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St. Wenceslaus

Fr. Scott Haynes

As Duke of Bohemia, good King Wenceslaus lived in the turbulent age when the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe were being introduced to Christianity. His grandfather Borivoy and his grandmother Ludmila had both been converted by St. Methodius, the apostle of the Slavic nations.


Coming from royalty, Wenceslaus’ grandparents built the first Christian church in Bohemia just north of Prague. As Christians, they showed concern for the enlightening of their subjects. With the light of the true Faith, they built churches and invited priests to celebrate the divine services.


With holy zeal, but little prudence, Wenceslaus’ grandfather Borivoy tried to convert his kingdom to Christianity by force. Not only did his effort fail, it engendered a hatred for Christianity among many of his pagan subjects.


When Prince Borivoy died at the age of 36, he left his wife Ludmila as a widow. She would lead an austere and pious life, and she would continue to work for the spread of the Christian faith. With the death of Borivoy, his son Ratislav became successor to the throne. Ratislav was firmly Christian, so Ludmila was pleased. But Ratislav’s wife Drahomira was an opportunist. They had two sons, Wenceslaus and Boleslav. Wenceslaus was carefully raised in the faith by Ludmila, his grandmother. She had found a priest to tutor Wenceslaus in Slavonic, Latin, Christian doctrine, Christian virtue, and the practice of charitable works. Wenceslaus was tenderly devoted to the Holy Eucharist. He prepared the altar breads with his own hands. He planted and harvested the grapes to make the sacramental wine as well.


Wenceslaus was still young when his father Ratislav died in a battle against the Magyars. His mother Drahomira then assumed the office of regent, and began to set a course of rule detrimental to the practice of Christianity in the kingdom. Ludmila, seeing the decline of faith and good order, urged her grandson to take over the government himself.


To prevent this coup, Drahomira convinced two pagan men who thought hated Wenceslaus because of his Christian piety, to strangle Ludmila in the year 921. The Czech people immediately hailed Ludmila as a martyr, and today she is venerated as a saint. What she hoped to accomplish with her life, namely the spread of the Christian faith, she accomplished rather by her holy death.


Wenceslaus followed Ludmila's counsel, young though he was. He declared at once that he would support the law of Christ and His Church. The timing was right and Wenceslaus ascended the throne and ruled over the Czech people. He would strive to rule with justice and mercy, but punish murder severely.


Wenceslaus proved a successful ruler both at home and abroad. But there was still a group of malcontents who thought he relied too much on the guidance of the bishop. Wenceslaus married and soon had a son. That meant that Wenceslaus’ brother Boleslav, would no longer be successor to the throne. Jealousy prompted Boleslav to join the party opposed to Wenceslaus. Trouble was brewing.


On September 27 929, Boleslav invited Wenceslaus to his home to celebrate the feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian. On the evening of the holy day, an advisor warned Wenceslaus that his life was in danger. When he awoke on the morning of September 28th he thanked God that he had survived the night. He went to Church to assist at Mass and to offer thanks.


And that morning, September 28th 929, as he crossed the threshold of the Church, he encountered his brother Boleslav. Wenceslaus stopped to thanked his Brother Boleslav for his overnight hospitality. Boleslav’s face at once changed as he said:

Yesterday I did my best to serve you fittingly, but this must be my service today.

Thereupon, he struck his brother Wenceslaus with deathly force. Then some of Boleslav’s cohorts rushed upon Wenceslaus and stabbed him. Mortally wounded, Wenceslaus fell by the chapel door. His last words were:

Brother, may God forgive you!

The Bohemian people were greatly shocked. They at once hailed Wenceslaus as a martyr, and miracles began to be reported among those who prayed at his tomb. Taking fright, Boleslav had Wenceslaus’s body enshrined in the church of St. Vitus in the city of Prague. And so, St. Wenceslaus would eventually become the patron saint of the Bohemian people.


St. Wenceslaus stepped into a position that was very difficult. He was equipped with a solid faith. He knew what was right and, though it was hard, he did it with God’s grace. He practiced charity to his subjects and when he was murdered by his own brother he offered him only forgiveness. Let us imitate the virtues of St. Wenceslaus and strive to establish and expand the Kingdom of God in whatever realm we inhabit, whether that is your living room, office, classroom or some larger arena.


St. Wenceslaus, pray for us.

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