A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

My Photo
Location: Virginia, United States

Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Surprise on the Feast of Christ the King!

Happy Feast of Christ the King!

My family went to the vigil mass at our local parish, since we need to drive my brother to the airport early tomorrow morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a religious goods shop had been temporarily set up in the church lobby.....there were so many beautiful, rare items sold at this shop! Since Benedictines notably have an eye for beauty, I wasn't surprised to discover that the shop was run by a Benedictine monk from St. Vincent Archabbey in PA. This wonderful monk is currently in my town in order to do a pre-Advent mission at my parish.

Thus far I managed to steer clear of post-Thanksgiving shopping....but my abstention was brought to a close when I spent almost an hour browsing the monk's shop after mass. There were gorgeous rosaries, hand-painted nativity sculptures, Christmas cards, medals, St. Francis statues, St. Benedict crucifixes, and other lovely crucifixes as well. In the crucifix section, a lovely icon-crucifix caught my eye. It looked very similar to the famous San Damiano crucifix, only it wasn't. What I loved about this particular crucifix was that it depicted Jesus' body as very emaciated and frail.....I think it really emphasizes the pain of Christ's passion. My mother kindly decided to buy the crucifix for me as an early Christmas present.

After the cross was paid for, I asked my pastor to bless the crucifix for me. He mentioned in his blessing that this crucifix was "Santa Chiara's cross." I couldn't believe my ears! Indeed, as a man who is very passionate about the faith, my pastor is a walking treasure-chest of beautiful little facts about the Catholic Church. Thus,, when I asked him to explain the part about Santa Chiara, Father explained to me that this is a replica of the cross that had been hanging in the basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi! Strangely enough, I had assumed that this cross was from the Benedictine tradition.....I had no idea that this beautiful little image of "Christ the King" had anything to do with St. Clare!

If you happen to be reading this, Father, thank you for sharing with me this beautiful piece of Church history! Also, if the Benedictine monk happens to be reading this, thank you for visiting my parish and bringing your many lovely gifts!

Monday, November 20, 2006

"For All the Saints": St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

When I was a student at Notre Dame, I was a study-rat and most evenings of the week I was buried inside the library until the building closed at 2 AM. My dorm was on the opposite side of campus, and in order to clear my mind a bit I took the route that went past the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and led to "The Grotto," which is a replica of Our Lady's grotto in Lourdes. Even at 2:15 AM, the Basilica was still lit up inside so that passersby could see the stained glass windows. The stained glass windows that surrounded the back of the Basilica always caught my attention- they depicted Our Lord appearing to what appeared to be a Poor Clare nun (pictured above). Thinking that it was either St. Colette or St. Clare, I always said a quick prayer to both of those Saints as I passed by those stained glass windows. However, a friend of mine who owned a book about the artwork in the Basilica later pointed out to me that the nun depicted in those stained glass windows wasn't a Franciscan/Poor Clare at all- the windows depicted scenes from the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. I'm sure that this wonderful Saint must have laughed up in heaven along with Sts. Clare and Colette at my innocent mistake!

In fact, St. Margaret Mary was a Visitation Nun.....and the Visitation Nuns are an absolutely wonderful order of contemplatives! St. Margeret Mary is best known for developing the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In fact, my beloved Servant of God Frank Parater had a very strong devotion to the Sacred Heart: in one of his dying letters he wrote "Remember, the Sacred Heart never fails those who love Him." This devotion was fostered by the Visitation Nuns of Monte Maria Abbey in Richmond, VA, where Frank Parater served as an altarboy during his youth. A very good overview of the devotion to the Sacred Heart can be found here.

Below is a very powerful prayer written by St. Margaret Mary......

Sacred Heart
Act of Consecration Prayer
by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque

I, ( your name. . .), give myself and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ my person and my life, my actions, pains, and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being save to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart.

This is my unchanging purpose, namely, to be all His, and to do all things for the love of Him, at the same time renouncing with all my heart whatever is displeasing to Him.

I therefore take Thee, O Sacred Heart, to be the only object of my love, the guardian of my life, my assurance of salvation, the remedy of my weakness and inconstancy, the atonement for all the faults of my life and my sure refuge at the hour of death.

