Pietas

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Friday: The Gift of Piety

Pietas is a word wonderfully rich in meaning and full of nuances. It is notoriously difficult to translate. In the end one settles for “piety,” and then tries to unpack some of the meaning of the word. Piety has to do with the relations between a father and his child, and between a child and his father. People will sometimes say of a certain man, "He is utterly devoted to his children"; this is paternal piety. People will sometimes say of a son, "He is utterly devoted to his father"; this is filial piety.

Before we can begin to understand anything of the filial piety we owe God, we have to reflect on the paternal piety of God toward us. God relates to us not as a master to his slave, but as the most tender of fathers to his child. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 1:11–13). God is utterly devoted to each of His children by adoption.

We in turn are bound to offer God the dutiful obedience of loving children: piety is the expression in daily life of filial devotedness to the Heavenly Father. The Gift of Piety strengthens the virtue of religion, making us zealous for the worship of God and eager to put all that we are and do into the hands of Christ the Priest to be offered to the Father in His Sacrifice. Piety is the gift by which everything in life is ordered ad Patrem, toward the Father. One might say that the Gift of Piety unites the soul to the inner dispositions of Christ revealed throughout the Fourth Gospel: “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). To my mind, the Church's Doctor Pietatis ought to be Blessed Columba Marmion.

The Gift of Piety delivers one from that oppressive sense of obligation that makes all things burdensome and tedious. One lacking the Gift of Piety has no zeal for prayer. Both private and liturgical prayer are carried out in a perfunctory manner, often with one eye on the clock. One contents oneself with doing the bare minimum. One short on piety asks, “How little can I get away with doing and still fulfill the letter of the law?” One graced with the Gift of Piety asks: “How much can do to show my Father that I love him, that I am attached to him, and that all my joy is in the service of His majesty.”

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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