“It is in times of crisis that one can judge the hearts and character of the valiant and the faint-hearted.”
Here is an excerpt from this speech on the vocation of France. A powerful wind passes through it, capable of dispelling the discouragement that poisons so many souls today.
In this summer period, when religious news remains gloomy and bad news does not take a vacation, it is helpful to re-read the speech that Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, delivered on July 13, 1937, at the pulpit of Notre-Dame de Paris. He was at the time the secretary of state of Pius XI who had sent him as legate to preside over the dedication ceremonies of the Basilica of Lisieux.
How to say, my brothers, all that evokes in my spirit, in my soul, as in the soul and in the spirit of any Catholic, I would even say in any upright soul and in any cultivated spirit, the name of Notre Dame of Paris! Because here it is the very soul of France, the soul of the eldest daughter of the Church, which speaks to my soul.
Soul of France today which comes to express its aspirations, its anxieties, and its prayers; soul of the France of yesteryear whose voice, rising from the depths of a past of fourteen hundred years, evoking the Gesta Dei per Francos [the works of God by the Franks], among the trials as well as among the triumphs, strikes the hours criticism as a song of noble pride and imperturbable hope.
The voice of Clovis and Clotilde, the voice of Charlemagne, the voice of St. Louis above all, in this island where he seems to still live and which he adorned, in the Sainte Chapelle, with the most glorious and the most holy of crowns; also voices of the great doctors of the University of Paris, masters in faith and in holiness.
Their memories, their names inscribed on your streets, simultaneously proclaim the valor and the virtue of your ancestors, mark out like a triumphal road the history of a France which walks and which advances in spite of everything, of a France that does not die!
Oh! those voices! I hear their multitudinous harmony resonating in this cathedral, a masterpiece of your genius and your loving labor which has erected it as the monument of this prayer, of this love, of this vigilance, the symbol of which I find speaking in this altar where God descends under the Eucharistic veils, in this vault which shelters us all together under the maternal mantle of Mary, in these towers which seem to probe the serene or threatening horizon as vigilant guardians of this capital. Let us listen to the voice of Notre-Dame de Paris.
In the midst of the incessant sounds of this immense metropolis, among the bustle of business and pleasure, in the bitter whirlwind of the struggle for life, pitying witness of sterile despair and disappointing joys, Notre-Dame de Paris, always serene in her calm and pacific gravity, seems to repeat tirelessly to all those who pass: Orate, fratres, Pray, my brothers; she seems, I would gladly say, to be herself an Orate fratres in stone, a perpetual invitation to prayer.
We know the aspirations, the concerns of France today; the present generation dreams of being a generation of pioneers, pioneers, for the restoration of a faltering and disoriented world; at heart she feels the liveliness, the spirit of initiative, the irresistible need for action, a certain love of struggle and risk, a certain ambition to conquer and proselytize in the service of some ideal.
Now if, according to men and parties, the ideal is very diverse - and this is the secret of so many painful dissensions - the ardor of each one is the same to pursue the realization, the universal triumph of his ideal - and this is, in large part, the explanation for the harshness and irreducibility of these dissensions.
But these very aspirations which, despite the great variety of their manifestations, we find in each French generation from the beginning, how can they be explained? No need to invoke some sort of fatalism or racial determinism. To the France of today, which questions it, the France of the past will respond by giving this heredity its real name: vocation.
Because, my brothers, peoples, like individuals, also have their providential vocation; like individuals, they are prosperous or miserable, they radiate or remain obscurely sterile, depending on whether they are docile or rebellious to their vocation.
Searching with his eagle gaze the mystery of universal history and its disconcerting vicissitudes, the great bishop of Meaux wrote: “Remember that this long chain of particular causes, which make and destroy empires, depends on secret orders from Providence. God holds the reins of all kingdoms from the highest heaven; He has all hearts in His hand; sometimes He restrains the passions; sometimes He lets go of them, and thereby He stirs up all mankind ... This is how God reigns over all peoples. Let us no longer speak of chance or fortune; rather let us speak of it only as a name by which we cover our ignorance” (Bossuet, Universal History of the World, III, 8).
