that nothing
remains in the mind that has not been corrected or that stands
in need of correction. When affairs are prospering it anticipates
the onset of adversity, and when adversity comes it seems
not to feel it, in this it displays in turn prudence and fortitude."
This summary of
the benefits which meditation is calculated to bring is an
instructive reminder not only of its salutary effect in every
department, but also of its absolute necessity.
Despite the high
dignity of the various functions of the priestly office and
the veneration which they deserve, frequent exercise of these
functions may lead those who discharge them to treat them
with less respect than is their due. From a gradual decline
in fervor it is an easy step to carelessness and even to distaste
for the most sacred things. In addition, a priest cannot avoid
daily contact with a corrupt society; frequently, in the very
exercise of pastoral charity, he must fear the insidious attacks
of the infernal serpent. Is it not all too easy even for religious
souls to be tarnished by contact with the world? It is
evident, therefore, that there is a grave and urgent need
for the priest to turn daily to the contemplation of the eternal
truths, so that his mind and will may gain new strength to
stand firm against every enticement to evil.
Moreover, it is
the strict duty of the priest to have a mind for heavenly
things, to teach them, to inculcate them; in the regulation
of his whole life he must be so much superior to human considerations
that whatever he does in the discharge of his sacred office
will be done in accordance with God, under the impulse and
guidance of faith; it is fitting then that he should possess
a certain aptitude to rise above earthly considerations and
strive for heavenly things. Nothing is more conducive to the
acquisition and strengthening of this disposition of soul,
this quasi-natural union with God, than daily meditation;
it is unnecessary to dwell upon this truth which every prudent
person clearly realizes.
The life of a
priest who underestimates the value of meditation, or has
lost all taste for it, provides a sad confirmation of what
we have been saying. Let your eyes dwell on the spectacle
of men in whom the mind of Christ, that supremely precious
gift, has grown weak; their thoughts are all on earthly things,
they are engaged in vain pursuits, their words are so much
unimportant chatter; in the performance of their sacred functions
they are careless, cold, perhaps even unworthy. Formerly,
these same men, with the oil of priestly ordination still
fresh upon them, diligently prepared themselves for the recitation
of the Psalms, lest they should be like men who tempt God;
they sought a time and place free from disturbance; they endeavored
to grasp the divine meaning; in union with the psalmist they
poured forth their soul in songs of praise, sorrow and rejoicing.
But now, what a change has taken place!
In like manner,
little now remains of that lively devotion which they felt
towards the divine mysteries. Formerly, how beloved were those
tabernacles! It was their delight to be present at the
table of the Lord, to invite more and more pious souls to
that banquet! Before Mass, what purity, what earnestness in
the prayers of a loving heart! How great reverence in the
celebration of Mass, with complete observance of the august
rites in all their beauty! What sincerity in thanksgiving!
And the sweet perfume of Christ was diffused over their people!
We beg of you, beloved sons: Call to mind . . . the former
days; for then your soul was burning with zeal, being
nourished by holy meditation.
Some of those
who find recollection of the heart a burden, or entirely
neglect it, do not seek to disguise the impoverishment of
soul which results from their attitude, but they try to excuse
themselves on the pretext that they are completely occupied
by the activity of their ministry, to the manifold benefit
They are gravely
mistaken. For as they are unaccustomed to converse with God,
their words completely lack the inspiration which comes from
God when they speak to men about God or inculcate the counsels
of the christian life; it is as if the message of the Gospel
were practically dead in them. However distinguished for prudence
and eloquence, their speech does not echo the voice of the
good Shepherd which the sheep hear to their spiritual profit;
it is mere sound which goes forth without fruit, and sometimes
gives a pernicious example to the disgrace of religion and
the scandal of the good.
It is the same
in other spheres of their activity; there can be no solid
achievement, nothing of lasting benefit, in the absence of
the heavenly dew which is brought down in abundance by the
prayer of the man who humbles himself.
