Pope Pius XI, now gloriously reigning as Supreme Head of the Church, begins this day the eightieth year of his mortal life. The entire Catholic world turns its eyes reverently and affectionately to the Eternal City, and from its heart of hearts arises a canticle of human and spiritual jubilation for the hallowed and fruitful years God has granted to our present beloved Vicar of Christ.
From every quarter of the globe representing nearly every race and clime under the sun a mighty prayer is storming heaven that our beloved Holy Father might see the “years of Peter” and even beyond, to continue to bless as the Servant of the Servants of God, not only the Church in particular, but also the children of men in general throughout the world.
Nor will the secular and non-Catholic world permit the anniversary to pass unnoticed. Into the Vatican messages of good-will are pouring from very many not of the Household of the Faith, who appreciate the exalted spiritual and incomparable moral influence the Pope exercises, outside of his own Church, for the common welfare of mankind.
The Church in the United States, in supreme and ardent attachment to the sacred person of our Holy Father, presents to him this day its own profound homage and undying loyalty, as it fervently prays that he may be blessed with length of days in the Chair of Peter as Vicar of Christ, Whom he has already immeasurably glorified among men by a sublime ministry of word and deed.
American Catholics fully appreciate the reverential respect shown the representative of the Holy Father, whenever a Legate or Apostolic Delegate has been present at great public celebrations in various parts of the country. Officials of nation, state, and city have honored the Pope’s representative not only by their distinguished presence but also by sympathetic addresses. The American press also has been most cooperative and cordial and merits our sincere thanks.
The Catholic mind honors and reveres to an exalted degree the Pope because Christ Himself was the first to honor him so, in the person of Saint Peter, on whom He conferred Headship of His Church. When Simon Peter cried out : “Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Our Lord answering, said to him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee, the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
It is important to remember that this guarantee of security and perpetuity of the Church to the end of time has been promised by Christ to no other institution on earth. The Church founded on the Rock of Peter and ruled by him and his successors, is not conscious or fearful of the mortality which hangs suspended like the sword of Damocles over all things created in time.
The Church of God is everlastingly renewing her youth – “ever ancient, ever new.” Pope after Pope occupies the Chair of Peter in an unbroken line that through the centuries has withstood the ravages of time and the savage onslaughts of men, Pope Pius XI being the 261st successor to Saint Peter. No lineage such as this is comparable in all history!
How the present occupant of the Chair of Peter has adorned, enhanced, and made even more illustrious the sacred venerability of the throne of the Fisherman! Among the seats of the mighty throughout the ages, many now buried in the dust of time and oblivion, while some of the mightiest have toppled in our own day, we behold the unsurpassing and unique stability of the seat of authority of the Papacy. It stands adamantine as the very Rock of Peter on which Christ built the Church. It owes its power, strength, and endurance, not to the favor of princes or the wisdom of man, but to Christ the King of Kings. From this everlasting Throne speaks and acts the Vicar of Christ, our present glorious Pontiff, to more than three hundred millions of his flock scattered throughout the world. When he speaks he does so with an authority, not of this world’s making, but that of the Son of God.
More than meeting the test of time, the Chair of Peter has been tried in the furnace of persecution unto martyrdom. Popes have faced the unconquered legions of the Caesars, the ruthless hordes of Attila, and the superb military genius of Napoleon. The world’s greatest exponents of force went down in defeat and have passed on. The Pope lives today, panoplied with spiritual armor calmly and courageously awaiting the Goliaths of the present and the future. Persecution will always be. But no tyrant has yet been born, nor ever will be, who will be able to destroy Christ’s Church. Persecution is created by the evil passions of men and cannot triumph against the Vicar of Christ who is of God and will rule the Church until time is no more. The heart of the present Pontiff is sorely grieved with the condition of religion in Russia, Spain, and Mexico. His tear-filled soul pleads prayerfully for a surcease of persecution, but his indomitable courage in the face of God’s enemies, creates unshaken confidence in the power of the sacrifice and suffering of the persecuted who have never failed to triumph gloriously in the end. The day will soon dawn, we earnestly pray, to justify his supreme faith.
The Church’s greatest menace is shipwreck of the faith. These are tempestuous times that torment the world in general and call for heroic faith in Christ with regard to the Bark of Peter. At the helm, thank God, we have Peter’s successor, Pope Pius XI, with authority to command, and eye to direct the storm-tossed vessel, battered by wind and wave, on seas mountainous high. There is no cry, “Lord, save us, we perish,” because of our absolute confidence in the Vicar of Christ whose presence assures us against disaster, from the destructive elements of religious strife, or social disorder.
Our great Pope is most appealing as a gentle shepherd keeping watch over his flock – gentle as one of the lambs but lionhearted against the enemy.
One of the last commissions by Christ to Peter was to feed the lambs and feed the sheep. Our Lord had already called Himself the Good Shepherd, and He would have Peter also one. David of old was the ishepherd king. Our Holy Father is more than king. He is a shepherd priest who brings down manna from heaven and pastures his flock by the living waters of eternal life. His vigilant love for the sheep is most intimate, that of a father who knows every danger that threatens the fold. He is interested also in every human being, and would be a father to all men in the name and with the authority of the Saviour of the World.
