June 25, 2019: ST. WILLIAM OF MONTE-VERGINE
June 25, 2019: ST. WILLIAM (OF MONTE-VERGINE), ABBOT
[Founder of the Order of Monte-Vergine]
“This saint was beloved of God and men: like Moses his memory is in benediction. God made him like the saints in glory, and magnified
him in the fear of his enemies: and with his words he made prodigies to cease. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, and shewed him his glory. He sanctified him in his faith and meekness, and chose him
out of all flesh. For he heard him and his voice; and brought him in a cloud. And he gave him his precepts face to face, and a law of life and instruction.”
(Ecclus, xlv. 1-6)
O God, who hast furnished our weakness in the ways of salvation with the example and support of thy Saints, grant that we may so venerate the merits of blessed William, abbot, as to experience his patronage and walk in his footsteps. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Martyrs are numerous on the Cycle, during the [coming days]. John and Paul, Irenӕus, the very Princes of the Apostles even, come thronging in, to confirm with their blood the testimony of him who made known to earth the arrival of her long expected God. Where can names more illustrious be found, whether as regards human greatness, sacred science, or the holy Hierarchy? 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 unto 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 life-time 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 learnt 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 Cӕsarism.
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 honour 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 therealso 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.
The Life of our Saint is thus inscribed on the pages of Holy Church.
William was born of noble parents, at Vercelli in Piedmont. Scarce had he attained his fourteenth year, when already inflamed with wondrous ardour for piety, he performed the pilgrimage to the far-famed Sanctuary of Saint James at Compostella. The which journey he made, clad in one single tunic, with a double chain of iron about his loins, and with bare feet, a prey to extreme cold and heat, to hunger and thirst, and even with danger of life. Being returned into Italy, he was moved to perform a fresh pilgrimage to the holy Sepulchre of our Lord; but each time he was on the point of carrying out his purpose, various and most grave impediments intervened, Divine Providence thus drawing the holy inclinations of the youth to yet higher and holier things. Then passing two years on Monte Solicolo, in assiduous prayer and in watchings, in sleeping on the bare ground, and in fastings wherein he was divinely assisted; he restored sight to a blind man, the fame of which miracle becoming gradually divulged, at last William could no longer be hidden: for which reason he thought once more of undertaking a journey to Jerusalem, and joyfully set out on his way.
But God appeared to him admonishing him to desist from his purpose, because he was to be more useful and profitable both in Italy and elsewhere. Then ascending Mount Virgilian, since called Monte Vergine, he built a monastery on its summit, on a rugged and inaccessible spot, and that with marvellous rapidity. He there associated to himself certain religious men who wished to be his companions, and taught them both by word and example a manner of life conformable to the Evangelical precepts and counsels, as well as to certain rules taken for the most part from the institutions of Saint Benedict.
Other Monasteries being afterwards built, the sanctity of William became more and more known, and attracted to him many other persons, who were drawn by the sweet odour of his holiness and the fame of his miracles. For by his intercession, the dumb received speech, the deaf hearing, the withered new strength, and those labouring under various incurable diseases were restored to health. He changed water into wine, and performed many other wondrous deeds: amongst which, the following must not be passed over in silence, to wit, that a courtezan having been sent to make an attempt upon his chastity, he rolled himself without hurt amidst burning coals spread upon the ground. Roger, king of Naples being certified of this fact, was led to hold the man of God in highest veneration. After having predicted to the king and others the time of his death, resplendent in miracles and innumerable virtues, he slept in the Lord, in the year of salvation, one thousand and forty two.
Another account of St. William of Monte-Vergine
Having lost his father and mother in his infancy, he was brought up by his friends in great sentiments of piety; and at fifteen years of age, out of an earnest desire of leading a penitential life, he left Piedmont, his native country, made an austere pilgrimage to St. James's in Galicia, and afterwards retired into the kingdom of Naples, where he chose for his abode a desert mountain, and lived in perpetual contemplation, and the exercises of most rigorous penitential austerities. Finding himself discovered, and his contemplation interrupted, he changed his habitation and settled in a place called Monte Vergine, situate between Nola and Benevento, in the same kingdom; but his reputation followed him, and he was obliged by two neighbouring priests to permit certain fervent persons to live with him, and imitate his ascetic practices. Thus, in 1119, was laid the foundation of the religious congregation called de Monte Vergine. The saint died on the 25th of June, 1142, and is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology. His congregation, to which he left no written rule, was put under that of St. Benedict by Alexander III.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. William of Monte-Vergine, pray for us.