At this point
we cannot refrain from referring with sorrow to those who,
carried away by pernicious novelties, dare to maintain a contrary
opinion, and to hold that time devoted to meditation and prayer
is wasted. What calamitous blindness! Would that such people
would take thought seriously with themselves and realize whither
this neglect and contempt of prayer leads. From it have sprung
pride and stubbornness; and these have produced those bitter
fruits which in our paternal love we hesitate to mention and
most earnestly desire to remove completely.
May God answer
this our prayer: may he look down with kindness on those who
have strayed, and pour forth on them the "spirit of grace
and of prayer" in such abundance that they may repent
of their error and, of their own will and to the joy of all,
return to the path which they wrongly abandoned, and henceforth
follow it with greater care. God himself be witness, as he
was to the Apostle, of how we long for them all with the love
of Jesus Christ.
may this our exhortation, which is none other than the exhortation
of Christ our Lord: Be watchful, be vigilant and pray,
be deeply engraven in their hearts and in yours. Let each
one diligently apply himself above all to the practice of
pious meditation; let him do so with sincere confidence, constantly
repeating the words: Lord teach us to pray. There is a
special, very important reason which should urge us to meditation;
it is that meditation is a rich source of the wisdom and virtue
which are so useful in the supremely difficult task of caring
The pastoral address
of St. Charles Borromeo is relevant here and is worth recalling:
"Realize, my brethren, that nothing is so necessary to
an ecclesiastic as mental prayer before, during and after
all our actions. I will sing, said the prophet, and I will
understand. If administering the sacraments, my brother,
meditate on what you are doing; if celebrating Mass, ponder
on what you are offering; in reciting the Psalms, reflect
on what you are saying and to whom you are speaking; if directing
souls, reflect on the Blood with which they were washed."
is with good reason that the Church commends us to repeat
frequently the sentiments of David: Blessed is the man who
meditates in the law of the Lord, whose desire is upon it
night and day; everything that he does shall prosper.
There is one final
motive which can be regarded as comprising all the others.
If the priest is called "another Christ" and is
truly such by reason of his sharing in Christ's power, should
he not also become and be recognized as another Christ through
imitation of Christ's deeds? "Let it be our principal
study to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ."
3 SPIRITUAL READING
It is of great
importance that the priest should combine his daily divine
meditation with the constant reading of pious books, especially
the inspired books. That was the command that Paul gave to
Timothy: Attend unto reading. The same lesson was taught
by St. Jerome when instructing Nepotianus on the priestly
life: "Never let the sacred book leave your hands";
and he gave the following reason for his advice: "Learn
that which you are to teach; holding to that faithful word
which conforms to doctrine, that you may be able to exhort
with sound doctrine, and refute the opponents." What
great advantages are gained by priests who are faithful to
this practice! With what unction they preach Christ! Far from
flattering and soothing the hearts and minds of their audience,
they stimulate them to better things, and arouse in them the
desire of heavenly things.
The command of
St. Jerome: "Let the sacred books be always in your hands,"
is important for another reason also, a reason which concerns
your own personal welfare.
the great influence that is exerted by the voice of a friend
who gives candid advice, assists by his counsel, corrects,
encourages and leads one away from error. Blessed is the man
who has found a true friend; he that has found him has
found a treasure. We should, then, count pious books among
our true friends. They solemnly remind us of our duties and
of the prescriptions of legitimate discipline; they arouse
the heavenly voices that were stifled in our souls; they rid
our resolutions of listlessness; they disturb our deceitful
complacency; they show the true nature of less worthy affections
to which we have sought to close our eyes; they bring to light
the many dangers which beset the path of the imprudent. They
render all these services with such kindly discretion that
they prove themselves to be not only our friends, but the
very best of friends. They are always at hand, constantly
beside us to assist us in the needs of our souls; their voice
is never harsh, their advice is never self-seeking, their
words are never timid or deceitful.
