St Otto

Bishop of Bamberg (central Germany) (entered heaven in 1139)

Dear Bert,

Since I haven’t heard from you in a long while, I imagine that you are quite content working in your congressman’s office for the summer – or else you have been cowed by the oppressive heat and humidity of the Capital and are simply too worn out to take time to write to your poor, imprisoned uncle who has nothing else to do but worry about his young and vulnerable nephews and nieces.  I hope it’s the former. In any case, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the lesson today’s saint has for a young man like yourself, so interested in civil service and diplomacy (two vocations which are necessary in many careers, not only that of politics).

Otto was ordained a priest as a very young man, and entered into the service of the Holy Roman Emperor (Henry the IV, of Canossa fame) – back then, priests and bishops still had a large and important role to play in civil and state affairs, as I am sure you remember from your Western Civilization classes.  The astute Emperor spent almost his entire reign at loggerheads with the Pope, who refused to let him dominate the Catholic Church – as the Byzantine Emperor had succeeded in doing with the Eastern Churches centuries before, with unsavory consequences. Henry defied Papal ordinances, marched on Rome, feinted repentance, and even appointed his own antipope, all in order to increase his share of control over European affairs.  His son and successor, Henry V, followed in his father’s footsteps. Through it all, Otto (who had been appointed a bishop in 1102) tirelessly labored for reconciliation and understanding between the conflicting parties. He always upheld both the rights of the Church and the legal actions of the Emperors, and through his obvious sincerity and selflessness maintained the respect and admiration of everyone involved. Although this chapter of history sheds an unflattering light on both sides of the Alps, we can only imagine the utter devastation that might have taken place without Otto’s peacemaking efforts (which, by the way, didn’t hinder an exemplary ministry in his own diocese and two remarkable mission trips that converted the entire province of Pomerania (northern Poland).

So, if you really want to make a worthy contribution to human affairs, become a man of virtue, such that your every word and decision flows from humility, meekness, and a love for what is true and good.  If you do, you may not get much press in the history books of this world (St Otto is conspicuously absent from almost all of them), but you and the many souls you edify will have plenty of prime time in the next world.

God bless, Uncle Eddy

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