Today is the feast day of Saint Hubert. Ora pro nobis.
Hubert (Hubertus) was born in the European city of Maastricht. The son of a non-Christian nobleman of Aquitaine (southwestern France), he was raised at the court of Thierry III, son of Clovis II, and was esteemed there for his probity and prudence. He remained nonetheless a man of the world, whose virtue, unscathed by the dangers of the court in a time of troubles, was natural rather than supernatural; he did not yet know what the spirit of mortification, prayer and fundamental humility of a Christian were. He married a daughter of a count of Louvain, who was virtuous and recommendable by her exceptional qualities.
Hubert was reportedly a great lover of pleasure and his chief passion was the chase, to which he devoted nearly all his time. According to the legend, Hubert was afield the morning of Good Friday (while the faithful were crowding into church) and he was participating in the chase of a deer on horseback with his famous hounds.
As he was pursuing a magnificent stag, and in a clearing in the forest, the animal stopped and turned. Hubert was astounded at perceiving a crucifix suspended between its antlers, while he heard a voice from the figure of Christ say, “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly fall into the abyss of Hell!”
Hubert dismounted immediately from his horse, fell prostrate on the ground and asked, “Lord, what would you have me do?”
He immediately received the reply, “Go and seek Lambert and he will instruct you.”
At the time, Lambert was the Bishop of Maastricht, who kindly received Hubert and became his spiritual advisor. Complicating matters even further, Hubert lost his wife during the childbirth of their first son shortly after his vision in the woods. Hubert decided to renounce all his honors, titles and military rank. Plus he relinquished his birthright as heir to the Duchy of Aquintaine, giving it to his younger brother Eudon, whom he also made the godfather of his infant son, Floribert.
Another version of the legend reports Lambert taught Hubert self discipline by forcing him to live alone as a hermit in the Ardennes (the Great French Forest) for a while.
After distributing all his wealth among the poor, Hubert entered upon his studies for the priesthood and was soon ordained. Shortly afterward he became one of Lambert’s chief associates in the administration of his Diocese. Upon the advice of Lambert, Hubert made a pilgrimage to Rome and during his absence, Lambert was assassinated, but that’s another story in itself. At the same hour as the Pope was giving an audience to Hubert, the Pope was distracted by a vision of Lambert’s murder and on the spot he appointed Hubert as the new Bishop, replacing Lambert. Hubert returned to become the 31st Bishop of Maastricht (and the first Bishop of Liege) and was eventually described as the “Apostle of the Ardennes.”
According to the legend, idolatry still lingered in the Ardennes Forest and “risking his life, Hubert penetrated the remote lurking places of paganism in his pursuit of souls and finally brought about the abolishment of the worship of idols in his neighborhood.”
At that time his beloved wife died on giving birth to a son, Floribert, who would later succeed his father as bishop of Liege. He renounced all his dignities, military duties and the dukedom of Aquitaine which he inherited at the death of his father in 688, assigning his rights to his brother, and confiding to him his son, three years old. He distributed all he owned to the poor, braving the calumnies and insults of the world he had too long served. In 689 he went into a solitude of the forest of Ardennes near a monastery; there he lived a very austere life for several years, undergoing violent attacks from the ancient enemy, who did not cease to remind him of his former life of ease. His profound humility aided him to triumph over these ruses and become very alert to the presence of the Holy Angels and of God, assisting him at all times.
Saint Lambert desired that he make a pilgrimage in his name to the tombs of the Apostles in Rome, and Saint Hubert obeyed; while he was there his bishop was martyred, and he himself was miraculously designated to the Pope as his successor. The Pope dreamed he should give him the pastoral staff of the deceased Saint Lambert, and found that staff beside him when he woke in the morning; he could not doubt the reality of the admonition. Additional supernatural interventions assured Saint Hubert himself of the designation, and he was obliged to obey.
When the Saint returned to Maestricht in possession of the pontifical habits of his predecessor, which had been miraculously brought to him, the people too were obliged to recognize their new bishop. He proved himself humble, sober, chaste, vigilant, modest, assiduous in prayer, fervent, patient, and a great friend of the Cross. He became the refuge of the poor and afflicted; all the unfortunate were welcome to come to him. He received them as his children, and helped them in every possible way. He brought the intact remains of Saint Lambert to Liege, and built there a magnificent church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Lambert, to receive his tomb; he also transferred the seat of the diocese to that town, which afterwards became a large city. Many miracles were wrought through his prayers, and he taught his people to have recourse to processions, carrying the relics of the Saints to obtain rain, to rid the fields of destructive insects, and for other public necessities. The humility of Saint Hubert never diminished through these divine favors granted his ministry; rather his fervor increased day by day.
Saint Hubert died after dedicating a church, despite his advanced age, at the request of his flock; he was seized by a fever which became violent. After bidding farewell to his son, and by means of holy water driving away a demon who would have affrighted him with horrible phantoms, the holy bishop died on May 30, 727, and was buried in the church of Saint Peter at Liege. In 743 his body was found intact and emitting a fine fragrance, when the tomb was opened on November 3rd; his feast day was assigned by the Church to this date. In the year 825 the body was still identically conserved when his tomb was again opened, and he was transported to a monastery at Andage, which town was renamed St. Hubert.
Image: Miracle of Saint Hubert. artist: Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, circa 1617
Research Ed Masters, REGINA Staff