There are many
striking examples of the salutary effects of the reading of
pious books. Outstanding is the case of Augustine whose great
services to the Church had their origin in such reading: "Take,
read; take, read; I took (the epistles of Paul the Apostle),
I opened, I read in silence; it was as though the darkness
of all my doubting was driven away by the light of peace which
had entered my soul."
In our own day,
alas! it is the contrary that happens all too frequently.
Members of the clergy allow their minds to be overcome gradually
by the darkness of doubt and turn aside to worldly pursuits;
the chief reason for this is that they prefer to read a variety
of other works and newspapers, which are full of cunningly
propounded errors and corruption, rather than the divine books
and other pious literature.
Be on your guard,
beloved sons; do not trust in your experience and mature years,
do not be deluded by the vain hope that you can thus better
serve the general good. Do not transgress the limits which
are determined by the laws of the Church, nor go beyond what
is suggested by prudence and charity towards oneself. Anyone
who admits this poison into his soul will rarely escape the
disastrous consequences of the evil thus introduced.
The benefits to
be derived from spiritual reading and meditation will certainly
be more abundant if the priest supplements them by an examination
which will enable him to discern whether he is striving conscientiously
to put into practice what he has learned in his reading and
in this context is the excellent advice of Chrysostom which
was intended especially for priests. Every night before going
to sleep, "make your conscience appear in judgment; demand
of it an account, and having thoroughly probed and dissected
whatever evil purposes you formed during the day, repent for
of this practice and its fruitfulness for christian virtue
are clearly established by the teaching of the great masters
of the spiritual life. We are pleased to quote that remarkable
passage from the rule of St. Bernard: "As a searching
investigator of the integrity of your own conduct, submit
your life to a daily examination. Consider carefully what
progress you have made or what ground you have lost . . .
Strive to know yourself . . . Place all your faults before
your eyes. Come face to face with yourself, as though you
were another person, and then weep for your faults."
It would be shameful,
indeed, were we to see verified in this matter the words of
Christ: The children of this world are wiser in their generation
than the children of light. You know with what assiduity
the children of this world manage their affairs, how often
they compare income with expenses, how carefully and strictly
they balance their accounts, how they grieve over their losses,
and drive themselves on to make them good. We, on the
other hand, though perhaps our hearts are eager for gaining
honors, for increasing our wealth, or for the mere winning
of renown and glory by our learning, are listless and without
inclination for the supremely important and difficult task
of achieving our own sanctification. Rarely do we take time
for recollection and submit our souls to scrutiny; our soul
has become overgrown like the vineyard of the slothful man,
of which it is written: I passed by the field of the slothful
man and by the vineyard of the foolish man; and behold with
nettles it was all filled, and thorns had covered the face
thereof, and the stone wall was broken down.
is aggravated by the fact that all round us we see the multiplication
of evil example which is a menace to priestly virtue itself
every day calls for even greater vigilance and fresh endeavor.
that the man who frequently subjects his thoughts, words and
actions to a strict examination, gains new strength of soul
both to detest and fly from evil and to desire and strive
for the good.
It is also shown
by experience that one who refuses to appear before the tribunal
where justice sits in judgment, and conscience appears at
once as the accused and the accuser, usually suffers grave
loss and disadvantage thereby. Vainly too will one seek in
the conduct of such a person for that circumspection, so highly
prized in the christian, that tries to avoid even venial faults,
or that sense of reverence, so becoming in a priest, which
shudders at even the slightest offense to God.
and indifference to one's own welfare sometimes go so far
as to lead to neglect even of the sacrament of Penance, which
Christ, in his great mercy, has given us as a most timely
aid to human weakness.
It cannot be denied,
and it is bitterly to be deplored, that not infrequently one
finds priests who use the thunders of their eloquence to frighten
others from sin, but seem to have no such fear for themselves
and become hardened in their faults; a priest who exhorts
and arouses others to wash away without delay the stains from
their souls by due religious acts, is himself so sluggish
in doing this that he delays even for months; he who knows
how to pour the health-giving oil and wine into the wounds
of others is himself content to lie wounded by the wayside,
and lacks the prudence to call for the saving hand of a brother
which is almost within his grasp. In the past and even to-day,
in different places, what great evils have resulted from this,
bringing dishonor to God and the Church, injuring the christian
flock and disgracing the priesthood!
