Today, 3 Apr 2012, is the anniversary of death of St Richard of Chichester, an English bishop and canon lawyer of the 13th century. Throughout his life adversity was never very far from him, but he never let it stop him serving God with all his heart. God used him powerfully to reform the diocese of Chichester, and bring it to greater holiness.
Richard was born in the county of Worcestershire, England around the year 1197 into a family of means and property. His first brush with adversity came with the death of his parents while he was still young. For some reason (death duties, mismanagement by trustees, or both) the remaining family were reduced to poverty. Until one of Richard’s siblings became old enough to take over the inheritance, nothing could be done to alleviate their situation. As soon as the estate was back in the management of family hands, Richard set about using his administrative and entreprenueurial gifts, together with hard manual labour, to bring the property to a state where it could support the family’s needs.
Once this was done, Richard sought to study in Oxford. Here, too, poverty was a constant companion until his intellectual gifts began to shine. From Oxford he went to study in Paris, which was the centre of learning at that time, and later to Bologna, Italy to study canon law. By the time Richard returned to England he had a reputation for learning, teaching and integrity. These were the qualities that the next chancellor of Oxford university needed, so Richard agreed to take on this responsibility and began to make Oxford shine again as a centre of learning.
If someone in power hears about a gifted person, the first thing they do is to head-hunt that gifted person to work for their own causes. That is how Richard came to be the diocesan chancellor for St Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon Richard had a reputation for refusing to accept bribes. When the relationship between King Henry III and the archbishop soured, Richard followed his archbishop to France exbracing the advesrsity of exile. The archbishop died in exile in 1240. It was at this time that Richard, greatly attracted by the Dominican order, began to study for the priesthood with the Dominicans at Orleans. Following his ordination, Richard returned to England, and took up service as a parish priest.
Once again, those in charge asked him to take up the chancellorship of Canterbury archdiocese, which he did. The see of Chicester became vacant, and the archbishop wanted Richard to fill the role. King Henry III wanted his own choice of cadidate.When the Pope was consulted, he gave his verdict for Richard, and ordained him to the episcopate, greatly displeasing. Henry III decided to comply only to the letter of the law and not its spirit- promptly confiscating all of the resources of the diocese and decreeing that no one should aid Richard in any way. After another brush with adversity in poverty and homelessness, Richard was restored to his see.
Finally in a place were he can serve his people, Richard set out to meet them, to preach to them, and to listen to them. Reforms were carried out. Clergy were urged to live according to their vows of chastity and to wear clerical dress. Of the greatest importance was the work Richard did in setting forth rules which made sure that each Mass within the diocese was celebrated in a manner worthy of God. Clean vessels, clean vestments, well laundered altar linens and the injunction that priests say the Mass corectly and without rushing were what was needed. That such rules needed to be laid down shows just what a mess Chichester had been prior to Richard’s arrival.
Before Richard could attain to his eternal reward, there was on more job for him to do. To preach a Crusade for those in Sussex and Kent was it. On the way to the Crusade, Richard died the day after he consecrated a place of worship near Dover under St Edmund’s patronage. That was 3 April 1253.
Thank you Lord for this valiant man who rose above adversity, and caused such great graces to flow upon the community.
St Richard of Chichester, pray for us.