Be then, O Heart of goodness, my justification before God Thy Father, and turn away from me the strokes of His righteous anger. O Heart of Love, I put all my confidence in Thee, for I fear everything from my own wickedness and frailty; but I hope for all things from Thy goodness and bounty.

Do Thou consume in me all that can displease Thee or resist Thy holy will. Let Thy pure love imprint Thee so deeply upon my heart that I shall nevermore be able to forget Thee or to be separated from Thee. May I obtain from all Thy loving kindness the grace of having my name written in Thee, for in Thee I desire to place all my happiness and all my glory, living and dying in true bondage to Thee.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Happy Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary! This week I've grown very close to St. Elizabeth of Hungary as I read about her life. In fact, since I am a laywoman, her life is almost more applicable to me than that of St. Clare. Nonetheless, St. Elizabeth has shown that even though she didn't wear the habit of the Seraphic Order, she was no less a Franciscan than the traditional Franciscan Saints. Her life has taught us that our station in life shouldn't hold us back from being in love with the Franciscan Order and embracing the way of St. Clare and St. Francis.

Below is a lovely poem/prayer for this Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary:

O blest Elizabeth, in glory
Enthroned amid the heavenly throng,
Be gracious to accept the praises
We offer you in cheerful song.
As you from home and hearth were driven
And forced in direst want to roam,
So now direct us lonely exiles
And help us reach our heavenly home.
You practiced poverty: enrich us
With heaven's choicest gifts secure;
You daily mortified your body:
Help us to keep our bodies pure.
The luring world and wily Satan
You overcame by watchful prayers;
Teach us with steadfast heart to conquer
Our enemies' deceitful snares.
To God the Father highest glory
And to his only Son, our Lord.
Together with the Holy Spirit,
As years and ages endless run.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Edith Stein's Reflection on St. Elizabeth of Hungary


Why has our time developed such a fondness we might even call it a craze for jubilees? Could it be the oppressive burden of misery that arouses the desire to withdraw again and again for a short breathing spell from the gray, oppressive atmosphere of the present time and to warm oneself a little in the sun of better days? But such flight from the present would be an unproductive way to celebrate jubilees, and we may assume that a deeper, healthier desire, even if not clearly conscious of itself, motivates these glimpses into the past. A generation poor in spirit and thirsting for the spirit looks anywhere where it once flowed abundantly in order to drink of it. And that is a healing impulse. For the spirit is living and does not die. Wherever it was once at work in forming human lives and human structures, it leaves behind not only dead monuments, but leads therein a mysterious existence, like hidden and carefully tended embers that flare up brightly, glow and ignite as soon as a living breath blows on them. The lovingly penetrating gaze of the researcher who traces out the hidden sparks from the monuments of the past this is the living breath that lets the flame flare up. Receptive human souls are the stuff in which it ignites and becomes the informing strength that helps in mastering and shaping present life. And if it was a holy fire that once burned here on the earth and left behind the traces of its action, then all the places and remains of this action are under holy protection. From the original source of all fire and light, the hidden embers are mysteriously nourished and preserved in order to break out again and again as an inexhaustible, productive source of blessing.

Such a source of blessing is revealed to us in the remembrance the lovely saint who 700 years ago closed her eyes to this world as someone perfected early in order to enter into the radiant glory of eternal life. Her life story seems like a wondrous fairy tale. It is the story of the Hungarian royal child, Elizabeth, who was born in the castle in Pressburg at the same time as the magician Klingsor in Eisenach read of her birth in the stars, and predicted her future fame and meaning for the Thuringia region.(38) The treasures which Queen Gertrud saved up to bestow in splendor on her little daughter sound like something out of A Thousand and One Nights and so also does the vehicle on which all of the splendors were loaded when Count Hermann of Thuringia sent for the four-year-old princess to be fetched to the far-away Wartburg as the bride for his son. The queen even promised to send a large dowry along later. But her relentless striving for riches, glitter, and power came to a sudden end. She was murdered by conspirators, and the child which she had sent abroad to secure a crown became a motherless orphan.

