St Guinevere

(also known as, St Winifred of Whales), Virgin and Martyr (entered heaven this day around 655)

Dear Ginny,

You said in your last note that “It’s getting harder and harder to do what I know I ought to do as a Christian; I’m worn out with being good.”  Hmmm… My dearest of nieces, I am immensely grateful that you told me that. Hidden in those simple, sincere words, are both a dire situation and its solution, both of which are reflected in the remarkable life of today’s saint.

The dire situation is this: the devil has succeeded in getting you to depend solely on your own strength to fulfill your Christian commitments.  That’s why you are so worn out. You see, “doing good”, as you put it, is not what Christian life is about; it’s about loving Christ, and love doesn’t get tired.  True virtue gets stronger and more energetic as it advances. This is why the saints are such fireballs. So if you find that virtue is getting tiresome, it’s almost certain that the reason is because you’re not living virtue anymore (virtue is from the heart), but only empty routine.  If you feel that, I can guarantee two things: you’ve been cutting corners on your prayer life, and you’ve been minimizing your visits to the chapel. Right? OK, so you know what to do.

It’s prayer and the sacraments that keep our love fresh, which strengthens our virtue.  Tha’t where today’s saint comes into the picture. Her uncle, the greatest of Welsh saints, St Breuno, came to live in her neighborhood when she was just a little girl.  Her wealthy parents gave him a plot of land where he built a church and began a fervent work of evangelization. He was a rousing preacher, and Guinevere’s parents – devout Christians that they were – would sit their daughter at his feet while he expounded the Gospel.  Little Guinevere drank it all in, and the Holy Spirit made the words go deep, and she eventually felt called to give her life totally to Christ. So in the hands of St Brueno she vowed her virginity: she would be Christ’s bride alone, forever. She wasn’t quite old enough yet to join a convent, so she spent her days in prayer and in resisting young men’s entreaties to marriage (she was a physically beautiful girl).

Well, she persevered in her desire, until one day a swashbuckling prince from a neighboring county, Caradog, happened by.  He had been hunting in the area. Guinevere’s parents weren’t at home when he knocked and asked for a drink. Some sources say that he planned in that way.  In any case, he took advantage of the situation to try and seduce the beautiful young lady, but she resisted definitively. He became angry, then violent. She escaped and ran towards the church, where her parents were at prayer.  He caught up to her on the threshold of the sacred building, and in a fit of passionate anger he swept out his sword and cut off her head (which, when it hit the ground, gave rise to a fountain that has been procuring miraculous favors for pilgrims ever since – minutely documented miracles).  St Breuno was preaching when this tragedy transpired, and hurried to the door. Seeing what had occurred, he cursed the young prince, who was swallowed up by the earth immediately, and he implored the Lord to spare Guinevere, which He did. Her life was restored, and only a thin white circle remained on her neck as a sign of her rather unique martyrdom.  She then joined a convent and dedicated herself to prayer and penance for the next twelve years of her life.

Now, you may have difficulty believing the details of this story, but St Guinevere has since time immemorial been one of the three favorite Welsh saints, along with St Chad and St David, and the miracles associated with the well (located at what is now called “Holywell”) are undeniable.  Whether she actually had her head severed by an importunate suitor, to my mind, is beside the point. To my mind, the twelve years of prayer and penance, isolated from all the pleasures and delights of high society in the prime of her youth, is a greater miracle, a greater sign of God’s presence, than undoing a beheading.  And that’s where the lesson is. When we feel “tired” of living Christian virtue, one look at the example of the saints reminds us that all we need to do is turn back to Christ. He is no empty, impersonal ideal, as the devil would like us to think; he is a friend, the Friend of friends, and if following him means giving up certain things this world holds dear, he will most assuredly make sure that we get much more in return, both “here and hereafter” as he promises in the Gospels.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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