For our own part,
beloved sons, when we reflect upon these matters, as is our
bounden duty, we are overcome with grief and our voice breaks
Woe to the priest
who fails to respect his high dignity, and defiles by his
infidelities the name of the holy God for whom he is bound
to be holy. Corruptio optimi pessima. "Sublime is the
dignity of the priest, but great is his fall, if he is guilty
of sin; let us rejoice for the high honor, but let us fear
for them lest they fall; great is the joy that they have scaled
the heights, but it is insignificant compared with the sorrow
of their fall from on high."
Woe then to the
priest who so far forgets himself that he abandons the practice
of prayer, rejects the nourishment of spiritual reading and
never turns his attention inwards upon himself to hear the
accusing voice of conscience. Neither the festering wounds
on his conscience, nor even the tearful pleas of his mother
the Church, will move such an unfortunate priest until those
fearsome threats come upon him: Blind the heart of this people,
make dull their ears, and close their eyes, lest they should
see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand
with their heart and be converted and I should heal them.
May God in his
bounteous mercy grant that these ominous words may never be
true of any of you, beloved sons; he knows what is in our
heart, he sees that it is free from rancor towards anyone,
and that it is inflamed with pastoral zeal and paternal love
for all: For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory?
Is it not you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ?
IV. PRIESTLY VIRTUES
You all know very
well, wherever you may be, the difficult period through which,
in the mysterious design of God, the Church is now passing.
Consider likewise and ponder on the sacred duty which is yours
to stand by and to assist in her struggles the Church which
has bestowed upon you an office of such exalted dignity.
Now more than
ever the clergy need to be men of more than ordinary virtue,
virtue that is a shining example, eager, active, ever ready
to do great things for Christ and to suffer much. There is
nothing that we more ardently ask from God and desire for
each and everyone of you.
the choicest ornament of our priesthood, flourish undimmed
amongst you; through the splendor of this virtue, by which
the priest is made like the angels, the priest wins greater
veneration among the christian flock, and his ministry yields
an even greater harvest of holiness.
May the reverence
and obedience which you solemnly pledged to those whom the
Holy Spirit has appointed to rule the Church, increase and
gain strength; and especially, may your minds and hearts be
linked by ever closer ties of loyalty to this Apostolic See
which justly claims your respectful homage.
May all of you
excel in charity-a charity that never seeks what is its own;
when you have mastered the human incentives of jealous rivalry
and self-seeking ambition, let all together in fraternal emulation
strive for the glory of God.
A great multitude
of sick, blind, lame and paralytics, in abject misery,
awaits the benefits of your charity; the youth above all,
those countless young people who are the dearest hope of society
and religion, it is they, menaced as they are by error and
corrupting influences, who especially stand in need of your
not only by means of catechetical instruction-which once more
with even greater earnestness we commend to you-but by unsparing
use of all the resources of wisdom and skill at your command,
to deserve well of all. Whether your immediate task be to
assist, to protect, to heal, to make peace, let your one aim
and most ardent desire be to win or to secure souls for Christ.
How unwearied, how industrious, how fearless are Christ's
enemies in their activities, to the immeasurable loss of souls!
The Catholic Church
rejoices in and is proud of the charity beyond praise which
inspires the clergy to proclaim the Gospel of christian peace
and to bring the blessings of salvation and civilization even
to barbarous races; through their unsparing labor, sometimes
consecrated by their blood, the kingdom of Christ is expanding
constantly and the christian faith gains added splendor from
these new triumphs.
If, beloved sons,
the unsparing charity of your efforts is met by jealousy,
reproaches and calumnies as frequently happens, do not allow
yourselves to be overcome with sadness: Do not tire in doing
Let your mind
dwell on those countless great figures who, following the
example of the Apostles, even in the midst of cruel insults
borne for the name of Christ, went rejoicing, blessing those
who cursed them.