The story of the children Ludwig and Elizabeth reminds us of the intimate relationships in German folk tales. They grew up together, deeply loving each other deeply like brother and sister, and clung to each other in steadfast faithfulness when everything was working to separate them from one another, when everyone gradually turned away from the foreign and unusual child who would rather spend time with ragged beggars than celebrate joyful festivals, who seemed to fit better in a convent than on a royal throne as the center of a luxuriant, radiant life at court, to which the nobility of Thuringia had been accustomed on the Wartburg from the time of Count Hermann.
Then there follows a romance of chivalry, the young count's initiation into knighthood and the beginning of his reign, the glittering wedding and the young wedded bliss of the royal pair, Elizabeth's life as a countess at the side of her husband: festivals, hunts, horseback rides in all directions throughout their land. And placed between all this was her silent concern for the poor and sick in the vicinity of the Wartburg. Then there came the increasing seriousness of a ruler's concerns: her husband's sallies into battle, regency in his absence, struggles against the hunger and pestilence that was bringing down the people, and simultaneously against the opposition of her surroundings that would not permit her to address these needs with all her strength. Finally, there was the Count's crusader vow, the deep pain of farewell and separation, the collapse of the distraught widow when she got the news of her husband's death. A woman's fate like that of many so it seems.

But what happened next is new and has no parallel. She who is sunk in grief raises herself like a mulier fortis [strong woman], as the liturgy of her feast extols her, and takes her fate into her hands. At night during a storm, she leaves the Wartburg where people will no longer permit her to live as her conscience dictates. She seeks refuge for herself and her children in Eisenach, and because she cannot find bearable accommodations, she accepts for the time being the hospitality of her maternal relatives. And even when a reconciliation with the brothers of her husband has come about and she is returned to the Wartburg in utmost honor and brotherly love, she cannot stand it there for long. She must walk the path laid out for her to the end, must leave the place on the heights in order to live among the poorest of the poor as one of them, must place her children into strangers' hands, in order to belong to the Lord alone and to serve him in his suffering members. Stripped of everything, she vows herself to the Lord who gave everything for his own. On Good Friday in the year 1229, she puts her hands on the stripped altar of the Franciscan Church in Marburg and dons the clothing of the Order. She had belonged to it for years already as a tertiary without being able to live by its spirit as her heart desired. Now she is the sister of the poor and serves them in the hospital that she built for them. But not for very long, for only two years later her strength is exhausted and the twenty-four-year-old is permitted to enter into the joy of the Lord.

A life whose outer facts are colorful and appealing enough to arouse fantasy, to awaken amazement and admiration. But that is not why we are concerned with it. We would like to pursue what lies behind the outer facts, to feel the beat of the heart that bore such a fate and did such things, to internalize the spirit that governed her. All the facts reported about Elizabeth reveal one thing, all of the words we have from her: a burning heart that comprehends everything around her with earnest, tenderly adaptable, and faithful love. This is how she put her hand as a little child into the hand of the boy whom the political power struggles of her ambitious parents had given her for her life's companion, never again to release it. This is how she shared her entire life with the playmates of her early childhood until shortly before her death, when her severe director took them from her to dissolve the last tie of earthly love. This is how in her heart she carried the children she bore when still almost a child herself. And when she gave them up, it was certainly out of a maternal love that did not want them to share her own all-too-hard path, as well as a maternal sense of duty that would not let her take away by her own hands the destiny to which their natural circumstances in life entitled them. But she also gave them up because she felt such overwhelming love that they would have become a hindrance in the vocation to which God was calling her.

From earliest youth she opened her heart in warm, compassionate love for all who suffered and were oppressed. She was moved to feed the hungry and to tend the sick, but was never satisfied with warding off material need alone, always desiring to have cold hearts warm themselves at her own. The poor children in her hospital ran into her arms calling her mother, because they felt her real maternal love. All of this overflowing treasure came from the inexhaustible source of the Lord's love, for he had been close to her for as long as she could remember. When her father and mother sent her away, he went with her into the far-away, foreign country. From the time that she knew that he dwelt in the town chapel, she was drawn to it from the midst of her childhood games. Here she is at home. When people reviled and derided her, it was here that she found comfort. No one was as faithful as he. Therefore, she had to be true to him as well and love him above everyone and everything. No human image was permitted to dislodge his image from her heart. This is why strong pangs of remorse overwhelmed her when she was startled by the little bell announcing the consecration, making her aware that her eye and her heart were turned toward the husband at her side instead of paying attention to the Holy Sacrifice. In the presence the image of the Crucified One who hangs on the Cross naked and bleeding, she could not wear finery and a crown. He stretched his arms out wide to draw to himself all who were burdened and heavy laden. She must carry this Crucified One's love to all who are burdened and heavy laden and in turn arouse in them love for the Crucified One. They are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. She serves the Lord when she serves them. But she must also ensure that through faith and love they become living members. Everyone close to her she tried to lead to the Lord, thus practicing a blessed apostolate. This is evident in the life of her companions. The formation of her husband is a persuasive witness to this, as well as the interior change of his brother, Conrad, who after her death, obviously under her influence, entered an Order. The love of Christ, this is the spirit that filled and informed Elizabeth's life, that nurtured her unceasing love of her neighbors.

