How many divisions has the pope? Joseph Stalin famously sneered. He thought little of the Churchs power to curtail or end his brutality. When he heard of this cynical question, Pius XI allegedly replied, Tell my son Joseph that he will find my divisions in eternity. Of course, Uncle Joe could also have found the answer in the Gospels: And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). The pope does not need divisions when he has the promise of Jesus Christ.
We typically understand these words of Our Lord as a description and promise of the Churchs indefectibility. That is, that the Church of Christ will endure to the end of the world. Our Lord guarantees that the array of enemies against the Church will not cannot ultimately triumph over her. Not even Stalins Soviet Union. The Church may be assaulted from within and from without. Her members may fail. She may be emptied of glory, stripped of dignity, reduced in size. She may even be absent in some places of the world. But in the end the Church will endure.
The doctrine of indefectibility is consoling, especially as we see so many attacks on the Church today. It means that we can trust in the Church, her doctrine and sacraments. But indefectibility is a negative. It describes only what the Church is not, what cannot happen. While retaining this meaning, Our Lords words also point us to another truth: the Churchs power over evil in all its hideous forms.
Indeed, such seems to be the primary meaning of the verse. Our Lord promises, The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. These words indicate not a defensive but an offensive posture. After all, gates do not attack; they defend. The gates, then, cannot hold out in their defense. It is not primarily that the powers of evil cannot overcome the Church. It is, rather, that the powers of evil the gates of the netherworld cannot resist the Churchs power to crash them. Yes, the Church has the power to withstand the assaults of evil. But she also possesses the power to subdue, vanquish and conquer. Evil cannot ultimately defend itself against the Church.
We find this power in the teaching authority of the Church. By her proclamation of Jesus Christ, of doctrinal and moral truth, the Church empties the evil ones lies of power and frees people from error. In the end, Stalins Soviet Union fell not by military might but by the moral witness of truth.
We find this power also in the sacraments of the Church. If we watch with the eyes of faith, we see that in baptism, in that simple pouring of water and speaking of words the Church destroys the bondage of sin and makes someone a free child of God. In confession, when the priest raises his hand in blessing and speaks the words of absolution, he crashes the gates of the netherworld the slavery of sin and vice and frees the penitent from the power of evil. No sin can hold a soul prisoner when the power of the Church comes against it.
Whenever members of the Church pray that someone be delivered from the grip of the devil, then again the Churchs power over evil is made manifest. In the most extreme cases the Church has the ritual of exorcism to crash the gates enslaving a person and lead him to spiritual freedom.
We, for our part, must place our confidence in this promise. Its no fun to play defense all the time. And we are not meant to. The Lord has established His Church to crash the gates of the netherworld, to free souls from ignorance and error, from moral and spiritual slavery. He wants us to be on the offensive always seeking to vanquish evil, first in our own lives, and then by prayer and witness in the lives of others as well. He has already promised us victory. We need only fight the battle.
Fr. Scalia is pastor of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean
Saint Pius X, Pope
St. Pius X, Photo and Coat of Arms from Vatican website
Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to Heaven. -- Pope Saint Pius X
St. Pius X was born June2, 1835 in Venice. His parents were Giovanni Battista Sarto and Margarita (née Sanson); the former, a postman, died in 1852, but Margarita lived to see her son a cardinal. He was ordained in 1858, and for nine years was chaplain at Tombolo, having to assume most of the functions of parish priest, as the pastor was old and an invalid. He sought to prefect his knowledge of theology by assiduously studying Saint Thomas and canon law; at the same time he established a night school for adult students, and devoted himself of the ministry of preaching in other towns to which he was called. Became Pope in 1903.
In his first Encyclical, wishing to develop his program to some extent, he said that the motto of his pontificate would be "instaurare omnia in Christo"[Restore all things to Christ] from Ephesians 1:10).
He encouraged daily Holy Communion and that the first Communion of children should not be deferred too long after they had reached the age of discretion. It was by his desire that the Eucharistic Congress of 1905 was held at Rome, while he enhanced the solemnity of subsequent Eucharistic congresses by sending to them cardinal legates.
He was a promoter of sacred music; as pope, he published, November 22, 1903, a Motu Proprio on sacred music in churches, and at the same time ordered the authentic Gregorian Chant to be used everywhere, while he caused the choir books to be printed with the Vatican font of type under the supervision of a special commission. In the Encyclical "Acerbo nimis" (April 15, 1905) he treated of the necessity of catechismal instruction, not only for children, but also for adults, giving detailed rules, especially in relation to suitable schools for the religious instruction of students of the public schools, and even of the universities. He caused a new catechism to be published for the Diocese of Rome.
As bishop, his chief care had been for the formation of the clergy, and in harmony with this purpose, an Encyclical to the Italian episcopate (July 28, 1906) enjoined the greatest caution in the ordination of priests, calling the attention of the bishops to the fact that there was frequently manifested among the younger clergy a spirit of independence that was a menace to ecclesiastical discipline.
The pope has at heart above all things the purity of the faith. On various occasions, as in the Encyclical regarding the centenary of Saint Gregory the Great, Pius X had pointed out the dangers of certain new theological methods, which, based upon Agnosticism and upon Immanentism, necessarily divest the doctrine of the faith of its teachings of objective, absolute, and immutable truth, and all the more, when those methods are associated with subversive criticism of the Holy Scriptures and of the origins of Christianity. Wherefore, in 1907, he caused the publication of the Decree "Lamentabili" (called also the Syllabus of Pius X), in which sixty-five propositions are condemned. The greater number of these propositions concern the Holy Scriptures, their inspiration, and the doctrine of Jesus and of the Apostles, while others relate to dogma, the sacraments, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Soon after that, on September 8 , 1907, there appeared the famous Encyclical "Pascendi", which expounds and condemns the system of Modernism.
He died in 1914. He was canonized in 1954 by Pius XII.
(Principal source - Catholic Encyclopedia - 1913 edition )
to defend the Catholic faith
and to make all things new in Christ,
You filled St. Pius X
with heavenly wisdom and apostolic courage.
May his example and teaching
lead us to the reward of eternal life.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:2b-8
Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Gospel Reading: John 21:15-17
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time He said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Prayer to St. Pius X
Glorious Pope of the Eucharist, Saint Pius X, you sought "to restore all things in Christ." Obtain for me a true love of Jesus so that I may live only for Him. Help me to acquire a lively fervor and a sincere will to strive for sanctity of life, and that I may avail myself of the riches of the Holy Eucharist in sacrifice and sacrament. By your love for Mary, mother and queen of all, inflame my heart with tender devotion to her.
Blessed model of the priesthood, obtain for us holy, dedicated priests, and increase vocations to the religious life. Dispel confusion and hatred and anxiety, and incline our hearts to peace and concord. so that all nations will place themselves under the sweet reign of Christ. Amen.
Saint Pius X, pray for me