Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Piety of Albert I

Albert I, King of the Belgians from 1909 to 1934, was a very devout Catholic. The son of a profoundly religious mother, he developed, as a young man, a deep and tender piety, based upon a critical conscience, and related to his ideals of altruism and courage. Throughout his reign, Albert derived moral strength and inner serenity from his faith.

A few excerpts from the King's correspondence illustrate the nature of his religious devotion. When his former tutor, General de Grunne, entered, in his old age, the Benedictine monastery of Maredsous, Belgium, King Albert wrote him a beautiful letter in which he speaks of the joy of giving oneself to God:
"Puissiez-vous compter à Maredsous beaucoup d'années dans le confort suprême de l'âme que donnent aux natures touchées par la grâce, la foi dans la toute-puissance de Dieu et la confiance dans ses bienfaits."
"May you spend at Maredsous many years in the supreme comfort of soul that is given, to natures touched by grace, by faith in the omnipotence of God and trust in His goodness."
To another friend, a Chinese diplomat, who also became a Catholic monk, Albert wrote:
"Se consacrer entièrement au service de Notre Seigneur donne, seul à ceux qui sont touchés par la grâce, la paix de l'âme qui est le bonheur suprême ici-bas."
"Consecrating oneself entirely to the service of Our Lord gives, to those who are touched by grace, the peace of soul which is the highest happiness of this earth."
(Quoted in Albert 1er, insolite, Jo and Hervé Gérard, 1984, p. 243)
Dom Albert van der Cruyssen, Abbot of Orval, Belgium, and military hero of 1914-1918, in a commemorative speech given in 1936 for the war dead of the Battle of the Yser, testified to the (then recently deceased) King's piety, integrity, valor, and charity in deeply moving terms:
"... Parmi ces morts-là, il y en a un en cette année, qui plus que d'autres a droit a nôtre souvenir: c'est le père des soldats, le plus passioné defenseur de la patrie, celui qui ne cessa d'espérer en la justice de nôtre cause et fut notre grand et bien-aimé Roi : Albert 1er.
Plus que son devoir le demandait, mais moins que ce que son coeur le désirait, il est allé aux tranchées de l'Yser, et, cet homme, car ce roi était un homme, dans toute l'acception du terme, osait regarder la mort en face. Il était pour ses ancients soldats un modèle de vertu evangélique. Demain, pour la première fois, il ne sera pas là au défilé de ses chers soldats!
Ah que ne puis-je vous dire tous les bons sentiments dont son coeur était rempli a déborder, et qu'il épanchait dans l'intimité en confidences, qui n'appartiennent pas encore à l'histoire de nôtre temps. Mais ses vertus publiques peuvent et doivent être connues, celles du bon père de famille si attaché à inculquer à ses enfants la droiture et le dévouement, celles du chef d'état si soucieux de la justice et du bonheur de tous, et surtout celles du grand chrétien qui pouvait chaque jour se dire: 'je ne crains pas la mort, je suis prét.' Si d'aucuns étaient étonnés que sur le masque de celui qui était mort si tragiquement accidenté, il y avait une telle paix, car, il n'était, Dieu m'est témoin, ayant eu la suprême consolation de donner à ce roi et ami la dernière bénédiction avant que pour toujours le cercueil de plomb se renferma sur son auguste fâce, il n'était, dis-je, ni défiguré, ni maquillé, il était grand, calme, et beau dans la mort, c'est qu'il avait été grand et beau dans sa vie!
Ce roi qui savait donner à Dieu la place à laquelle il avait droit, s'inquiétait du bonheur de son peuple et disait avec sa voix calme et son sens profond des réalités: 'Chaque fois que l'on s'est éloigné de l'évangile, qui prêchait l'humilité, la fraternité, et la paix, le peuple a été malheureux, car la civilisation païenne de l'ancienne Rome qu'on voulait lui substituer, n'est basée que sur l'orgueil et l'abus de la force.'
Il s'inquiétait de la justice pour tous. Il s'inquiétait des pauvres et des petits et par-dessus tous de ses ancients soldats, et ceux-là étaient les plus chers à son coeur.
Qu'a nous tous, sa mémoire soit bénie, que nous, ses anciens compagnons d'armes, restions en ce moment ses plus fidèles amis en priant pour son âme et en joignant son souvenir à tous ceux pour lesquels ce service est célébré."
It seems that Albert took Our Lord's words, "he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all," as his ideal of kingship.

1 comment:

Matterhorn said...

Translation of the speech:
"...Among those dead, there is one, this year, who, even more than others, has a right to our remembrance: the father of soldiers, the most passionate defender of our country, who did not cease to hope in the justice of our cause, and who was our great and beloved King: Albert I.

More than his duty demanded, but less than his heart desired, he used to visit the trenches of the Yser, and this man - for this king was a man, in the full sense of the term - dared to look death in the face. He was, for his veterans, a model of evangelical virtue. Tomorrow, for the first time, he will not be present at the march-past of his dear soldiers!

Ah, I cannot tell you all the good sentiments with which his heart overflowed, and which he revealed, in private, in confidences, which do not belong, as yet, to the history of our time. But his public virtues can, and must, be known, those of the good father so devoted to inculcating in his children integrity and abnegation, those of the head of state so concerned for justice and the happiness of all, and, above all, those of the great Christian who could say to himself every day: "I do not fear death, I am ready." If some were astonished, because, on the face of the man who had died in such a tragic accident, there was so great a peace, for, he was not - God is my witness, since I had the supreme consolation of giving to this king and friend the last blessing, before the coffin of lead closed forever upon his august face - he was not, I tell you, disfigured, or made up, he was great, calm, and beautiful in death, it is because he was great and beautiful in his life!

This king, who knew how to give God the place to which He had a right, was concerned for the happiness of his people, and used to say, with his calm voice and his profound sense of reality: "Every time society has distanced itself from the Gospel, which preached humility, fraternity, and peace, the people have been unhappy, because the pagan civilization of ancient Rome, with which they sought to replace it, is based only on pride and the abuse of force."

He was concerned about justice for all. He was concerned about the poor, and the humble, and, above all, about all of his veterans, and these were dearest to his heart.

May we all bless his memory, and may we, his former companions in arms, remain, in this moment, his most faithful friends, by praying for his soul, and by uniting his memory to that of all those for whom this liturgy is celebrated.