Yesterday was the feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary, which has the rank of an optional memorial. I always celebrate optional memorials, unless there is a very good reason not to, and I was thanked by a member of the congregation (who had Hungarian blood) for remembering Saint Stephen.
Saint Stephen of Hungary occupies an honoured place in Hungarian history, and you can read about that here. We may know little about Hungary in this country, but it is a place about which we should, I feel, know more, as it has a long and noble history.
But what struck me forcibly was the passage in the Office of Readings, which represents Saint Stephen’s advice to his son, who sadly predeceased him. It reminds us of the qualities that make a good King, a good man, and a good Christian. I found these words of particular significance:
My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.
Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.
All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.
This advice was given a thousand years ago, but it still makes sense today. Our own politicians and our own royal family would do well to follow it. And so would everyone else. Humility and politeness are excellent virtues, and to be encouraged. Every generation laments that people’s manners (which are morals in microcosm) are in decline. I confess myself shocked by the rudeness of some people, particularly on the internet. There is no excuse for it. We should allow ourselves, rather, to be inspired by this great Christian king.
Saint Stephen of Hungary, pray for us!