Sunday, June 25, 2017
St. William the Abbot

Double (1954 Calendar): June 25

St. William was the Piedmontese religious founder (1085-1142).  He lived as a hermit in various regions of Italy. While he was on a height between Nola and Benevento, he was joined by a group of hermit-monks to whom he gave a rule based on that of St. Benedict. His congregation of Williamites was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. William was merciless in the austerities he imposed upon himself, believing ardently that the Christian who suffers with Jesus will also be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).

The following is taken from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger:

Martyrs are numerous on the cycle during the Octave of St. John. But not alone in martyrdom’s peerless glory does our Emmanuel reveal the potency of his grace, or the victorious force of example left to the world by his Precursor. At the very outset, we have here presented to our homage one of those countless athletes of penance, who succeeded John in the desert; one of those who fleeing, like him, in early youth, a society wherein their soul’s foreboding told only of peril and annoy, consecrated a lifetime to Christ’s complete triumph within them over the triple concupiscence, thus bearing witness to the Lord by deeds which the world ignores, but which make angels to rejoice and hell to tremble. William was one of the chiefs of this holy militia. The Order of Monte-Vergine, that owes its origin to him, has deserved well of the Monastic institute and of the whole Church in those southern parts of Italy, wherein God has been pleased, at different times, to raise up a dyke, as it were, against the encroaching waves of sensual pleasures, by the stern spectacle of austerest virtue.

Both personally and by his disciples, William’s mission was to infuse into the kingdom of Sicily, then in process of formation, that element of sanctity upon which every Christian nation must necessarily be based. In southern, just as in northern Europe, the Norman race had been providentially called in to promote the reign of Jesus Christ. Just at this moment, Byzantium, powerless to protect against Saracen invasion the last vestiges of her possessions in the West, was anxious nevertheless to hold the Churches of these lands fast bound in that schism into which she had recently been drawn by the intriguing ambition of Michael Cerularius. The Crescent had been forced to recoil before the sons of a Tancred and a Hauteville; and now, in its turn, Greek perfidy had just been outwitted and unmasked by the rude simplicity of these men, who learned fast enough how to oppose no argument to Byzantine knavery save the sword The Papacy though for a moment doubtful soon came to understand of what great avail these new comers would be in feudal quarrels the jar and turmoil whereof were to extend far and wide for yet two centuries more leading at last to the long struggle betwixt Sacerdotalism and Caesarism All through this period as has ever been the case since the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost was directing every event for the ultimate good of the Church He it was that inspired the Normans to give solidity to their conquests by declaring themselves vassals of the Holy See and thus fixing themselves on the Apostolic rock But at the same time both to recompense their fidelity at the very opening of their career and to render them more worthy of the mission which would have ever been their honor and their strength, had they but continued so to understand it, this same Holy Spirit gave them Saints. Roger I beheld St. Bruno interceding for his people in the solitudes of Calabria, and there also that blessed man miraculously saved the duke from an ambush laid by treason. Roger II was now given another such heavenly aid to bring him back again into the paths of righteousness from which he had too often strayed, the example and exhortations of the founder of Monte-Vergine.

Following the footsteps of John, thou didst understand, O William, the charms of the wilderness; and God was pleased to make known by thee how useful are such lives as thine, spent afar from the world and apparently wholly unconcerned with human affairs. Complete detachment of the senses disengages the soul, and makes her draw nigh to the Sovereign Good; solitude, by stifling earth’s tumult, permits the voice of the Creator to be heard. Then man, enlightened by the very Author of the world concerning the great interests that are being at that very time put into play in this work of His, becomes in the Creator’s hands an instrument at once powerful and docile for the carrying out of these very interests, in reality identical with those of the creature himself and of nations. Thus didst thou become, O illustrious Saint, the bulwark of a great people, who found in thy word the rule of right; in thine example the stimulus of loftiest virtue; in thy superabundant penance, a compensation in God’s sight for the excesses of its princes. The countless miracles which accompanied thine exhortations were not without a telling eloquence of their own, in the eyes of new nations among whom success of arms had created violence and had lashed up passion to fury: that wolf, for instance, which, after having devoured the ass of the monastery, was enforced by thee to take its victim’s place in humble service; or again, that hapless woman who, beholding thee inaccessible to the scorching flames on that bed of burning coals, renounced her criminal life, and was led by thee into paths even of sanctity!

Many a revolution, upheaving the land wherein once thou didst pray and suffer, has but too well proved the instability of kingdoms and dynasties that seek not first, and before all things else, the Kingdom of God and His Justice. Despite the oblivion, alas too frequent, into which thy teaching and example have been thrown, protect the land wherein God granted thee graces so stupendous, that land which He vouchsafed to confide to thy powerful intercession. Faith still lives in its people; then keep it up, notwithstanding the efforts of the enemy in these sad days; but make it also to produce fruits in virtue’s field. Amidst many trials, thy monastic family has been able, up to this present age of persecution, to propagate itself and to serve the Church: obtain that it, together with all other Religious families, may show itself, unto the end, stronger than the tempest. Our Lady, whom thou didst serve right valiantly, is at hand to second thine efforts; from that sanctuary whose name has outlived lived the memory of the poet, who unconsciously sang her glories, may Mary ever smile upon the thronging crowds that year by year toil up the holy mount hailing the triumph of her virginity; may she accept at thy hands our hearts homage and desire, although we cannot in very deed accomplish this sacred pilgrimage.

 O God, the example and protection of Your saints, strengthen us in our own weakness, and enable us to walk in the path of salvation. May we pay fitting honor to the merits of the blessed abbot William, so that he may intercede for us and lead us in his own footsteps. Through our Lord . . .

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