Thought for the Day – 16 August – The Memorial of St Stephen of Hungary (c 975- 1038)
St Stephen introduced into Hungary both the Faith of Christ and regal dignity. He obtained his royal crown from the Roman Pontiff and having been, by his command, anointed King, he offered his kingdom to the Apostolic See. He built several houses of charity at Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople and with a wonderfully munificent spirit of religion, he founded the See of Gran and ten other bishoprics. His love for the poor was equalled only by his generosity towards them, for, seeing in them Christ Himself, he never sent anyone away sad or empty-handed. So great indeed was his charity, that, to relieve their necessities, after expending large sums of money, he often bestowed upon them his household goods. It was his custom to wash the feet of the poor with his own hands and to visit the hospitals at night, alone and unknown, serving the sick and showing them every charity. As a reward for these good deeds his right hand remained incorrupt after death, when the rest of his body had returned to dust – it resides in a chapel of the Basilica of St Stephen, Budapest, Hungary.
Having married Gisela of Bavaria, sister of the Emperor St Heinrich, he had by her a son, Emeric, whom he brought up in such regularity and piety as to form him into a saint. In the following letter to his son, Stephen lays out his vision of what a Christian monarch must be but in fact, the counsel remains a letter to us all. For this and your intercession, we bless and thank you St Stephen!
“My dearest son, if you desire to honour the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, in the royal palace – after the faith itself – the Church holds second place, first propagated as she was by our head, Christ, then transplanted, firmly constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers. And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient.
However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom, the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted and for that reason, she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians, lest a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly, should be destroyed and annihilated, through your idleness, indolence or neglect.
My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful but also with the weak.
Finally be strong, lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily, bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust, like the pangs of death.
All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.”