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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Adalbert

April 22, 2014 saints No Comments


We will all die as a result of original sin — and we will be judged at the time of our death. There are two judgments that we will face after we end our existence on this earth.
First, we will face the particular judgment at the time of our death, where we will then go to one of three places: Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.
At the end of the world, there will be a general judgment where all persons ever created will face the final judgment of God of our actions, or what we have failed to do. These good actions or unrepentant failings of ours will not only be revealed to all souls, but will also be judged in terms of their far-reaching consequences until the end of time.
For example, the far-reaching effects of the many souls converted or further inflamed to a deeper love of God by having done the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius will not be fully realized until the end of the world. There are other saints who have led others to Christ and their works will also have effects far beyond the days of their lives.
If one considers St. Stephen of Hungary, raised so carefully in the faith by his father, we learn that he built a monastery that is truly a man-made wonder that has lasted for over 1,000 years. Geza was the father of St. Stephen, and he was the one who initiated the work of converting his pagan country to Christianity.
Although God is the primary cause, He works through men. In this case, who was it who brought about the conversion of the father of St. Stephen? None other than St. Adalbert converted Geza. And who was this St. Adalbert? He was a man who had, when he finally received Confirmation in the Church, taken on the name of his mentor, Bishop Adalbert.
Around the year 956, Prince Slavnik and his wife, Strezislava, named their newborn son Vojtech. Vojtech was one of seven sons of Slavnik who was the ruler of Zilcan in Bohemia — a rival of Prague.
As a young man, Vojtech received his education from another St. Adalbert, bishop of Magdeburg. About the year 970, he left his home in Bohemia and went with his half-brother, Radim, to study under the bishop.
After ten years the bishop died, so Adalbert returned to Bohemia with the library he had accumulated. While he was there, he was first ordained as a subdeacon by Bishop Thietmar of Prague. In 981 Adalbert’s father passed away and a year later so did the bishop of Prague. The dying bishop lamented his work, fearing that he had neglected his responsibilities as bishop and shepherd of his people. This witness left a deep and lasting impression on the young Adalbert.
Not long after, Adalbert was elected to the bishopric of Prague. Thus he began his office with acts of penance, one being that he entered the city of Prague barefoot. The warm welcome he received from Boleslaus II of Bohemia and the people gave credence to his holiness and faithfulness.
One of his first actions as bishop was to divide the revenues into four parts: one part for the preservation of the vestments and ornaments of the church; another for the canons of the diocese; the third for the sustenance of the poor; and the last for the support of the bishop and his household.
Although he assiduously made pastoral visits to the poor and the imprisoned as a good shepherd should, he was unable to lead his flock to a deeper love of the faith. The populace remained either largely pagan or, if Christian, Christian in name only. Despondent with his apparent failure, he left for Rome. However, some historians believe that he would not have abandoned his sheep, so there must have been a political motive for his departure.
While in Rome, he entered the abbey of Saints Boniface and Alexis, and took the habit of the monks. His stay was cut short by the request of Duke Boleslaus who asked for his return to Prague. Pope John XV convinced Adalbert to return with the agreement that he would receive the support of the civil authorities in carrying out his episcopal duties.
Again he was well received. This time he established an abbey in Brevnov which was consecrated in 993. But did the peace and serenity of this apparent welcome last? By now we know that it would not. Adalbert, like Christ, tried to protect a woman caught in adultery but she was captured from his sanctuary and protection, dragged from the altar and murdered. He punished the perpetrators by excommunicating them. Enraged by this action, his political enemies again drove him from Prague.
Again he traveled to Rome where he remained until Pope Gregory V ordered him back to his see. Even though St. Adalbert never hesitated in obeying this request, he prudently suggested that it might not be possible for him to return to Bohemia, since the more influential residents of the city of Prague had attacked his relatives, burning their castles and killing the families.
He feared that going among these same people would be a provocation, causing even more bloodshed. As a compromise he went to Poland, where he stopped over with Duke Boleslaus. The duke sent a messenger to test the waters of Adalbert’s return, but the people adamantly rejected the overture claiming that they did not want the bishop to return and they were too far lost to hope for any chance of conversion or change in their ways.
Therefore St. Adalbert turned his eyes to the people of Hungary and then the Prussians in Pomerania. Along with Benedict and Radim, he made conversions in Hungary — Geza among them — and then made some headway in Danzig. Once again the Devil did not rest. This time the Prussians accused them of being spies and ordered them to leave.
Committed to their Christian mission, they refused to leave. Not long after this, the three of them were stoned to death on April 23, 997. The martyrdom happened either at Königsberg or in the vicinity of the Elbing canal where his body was thrown into the river.
The body of St. Adalbert then washed up on the Polish coast where it was recovered and later enshrined at Gniezno. In 1039, the saint’s relics were brought to Prague.
His feast day is April 23.
Dear St. Adalbert, bishop of Eastern Europe, missionary to pagans and victim of persecutions by the pagans, look upon our Church, also suffering from many of the same travails today. Strengthen our bishops to be martyrs for the faith. Intercede for them to receive the grace to seek to carry out God’s will, to convert the sinner, not counting the cost. May we continue to pray for our shepherds who undergo so much temptation in this wayward world! Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. Mrs. Breslin’s articles have appeared in Homiletic & Pastoral Review and in the Marian Catechist Newsletter. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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