Holy Communion: the shortest, safest way to heaven
Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914) was born in the tiny village of Riese, in the province of Treviso near Venice. His father was a cobbler and his mother a seamstress. Giuseppe Sarto (Pius X's baptismal and family name) was the oldest of eight children. His native intelligence drew the attention of the family's pastor who encouraged him to go to the seminary and pursue holy orders.
The future pope began his ministry as an ordinary parish priest who was distinguished by his fervent prayer and spirituality, by his clear and simple teaching and by his love for the poor. Throughout his many years of ministry as a priest, bishop, cardinal and finally pope, he maintained a profound reverence for the holy Eucharist that sustained him in good times and bad. He believed, and taught, that "Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven."
A hundred years ago, it was unusual for Catholics to receive holy Communion more than once or twice a year. The thinking then was that the sacrament was so precious that it was best to limit the number of times it was received.
Pope St. Pius X was responsible for changing that practice. He encouraged everyone in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist frequently -- daily if possible. He also recommended that children receive their First Communion soon after reaching the age of discretion. He also relaxed the fasting requirements for people who were sick so that it would be easier for them to receive holy Communion. Finally, Pope Pius X encouraged dioceses to hold eucharistic congresses, and he personally presided over the congress held in Rome in 1905.
His biographers suggest that "nowhere in the history of the Church is there a better example of a man possessed of so many of the saintly virtues -- piety, charity, deep humility, pastoral zeal and simplicity" than St. Pius X. Yet they also say he "remained a country priest at heart throughout his life, faced the problems and evils of a strife-torn world with the spiritual fervor of a crusader."
It's interesting to note that when Pope Pius X (then Bishop Sarto) first began his ministry as bishop, he faced a situation not unlike today when government agencies showed a definite opposition to religion. Monasteries in Italy had been suppressed, many religious institutions (schools, orphanages, health care agencies) were managed by the government and Church property was heavily taxed. As noted by his biographers, "In general, a pall of religious indifference and secularism had spread over the diocese."
Religious indifference and secularism are among the most serious challenges of our time as well. What can we learn from the life and ministry of Giuseppe Sarto, Pope St. Pius X?
When he was a bishop, and later when he became pope, Pius X turned his attention to three things: 1) the formation of priests, 2) orthodox teaching of our Catholic faith and the correction of errors, and 3) renewal of the Church's sacramental life, especially the holy Eucharist. As pope, Pius X instituted many reforms, but none was more widely acclaimed than his decrees concerning holy Communion.
The inscription on the tomb of Pope St. Pius X in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica gives eloquent testimony to his life and ministry. Often called "the Pope of the Eucharist," this holy man is remembered with these words:
"Born poor and humble of heart,
Undaunted champion of the Catholic faith,
Zealous to restore all things in Christ,
Crowned a holy life with a holy death."
When Pope St. Pius said, "Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven," he meant it. There are many things we can do to live a good and holy life, but nothing is simpler, or more guaranteed to secure the salvation of our souls, than intimate communion with the Lord in the holy Eucharist.
May we find Him today, and every day, in the eucharistic bread that he admonished us "ought to be our daily food."
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