Our secular society may speak too much about renewal in mundane, temporary terms (“renewing” a driver’s license) or as an impersonal, policy-driven turnaround (“urban renewal”). But on August 21, the feast day of Pope St. Pius X, it’s helpful to ponder how the Catholic Church thinks about renewal, especially in light of the motto associated with this first Pope elected in the 20th century: “to renew all things in Christ.”
It helped me to experience the Church’s different idea of renewal when I recently visited a local parish for whom Pius X is the patron. Entering the church, you can’t miss the presence of the pope and his motto, presented in large imagery on the wall framing the sanctuary. That’s fitting for various reasons, including the fact that the past few years have been a time of much renewal through physical change: the current church was constructed, filled with beautiful sacred art, and dedicated in 2017.
A visitor exploring the new home of this always-growing parish can find an ongoing respect for the motto that, far from mundane, reacts to everyday needs. An introduction to the “2019-2024 Strategic Plan” booklet points out that St. Pius X “dedicated his papacy to a renewal of faith for all people.” He was determined to focus on “the interests of God,” expanding people’s practice of their faith, especially through the Eucharist and participation in all the sacraments.
I talked with parochial vicar Fr. Nathan Maskal, who described how constant gatherings aim to address the different interests of parishioners of all generations. Various groups within the community go forth to respond to “the call of the Lord” by providing a range of services—to children in their own school and in the school of a lower-income sister parish, as well as to other populations, such as the disabled.
Meetings might not bring turnarounds in the conventional sense, Fr. Nathan said. Discussion and lesson series, listening to the concerns of various attendees, “point them in the right direction” and gradually build unity and momentum for prayerful relationships with the Lord. He voiced one purpose with special enthusiasm:
"When I hear this word renewal, in a spiritual sense I think of it as a preparation for the sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage, particularly.” Fr. Nathan said preparation in the secular world is often something we’d call one-and-done, “about events that are happening.” But it’s better to cultivate an awareness of the sacraments through which people and their God “are continually responding.” After a wedding, for example, the spouses “find out what Christ’s love means, and it takes a personal root, and we share that by taking the faith in a personal way."
He cited 1 Peter 4:10 – “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
I joined in the Sunday Mass recitation of the “stewardship prayer”: “Heavenly Father, as you renew all things in Christ, grant to our parish a fresh outpouring of your Spirit. Continue to form us into stewards of your generosity, that our community will always serve the growth of our holy communion in you. Amen. St. Pius X, pray for us!”
That short prayer contains nouns and action words conveying a sense of endurance and sustainability. I came away thinking it was good for the message of St. Pius X to be permanently embodied in a parish’s liturgies, artwork, structures, schedules and prayers.
The message is indeed different from the typical secular approach. Renewal isn’t monolithic or momentary. It doesn’t thoughtlessly kick the can down the road, nor is it a cheap or easy fix. It’s substantive, rooted in authoritative wisdom, yet customized for every individual and group. It happens incrementally inside people’s souls and amid the changing experiences of daily life. It’s part of an interactive community—or more accurately, a communion, constantly rebooted through God’s sacramental grace and then carried outward to others via a common mission.
At Mass, pastor Msgr. Bill Schooler reminded his St. Pius X Parish family of upcoming ways to mark their patronal feast day. The bulletin listed commemorative Masses and a visit by the Bishop to bless the final addition to their Parish Education Center, alongside the annual picnic. One announcement stood out: “Volunteers needed!” Something told me plenty of volunteers would emerge from the followers of a saint who embraced the meaning of renewal in Christ.