For we are the
children and the brethren of the saints, whose names shine
in the book of life, and whose praises the Church proclaims:
Let us not stain our glory.
COUNSELS OF PRIESTLY
When the spirit
of the grace of the priesthood has been restored and strengthened
in the ranks of the clergy, our other proposals for reform,
of whatever kind they may be, will with God's help prove much
For this reason
we have thought it well to supplement what we have already
said by some points of practical advice which will give you
timely aid to preserve and nourish the grace of your priesthood.
First, there is
the pious retreat during which the soul devotes itself to
spiritual exercises, as they are called. These exercises are
known and approved by all, though not everyone puts them into
practice; there should, if possible, be a yearly retreat,
performed either alone or, preferably, in common with others,
the second method being usually more productive of good results,
without prejudice to episcopal regulations. We ourselves have
already spoken in praise of the advantages to be derived from
a retreat, on the occasion when we issued certain decrees
on this subject bearing on the discipline of the clergy of
It will be no
less profitable for souls, if a similar retreat lasting a
few hours is performed each month either privately or with
others. We are happy to note that in many places a custom
of this kind has already been introduced, with the encouragement
of the bishops who sometimes preside over the group assembled
which we warmly recommend is that priests, as befits brothers,
should form a closer union among themselves, with the approval
and under the direction of the bishop. It is strongly to be
recommended that they should form an association in order
to help one another in adversity, to defend the honor of their
name and office against attack, and for other similar objects.
But it is even more important that they should form an association
with a view to the cultivation of sacred learning, particularly
in order to apply themselves with greater solicitude to the
object of their vocation and to promote the welfare of souls
by concerting their ideas and their efforts. The annals of
the Church show that at times when priests generally lived
in a form of common life, this association produced many good
results. Why might not one re-establish in our own day something
of the kind, with due attention to differences of country
and priestly duties? Might not one justifiably hope, and the
Church would rejoice at it, that such an institution would
yield the same good results as formerly?
There are, indeed,
associations of this kind which enjoy episcopal approval;
and the advantages they confer are all the greater if one
becomes a member early in life, in the very first years of
the priesthood. We ourselves have had practical experience
of the worth of one such association and fostered it during
our episcopate; even still we continue to show special consideration
to it and others.
it is your duty to value highly and to apply these aids to
priestly grace and such other means as the watchful prudence
of your bishops may suggest from time to time; thus with each
passing day you will walk more worthily of the vocation in
which you are called, honoring your ministry and accomplishing
in yourselves the will of God, that is, your sanctification.
has, indeed, first place in our thoughts and in our cares;
therefore, with our eyes raised to heaven, we frequently pray
for the whole clergy, repeating the words of Christ, our Lord:
Holy Father . . . sanctify them.
It is a source
of joy to us that we are joined in that prayer by very many
from among the faithful of every condition who are gravely
concerned for your welfare and that of the Church; it is no
less a source of joy that there are many generous souls, not
only within the cloister but in the midst of the busy world,
who offer themselves continuously as victims to God for the
May the Lord graciously
deign to accept, as a sweet perfume, their pure and sublime
prayers, and may he not refuse our own humble supplication;
we implore him, in his merciful providence, to come to our
aid, and may he pour forth upon all the clergy the riches
of grace, charity and virtue which repose in the most pure
Heart of his beloved Son.
sons, we are happy to express our heartfelt thanks for the
manifold expressions of good wishes, inspired by filial piety,
which were offered by you on the approach of the fiftieth
anniversary of our ordination. The good wishes which we convey
to you in return, we entrust to the care of the great Virgin
Mother, Queen of Apostles, in order that they may be fulfilled
even more abundantly.
