January 10th - Saint William, Archbishop of Bourges
William Berruyer, of the illustrious family of the ancient Counts of Nevers,
was educated by Peter the Hermit, Archdeacon of Soissons, his maternal
uncle. From his early childhood Saint William learned to despise the folly
and emptiness of the world, to abhor its pleasures, and to tremble at its
dangers. His only delight was in exercises of piety and his studies, with
which he employed his whole time in an untiring application.
Saint William was made a canon, an ecclesiastic attached to a cathedral
church, first at Soissons and afterwards in Paris; but he soon resolved to
abandon the world and retired into the solitude of Grandmont, where he lived
with great regularity in that austere Order. Finally he joined the
Cistercians, flourishing with sanctity at the time, and later was chosen to
be Prior of the Abbey of Pontigny, then made Abbot of Challis.
On the death of Henri de Sully, Archbishop of Bourges, William was chosen to
succeed him. The announcement of this new dignity which had fallen on him
overwhelmed him with grief, and he would not have accepted the office had
not the Pope and his own Cistercian General, the Abbot of Citeaux, commanded
him to do so. His first care in his new position was to conform his life to
the most perfect rules of sanctity. He redoubled all his austerities, saying
it was incumbent on him now to do penance for others as well as for himself.
He always wore a hair shirt under his religious habit, and never added to
his clothing in winter or diminished it in summer; he never ate any flesh
meat, though he had it at his table for guests.
When he drew near his end, he was, at his request, laid on ashes in his hair
cloth, and in this posture expired on the 10th of January, 1209. While this
holy bishop was laid out for veneration, an infirm young boy who wanted to
venerate him, but had to be carried to the church by his mother, was
completely cured of his infirmities, and ran about proclaiming the miracle.
The stone of his tomb in the Cathedral Church of Bourges cured mortal wounds
and illnesses and delivered possessed persons; the deaf and dumb, the blind,
the mentally ill became sound. So many miracles occurred there that the
monks could not record them all, and he was canonized nine years after his
death, in 1218, by Pope Honorius III.
Reflection. The champions of faith prove the truth of their teaching no less
forcefully by the holiness of their lives than by the power of their
arguments. Never forget that to convert others we must first see to our own
Sources: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on
Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea
(Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des
Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 1.