Profiles of the Saints and Feasts |
Semi-Double Feast Within the Octave
Historical feast of Saint Willibrord, Bishop and Apostle of the Netherlands
Saint Willibrord was born in Northumberland (northeastern England) in 657. His father left the world to enter a monastery, and is honored as a Saint in the monastery of Echternach in the diocese of Treves, and named in the English calendar. When his son was twenty years old he was already wearing the religious habit. Being accustomed to bearing the yoke of the Lord, and finding it light and sweet, he went to Ireland to seek greater perfection and study under Saint Egbert.
When he was thirty years old he desired, with Saint Swidbert and ten other monks of England, to preach the faith in the land of the Frisons, or Vriesland, a province of the Low Countries surrounding the mouth of the Rhine. The Frisons were warriors and had maintained their liberty against the Romans. The Gospel had been preached among them in 678 by Saint Wilfrid, but those efforts had borne little fruit, and the true God was almost entirely unknown among them when the monks arrived.
Willibrord afterwards went on to Rome to ask the papal benediction and authorization to preach the Gospel to the idolatrous nations; he was amply blessed with powers and relics for the churches he would construct. His companion, Saint Swidbert, became the bishop of a group residing near Cologne. The other eleven missionaries preached in the part of Vriesland belonging to the French. Saint Willibrord was recommended for episcopal consecration by Pepin, royal Palace Steward of France; Pope Sergius changed his name to Clement and consecrated him Archbishop of the Frisons in Saint Peter’s Church in Rome.
He then returned to Utrecht, where he established his residence and built the Church of the Savior. He repaired the Church of Saint Martin, which later became the Cathedral of Utrecht. He built and governed until his death the abbey of Echternach in Luxembourg. He baptized the son of Charles Martel, named Pepin, who later became king of France. Charles Martel was a benefactor of the churches founded by Saint Willibrord, and conferred on him sovereignty of the city of Utrecht.
Saint Willibrord preached also in Denmark, where a cruel king reigned at that time; the Saint, seeing invincible obstacles to the propagation of the Gospel, merely bought thirty children of the land, whom he baptized and took back with him to Utrecht. He preached on the island of Walcheren, converted many and established several churches. A blow from a saber which an idolatrous priest gave him there made no wound; and the idolatrous priest became possessed by the demon.
Saint Boniface joined him in 720 and spent three years with him before going to Germany. Saint Bede, English historian, wrote of Saint Willibrord, saying he was a venerable old man who had for thirty-six years been a bishop and was “awaiting the rewards of life in heaven, after the generous battles he waged in the spiritual combat.” At Utrecht Saint Willibrord founded schools which became famous. He wrought many miracles, and had the gift of prophecy. He labored unceasingly as bishop for more than fifty years, beloved alike of God and of man, and died full of days and good works. This amiable Saint, noted for his gaiety in conversation and his wisdom in counsel, was buried in the monastery of Echternach in Luxembourg.
True zeal has its roots in the love of God. It can never be idle; it must labor, toil, be doing great things. It glows as fire; it is, like fire, insatiable. Reflect whether this spirit exists in you!
Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).
Friday, November 8:
Traditional Feast of the Four Crowned Martyrs Severus, Severian, Carpophorus and Victorinus all slain for their Faith by Diocletian in 306. Historical feast of Saint Godfrey, Bishop
Saint Godfrey was born about 1066 at Molincourt in France of a distinguished Christian family. He arrived late in the lives of his parents, who had begged the prayers of the holy abbot of Mount Saint Quentin, desiring to have a child they could consecrate to God. Their prayers and those of the religious of the monastery of Mount Saint Quentin were answered in the same year. The child was baptized by the Abbot and later confided to him to be educated. Eventually Godfrey’s father entered a monastery of Our Lady which he had enriched by his alms; and his mother spent her declining years in various good works.
Godfrey was given the charge of taking care of the sick, and exercised it with such great charity that he was also named hospitaller, to receive the poor at the gate. For assistance in that second duty he had his older brother Odon, who after many years in the military career had come to join him in the religious life. His brother would later die a holy death in the same abbey of Mount Saint Quentin.
When Saint Godfrey was 25 years old his abbot told him to prepare for the priesthood. He received the Sacrament of Holy Orders from the bishop of Noyon, in which diocese the abbey of Mount Saint Quentin is situated. Not long afterwards, the abbey of Our Lady of Nogent, whose abbot was incapacitated by illness, voted to obtain Godfrey in that office, and the abbot of Mount Saint Quentin consented to the sacrifice of his dear spiritual son for that purpose. The pleas of the disciple based on his youth and inexperience were not heeded, and in 1095 he became Abbot of Nogent, where the buildings were crumbling and only six monks and two young novices remained. He renovated the edifices and built a hostelry for pilgrims and the sick poor; and in this hostelry he himself continued to labor on their behalf. Soon the monastery filled up with vocations, drawing even two illustrious abbots from elsewhere, who desired to serve under this master.
When a severe drought was devastating the fields and flocks of the region, the bishop of Soissons, Hugh de Pierrefonds, went to Godfrey to ask his counsel; the holy abbot prescribed a fast in the manner of Ninevah — even the animals were to participate. On the first day of the fast, when the abbot rose to preach in the vast Church of Saint Steven, before the assembled people, the sky suddenly darkened, and so heavy a rain fell that the people were not a little inconvenienced on returning home.
When the aged bishop of Amiens died soon afterwards, its residents chose Godfrey to be their bishop, and went to a legate of the Holy See to ask him to intercede with the abbot to obtain his consent. When this decision was related to Godfrey he would have fled, but the order of the legate prevented his flight. Moreover, he had already had a vision of Saint Firmin, first Bishop of Amiens and martyr, advising him of this forthcoming new responsibility. He therefore submitted to the clear designs of Providence. After Saint Godfrey obtained a beautiful new reliquary for the relics of Amiens’ first bishop, the confidence of the people in their patron Saint, Saint Firmin, redoubled. A prayer to him by Saint Godfrey, asking for sunshine on the day of the translation of the relics, was the occasion; a fog so heavy one could scarcely see, lifted, and the sun at once shone brilliantly in the sanctuary.
As bishop he did not cease to take care of the poor and the sick. When some lepers came to him he commanded his cook to prepare food for them; four hours later nothing had yet been done, and he himself went to the kitchen and found a large, prepared salmon which he took to the famished lepers. The cook remonstrated with him, and the Saint told him that it was injustice to allow the poor to die of hunger while unworthy bishops enjoyed food that was too succulent.
When troubles occasioned by the contemporary quarrel over investitures devastated the city of Amiens, the holy bishop thought it well to resign his office and retire to the Grand Chartreuse, and did so. The archbishop of Rheims, however, could not approve such an action, and reproached the residents of Amiens when they brought up the question of a successor. The affair was referred to a Council to be held at Soissons in January of 1115. A letter was sent by the Council to the religious of Saint Bruno, begging them not to retain the bishop of Amiens, but to send him back to his see; and Godfrey with tears resigned himself to obeying the orders of the king and the Council. His declining years were not exempt from sufferings; the city of Amiens was decimated by a fire which spared only the church of Saint Firmin, the episcopal palace and a few houses of the poor. The people had not listened to the exhortations of their bishop when their prevarications enkindled the wrath of God. He died on November 8, 1115, in perfect serenity, having given his farewell blessing to the religious of the monastery of Soissons, where he had been taken, after falling ill during a journey there. His tomb was illustrated by many miracles.
Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13.