It was she who
by her example showed the Apostles, who were the first to
share the blessing of the priesthood, how they should persevere
with one mind in prayer until they were clothed with power
from on high; by her prayers she secured that power for them
in more abundant measure, she increased and strengthened it
by her counsel, so that their labors were abundantly blessed.
we pray that the peace of Christ may reign in your hearts
with the joy of the Holy Spirit; as a pledge of this we bestow
on all with the deepest affection the Apostolic benediction.
Given in Rome,
at St. Peter's, 4 August 1908, at the beginning of the sixth
year of our pontificate.
1. The Exhortation
Haerent Animo (4 August 1908. ASS XLI, p. 555-557) takes its
place between the Encyclical Pascendi (8 September 1907) and
the Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum (1 September 1910); cf.
nn. 108, 192.
2 Letter to the episcopate of Brazil (18 December 1910. AAS
III (1911), p. 312).
3 Hebr. 13:17.
4 Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus: cf. supra n. 24.
5 The same thought had been expressed by St. Pius X in the
Letter concerning clerical discipline addressed to Cardinal
Respighi (5 May 1904) "The restoration of all things
in Christ which, with God's help, we have made it our purpose
to achieve in the government of the Church, demands-as we
have more than once shown-proper formation of the clergy,
testing of vocations, examination of the integrity of life
of the candidates, and prudence lest there be excessive leniency
in opening to them the doors of the sanctuary. To bring about
the reign of Jesus Christ in the world, nothing is more essential
than a saintly clergy who, by their example, their preaching
and their learning will be the guides of the faithful; an
old proverb says that the people will always be like their
priests: Sicut sacerdos, sic populus. Indeed we read in the
Council of Trent.
Nothing is more effective in training to piety and the worship
of God than the life and example of those who are consecrated
to the divine ministry; cut off from the world and its affairs,
clerics are on a pedestal where they can be seen, and men
look into their lives as into a mirror in which they may see
what they are to imitate'" (Sess. XXII, c. I, de Reform.
ASS XXXVI, p. 655); cf. supra, n. 7.
6. I Tim. 6:11.
7 Ephes. 4: 23-24.
8 Dan. 3:39.
9 Col. 1:10.
10 Hebr. 5:1.
11 Tit. 1:16.
12 Acts 1:1.
13 Mt. 5:13.
14 I Cor. 4:1.
15 I. Cor. 5:20.
16 Jn. 15:15-16.
17 Hebr. 7:26.
18 S. John Chrysostom, Hom. LXXXII in Matth., n. 5: cf. supra,
19 Ps. 15:5.
20 Ep. LII, ad Nepotianum, n. 5.
21 Col. 1:28.
22 Cf. supra, n. 70.
23 Sess. XXII, de Reform., c. I.
23a Ps. 92:5.
24 Letter Testem Benevolentiae to the Archbishop of Baltimore
(22 January 1899. ASS XXXI, p. 476) condemning "Americanism."
25 Rom. 8:29.
26 Hebr. 13:8.
27 Mt. 11:29.
28 Phil. 2:8.
29 Gal. 5:24.
30 Leo XIII, loc. cit.
31 Cf. Decree of Sacred Cong. Consistory (18 November 1910)
forbidding priests to take over the temporal administration
of profane societies or institutions: "In our own day,
by God's grace many institutions have been founded in the
catholic world with the object of assisting the faithful in
their temporal needs, notably banks, credit unions, rural
banks, savings banks. The clergy should entirely approve and
show favor to these various undertakings. But it is not right
that they should divert clerics from the duties of their state
and office, involve them in material affairs and leave them
exposed to the cares, anxieties and dangers which are inseparable
from these occupations.
For this reason our Holy Father, Pius X, while recommending
the clergy not to spare their efforts and advice in the foundation,
support and development of these institutions, forbids absolutely
by the present decree that clerics, whether secular or regular,
should assume positions which involve administrative charges
and obligations with their consequent dangers: for example,
the function of president, director, secretary, treasurer
and similar posts" (AAS II (1910), p. 910).
32 Mt. 16:24.
33 Mt. 20:1.
34 Acts 10:38.
35 1 Cor. 3:7.
