28 September 2012

St. Wenceslaus, King & Martyr


St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia, was born about the year 907 at Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). His father was killed in battle when he was young, leaving the kingdom to be ruled by his pagan mother. Wenceslaus was educated by his grandmother, Ludmilla, also a saint. She taught him to be a Christian and to be a good king. She was killed by pagan nobles before she saw him king, but she left him with a deep commitment to the Christian faith.

Throughout his life he lived as a completely faithful Catholic. As duke he was a father to his subjects, generous toward orphans, widows, and the poor. He himself frequently carried wood to the houses of the needy. He often attended the funerals of the poor.  He ransomed captives, and visited those suffering in prison. He was filled with a deep reverence toward the clergy. With his own hands he planted the wheat for making altar breads and pressed the grapes for the wine used in the Mass. During winter he would visit the churches barefoot through snow and ice, frequently leaving behind bloody footprints.

Wenceslaus was eighteen years old when he succeeded his father to the throne. Without regard for the opposition, he worked in close cooperation with the Church to convert his pagan country. He ended the persecution of Christians, built churches and brought back exiled priests. As king he gave an example of a devout life and of great Christian charity, with his people calling him "Good King" of Bohemia.

His brother Boleslaus, however, turned to paganism. One day he invited Wenceslaus to his house for a banquet. The next morning, on September 28, 929, as Wenceslaus was on the way to Mass, Boleslaus struck him down at the door of the church. Before he died, Wenceslaus forgave his brother and asked God's mercy for his soul. Although he was killed for political reasons, he is listed as a martyr since the dispute arose over his faith. This king, martyred at the age of twenty-two, is the national hero and patron of the Czech Republic. He is the first Slav to be canonized.

O God, who through the victory of martyrdom didst exalt thy blessed Saint Wenceslaus from his earthy principality to the glory of thy heavenly kingdom: we pray thee, at his intercession, to defend us against all adversities; and to suffer us to rejoice in his eternal fellowship; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.