Saturday, December 26, 2009

Good King Wenceslaus

Actually, he was a duke, not a king. The saintly Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, held fast to the faith in the face of intransigent paganism. He was killed at the instigation of a family member while going to church to assist at the matins of Michaelmas. He is the patron saint of the Czech people. According to an old Slavic legend:
At the death of Vratislaus, the people of Bohemia made his son Wencelsaus their king. He was by God's grace a man of utmost faith. He was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the Gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all his people, both rich and poor; he also provided for the servants of God, and he adorned many churches. The men of Bohemia, however, became arrogant and prevailed upon Boleslaus, his younger brother. They told him, "Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you." On the feasts of the dedication of the churches in various cities, Wenceslaus was in the habit of paying them a visit. One Sunday he entered the city of Boleslaus, on the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and after hearing Mass, he planned to return to Prague. But Boleslaus, with his wicked plan in mind, detained him with the words, "Why are you leaving brother?"

The next morning when they rang the
bell for matins, Wencelaus, on hearing the sound, said, "Praise to you, Lord; you have allowed me to live to this morning." And so he rose and went to matins. Immediately Boleslaus followed him to the church door. Wenceslaus looked back at him and said, "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday." But the devil had already blocked the ears of Boleslaus, and perverted his heart. Drawing his sword, Boleslaus replied, "And now I intend to be a better one!" With these words, he struck his brother's head with his sword. But Wenceslaus turned and said, "Brother, what are you trying to do?" And with that he seized Boleslaus and threw him to the ground. But one of Boleslaus' counselors ran up and stabbed Wenceslaus in the hand. With his hand wounded, he let go of his brother and took refuge in the church. But two evil men struck him down at the church door; and then another rushed up and ran him through with a sword. Thereupon, Wenceslaus died with the words, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."
An old English Christmas carol celebrates "King Wenceslaus," as the following describes:

The carol tells about a miracle said to have happened on December 26 wherein the good king sees a poor man gathering wood for his fire. Learning from his page where the man lives, he bids the page:

Bring me flesh and bring me wine; Bring me pine logs hither; Thou and I shall see him dine When we bear them thither.

And without ado he tucked his royal robes into his boots and trudged through the cold to the hut underneath the mountain.

This spirit of serving is one of the things that needs to be restored to our society. Money is needed, and the needy are thankful for it; but the givers of the money need to do more for their own spirits than sign checks. Like King Wenceslaus, they would refresh their vision of Christ by the experience of serving, by the experience of looking into Christ's face in His poor and feeding Him, changing His sheets, bathing His sick body, shopping at the grocer's for His food. And for every act done with love for Him, He repays a hundredfold.

So this day the children may imitate both St. Stephen the deacon, who served, and St. Wenceslaus the king, who served, and set aside some of their Christmas toys or dollars to take to other little Christs less fortunate than themselves. This is hard, but there is an inner joy that children as well need to experience if they would know what we mean when we talk of serving. It is one thing to hear your parents talk about the blessedness of giving. It is quite another to part with something you do not very much want to part with, and then taste the peace and joy and contentment that come to the souls who have given up their own will for love of Christ.

This act of serving was hard for the little page too, but the carol tells what a marvelous reward was his:

In his master's steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod That the saint had printed.

Children love especially to sing this carol while walking outdoors in the snow. If there are enough who know it (do help them learn all the verses: it makes no sense otherwise) they can take parts, one being king, one page, one the poor man, the rest "voices." And afterward bid them remember, whenever they see footprints in the snow, the saint-king who journeyed to the poor man on the feast of St. Stephen, and bid them help someone that day in imitation of him.

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3 comments:

alaughland said...

Many of the children I know have no idea that there are children in need out there. They, like their parents, are covetous of 'things', and believe they need more and more of whatever is available in the 'marketplace' of consumption. I was just reading about a mother who limits her daughter's visits to 'the mall', and is considered to be an unloving mother by the child, who, at the age of 12 demands her own mobile phone.

Did not know the background on the life of Wenceslaus. Thanks for the information. What a tragic end, but his works are still remembered to this day.

Marissa said...

+JMJ+

Good King Wenceslas is certainly more in the real spirit of Christmas than anything about Santa Claus, even if he is based on St. Nicholas.

sabrina said...

I also read, in a book by St. Alphonsus Liguori (though I'm not sure if this portion was by him or the editor) that St. Wenceslas made his own bread and wine for consecration at Mass. The author also talked about how he, after spending so much time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, was so heated with love that his footprints would melt the snow...and so he'd tell his servant to step in them so he wouldn't be cold. Those two stories always inspired me abundantly...thanks for the additional history!