Pope Pius XII:
Address to the 2nd international Congress of the Third Order of St. Dominic
August 29, 1958
At a time when the Church is inviting her children everywhere to awaken to their apostolic responsibilities, it is a great joy for us, dear children, to be able to greet you on the occasion of the International Congress of the Third Order of St. Dominic.
However, your imposing group represents only a small fraction of the immense and peaceful army of your Third Order, that “Militia of Jesus Christ” which for seven centuries has waged a valiant battle in defense of the Faith and for the honor of the Church. More than 20 nations have sent their delegates here, and those Tertiaries who were prevented by the Iron Curtain from being present at your meeting are joined fraternally with you in spirit.
This International Congress will certainly quicken in you the sense of the universality of your religious ideal, of its lasting fruitfulness, of the permanent value of the motives that inspire it. Is it not truly, as your rule states (ch. 1, no. 1-2), an ideal of perfection;that is, an ideal of personal holiness gained by means of the practice of a more perfect Christian life .and by means of zeal for souls exercised in a manner appropriate to your lay state? This noble purpose stamps you with the characteristic mark of the Order of St. Dominic which is particularly distinguished for its ardor in the defense of the truth of the Catholic Faith.
We wish to stress this characteristic trait of the Dominican tradition and to point out to you that the Church today expects that same effective cooperation from you which was given by St. Dominic during the difficult period of the battle against the heresies of the Cathari and the Waldensians. His first sermon at Narbonne was a return to the evangelical life of voluntary poverty and humility. He illustrated his words with the living example of patient and docile charity, instinctively opposed to violence.
You belong to an age that sees the triumph of the machine and its tremendous accomplishments, an age of powerful political and social organizations, an age in which the economy is subject to the irresistible movements of flux and change. Without losing any of its serenity, and always conscious of the spiritual weaknesses of men which remain unchanged by all this outward activity, the Church urges its faithful to intensify their interior life by accepting its austere but irrevocable conditions.
Your membership in the Third Order puts you immediately in a position to insure this through the study of the Christian life, more necessary than ever in a world threatened by its own inventions.
Our attention is drawn to you as a group of chosen laymen, particularly suited to devoting yourselves to the service of the most important objectives of the present-day apostolate. This is the thought that we wish to touch on briefly, since it is the main theme of your Congress.
The progress of biblical studies, the liturgical movement, the moving force of the lay apostolate, all constitute an inestimable contribution to the vitality of the Christian faith. Actually, one understands better that the Christian faith is not an abstract system of definitions nor a collection of irrational beliefs separate and apart from life and action. One admits more readily that the faith in no way threatens the rights of reason nor the legitimate demands of the scientist or the philosopher. It occupies a place apart, supreme, not outside life, but dominating it. Faith is a new intelligence, the object of which is not the created world, but God Himself, the Holy Trinity, freely manifesting the depths of His being and His love.
The revealed truth, far from demanding merely a simple assent of reason, requires an effort of the will conditioned by grace. It offers itself as a form of contemplation to which man applies his whole soul to a supernatural understanding of the divine mysteries, to penetrate them and to live them. It can never be said too often: Revelation is not simply a collection of propositions but is an over-flow of God making Himself known through the work of Incarnation and Redemption, after the ancient preparations of the Old Testament and leading to the mission of the Holy Spirit and His guidance of the life of the Church today.
The true condition of salvation is to meet the divine invitation by accepting the Catholic “credo” and by observing the commandments. But the Lord expects more from you, and the Church urges you to continue seeking the intimate knowledge of God and His works, to search for a more complete and valuable expression of this knowledge, a refinement of the Christian attitudes which derive from this knowledge: To cultivate the spirit of faith, as is required of you by your vocation as Dominican tertiaries, you must devote a large part of your life to prayer. We know that usually it is not possible for you to consecrate long hours to contemplative exercises. But with the faithful observance of the pious practices outlined in your Rule, you must be careful to cultivate an interior state similar to that of a contemplative Religious; that is to say, continuous attention to the things of God, a cultivated taste for silent meditation, a fondness for the Divine word found in the Scriptures and in the liturgical offices.
Today the letter and spirit of the Sacred Scriptures are translated more exactly and with precise and beautiful commentaries. The treasures of the writings of the Fathers have become increasingly more accessible in excellent scientific and popular editions. The research of biblical and spiritual theology has increased and there has been a multiplication of studies of the reactions of various Christian groups to the concrete problems of laymen engaged in the apostolate. You can and you must contribute such progress as is useful to the Church, the value of which will doubtlessly be all the more obvious in the years to come.
The title of your Third Order implies “penance”, a thing which even among good Christians arouses a certain apprehension. St. John the Baptist, the Precursor of Our Lord, echoed the wards of the prophets, crying out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3: 2), and his baptism of penance foreshadowed baptism in the name of Christ, which, uniting the Christian to the death of the Savior, raises him up to. a new life (Rom. 6: 3-4) and liberates him from the law of sin through subjection to that of the Spirit.