We can comprehend Elizabeth's characteristic contagious happiness as arising from the same source. She loved turbulent children's games and continued to take pleasure in them long after, in accordance with the usual ideas of breeding and custom, she was supposed to have outgrown them. She enjoyed everything beautiful. She dressed very well and put on splendid parties that delighted her guests, as was her duty in her position as a countess. Above all, she wanted to bring joy to the huts of the poor. She took toys to the children and played with them herself. Even the sullen widow whom she had for a housemate during the last part of her life could not dim her enthusiasm and had to be pleased by her jokes. And she was moved by the poor to the depths of her heart on that day when she invited them to Marburg by the thousands and singlehandedly distributed among them the remainder of the widow's pension that had been given to her in cash. From morning to evening she walked through the rows giving each one a share. As night came on, many remained who were too weak and sick to make their way home. They encamped in the open, and Elizabeth had fires lit for them. This made them feel good, and songs arose around the campfires. Amazed, the countess listened, and it confirmed for her what she had believed and practiced all her life: "See, I told you that all one has to do is to make the poor happy." That God had created his creatures for happiness had long been her conviction, and she felt it was proper to lift a radiant face to him. And this was also confirmed for her at her death when she was called to eternal joy by the sweet song of a little bird.

Overflowing love and joy led to a free naturalness that could not be contained by convention. How could one walk in measured stride or lisp pretentious speech when the signal resounds before the castle gate, announcing the master's return? Elizabeth forgot irretrievably all the rules of breeding when her heart began beating stormily, and she followed the rhythm and beat of her heart. Again, is one to think about socially acceptable forms for expressing one's devotion even in church? She could only do what love asked of her, even though it produced strong criticism. In no way could she understand that it was improper to take gifts to the poor herself, to speak with them in a friendly way, to go into their huts, and to care for them in their own homes. She did not want to be stubborn and disobedient and to live in discord with her own, but she could not hear human voices over the inner voice governing her. Therefore, in the long run she could not live among the conventional, who could not and would not release themselves from age-old institutions and deeply rooted ways of thinking about life. She was able to remain among her peers as long as a holy union held her fast and a faithful protector remained at her side, sympathetically taking into consideration her heart's command while at the same time prudently considering the demands of the surroundings. After the death of her husband, she had to leave the circles into which she was born and raised and to go her own way. It was a sharp and painful separation, certainly for her as well. But with a heart full of love that was stopped by no barriers separating her from her dear brothers and sisters, she found the path that so many today vainly seek, despite their great good will and the exertion of all their strength: the path to the hearts of the poor.

All through the centuries there runs a human longing that is never put to rest. Sometimes it is expressed softly, at other times more loudly. One who felt it particularly poignantly found a catchy phrase for it: return to nature. And someone who with a consuming longing vainly pursued this ideal his entire life, until he collapsed, has drawn an unusually impressive picture of the person whose every action springs from the depths in a continual motion without reflection or exertion of the will, guided by the command of the heart alone: "one would have the charm of a marionette."(39)

