Chapter 3 – Piety
The word piety is often mentioned to you, my dear children, and you are frequently exhorted to practise the virtue of piety. It must therefore be a familiar word to you, but have you a precise idea of what it means? What is your idea of a pious child? Is a pious child one who says thoughtlessly many prayers, many rosaries, who likes to wear medals because they look pretty, or perhaps, one who, while praying in church, raises his eyes heavenward because he wants people to think well of him? No, that is not true piety. Piety is something more than outward appearance; it is a flame burning in the heart, an enthusiasm of the soul, causing us to be fervent in all things pertaining to God and our holy religion. Piety is a taste for religious practice, piety is an uplifting of the soul towards heaven. A truly pious child is not known by the number of prayers he says, but by the fact that he says them carefully and devoutly. He delights in speaking to God, to his Father in heaven; in opening his heart to his great and divine Friend Jesus. The Church is for him a place well beloved, he likes to enter there to spend a few moments before the tabernacle. The little sanctuary lamp, hanging before the altar and guarding the dwelling of the Lord, fills his soul with deep emotion, it reminds him of the eternal light enjoyed by the blessed in heaven. The ceremonies of the Church forcefully attract the truly pious child. The altar decorated and illuminated, the priests vested with the sacred robes and officiating at the sacred functions, the singing, the ringing of the bells, the profound silence attending that supreme moment during Mass when Jesus descends upon the altar, all this makes a deep impression on this child’s heart and fills it with delight.
Now let us enter the pious child’s little room. You will find there a crucifix at the head of the bed, and in a prominent position a little statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and there will probably be other proofs of his devotion. A pious child takes care of all these things, he looks with great pleasure upon these sacred objects and says his prayers before them night and morning. He is diligent also about the Catechism, because the hours of religious instructions are devoted to speaking of God, he learns to love Him there, to serve Him better, to sing His praises, there he spends an hour or two entirely in His service and it charms the mind of the pious child.
Do you understand now by this description of what true piety consists? It is a longing, a hunger, so to speak, for the sacred things of God, and for God Himself.
Thus you can see what a grand thing piety is. Some foolish persons ridicule those who are pious, but see to it that you never fall into this sinful habit, which is at the same time an injustice.
“Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you what you are,” says the proverb. By piety we associate with God, through piety we become intimate with God, it makes us His beloved friends. A pious soul necessarily becomes a friend of God, of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of the saints. What noble company! What could possibly be a greater honor than to move in such society? If you were on terms of friendship with a royal prince so that he invited you to his table, and received your confidence, you would certainly consider yourself highly honored by such friendship and who thus honors you, and those who through piety are in constant communication with God have therefore far greater reason for joy.
Take care, then, never to ridicule or disdain those who are more pious than you are, and, on the other hand, never yield to a foolish fear of showing your piety in the proper time and place, even if on that account some wicked or stupid people should make their remarks about you. Remember that Our Lord was scorned, and that He will reward you if you are scorned in serving Him.
I wish to put you on your guard against a threefold delusion concerning piety.
The first delusion is that of imagining that you are sufficiently pious. Some girls and boys no doubt are very pious, but the greater number should be a great deal more pious than they are. There are in your midst children who are fairly attentive, fairly good, fairly diligent, who may even do their religious duties thoroughly and conscientiously enough, but this is not real piety, because piety is enthusiasm, fervor, zeal, and there are many of you are lacking.
It is painful to admit it but it is nevertheless true, that piety in these days is scarcer amongst children than it was formerly. The reason is because you are brought up too indulgently, with too much ease; you are often allowed to assume a habit of arguing, of fault finding about things of which you have not the proper understanding, and under such conditions piety has difficulty in finding a place in your hearts, for it presupposes a simplicity of mind and willingness of heart. However the case may be, it is necessary for you not to persuade yourself that you are sufficiently pious.
The second delusion is found in the erroneous belief which some people have that piety is not absolutely necessary and that you need not trouble yourselves with acquiring it. Do you then expect to make your first Holy Communion without real piety? The very mention of such a thing is sufficient, I hope, to fill you with consternation. A First Communion without piety! As well speak of a hearth without fire, of a day without light, a summer without sun. Holy Communion is the supreme act of piety. Piety, as I told you just now, is a sort of divine hunger for God and the things of God. Now when should we experience this longing if not at the moment when God offers Himself as food to our souls? If Jesus carries His love so far as to come to us with such great love and charity, is it possible that we should go to meet Him with indifference, devoid of emotion, with a cold and unmoved heart?
No, you will understand easily enough that for such a sublime act great piety is indispensable.
The third delusion is that piety will come of itself, without an effort to acquire it. A great error indeed. The apostle St. Paul said to his disciples: “Practise piety,” and this, as well as our habit of calling our devotions pious practices, is proof that piety is something that must be practised.
Piety is acquired and developed only by constant practice. If you wish to become really pious, my dear children, you must set to work upon it, you must strive, in the first place, to say your prayers carefully and with attention, to assist devoutly at holy Mass, to say your prayers every morning and night, to think of God and the saints frequently during the day, especially when doing important things and when in temptation, to visit the church when possible, and to say the Angelus when you hear the bell. These are some of the principal exercises of piety, the very practices that sanctified the saints, and which still sanctify innumerable souls. These practices have lost nothing of their efficacy. Practise them, and you will feel by degrees your souls rise toward heaven and take wings, as it were, to fly toward God. And then these practices of piety which at first, perhaps, appeared to you monotonous and tiresome, will gradually become pleasant. The nearer you approach to Jesus, the more you will experience how sweet is His yoke and how light His burden, and the more you will long for that blessed day when with great and joyful piety you will receive the loving Lord and Saviour into your heart, to remain there, let us fervently hope, until your piety is finally rewarded by your admission to the eternal bliss and joy of heaven.