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St. Stephen of Hungary
(entered heaven in 1038)
I am eagerly waiting to hear how things went during your summer missionary trip. I do so wish I could have gone with you; there is nothing I long for more than to spread the truths of Christ to souls who have never heard them. I imagine that you were a bit shocked by the living conditions of those you went to serve; they probably differed considerably from the comfy parlors of New England. As you prepare to return to the well-manicured campus lawns, may I make a suggestion? Don’t forget about the poor, and don’t think they’re so far away. It’s easy to see the needs of those who are materially poor. You saw them, and spent your summer helping to meet them. You have joined the long line of saints who have served Christ by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick. When you throw yourself back into classes and clubs and the rest, however, don’t think you have left the poor behind you. Your peers, your dorm mates, your classmates – many of them suffer from the hidden poverty of meaninglessness, loneliness, and interior sin. You should want to bring Christ to them as eagerly as you want to bring food to starving children. The Church has always encouraged us to take on the spiritual as well as the corporal works of mercy. Which makes me think of today’s saint.
Stephen was the elder son of the first Christian leader of the Magyar peoples, who had overrun southeastern Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. Unlike his father, who had accepted baptism primarily out of political expediency, Stephen understood his life as a vocation. At the age of 22 he succeeded his father, and began his life-long work of bringing stability, order, and justice to the rival Magyar tribes, so that the Christian faith could take deeper root in the souls of his people. Eventually he was crowned king by the Pope, and successfully turned the chaotic territory into a prosperous and organized nation. Through all his struggles, he served his Lord equally in those who were materially poor and those who were spiritually poor. He was often found in disguise, distributing alms to homeless people and cripples camped out in the city streets (once the crowd of beggars got out of hand, tumbling him to the ground and stealing his money pouch – he laughed it off, even as his fellow nobles became quite indignant). And at the same time, he saw to it that his people’s souls received the faith. He gradually had Hungarian bishops formed and installed throughout the kingdom, and instituted a policy whereby every ten towns had to construct at least one Church and support a priest. No corruption stained his regime, and when he died at 63, his tomb immediately became a favorite place of pilgrimage and devotion.
So follow in the footsteps of your namesake, my dear niece: you gave physical food to the hungry during the summer; give spiritual food to the hungry during the rest of the year.