Does St. Elizabeth conform to this ideal? The facts presented so far, pointing to her spontaneous way of doing things, seem to say so. But the sources recount other facts that no less clearly point to a will as hard as steel, to a relentless battle against her own nature: The lovely, youthfully cheerful, enchantingly natural person is at the same time a strictly ascetic saint. Early enough she had to recognize that giving oneself over to the pull of one's heart without restraint is not without its dangers. Extravagant love of her relatives, pride, and greed caused Queen Gertrud to be hated by the Hungarian people, caused her sudden, unexpected death at the hands of murderers. Untamed passion led Gertrud's sister, Agnes of Meran, into a relationship with the king of France that broke up his marriage and brought ecclesiastical censure to all of France. Reckless political ambition entangled Count Hermann in a lifetime of unremitting warfare and left him to die while excommunicated. From time to time Elizabeth even had to see her own husband involved in unjust power struggles and anathematized. And was even she free of these sinister forces in her own breast? By no means! She knew very well that she, too, could not give herself over to the guidance of her own heart without danger.

When, with cunning piety, the child thought up games which would enable her to skip off to the chapel or throw herself down secretly to say her prayers, a mighty tug of grace must certainly have been working in her heart; but she could have suspected, too, that in her play she was also in danger of getting lost from God. This becomes even clearer when the young lady came home from her first dance with a serious face and said, "One dance is enough for the world. For God's sake, I want to forego the rest of them." When she arose from her bed at night and knelt to pray or left the room entirely to let the maids whip her, this surely tells us not only of her general desire to do penance and to suffer voluntarily for the Lord's sake, but that she wanted to save herself from the danger of forgetting the Lord while at her beloved husband's side. Surely Elizabeth's natural sense of beauty was drawn to pretty children rather than to ugly ones, and was repelled by the appearance and odor of disgusting wounds. Therefore, since she repeatedly sought out such ailing creatures to tend to them herself, this tells not only of her compassionate love for the poorest, but also of the will to overcome her natural revulsion. Even during the last years of her life Elizabeth prayed to God for three things: for contempt for all earthly goods, for the gift of cheerfully bearing humiliation, and to be free of excessive love for her children. She could tell her maids that she was heard in all of this. But that she had to ask for these things showed they were not natural for her, and that she had probably been struggling for them in vain for a long time.

Forming her life to please God Elizabeth strives for this goal not only for herself and in battle against her own nature. With full awareness and the same inflexible determination, she endeavors to influence her surroundings. As countess she takes pains to counteract excesses in sumptuous clothing and to move the titled ladies to renounce this or that vanity. When she begins to avoid all food obtained with illegal revenues and is thus often forced to go hungry at the fully-laden royal table, she assumes that her loyal companions Guda and Isentrud will share her deprivations, as later they will also follow her into the distress of voluntary banishment and poverty. And what a protest this abstention from food was against the whole way of life around her!

Her increasingly austere way of life made most severe demands on her husband. He had to look on while she treated herself with the utmost harshness, endangered her health, squandered his wealth lavishly; while, by all this, she roused the opposition of his family and of all at court; and, finally, while she fought to detach herself interiorly from him, even bemoaning bitterly that she was bound by her marriage. All this required heroic self-mastery on his part as well, and one readily understands why, as he accepted everything with love and patience, faithfully taking the trouble to stand by his wife in her striving for perfection, the young count came to be regarded as a saint by his people.

Initially, it was probably the doctrine of the Gospel and the general ascetic practices of her time that guided Elizabeth in her striving for perfection. Every now and then she had an insight and sought to put it into practice. When the Franciscans came to Germany, she found what she was looking for, a clearly outlined ideal and complete way of life; and, as her guest on the Wartburg, Rodiger instructed her about the lifestyle of the Poor Man of Assisi. Now suddenly she knew precisely what she wanted and what she had always longed for: to be entirely poor, to go begging from door to door, to be no longer chained by any possessions or human ties, also to be free of her own will to be entirely and exclusively the Lord's own. Count Ludwig could not bring himself to dissolve the marriage bond, to let her leave him. However, he would help her toward a regulated life, approximating her ideal as closely as possible. It was probably better for her guide not to be a Franciscan otherwise her unfulfillable wishes could not be put to rest but someone who dampened her excesses with quiet reason and yet had an understanding of her interior desire. Such a man was Master Conrad of Marburg who was recommended to the count as a guide for his wife. He was a secular priest but as poor as a beggar monk, entirely consecrated to the service of the Lord, and very strict with himself as well as with others. This is how he traveled throughout Germany as preacher of the crusade and warrior for the purity of the faith. Elizabeth took a vow to obey him in the year 1225 and remained under his direction until her death. For her to submit herself to him and to continue submissive to him was surely the severest breaking of her own will, for, in accordance with her own wishes, he not only engaged in the severest battle against her lower nature, but also directed her love of God and neighbor in directions different from her impulse. Neither before nor after the death of her husband did he ever permit her to give up all her possessions. He restrained her indiscriminate almsgiving, gradually limited it and finally completely forbade it to her. He also tried to keep her from tending people with contagious diseases (the only point on which Elizabeth had not entirely submitted by the end).

