March 20 – Cuthbert; Jósef Bilczewski

Cuthbert (ca. 635–687), whilst a small boy, was playing with the neighborhood lads when a three-year-old began weeping. “Holy Bishop Cuthbert,” he said, “stop showing off. It’s beneath the dignity of your office.” Some years later, Cuthbert saw a band of angels flying to heaven, and later found out that (St.) Aidan (Aug 31) had died that very night. These sorts of thing kept happening, so he decided to become a monk (I would; wouldn’t you?), and after serving in the military, that’s what he did. After the Council of Whitby* (which adjusted the date of Easter), he was made abbot of Lindisfarne*, and helped ease in the new practice (as well as tighten up some sloppy discipline) without upsetting the apple cart too badly. It probably didn’t hurt that the monks who were really upset about the Easter thing had all moved away with Colmán (Feb 18).

After a time he retired to a private island and lived as a hermit, but in his absence the bishop of Hexham died, and he was elected to take his place. At first he refused, but after the king himself (Ecgfrith for you kingspotters) rowed out to beg him, he accepted the position. Soon however he and the Bishop of Lindisfarne traded sees (whatever that was about), and he was back on the Holy Island, where by all accounts he was a good and humble bishop.

One year when he went to Carlisle to make some deacons (just add holy water!), his dear friend Herebert heard he was in the neighborhood and left his hermitage (on an island near York) to go see him (neighborhoods were big in those days). They were discussing prayer, repentance, Lenten recipes—stuff like that—when Cuthbert said, “If there’s anything you wanted to tell me, tell me now, for we shan’t meet again.” Herebert was beside himself, and implored Cuthbert not to leave him, so the saint prayed, and received word from Headquarters that he and Herebert would die on the same day. Careful what you ask for, Herb.

Not long after this, Cuthbert’s health rapidly declined, and he retired back to his little island to live out his days. Just before he died he asked the monks to bury him there, but they said, “Nothing doing; we’re burying you in the cathedral on Lindisfarne.” And they did. Eleven years later, when they dug up his bones to place them in an ossuary, they found him to be incorrupt (which is more than can be said of some politicians, even while they’re still alive). They gave him a new set of clothes and put him in a tomb, which became the site of many miracles. He is also celebrated in the west on this day.

Jósef Bilczewski (1860–1923), born in Galicia, dedicated himself to a life of study, picking up a PhD, ordination as a priest, a professorship, and ultimately the job of rector at Lviv University—all by the time he was 40. But before he could settle in and really find his rectorial feet, he was ordained Archbishop of Lviv, which position he held until his death. As archbishop he undertook a great capital campaign, building as many as 330 churches. He also sponsored schools and groups working with the poor, and himself organized food convoys during the Siege of Lviv in the Polish-Ukraine War. He also did his best during the Soviet era to protect people from the Bolshevik terror. In all of this he worked for people in his see no matter their faith or race. He was so beloved of the poor of the city they awarded him the title “Honorary Patron of Louts.” He was awarded the title “Saint” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.