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St Adalbert of Prague
Bishop and Martyr (entered heaven this day in 997)
Objectively, I think you are right: this has been an extremely difficult year for your apostolic endeavors on campus. And yes, I am sorry for you, and I wish things had gone better. That far I can go. But I cannot in good conscience condone your rather misanthropic tendency for indulging in self-pity. My dear niece, why should building Christ’s Kingdom be an easy task? Christ himself said it would involve crosses and sacrifice and persecution. What makes you think you should be an exception? All the saints who have gone before you have had to suffer in order to bear evangelical fruit. Why would you be an exception? Maybe a look at today’s saint will wake you up from your melancholic stupor.
Adalbert almost died when he was just a child. His parents, fearing for his life in the face of a strange sickness, brought him into a church and consecrated his life to God’s service, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, asking only that he be allowed to live. The child was cured, and his parents sent him to study under the Archbishop of Magdebourg. This prelate was a scholar and a saint, and gave his protégé a deep intellectual and lasting spiritual formation. Here he lived for nine years before the archbishop died and Adalbert returned to his native Bohemia (modern Czech Republic), where he was ordained a priest and took to serving the poor especially. Soon after, the Archbishop of Prague also passed away – screaming in the last moments of his agony that the devils had come to carry his soul away from God because of how he had indulged in worldly pursuits instead of dedicating himself more zealously to his flock.
Adalbert was soon given the bishop’s miter in place of the deceased, though he energetically resisted. Thus began an inauspicious mission, which tried his soul to the breaking point.
In spite of his exemplary virtue and eloquent preaching, the people of Prague (mostly recent and superficial converts from paganism, mixed with some who still practiced their pagan rites) defied moral reform. So fruitless were his efforts that Adalbert made a trip to Rome to ask the Pope if he could retire and dedicate himself to prayer and penance, thinking he could do more inside a monastery than inside the walls of pagan Prague. The Pope accepted his resignation, and the saint became a humble choir monk in Rome.
But the Archbishop of Metz, a neighboring diocese back in Bohemia, petitioned the Pope for Adalbert’s return, so the weary saint made his way back to the city that was his greatest cross. Though the king and populous celebrated his arrival, they paid no more heed to his admonitions this time than before, and Adalbert once again retired. And once again the neighboring prelates petitioned his return. But this time the angry populous murdered Adalbert’s relations, sending him a clear message that they didn’t want him back – he was too demanding a shepherd for those straying sheep.
So the Saint went instead further north, to Prussia, which hadn’t received the Gospel yet, and preached among the most barbarous of heathens. He suffered frequent physical assaults, and seemed to make no spiritual progress, and in a short time he was captured and imprisoned by his new flock, who then sacrificed him to their idols, piercing him seven times with seven spears. His dying words pleaded for the forgiveness and salvation of his murderers. He was only 39 years old at the time.
That’s what it’s like, this work of evangelization. So I don’t think you should be worried in the face of your own difficulties (less violent but certainly no less daunting). Most of all, though, you shouldn’t be surprised. Onward, Christian soldier! Keep the flame of hope burning in your heart and the light of faith sparkling in your eyes, and leave the rest up to our faithful Lord.
Your loving uncle,