Certainly his ideal of perfection was not inferior to hers. It was clear to him from the beginning that he was entrusted with the guidance of a saintly soul, and he wanted to do everything he could to lead her to the summit of perfection. But his opinions about the means thereto differed from hers. In the first place, he wanted to teach her to strive for the ideal where she was, just as he had not considered it necessary to enter an Order himself. So he permitted her to join the Franciscans as a tertiary and interpreted for her the vows in a way appropriate to her state in life. As long as her husband was living she was to perform all her marital duties, but to renounce remarriage if he died. She was to live a life of poverty but not carelessly squander what she had, rather providing sensibly for the poor. Foremost in this life of poverty was the food ban, that prohibited her all nourishment not obtained from lawful revenues. Carrying out this prohibition (according to recent research) is said to be what caused her to leave the Wartburg after the death of her husband. It is assumed that her brother-in-law, Heinrich Raspe, was unwilling to tolerate her absenting herself from the royal table, and cut off her widow's pension to coerce her (surely also to put an end to her wasteful good deeds). After the extreme need and abandonment that she suffered from this voluntary or involuntary banishment, she could not bear to become reaccustomed to her former circumstances. She only returned to the Wartburg temporarily after her reconciliation with the count's family and immediately began to discuss with Master Conrad the best way of realizing her Franciscan ideal. He agreed to none of her suggestions, allowing neither entrance into a convent nor the assumption of a hermit or beggar life. He could not prevent her from renewing her vows or from allowing herself to be clothed in the dress of the Order. And he let her take up residence in her city of Marburg where he lived, too. He determined a lifestyle for her in accord with his judgment, by using her means to build a hospital in Marburg and assigning her certain duties in it. It was probably her own idea not to use any of her income for herself, but to earn her subsistence by her own hands (by spinning wool for the Altenburg monastery), and her director agreed. In Master Conrad's opinion, the most difficult and important task was to teach his charge obedience. It was his pious conviction that obedience was better than sacrifice, that there was no way of attaining perfection without letting go of all of one's own wishes and inclinations. And his enthusiasm for his goal drew him into corporal punishment when she repeatedly overstepped his orders. Certainly, deep within Elizabeth agreed with him. This is evident not only by the patience and meekness with which she bore these severe humiliations. She would certainly not have conceded on such an essential point as the renunciation of her greatly desired lifestyle if she had not been convinced of the importance of obedience. She saw God's representative in the director given to her and whom she had not chosen herself. More unerringly than the tug of her own heart, his word disclosed God's will. In the last analysis, it finally comes down to one thing: forming one's life according to God's will. Thus, they both wage a relentless struggle against natural inclinations.

Sometimes it is Elizabeth herself who takes the lead and finds only the master's approval, as in the move to Marburg and the separation from her children. Sometimes Conrad commands and Elizabeth submits obediently to him, e.g., when he takes away the beloved companions of her youth and substitutes housemates that are hard to bear, when he increasingly restricts her joy of personally giving alms and finally entirely prohibits it. There was only one point on which she would not totally concede. Along with her service at the hospital, she insisted on continuing to have with her a child sick with a particularly unbearable illness in her own little house next door and to care for it all alone. A little fellow ill with scabies even sat beside her death bed, as Master Conrad himself told Pope Gregory IX, who had entrusted to him the care of the widow after the death of the count. Immediately after her death, Master Conrad enthusiastically urged Pope Gregory to beatify her.

So we seem to get a conflicting picture of the saint and the formation of her life. On the one hand we have a stormy temperament that spontaneously follows the instincts of a warm, love-filled heart uninhibited by her own reflection or outside objections. On the other hand we see a forcefully grasping will constantly trying to subdue its own nature and compelling her life to conform to an externally prescribed pattern on the basis of rigid principles that consciously contradicted the inclinations of her heart.