Pope Pius XI has already immortalized his glorious pontificate with unsurpassing achievement within the brief period of fourteen years in the Chair of Peter to which he was elevated at the age of sixty-five. Worldly wisdom would question the advisability of assuming the heavy burden of the Papacy at an age when men usually are thinking of retirement from responsibility. God’s ways are not ours, however.
The Holy Father’s preparation for his exalted office did not follow the usual course. Passing thirty years in the Ambrosian and Vatican Libraries, seen seldom in the public eye, he naturally was a profound student of the history of the Church and human events. He acquired a rare culture and a penetration into the philosophy of history that surely gave him an invaluable outlook and estimate of the past and the present, in their proper perspective and value before God and men. How our times, since his coronation as Pope, have profited by the long years of prayer and research connected with the far famed libraries of Milan and Rome!
Occupied for a short while with Apostolic duties in Poland and as Archbishop of Milan, Pope Pius XI found himself unexpectedly the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church, the Successor of Saint Peter. Soon, he became in our modern day a fearless, wise, and uncompromising protagonist of the rights of God and the rights of man. Justly may we acclaim Pope Pius XI a great Pontiff of the Most High, a far-seeing prophet of man’s place in time and eternity, an heroic shepherd, a supreme leader of men in human and divine relations, spokesman of the Prince of Peace, an incomparable Father whose every thought is to promote the best interests, temporal and spiritual, of mankind.
Saint Peter in his first Epistle to the early Church called on the faithful to come unto Christ “as a living stone, rejected indeed by men but chosen and made honourable by God,” that they might be also as Him, “stones built up, a spiritual house,” not failing to remember that “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
The present Holy Father, in his public utterances, his addresses, his allocutions, and his encyclicals – all commanding the serious attention of the civilized world – has ever before him the “Peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ.” He would build up the Church with “the living stones” of the faithful, that is, with the souls of men, women, and children, the Christian family and the Catholic school, each unit being protected by Christian legislation that would be in conformity with the laws of God and the rights of man. Hence, the marvelous Encyclicals on Christian Marriage, Christian Education, Capital and Labor, and Christian Unity.
The same eternal truths that Christ revealed from the Father, the Giver of all good gifts; the same that His Apostles preached to the ancient Roman world; the same that the successors of Peter have changelessly taught to a changing world, Pius XI declares to the world of today. Eternally old, they are eternally new. Their fulness is shown by their power to satisfy the unfolding, the varied needs of every soul, of every age, of every nation.
The fundamental right of the Church to liberty and freedom of action occupied his attention from the beginning of his pontificate. He manifested his genius for statecraft by the Lateran Treaties, which marked the settlement of the difficult “Roman Question.” This startled the world and justified calling him “The Pope of the Impossible.” It also prepared the public to expect even greater things.
Not content with ruling most wonderfully the Church of God in Christian lands, the Pontiff has with extraordinary zeal inspired clergy and faithful with regard to the missionary world in fields afar. Our Holy Father, the Shepherd of Christendom, has spoken, and will still speak, words of consolation, of guidance to every one of us personally, words of guidance and of peace to all the nations of the world.
His voice knows no accent of age when it speaks the truths of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Although entering upon his eightieth year, Pius XI is young. No experience, however bitter or tragic, lessens his active hope in humankind. He has elevated many to the glory of sainthood. He is Christ’s vicegerent here on earth. He is always young. If one reads carefully his great messages to the world he will find that Pope Pius XI has a singular love for and hope in the youth of the world. They are to do even greater things than did their fathers. The call of the Christian life has more than enough romance for every man if he will but see it. Pius XI beholds with gratitude the young man con12 secrating himself to the priesthood; the young woman to the religious life, and both entering happily into home or foreign mission fields. He blesses youth, the young man and the maiden singing their love of each other. He takes joy in thought of the peaceful Christian home – father and mother and children. He looks to a vast army of youthful Christians, the fathers and mothers of the days to come – stronger and more determined than any army of state – leading the nations back to Christ, to justice, and keeping them in the ways of peace and benediction. “Suffer children to come to me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” The Psalmist asked that his youth be renewed. Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XI though he is entering on his eightieth year, has never lost his youth. He has kept it in Christ, ancient and ever young.
Pope Pius XI is God’s special gift to the Church and the world, during these critical times for religion and human history. Watchman in the tower, His Holiness penetrates with eyes of faith heaven itself and surveys the world of human action. He is unique in his exalted office. He prays, offering acceptable sacrifice to God, for all men. Personally, he radiates a sense of nearness to Christ. One is attracted by his quiet, impressive voice and bearing – not awed by fear, but moved by deep reverence because he is the Vicar of Christ. The very heights the Holy Father has reached among men and before God has clothed him with the humility of Christ. He never forgets his coronation day when, during the ceremony, there was flashed into his face, in the supreme moment of his exaltation to the Chair of Peter, the flaming flax with the chant, “Beatissime Pater, sic transit gloria mundi.” “Most Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world.”
Guided by the Holy Spirit in his supreme office, Pope Pius XI, the vicegerent of Jesus Christ, today shepherds the world. Strong in the might of his mind, strong in his sympathy with the world that he shepherds, strong in the Christian holiness of his life, he is strength and power also to us his children, and to the whole world which he loves. Like his Master, he lives for others. For others he gives himself. May the years be many before Our Lord chooses to take him into final and eternal union with Himself!
– from , by His Eminence Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York; an address delivered on “The Catholic Hour” radio program on 31 May 1936; published by the National County of Catholic Men, Wadhington, DC