Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Saint Wenceslaus and Social Solidarity

Christmas is still almost three months away. But one popular Christmas carol is especially appropriate on this day, when the Church calendar commemorates "Good King Wenceslaus." Historically, Saint Wenceslaus, martyred on this date by his pagan brother and now patron saint of the Czechs, was a 10th-century Duke of Bohemia - not quite a king. However, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I later conferred on Wenceslas the dignity and title of King, which warrants the references to him in the legends about him as King Wenceslaus - indeed Good King Wenceslaus.

It is not, however, Wenceslaus' ducal or royal status or even his martyrdom that the familiar Christmas carol specifically extols but his solidarity with the poor. The carol recounts the legend of how Wenceslas and his page braved the harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the day after Christmas ("the Feast of Stephen'). Along the way, the page found the trek in the snow too difficult and wanted to give up, but the saint encouraged him to follow in his holy footprints. 

The page, of course, is a stand-in for the rest of us, forever tempted to prioritize ourselves and and our individual and private preoccupations over the challenge of solidarity with others. 

By coincidence, his feast falls this year in the same week when the representative of a major American political party actually seemed to brag about not paying taxes, which he seemed to consider "smart." Obviously, American society - or at least some significant segment of it - is dangerously deficient in its commitment to social solidarity, as compared with the characters in the carol!

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