However, there is a standpoint from which the contradictions can be understood and finally harmoniously resolved, that alone truly fulfills this longing to be natural. Those who avow an "unspoiled human nature" assume that people possess a molding power operating from the inside undisturbed by the push and pull of external influence, shaping people and their lives into harmonious, fully formed creatures. But experience does not substantiate this lovely belief. The form is indeed hidden within, but trapped in many webs that prevent its pure realization. People who abandon themselves to their nature soon find themselves driven to and fro by it and do not arrive at a clear formation or organization. And formlessness is not naturalness. Now people who take control of their own nature, curtailing rampant impulses, and seeking to give them the form that appears good to them, perhaps a ready-made form from outside, can possibly now and again give the inner form room to develop freely. But it can also happen that they do violence to the inner form and that, instead of a nature freely unfolded, the unnatural and artificial appears.

Our knowledge is piecemeal. When our will and action build on it alone, they cannot achieve a perfect structure. Nor can that knowledge, because it does not have complete power over the self and often collapses before reaching the goal. And so this inner shaping power that is in bondage strains toward a light that will guide more surely, and a power that will free it and give it space. This is the light and the power of divine grace. Mighty was the tug of grace in the soul of the child Elizabeth. It set her on fire, and the flame of the love of God flared up, breaking through every cloak and barrier. Then this human child placed herself in the hands of the divine Creator. Her will became pliant material for the divine will, and, guided by this will, it could set about taming and curtailing her nature to channel the inner form. Her will could also find an outer form suitable to its inner one and a form into which she could grow without losing her natural direction. And so she rose to that perfected humanity, the pure consequence of a nature freed and clarified by the power of grace. On these heights it is safe to follow the impulses of one's heart, because one's own heart is united with the divine heart and beats with its pulse and rhythm. Here Augustine's astute saying can serve as the guideline for forming a life: Ama et fac quod vis [Love and do what you will].

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

St. Elizabeth of Hungary: A Detailed Overview

Friday is the Feast Day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is a Franciscan Saint that is increasingly playing a very important role in my life. The first of my several posts about this beautiful Saint is a detailed overview of her life and times:

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary- by Mary Germaine, MICM

Enriched by the Catholic Faith, Europe rose to new heights of civilization and culture upon the ruins of ancient pagan Rome. A new social order received its vitality from the personal and social virtues fostered by Christian family life. Never was this more apparent than in the Middle Ages when the royal houses of Europe produced rulers who were saints. These valorous and virtuous men and women prized their holiness as the summit of their nobility. Catholic nations either flourished with God's blessing or suffered the consequences for the infidelity to their sacred obligations.

In testimony of the power of God's grace, the warring Magyars, one of the fiercest and most difficult groups of people to subdue, gave Christendom some of its holiest monarchs. This royal line started with the conversion of the Magyar chieftain, Geza, in 975 AD, whose son, the great Saint Stephen, became King of Hungary and reigned from 1000 to 1038 AD. Stephen and his descendants spared nothing in their efforts to spared the sanctifying influence of the Faith throughout their country and all of Europe.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary shines as one of the brightest stars in this family. In the short span of 24 years she admirably fulfilled the designs of God as princess, wife, mother and widow, teaching her own and succeeding generations the incomparable value of self-denial and charity in His service.

Saint Elizabeth's father, Andreas II, who was the rich and powerful king of Hungary, Galicia and Lodomeria, began to reign in the year 1205. He was described as "valiant, enterprising, pious, and overgenerous with a reckless good nature which never thought of the morrow." To strengthen political ties, he married the German countess, Gertrude of Andechs-Meran, who was a direct descendant of Charlemagne. Queen Gertrude's own sister, Hedwig, wife of the Duke of Silesia, was a canonized saint. Another sister was a Benedictine abbess and two brothers served as cardinals, better titled as princes of the Church.

Elizabeth was born in mid-fall of 1207, in the royal palace at Pozsony, now Bratislava, overlooking the Danube River. Her first three years passed happily with her sister Marie and her brother Bela, who would one day succeed his father as King Bela IV. From her earliest youth Elizabeth loved music, dancing and playing in the beautiful countryside, but her greatest joy was giving alms to relieve the sufferings of the poor.