The order of the apostolate properly understood is the conversion of yourselves through a ceaseless battle against all that places an obstacle to the full development of your life in Christ and your carrying its discovery to others. You are invited to this by the formula, so dear to the sons of St. Dominic, “contemplata aliis tradere” — “communicate to others that which is contemplated.” The living of the evangelical life in oneself is the best means of carrying it to others. On this point our task becomes extremely difficult, dear children. We do not hesitate to admit it.
Your lay state puts you in constant contact with the world. The newspapers, radio. and television are already in the midst of your families, carrying into the home all the confusion of the news from the outside world. Some of your relatives, friends and acquaintances will be less open to the ideal of Christian perfection, less exacting in their concepts of life, hostile perhaps to the restraints upon what is improperly understood as liberty. In the surroundings of your labor you are side by side with the best and the worst — the indifferent, the skeptic, the atheist. It will not always be possible far you to avoid having your relaxation injected with occasions of temptation. Your social range obliges you perhaps to accept a certain luxury, a certain worldliness. And what vain conversations there are and time lost, all simply because you must avoid displeasing someone or because there are accepted conventions.
Thus, in every moment, your conscience should make its decisions without want of charity and without violating the evangelic spirit. Still more it should show itself openly, but without ostentation or bravado, to be a disciple of Jesus crucified. Your apostolic ideal, illuminating all your decisions, will show you all the concrete forms which your spirit of detachment and penance ought to take. It is a matter of knowing in fact whether you will conquer the world or whether the world will conquer you by its materialism, its skepticism, its frenzy for enjoyment and levity, and its narrow and selfish outlook.
Truly, to preserve your fervor intact in surroundings which constantly draw you toward mediocrity, much courage is necessary, much trust in grace and much generosity in overcoming the heart and the senses with mortification. But the efficacy of your testimony depends strictly upon the quality of your interior life and your will to give to the Lord, not the least part of yourselves, but the greatest part possible, in the courageous acceptance, full of the impulse to daily sacrifice, of fulfilling in your members, according to the expression of St. Paul, that which lacks to the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1: 24).
When you have accounted for these essential elements of every apostolic vocation — which is union with God in prayer and self-denial — you will easily see and understand with force and enthusiasm the works of the apostolate which your Rule prescribes for you and by which your steps are directed in the name of God.
It is certain that the spiritual formation which you have received in the Third Order qualifies you, more than any other laymen, to the fruitful labor of Catholic Action, whether this word is understood in the strict sense of the apostolate exercised under the mandate of the hierarchy, or in the larger sense of the organized apostolate of the laity.
As we have already pointed out in Our Allocution of October 5, 1957, to the Second International Congress of the Lay Apostolate (Discourses and Radio messages, vol. XIX, pp. 455-473), the Church and the hierarchy look to the laity, to those above all who form an “elite” who would give them their cooperation.
You, therefore, have responsibilities to assume in Catholic Action which will give best expression to the value of your spiritual resources, adapting them to a field of action in accordance with your capabilities. And since the Catholic Action movements need solid doctrinal foundations and efficient techniques to diffuse Christian truth and to create, when necessary, a network of programs for material assistance, for social formation and for religious education, you are in a position to apply all the resources of your initiative.
We think particularly of the immense needs of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which we illustrated in our address of October 5, 1957 (cf. Discourses and Radio messages, vol. XIX, pp. 469-472). The intervention in those areas of an active and determined Christian laity has become urgent to check the advance of sects and the even more menacing advance of communism. Such important goals must have a certain attraction for generous souls, anxious to assume truly apostolic tasks, to lead them with strength and to refill them with new ardor if they languish.
This is why we hope that the ranks of. the Third Order will gather numerous young men and women who, without having a religious vocation, aspire to a more perfect Christian life, who aspire to make a more complete gift of themselves.
In the Third Order they will receive, under the protection of a Rule sanctioned by the Church, and under the direction of proven spiritual teachers, a formation that will help them to rise toward God and which will produce in them, as in so many others, the fruits of sanctity. What a reservoir of energy a Third Order is for Catholic Action, rich in living forces, with the young of both sexes and adult men and women who have acquired experience and authority in their professional lives or in the exercise of public functions.
Their influence for good can be of great weight and can contribute much to the progress of the reign of God in the modern world.
We urge you paternally, dear children, to be ever more aware of the seriousness of the obligations which you have assumed in making your professions in the Third Order of St Dominic. Continue your progress without failing on the admittedly narrow path, the path so high and noble which you have freely chosen. You are not without famous examples to guide your footsteps and to sustain your enthusiasm. Consider the glorious family of saints and blesseds of the three orders of the Dominicans, particularly St Catherine of Siena, Patron of the Third Order, rewarded by God with mystic signs of favor and by an extraordinary zeal for the Church’s interests. Like her, cultivate jealously the gifts of the Holy Ghost and intimacy with the Lord, who grew up in a life of purity, fervor of charity and untiring devotion to the welfare of souls.
In pledge of Our paternal benevolence and the heavenly favors which We earnestly call down upon you, your families and your apostolate, We bestow upon you with all Our heart Our Apostolic Blessing.
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