Today as we embark on our first full day of lent, the Holy Mother Church celebrates Charles of Flanders or Charles the Good as he was widely called because he ruled his people with equity, loyalty and love. As we vow to turn our own hearts and wills to the Lord, it seems fitting to learn about a man who loved God with such an open heart that he felt compelled to treat everyone…rich and poor alike with kindness and justice.
Charles was born in Denmark in the year 1083. His father was Saint Canute, King of Denmark. His father was an ambitious ruler who was devoted to the Catholic Church and built many churches and monasteries. But when Charles was only five years old, rebels forced his family out of Denmark and killed his father. His mother took Charles to the court of her father, the Count of Flanders in Bruges,which is in the northwest part of Belgium, to be reared.
Charles grew up in the court, learning the life of royalty, but he also devoting daily time to prayer and religious observances. As he grew and reached the age of service, he became a Knight and accompanied his uncle on the Second Crusade. When he returned, he was assigned as Count of the country of Flanders.
Count Charles had a profound love for justice. Every day after dinner, he would meet with several theologians who would explain two or three chapters of Scriptures. He relished these lessons and took great pleasure in learning all he could about the Gospels. He abhorred blasphemy and would sentence anyone taking the name of God in vain to forty days of bread and water. If they did not repent and convert their ways, he would have a foot or a hand removed, to serve as a constant reminder to the people that this person was a blasphemer against God. But remember, he always gave the person a chance to repent of their ways before taking such drastic measures.
He was a very just ruler and took care of the poor, the oppressed, the widows and the persecuted orphans. If he caught someone taking advantage of any of these groups, he punished them severely but justly. He was a man who led by example, and did not expect anything greater from his subjects than what he himself would do. He was a man who chose to lead more out of good example than out of power. When his critics said he was over doing the charity, he replied, “It is because I know so well the needs of the poor and the pride of the rich.”
In the years 1124-1125, the winters were very brutal, and a terrible famine followed. Charles set up feeding stations at each of his castles, feeding hundreds of people each day. At one point it was recorded that he gave out 7800 loaves of bread in one day.
As a sign of his daily penance, Charles went barefoot and wore the clothing of peasants. He attended Mass each day, relying on the priests and clergy he encountered to correct his laws if they violated the teachings of the Scriptures. He was so convinced of the power of forgiveness, that he established that all convicted criminals sentenced to death were to confess and receive communion on the day preceding the execution of their sentence.
During this time of famine there were several families who hoarded grains so that they could sell them at exorbitant prices to the people. When Charles found out about this, he enacted new laws to prevent this sort of price gauging. Of course this did not go over too well with these families. So they joined forces with others who had been punished by Charles and plotted to kill him.
One day in 1127, as he was walking to the church for morning Mass, a friend stopped him to warn him that there was a conspiracy planned against him. He replied “We are always in the midst of dangers, but we belong to God. If it is His Will, can we die in a better cause than for justice and truth?” And continued on his way to Mass. Arriving at the Church of Saint Donation, he knelt before the Our Blessed Mother’s alter and prayed the psalm of mercy; the Miserere. It was at this point that the conspirators charged in, swords drawn. Before Charles could even react, Borchard, a nephew of one of the families, beheaded Charles as he knelt before the alter. Another of the attackers cut off his arm.The reign of the good and just King was over.
The life of Blessed Charles the Good reminds each one of us, that we are all called to be ambassadors of the truth. We are called to do this by aligning ourselves with the Holy Mother Church and making sure we share the Truth of the Gospel with everyone. We are all called to help our neighbor…the poor and downtrodden of our society. Charles the Good often left the comforts and luxuries that were afforded him as royalty in order that he better serve his fellow man, whom he considered his equal.
Charles, felt that the authority to govern came from the Lord, and that all men will have to answer to God for their actions. We need to pray that our own elected officials will be men of prayer and Faith. We need to ask the Lord to protect our leaders who rely on Him for guidance. We need to pray for any of our leaders who show a devotion to the Lord, that they be protected from the current tide of hostility. Remember, Charles was loved by many, and yet it took only a few outraged men to end his life.
As we journey on our own paths, let us always remember that the journey may not be easy.It is very likely that, if you are following the Lord, it will be difficult…not only the obstacles that hinder you…but more often than not, people will be offended by the Truth that you are revealing to them…so be kind…let charity guide your words…your actions...and remember…as Blessed Charles stated, “We are always in the midst of dangers, but we belong to God.”