THE LIFE AND THOUGHTS OF
Cardinal R. Merry del Val
Secretary of State of Saint Pius X
Through the manifest will of the Holy Father Leo XIII, young Rafael followed his studies in Rome at the Academy of the Noble Ecclesiastics. The aged Pontiff had perceived his intelligence and virtue and, notwithstanding the fact that he was still very young and not yet a priest, he entrusted him with important diplomatic duties in London and Berlin. But the soul of the future Secretary of State, far from the glitter of earthly glory, desired to receive the sacred unction which would make him a priest forever.
TOWARDS THE SPLENDOURS OF THE PRIESTHOOD
During his stay at the College of Ushaw in England, young Rafael won everyone over, teachers as well as pupils, with his courteous and jovial character as well as his great intelligence and natural goodness, but even more for his supernatural and angelic piety which made of him one of the most illustrious glories of the famous College. In the spring of 1885, he received the tonsure and the four minor orders at Ushaw.
The uncommon qualities of the young, tonsured man did not go unnoticed by his superiors, especially Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, who wanted him to complete his priestly studies in Rome at the Scots College. In the autumn of that year, Rafael, accompanied by his father, then the Ambassador to the Imperial Court of Vienna, arrived in the Eternal City where everything had already been arranged for him to stay at the Scots College. The Holy Father Leo XIII, informed of the presence of the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, manifested his desire to meet him in a private audience together with his son. The audience was quickly arranged. The elderly Pontiff, with paternal and penetrating eyes, scrutinized the young Rafael who was kneeling at his feet, not without a certain embarrassment to find himself for the first time in the presence of the Vicar of Christ. The Pope wanted to hear about his vocation and studies, and he pondered all the replies of the future Cardinal. “And now, where will this son of yours go?” the Pope asked the Marquis del Val. “He will enter the Scots College, Your Holiness,” was the obvious reply. But the Pope with a prophetic air, questioned him even more strongly: “Why the Scots College?” And after a brief pause and with a tone of command he added: “He will not enter the Scots College, but the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics.” Both father and son remained dumbfounded upon hearing the words of the Holy Father and with extreme delicacy dared to make some observations, among which was the very plausible fact the Rafael was too young, not yet a priest, and that he had not yet received a true formation and regular discipline, whilst the Academy was for youth who had already been ordained and formed and who only had to complete their higher studies. But the Pope was unyielding and – to calm down the Marquis who was visibly worried- he said: “I will be a father to your son.”
Two days later, the young Rafael entered the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics, where he was the only cleric and the youngest of all. Here, although there was a certain liberty of life, he imposed on himself an austere rule, dividing his time between studies and prayer. One of his companions at the Academy who knew him very well, gave this excellent description of him: “From his earliest years, he gave himself completely to God and took up bravely the cross of mortification. He had made his own the words of the Saviour: He who wishes to follow me must renounce himself, pick up his cross and follow me. He had an ardent temperament and a sensitive heart, and might easily have given way to the strength of natural character. But he conquered himself in silence; he never spoke of what hurt him, and never returned evil for evil. He suffered silently, glad to offer something to God, and so he gradually acquired the serene amiability which distinguished him throughout his life.”
In those years, since the Marquis del Val was the Ambassador in Austria, the young Rafael spent his holidays with the family in Vienna, thus coming in contact with the Imperial Court where he distinguished himself due to his charming personality and exquisite intellect, as well as for his ever fervent piety.
At only 22 years of age, before being ordained a priest, he was nominated by the Holy Father Leo XIII, to be the Secret Chamberlain Supernumerary of His Holiness and Secretary of the Pontifical Mission sent to London to present the Pope’s congratulations to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her golden jubilee. Since to this honorary distinction the title of Monsignor was bound, the young Rafael – a case more unique than rare- became a monsignor even before becoming a priest.
Returning to London, he received the sub-deaconate, but in 1888 Leo XIII entrusted him with a new mission, nominating him Secretary of the Pontifical Mission to Berlin, on the occasion of the funeral of William I and the coronation of the new Emperor Frederick III.
But these honorific duties did not distract the young Monsignor from his intimate recollection and above all, from his longing for the eternal priesthood which he received on the 30th of December in that year of Grace. During the sacred ceremony, the Celebrant, Cardinal Parocchi, gave a sublime sermon to the new priest, illustrating the passage in the Gospel of that day: Positus est hic in ruinam et resurrectionem multorum in Israel et in signum cui contadicetur. To his mother who asked the newly ordained priest for an explanation of the Cardinal’s words, Rafael replied that they were very fitting to the divine mission of the priest, who had to become an image of the Divine Teacher. From that moment, his priestly life revolved around two fulcra: the Eucharist and the Sorrowful Virgin.
To be continued
. . .
THOUGHTS OF CARDINAL MERRY DEL VAL
* Once we know the will of God, this becomes the way of duty and it is necessary to follow it with all one’s resolve.
* If we accept everything from God, our life will become the first verse of an eternal hymn, the dawn of happiness which will never end. Place yourself in the hands of God; see the hand of God in everything; resign yourself entirely to God.
* Let us learn to fear, rather than desire, dignities and superiorities, since for those who are invested with these, they are nothing but an increase in work and suffering.
From: De vita Contemplativa, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. [Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana.]