Sunday, November 19, 2006

Traditional Feast Day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

The Charity of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
by Edmund Blair Leighton (1853-1922)

(taken from St. Elizabeth of Hungary)

An account on the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary by Conrad of Marburg (her spiritual director) (from Patron Saints Index)

Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castle should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband's empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband's four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave good, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.

On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.

Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn-out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.

This account, among others, and her reputation for sanctity amongst people of all classes, lead Pope Gregory IX to canonize Elizabeth in 1235, only four years after her death.

I've known about St. Elizabeth since I was a child. There is a short account of her life in a children's book of saints that I received as a gift from my parents. It wasn't until more recently, however, that I became more interested in her life.

In the late 19th century, the founding German parishioners at St. Mary, Mother of God parish in Washington, DC (where I attend the Traditional Latin Mass) apparently loved St. Elizabeth so much that there are two images of her in the church. There is a stained glass window of her on the epistle side of the nave, and there is a statue of her near the choir loft, high above the nave. This ultimately led me to read a short biography of her life written by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, a Discalced Carmelite nun from England.

The example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and her pious relatives, such as St. Hedwig (her aunt), St. Margaret of Hungary (her niece), and St. Elizabeth of Portugal (her grand niece), all show that nobles are no exception when it comes to living exemplary lives of holiness. Our society is both awestruck and hostile towards the concept of nobility. On the one hand, the continuing popularity of epics like J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, whose story is inhabited with kings, queens, princes, and princesses, shows that many are still have a "romantic" notion towards nobility. At the same time, however, the "democratic" spirit of the age cannot bear the notion of having a hereditary nobility rule the masses. This is the result of more than two centuries of revolutionary agitation.

May the intercession of St. Elizabeth of Hungary soften the hearts of Catholic and non-Catholics alike, so that Christian civilization, along with "the throne and the altar," may be restored.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

great Saints from that family! Did you know there is another Saint Elizabeth in the family?

10:53 AM  

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