The process of bringing Christianity to a pagan world was a slow, arduous one. Our liturgical calendar is full of celebrations for those who accomplished this task – from the holy Apostles and their disciples, to the numerous martyrs during the persecutions in the early days of the church, and to the missionaries who traveled far from home to bring the light of Christ to pagan peoples. In his Edict of Milan in 313, the Emperor, St. Constantine, made Christianity a legal religion, but centuries later, pagan practices still thrived in many nations, so the work was still being done.
The Merovingian Franks were among those who stubbornly held on to violent and perverse ways of living even after they had been baptized and claimed to be Christians. St. Lambert of Maastricht received the crown of martyrdom as a consequence of this.
Lambert (or Landebertus) was born around 636 into a devout Christian family and instructed in the faith by his uncle Theodard, who was Bishop of Maastricht. The Merovingian rulers at this time were constantly embroiled in family feuds and political intrigue; in the midst of this, Bishop Theodard was murdered and his nephew called to replace him. Soon, however, Lambert was ousted in favor of another candidate. The bishop spent his seven year exile at the Abbey of Stavelot, where he led the life of a humble monk. An illustration of this is the story of a night when the Bishop, arising for his prayers, accidently dropped his sandal, disrupting the monastic silence. He spent the rest of the night praying outside in the snow, performing the expected penance, unbeknownst to the other monks. When a change in political power occurred in 681, Bishop Lambert was allowed to return to his see in Maastricht.
Bishop Lambert joined with St. Willibrord, a missionary who had come from England in 691, and the two labored together for the conversion of the people of the surrounding area, not only to the faith but also to a Christian way of life. The Bishop preached against adultery, even though one of those most guilty was Pepin of Herstal, the Mayor of the Palace who had allowed his return from exile. Bishop Lambert condemned his putting away of his lawful wife in favor of a mistress, so the woman’s family sought revenge against him. On a visit to a small village outside Lieges, St. Lambert was attacked and murdered on the 17th of September in the year 709. His body was taken back to Maastricht for burial. Soon, miracles were reported around his relics, and the people asked for a church to be built over the place of his martyrdom. St. Lambert’s successor, Bishop Hubert, had the church built and translated the saint’s relics there.
We often hear the age in which we live described as “post-Christian” and the evidence for reversion to pagan beliefs and practices is certainly convincing. Living a Christian life of love, patience, kindness, and sacrifice is much more difficult than putting ourselves first. Following the disciplines of the Church (attendance at Liturgy, daily prayer, confession, fasting) is extremely inconvenient when it would be easier to just do what would feel good. This was true for those kingdoms where conversion was slow and difficult and it is true once again for us in our day. May we pray for the strength and conviction of the saints of God and may we ask for the intercession of St. Lambert.