Today is the dies natalis, the heavenly birthday, of St Edward the Confessor (so named to distinguish him from his namesake English king, St Edward the Martyr, † 978), who fell asleep in the Lord this day, Epiphany Eve, 5th January, in the Year of the Lord 1066, just a week after famed Westminster Abbey had been dedicated, which he had had built in commutation of his vow to go a pilgrim to Rome, and wherein he was buried.
He made a most pious death, or rather passing-over to true life, having been warned by St John the Evangelist of its coming – he never refused an alms asked in the Evangelist's name, and so one day gave his ring to the Saint himself, appearing to him as a beggar disguised; St John returned the ring to him via a pilgrim, bearing also a message insinuating that his day was at hand. (His feast, 13th October, commemorates the translation of his body in 1163.)
As Mgr Knox so well preached in 1922, "When we venerate St Edward, we venerate a failure. We do so advisedly. ... Not that there have not been great saints who were also great kings... But because we will not let ourselves be blinded by the lure of worldly success... Ask yourself which you would rather have been, in life, of all those great dead who lie in Westminster Abbey... is there any Christian who would not ask to change places with the Confessor; who would not choose his resting-place, there to wait for the opening of the great Doomsday Book, in which nothing is recorded of men but whether they meant good or evil, whether they loved or neglected God? ... The Conqueror, who diverted the stream of history, went to his grave disappointed and lies there a historical memory. The Confessor, whose ambitions could be satisfied by finding a poor man his dinner, saw no corruption in death, and lives the patron of his fellow countrymen." (Mgr Ronald Knox, 'St Edward the Confessor,' Occasional Sermons: London, Burns & Oates, 1960, pp.26, 28.)
Food for thought indeed. Having been shriven this morning, now it's time to aim, as he did, for holiness:
Deus, qui beatum regem Eduardum, Confessorem tuum, æternitatis gloria coronasti: fac nos, quæsumus; ita eum venerari in terris, ut cum eo regnare possumus in cælis. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. R/. Amen.
(O God, Who didst crown Thy Confessor the blessed King Edward with eternal glory: make us, we beseech Thee, so to revere him upon earth, that with him we may be able to reign in heaven. Thro' Christ our Lord. R/. Amen.)
To revere him means, of course, not to praise him with our lips, but to emulate him in our lives, recalling his love of God, his boundless charity, his righteousness, his entire absence of ambition and lust for power, his justice superabounding in mercy, even his spotless virginity – for he so desired a higher life as to live with his virgin queen as a virgin himself, laying aside the use of marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, heeding St Paul's warning: "the time is short... they also who have wives, be as if they had none... and they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away." (I Cor. vii, 29. 31.)