St Hermenegild

Martyr, (entered heaven on this day, 586)

Dear Hermione,

I don’t think your father really plans on following through with his threat.  He probably just wants to make sure you are serious about your vocational decision.  He figures that if you really believe God is calling you to the consecrated life, you won’t hesitate in the face of opposition, but if you are pursuing that path merely because it seems to offer an escape from mundane responsibilities, opposition will throw you off balance.  On the other hand, if he is serious about “disowning you as soon as you make your vows”, that will be a heavy cross for you to carry.  But would you betray the Lord because He is giving you a share in his cross?  I don’t think so.  I think you are much too similar to today’s saint.

He was the elder son of Levigild, the Gothic King of Spain (southern Spain, really) in the early sixth century – who also happened to be an Arian.  You remember Arianism, don’t you?  Arianism was a heresy that denied Christ’s true divinity.  It was a widespread scourge on the Church for hundreds of years.  Well, Levigild educated his two sons in Arianism.  At the same time that they received their thrones (Levigild made them both kings before his own death, to insure the succession) they were convinced heretics.  But Hermenegild had the good fortune to marry a beautiful French princess who was also a devout Catholic (adherent to the true faith), Ingondes.  Ingondes was pressured in various ways to abandon her faith, but she held firm.  And she was such a devoted and wise wife and mother that her example began to make Hermenegild second-guess his own Arian allegiance.  Eventually, with the help of St Leander, Ingondes convinced her husband to return to the one, true Church.

His father flew into a rage when he heard about his eldest son’s confirmation in the Catholic faith.  He immediately decided to deprive him of his royal title and all his goods and possessions.  But Hermenegild resisted these unjust efforts.  He appealed to the emperor in Constantinople for help.  When that didn’t work, he appealed to the Roman generals who occupied some of Spain’s coastlands.  They agreed, but were corrupted by Levigild and betrayed Hermenegild.  The young Catholic king ended up fleeing his father’s wrath and taking refuge with 300 Catholic noblemen in a strong fortress.  His father burnt the place down.  Hermenegild managed to escape, however, and took refuge at the altar of a church.  His father sent Hermenegild’s brother in with a promise of forgiveness, if he would submit to his father’s rule and ask pardon for having taken up arms against him.  Hermenegild was glad at the chance to be reconciled.  But once his father got him back to his camp, he had him stripped and chained and imprisoned in the tower of Seville.  There the saint was threatened and cajoled in order to abjure his Catholic faith.  It didn’t work.  So he was then sent to the dungeons, where he was tortured, with equally little effect.  King Levigild even sent in an Arian bishop to offer him Holy Communion, which Hermenegild vehemently refused to receive at the hands of a heretic.

In the end, the infuriated King Levigild sent two soldiers to execute his son.  They split his skull with an ax, right in his dungeon cell, so that his brains were strewn on the cold stone floor.  Much later, Levigild repented, and on his deathbed he encouraged his surviving son to embrace the Catholic faith, as his older brother had done.

I hope you don’t have to suffer quite so much as St Hermenegild had to in order stay faithful to Christ.  But indubitably you will have to suffer.  I suggest you keep the following words of today’s saint (his last message to his father) close to your heart in those moments of trial: “I confess your goodness to me has been extreme. I will preserve to my dying breath the respect, duty, and tenderness which I owe you; but is it possible that you should desire me to prefer worldly greatness to my salvation? I value the crown as nothing; I am ready to lose scepter and life too, rather than abandon the divine truth.”

Your loving uncle,


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