St Leopold the Good

Marquis of Austria and Confessor (entered heaven in the year 1136)

Dear Polly,

Your complaints about your chaplain may be accurate, but they still disturb me.  Faith doesn’t oblige you to call irresponsibility and scandal virtuous, but it does oblige you to maintain your reverence and respect.  Remember, the dignity of a priest doesn’t derive from his holiness or his affability; it derives from a sacrament – the sacrament of orders.  By that sacrament a man is configured to Christ, empowered to offer the one true sacrifice and administer the forgiveness of sins in the name of the one true Savior.  For the sake of the One who has bestowed this unfathomable grace upon him, please do your best not to berate your priest, but to draw him back to the road of fidelity by your example, service, and prayers.  An anecdote from the life of today’s saint may prove instructive in this regard.

Leopold was both the grandson and grandfather of an emperor.  In the meantime, he received a truly Christian education and at the youthful age of 23 succeeded his father as margrave (military governor) of the rather raw and still somewhat barbaric nation of Austria.  Later he took as his wife the energetically devout widow of the Duke of Swabia, Agnes. They and their eighteen children (plus two from Agnes’ previous marriage) fulfilled their high stations in life with elegant responsibility, calming and civilizing and ordering a young nation only recently come into Christianity.  Leopold tirelessly extended his intelligence and influence to foster prosperity and justice in his realm, and peace and harmony throughout the Empire. But it is not his political achievements that most interest me, rather, I would like to point out their root cause: a vibrant faith.

Both he and Agnes dedicated what time they could – considering their many duties and projects – to prayer and reading the Scriptures.  But even so, they eagerly wished to be able to lift their voices in praise and supplication non-stop. To do so they established a huge monastery outside of Vienna.  The perpetual pious exercises of the religious who inhabited it would have to serve as a substitute for their own. While dedicated the site, Leopold was asked to lay the first stone.  He declined, however, and insisted that a priest standing nearby do so, a humble, title-less, perhaps mediocre priest. In so doing, Leopold revealed the secret source of his tireless creativity and heartfelt popularity: he knew that God was at work behind all things, and he only had to do his humble part (large though it was), and help others do theirs (small though they may be), and that would be enough.

Deep down, I know you believe in the sacrament of orders, and I know you wouldn’t want to see yourself treating your chaplain as if he were a bumbling employee.  So don’t let merely human indignation override the patience, hope and love engendered by faith – that’s the trap the Pharisees fell into, a cold and constricting trap that wouldn’t fit you right at all.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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