36 I Cor. 1:27-28.
37 Cf. supra, n. 32.
38 II Cor. 6:5-6.
39 De precatione, orat. I.
40 Hom. IV.
41 Cf. Apostolic Constitution Divino Afflatu, 1 November 1911,
on the new arrangement of the Psalter in the Roman breviary
(AAS III (1911), pp. 633-638). The same pastoral and spiritual
concern is evident in that document.
42 Lk. 18:1.
43 Col. 4:2.
44 1 Thess. 5:17.
45 De Consid. L. I, ch. vii.
46 Cf. supra, n. 61.
47 Cf. Ps. 83:2.
48 Hebr. 10:32.
49 Jer. 12:11.
50 Ecclus. 35:21.
51 Cf. supra, n. 112.
52 Cf. Phil. 1 8.
53 Mk. 13:33.
54 Lk. 11:1.
55 Ps. 100:1-2.
56 St. Charles Borromeo, ex orationibus ad clerum.
57 Ps. 1:1 ff.
58 Imitation of Christ, 1:1.
59 1 Tim. 4:13.
60 Ep. LVIII ad Paulinum, n. 6.
61 Ecclus. 25:12.
62 Ecclus. 6:14.
63 Confessions, L. VIII, C. 12.
64 Exposit. in Ps. 4, n. 8.
65 Meditationes piissimae, c. V, de Quotid. sui ipsius exam.
66 Lk. 16:8.
67 Cf. supra, n. 63.
68 Prov. 24:30-31.
69 St. Jerome, in Ezech., L. xiii, 44, v. 30.
70 Is. 6:10.
71 Thess. 2:19.
72 Jn. 5:3.
73 II Thess. 3:13
74 Cf. I Cor. 4:12. The Pope had written in similar terms
to the French episcopate immediately after the Law of Separation:
"The clergy of France will understand that in this difficult
situation they must make their own the sentiments of the Apostles
who rejoiced that they were thought worthy to suffer insults
for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). They will, therefore, courageously
assert the rights and liberty of the Church, but without giving
offense to anyone. Nay more, in their concern for the law
of charity, to which they are particularly bound as ministers
of Jesus Christ, they will meet injustice with justice, counter
insults by gentleness, and answer ill-usage by kindness"
(Encyclical Vehementer Nos. 11 February 1906. ASS XXXIX, p.
75 1 Macc. 9:10.
76 Letter Experiendo to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, 27 December
1904 (cf. supra, n. 58). St. Pius X frequently gave the practice
of retreats first place among the means of perseverance and
sanctification which he recommended to the clergy (cf. Letter
to the bishops of Brazil, 18 December 1910. AAS III (1911),
77 The reference is to the Apostolic Union. At the very beginning
of his pontificate, in the Brief Cum Nobis (28 December 1903),
St. Pius X had recommended it and enriched it with numerous
spiritual favors: "We ourselves were at one time attached
to this Institute: we have had practical experience of its
utility and excellence and have made a point of continuing
to share in its benefits, even after our elevation to the
dignity of the episcopate. By offering to all associates a
uniform rule of life, with monthly meetings and spiritual
conferences, a regular account of one's personal life to be
submitted to superiors and a number of other charitable and
beneficial relations, the Apostolic Union secures and strengthens
the unity of the clergy and links in spiritual brotherhood
priests who are widely separated.... In these conditions,
each priest applies himself to the welfare and perfection
of all and, though the cares of his ministry do not allow
him to enjoy the advantages of living in common, he does not
feel deprived of the benefit of a spiritual family and he
does not want either for advice or the assistance of his brethren"
(ASS XXXVI, p. 596).
78 Eph. 4:1.
79 Jn. 17:11 and 17.
80 Cf. Apostolic Letter Plane Compertum est. 21 May 1912,
erecting the Archconfraternity of Mary, Queen of the Clergy,
in the church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, Paris (AAS IV
(1912), p. 439).