If today were not a Sunday we would celebrate the Memorial of St. Wenceslaus. Wenceslaus was a Duke in Bohemia. He was born around 903 and was martyred on Sept. 28, 935. After the death of his father, Wenceslaus’ mother became regent. Being a pagan, she opposed Christianity. The people rose up against her, so Wenceslaus was given the reins of government at early age. At a young age, and having been raised as a Christian by his grandmother, Wenceslaus took a vow of virginity, and as a ruler he became known for his virtue. Wenceslaus recruited priests to come to Bohemia and did all in his power to spread the faith.
At the behest of Wenceslaus’ mother who wanted the throne back and to once again suppressed Christianity, Wenceslaus was attacked by his brother and killed by the brother. Later repenting, the brother had Wenceslaus’ remains taken to the Church of St. Vitus.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in Prague on Sept. 28, 2009. In his homily Benedict reflected on the life of St. Wenceslaus. “The martyr St. Wenceslaus shed his blood in your land, and his eagle constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation. This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the Eternal Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully. [Wenceslaus] invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples. Yet we ask ourselves: in our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?
“Today there is a need for believers who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.
“St. Wenceslaus had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow. St. Wenceslaus ‘assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many churches’ and ‘he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked, gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins. He did not allow injustice to be done to widows; he loved all people, whether poor or rich.’ He learned from the Lord to be merciful and gracious, and animated by the Gospel spirit he was even able to pardon his brother who tried to kill him.
“Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that, by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his successors did not bear his name. Rather, it bears the name of Wenceslaus, as a testimony that ‘the throne of the king who judges the poor in truth will remain firm for ever.’”
How could Wenceslaus’ mother reject Christianity given the well attested example of her son? Why do people reject good Christians today?
We have been reading about the mind of Christ for the last several weeks. We’ve been told of our obligation to point out behaviors in others that endanger the community. We’ve been told that the practice of forgiveness is of absolute necessity for anyone wishing to be a member of the community. Last week we were told of the requirement to be just and merciful. All these things are contrary to society’s standards, but we are called to embrace them anyway.
Our parable from Matthew’s Gospel praises no one, but it does make clear that the ones willing to humble themselves are the ones most likely to find the mind of Christ. Wenceslaus made a promise of virginity and lived the Christian virtues, yet despite his holiness he was murdered for his throne. Many times we ourselves are persecuted for living the mind of Christ. We are made the outcasts Matthew speaks of.
The stone rejected by the builders became the cornerstone. Wenceslaus was rejected, but centuries later his symbol is on the national flag and it is his crown that is an example of a good ruler. The lesson is that living as Christ wishes, even if we are rejected, is the very way God’s kingdom continues to be built and will stand firm. For this God will remember us forever!
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.