Walking with the Saints

George Herbert 

Our Saint du Jour is George Herbert, who was a priest in a small rural parish in England from 1630 to 1633.  He became the patron saint of St. Andrew’s Bemerton, even though he died an untimely death of tuberculosis at the age of 39, just five years after he was ordained a priest.

Herbert was born into privilege and became a scholar and a member of the English Parliament and a friend of King James I.  Nevertheless he chose a life as a deacon of the Church of England in 1626, and then a few years later a priest at Bemerton.  The parish church still stands along with the rectory where Herbert lived.  He was noted for his unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill and providing food and clothing for those in need.

Herbert’s goal as a priest was to be a leader of his flock and give his parishioners an example of discipleship to be emulated.  He helped to rebuild the church and rectory at Bemerton out of his own funds!! 

In a biography of Herbert published after his death, Herbert is quoted as saying “In God, and his service, is a fullness of all joy and pleasure….I will be sure to live well because the virtuous life of a Clergyman is the most powerful eloquence to persuade all that see it to reverence and love…in an age that hath more need of good examples than precepts.”

Every day of his pastorate he conducted morning and evening prayer for at least his wife and three nieces.  He proceeded to visit every parishioner in their homes on a regular circuit, and he invited each parishioner in turn to come to dinner with his family.  When the bell of the church rang out for daily services, parishioners roundabout stopped in their fields and bowed their heads for a moment.

One of the prayers that is said on his feast day (February 27) is as follows:  Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple:  Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake .  Amen.

Herbert is quoted as saying, “I will work to make the sacred name of the priest honourable by consecrating all my learning and all my poor abilities, to advance the glory of God that gave them—knowing that I can never do too much for him, that has done so much for me as to make me a Christian.  And I will work to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men.”

And at my next relevant opportunity, I will pronounce Herbert’s poetic words at a funeral, when he wrote, “All must to their cold graves:  But the religious actions of the just smell sweet in death, and blossom in the dust.”