It is in times of crisis, my brothers, that one can judge the hearts and character of men, the valiant and the faint-hearted. It is at these times that they give their measure and show whether they are up to their vocation, their mission.
We are at an hour of crisis. At the sight of a world that turns its back on the cross, on the true cross of the crucified and redeeming God, of a world that abandons the sources of living water for the mire of contaminated cisterns; At the sight of adversaries, whose strength and proud defiance in cede nothing to the Goliath of the Bible, the faint-hearted may moan in advance of their inevitable defeat.
But the valiant, for their part, salute the dawn of victory in the struggle; they know their weakness very well, but they also know that the strong and mighty God, Dominus fortis et potens, Dominus potens in praelio [the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle] (Ps 23: 8) plays a game of choosing precisely the weakness to confuse the strength of his enemies.
And the arm of God is not shortened! Ecce non est abbreviata manus Domini ut salvare nequeat [Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save] (Is. 59:1).
In a moment, when, standing at the altar, I will lift up to God the paten with the holy and immaculate host to offer it to the Eternal Father, I will at the same time present Catholic France to him with the ardent prayer that, aware of her noble mission and faithful to her vocation, united to Christ in sacrifice, she is still united to him in her work of universal redemption.
And then, returning to the throne of the Holy Father to tell him of all that I have seen and experienced in this land of France, oh! how I would like to be able to pass into his loving heart, in order to make it overflow with joy and consolation, my unshakeable hope that the Catholics of this country, of all classes and all tendencies, have understood the apostolic task that divine Providence has entrusted to them.
That they heard the voice of Notre-Dame de Paris singing to them the Orate, the Amate, the Vigilate [Pray, Love, Watch – these three words summarized the three points of Cardinal Pacelli's speech. Ed. note], not as the echo of a vanished “yesterday,” but as the expression of a believing, loving and vigilant “today,” as the prelude to a peaceful and blessed “tomorrow.”
O Heavenly Mother, Our Lady, you who have given this nation so many emblematic pledges of your predilection, implore your divine Son for France; bring her back to the spiritual cradle of her ancient greatness, help her to recover, under the luminous and sweet star of faith and Christian life, her past happiness, to drink from the sources from which she once drew this supernatural vigor, failing which the most generous efforts remain inevitably sterile, or at least not very fruitful.
Help her also, united with all the people of many other peoples, to settle here below in justice and in peace, so that, of the harmony between the earthly homeland and the heavenly homeland, gives birth to the true prosperity of individuals and of society as a whole.
“Mother of good counsel,” come to the aid of spirits in disarray before the gravity of the problems which arise, of wills disconcerted in their powerlessness before the greatness of the perils which threaten!
“Mirror of justice,” look at the world where brothers, too often oblivious to the great principles and the great common interests that should unite them, attach themselves to the point of intransigence to the secondary opinions that divide them; look at the poor deprived of life, whose legitimate desires are exasperated by the fire of envy and who sometimes pursue just demands, but in ways which justice condemns; bring them back in order and calm, in that tranquillitas ordinis [“the tranquility (which comes from) order,” St. Augustine] which alone is true peace!
Regina pacis! Oh ! Yes ! In these days when the horizon is full of clouds which darken the most tempered and the most confident hearts, truly be the “Queen of Peace” in the midst of this people who are yours; crush with your virginal foot the demon of hatred and discord.
Make the world, where so many upright souls strive to build the temple of peace, understand the secret which alone will ensure the success of their efforts: to establish in the center of this temple the royal throne of your divine Son and to pay homage to His holy law, in which justice and love unite in a chaste kiss, justitia et pax osculatæ sunt [justice and peace have kissed] (Ps. 84:11).
And that through you France, faithful to her vocation, supported in her action by the power of prayer, by concord in charity, by a firm and unwavering vigilance, exalt in the world the triumph and the reign of Christ the Prince of peace, King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen!