Friday, March 02, 2007

Blessed Charles the Good (And His Dad): The Original Canute and Charlie Cult

"It is because I know the needs of the poor and I know the pride of the rich."
–Blessed Charles the Good on why he favored those in poverty over the wealthy.

Charlie Weis, the head football coach for the University of Notre Dame, has universally been acknowledged by all as a good coach—but not as good a coach as Knute Rockne, the father of Fighting Irish football and perhaps the greatest coach of all time. Similarly, today's “Blessed,” Charles the Good, is not acknowledged to be as prominent of a saint as his father, St. Canute—but neither is afar from his predecessor (or namesake) as one may think.

Charles, who grew up to be the powerful Count of Flanders and Amiens, was of course the son of the legendary St. Canute, King of Denmark. Now Canute was martyred when Charles was only five, and the lad was alternately raised by his grandfather (on mom's side), Count Robert of Flanders, as well as his uncle Robert. When he was old enough, Charles accompanied his uncle on the Crusades, and made such an impression fighting gallantly by day and praying and reading his Psalter at night, that Robert made his nephew his heir. After some initial challenges to his authority, Charles became the accepted ruler of the region and immediately won the respect of the commoners with his moral rule.

Charles' overriding concern was for the poor. He fed one hundred poor men a day in each of his castles, and during the famine of 1126 forbade the brewing of beer in order to conserve grain for the needy. Although the Irish saints such as Bridget might have disagreed with that call (or at least changed some water into beer as was her habit when times got tight in Ireland), they wouldn't have argued with the 7,800 loaves he gave away in one day to keep his subjects alive. Also, while his Fighting Irish namesake Charlie Weis (known to spout an expletive or two) would have a hard time with the Count's rule against swearing (Charles the Good hated blasphemy so much that he punished any royal caught doing so with a forty-day bread and water fast), coach would have to admit the Count's heart was in the right place.

In the end, it was Blessed Charles' love for the poor that proved his downfall. When Charles found out that the evil Erembald (who killed his master, threw him in the river and then married his widow) was buying up grain, hoarding it, and then raising the price beyond what the poor could afford, Charles sent his men to force Erembald to yield up his storehouse. Resentful of this takeover, Erembald in turn sent his men for revenge, and they assassinated Charles, first cutting off his arm and then splitting open his head as the saintly count was praying at the altar of Our Lady in the Church of St. Donatian.

While Blessed Charles met his demise in a similar fashion to St. Thomas Beckett and many other medieval saints, it is doubtful Charlie Weis will suffer this kind of death. True, Charlie does pray at Notre Dame's Lourdes Grotto nearly every day, but it is highly unlikely a disgruntled Michigan fan would whack him there after an Irish upset of the Wolverines. In fact, Charlie, who almost died on the operating table a few years ago, was spared the early death that both Knute and Canute suffered. Weis instead is faced with a different type of martyrdom, the type that a Notre Dame coach who loves Our Lady feels when he loses. Weis' love for his special needs daughter, Hannah, and his love for his only son, Charlie Jr., is both sadder and stronger when the Irish suffer a loss, for he knows the slings and arrows that the critics of the Notre Dame Nation hurl at him hurt his family deeply too. So pray that Charles and Canute can get Weis through the losses, so when the day of Notre Dame's next National Championship arrives, Charlie is not afraid to sing the praises of Our Lady—and has the courage to tell his critics of her only Son.

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