Thursday, 13 July 2006

St Henry, Emperor

Today is the optional memoria of St Henry (972 - 1024) - a saint I'll definitely be celebrating at the 7pm Mass because 'Henry' was one of my Confirmation names (the other was 'Richard').

St Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Bavaria in 995 and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1002. His cult developed along the same lines as that of St Edward the Confessor - St Henry is remembered as a just ruler, a defender of the Church, a friend of the poor and a model of virtue (indeed, he and his Queen, St Cunegund, are said to have vowed themselves to perpetual chastity). He considered abdicating and becoming a monk after Cunegund's death but the Abbot of Verdun persuaded him to persevere in his imperial vocation.

He died on 13 July 1024 and was canonised in 1146 - he is buried in Bamberg Cathedral (a See which he founded in 1007):



Anonymous Don Marco said...

Good Saint Henry is also the patron of Benedictine Oblates:

Benedictine Oblates living and working in the world have two holy patrons: Saint Francesca of Rome whom we celebrated in March, and today's Saint Henry. One of the things related about Saint Henry is that, on arriving in any town, he would spend his entire first night there in a vigil of prayer in a church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Rome in 1014, he spent the night in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Rome's Bethlehem. While keeping vigil, he saw the “Sovereign and Eternal Priest-Child Jesus” enter to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. Saints Lawrence and Vincent assisted Our Lord as deacons. A throng of saints filled the basilica; Angels chanted in choir. It is noteworthy that in Henry's vision Christ the Priest is a Child. One wonders if he was not keeping vigil before the altar of the Crib of the Infant Jesus in Saint Mary Major, a place of grace for countess souls through the ages.
Henry's vision is very much like those of Saint Gertrude the Great: a pulling back of the veil, a glimpse of “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). After the Gospel, an Angel bearing the book of the Gospels was sent to Henry by the Mother of God. Normally, one kisses the book of the Gospels. Instead the Angel touched Saint Henry's thigh with it, saying, “Accept this sign of God's love for your chastity and justice.” From that moment on, Henry limped like Jacob after his night vigil spent wrestling with the angel (cf. Gn 32:24-25). How fascinating - and how consistent with God's dealings with men - that a mark of weakness should be the sign of a special grace!
Henry was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter's Basilica by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014. Henry cherished Benedictine life, spending time in monasteries whenever he could. His greatest joy was to occupy a stall in choir and join the monks in singing the Divine Office. Henry founded monasteries throughout the Empire and endowed them liberally. He became an oblate of the Abbey of Cluny and then asked to make profession as monk at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The abbot received him as a monk, and then ordered him, in the name of obedience, to take his place again on the imperial throne.
Living in virginity with his wife Saint Cunegonda, Saint Henry preserved the heart of a monk. Limping through life, because of his thigh touched by the Angel bearing the Book of the Gospels, Saint Henry represents every man who, while living in the world, is not entirely at home in it. “Set your minds on things that are above,” says the Apostle, “not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:3).
Had God in Christ not first set His Heart on us, it would be impossible to set our mind on the things that are above. Today's passage from Chapter 11 of Hosea is a familiar one; it is used on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to evoke the merciful and tender love of God for us. God himself, like a father teaching his little child to walk, draws us on with the cords of Adam, with bands of charity (cf. Hos 11:4). “No one comes to me,” says Jesus, “unless the Father draw him” (Jn 6:44).
Verse 4 has this touchingly Eucharistic resonance: “I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos 11:4). Saint Jerome explains it in this way: “I bent toward them, leaving the kingdom of heaven so that I may eat with them, having assumed the human form. Or rather, I gave them my body as food; I was both food and table companion” (Com. on Hosea 3.11). Finally, God describes the returning of His own heart within him: a divine conversion of heart. “My heart is turned within me, my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hos 11:8). God promises to protect the one upon whom He has set His heart. “I am the Holy One in your midst and I will not come to destroy” (Hos 11:9).
In the Responsorial Psalm we responded to God's declaration of tender love. Psalm 79 is a prayer for salvation, restoration, and protection. The refrain we repeated a few moments ago - “Let your face shine, O Lord, that we may be saved!” - completed the refrain of yesterday's psalm, “Seek always the face of the Lord” (Ps 104:4b). Through the rumination of passages such as these one comes to understand why, in speaking of “devotion” to the Holy Face of Christ, Mother Marie des Douleurs wrote, “This is not for us a devotion added on to others. . . . It is of such central importance and so vital for us that we cannot live without it.” John Paul II preached that, “the basic task of every Christian is to be, first and foremost, one whom contemplates the Face of Christ” (RVM, 9).
It is this that made Saint Henry a monk in the midst of the world. He understood that his basic task as a Christian was to contemplate the Face of Christ. The Face of the Child Christ was shown him in that mysterious dream by night in Saint Mary Major. The Child Christ he saw was also the High Priest ascending the altar for the Holy Sacrifice. As an Oblate, Saint Henry surely knew that, in every Mass, his place was on the corporal, close by the bread and the chalice. The Child-Priest, in raising the paten and the chalice heavenward was lifting up Henry's life, making it an oblation to the Father. He will do the same for us today. We have only to seek His Face and abandon ourselves into His hands.

9:10 pm  

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