St. Wolstan (January 19)
by William C. Michael
St. Wolstan (AD 1008–1095)
From early youth Wolstan he loved purity, and on one occasion, believing himself to have offended by watching a woman dancing, he withdrew into a thicket and, lying prostrate, bewailed his fault with such sorrow that henceforth he had such constant watchfulness over his senses that he was nevermore troubled with the like temptations.
He made his studies in the Benedictine monastery of Evesham and afterwards at Peterborough, and put himself under the direction of Brihtheah, Bishop of Worcester, by whom he was advanced to the priesthood.
Having been distracted while celebrating Mass by the smell of meat roasting in the kitchen, he bound himself never to eat of it again.
Not long after he became a novice in the great monastery at Worcester, where he was remarkable for the innocence and sanctity of his life. The first charge with which he was entrusted was instructing the children. He was afterwards made precentor, and then treasurer of the church, but he continued to devote himself to prayer, and watched whole nights in the church.
It was only in despite of his strenuous resistance that he was made prior of Worcester and, in 1062, bishop of that see.
Though not very learned, he delivered the word of God so impressively and feelingly as often to move his audience to tears.
To his energy in particular is attributed the suppression of a scandalous practice which prevailed among the citizens of Bristol of kidnapping men into slavery and shipping them over to Ireland.
He always recited the psalter whilst he travelled, and never passed by any church or chapel without going in to pray before the altar.
When William the Conqueror deprived the English of their ecclesiastical and secular dignities in favour of his Normans, Wulfstan retained his see, an exception which later writers explain by a supposed miraculous intervention of Providence. In a synod held at Westminster, Wulfstan was called upon to surrender his crosier and ring, upon pretext of his simplicity and unfitness for business. The saint owned himself unworthy of the charge, but said that King Edward the Confessor had compelled him to take it upon him, and that he would deliver his crosier to him alone. Thereupon, going to the king’s tomb, he struck his crosier into the stone; and then went and sat down among the monks. No one was able to draw the crosier out till the saint was ordered to take it again, when it followed his hand with ease. Be that as it may, after an initial uncertainty King William recognized Wulfstan’s worth and treated him with respect and trust.
When any English complained of the oppression of the Normans, Wulfstan used to tell them, “This is a scourge of God for our sins, which we must bear with patience.”
He caused young gentlemen who were brought up under his care to carry in the dishes and wait on the poor at table, to teach them the true spirit of humility, in which he himself set an example.
Wulfstan rebuilt his cathedral at Worcester, c. 1086, but he loved the old edifice which had to be demolished. “The men of old”, he said, “if they had not stately buildings were themselves a sacrifice to God, whereas we pile up stones, and neglect souls.”
He died in 1095, having sat as bishop thirty-two years, and lived about eighty-seven. He was canonized in 1203.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints.
Lord, God, you gave your Saint Wolstan the spirit of truth and love to shepherd your people. May we who honor him on this feast learn from his example and be helped by his prayers. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Source: Liturgy of the Hours, Common of Pastors (p. 1429)