The child's love for virtue and prayer corresponded perfectly with her name which in Hebrew means "worshipper of God" or "consecrated to God." But there was not even a remote chance of Elizabeth pursuing the path of her maternal aunt, the Benedictine abbess. Following the custom of the time, her father, for political reasons, arranged her marriage while she was still an infant. Elizabeth, he determined, would become the Duchess of Thuringia.
Hermann I, Landgrave or Count of Thuringia, which is a region in eastern Germany, was patron of the arts and one of the richest and most influential rulers in all Europe at the beginning of the 13th Century. He was a cousin to the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. The Wartburg, his 100-year-old massive castle, was a center of magnificence and culture. Notwithstanding the glory of his realm, it was rife with turmoil; feudal princes were at war with one another and in conflict with royal and imperial authority. Amicable relations with and support of powerful foreign nations were as important then as ever. Hermann had lost no time gathering information about possible advantageous alliances by way of a suitable wife for his young son, Ludwig.
The happy realization of this intention had come rather unexpectedly. One evening, the great Kingslohr, master of the "minnesingers", or German troubadours, startled everyone at the Wartburg castle with an astounding prophecy: "I see a beautiful star rising in Hungary" - he said in a trance - "the rays of which extend to Marburg, and from Marburg, all over the world. Know that even on this night there is born to my lord, the king or Hungary, a daughter who shall be named Elizabeth. She shall be given in marriage to the son of your prince, she shall become a saint and her sanctity shall rejoice all Christendom."

Landgrave Hermann took King slohr's words seriously and began a diligent inquiry from all who traveled from Hungary, to learn about the princess who had indeed been born that night. Pleased with all he heard concerning her, the Landgrave proceeded to make arrangements for the betrothal of Elizabeth to his son.

Blissfully unaware of all the political strategies surrounding her, Elizabeth's innocent childhood joys came to an abrupt halt when she turned four. That year a cavalcade from far away Thuringia came to pick up the princess and take her to her new home. As was the custom, she would be reared there with her future husband in his family so that she could learn the royal conventions in order to become a good wife for the future ruler.

The embassy arrived with two coaches and a train of Thuringian knights. After three days of entertainment and religious services, they left Hungary with thirteen coaches loaded with Elizabeth's dowry and magnificent gifts for the Thuringian court. As recorded in the ancient chronicles: "Gold and silver vessels, many and wonderful, most precious diadems, rings, necklaces and jeweled belts; a bath of silver, numberless dresses, cushions, pillows and coverlets of purple silk; things of such cost and beauty that had never been seen in Thuringian land."
In addition to all these magnificent things, there were six superb Arabian horses for Elizabeth's use, along with attending squires and knights. A retinue of Hungarian servants accompanied her, as well as her own personal maids in waiting, two of whom remained her faithful friends to the very end and to whom we are indebted for much biographical information about the saint.
Before departing, King Andreas placed his daughter, "the Tight of his eyes and the joy of his life," in the special care of Count Walter de Varila. "Promise me on the faith of a Christian knight that you will ever protect and be a true friend to my little daughter." Varila pledged: "I will protect her and always be faithful to her." Queen Gertrude rather coldly bid her little daughter farewell, saying, "Act like a princess." Little did the child realize that two years later her mother would suffer a tragic death at the hands of insurgents. "Elizabeth and her companions studied German, French, and Latin, the history of the realm, music, literature, and embroidery."

The journey from her native place to her new home, the town of Eisenach, Thuringia, took several months, as the royal entourage was greeted along the way with many festivities. At last they arrived at the Wartburg. Built on top of a mountain surrounded by more than a hundred miles of dark forest, the massive century-old castle served as a fortification for the surrounding villages. The outer walls were ten feet thick and those of the living quarters were six feet.
"These stone walls with heavy gates and watch towers, the drawbridge, the inaccessible parapets, dungeon for captives, narrow, tall keep where precious possessions and extra supplies were stored on many floors, vaulted, dark damp cellars and kitchen and bakery, servant quarters and gardens and stables...."

Upon her arrival the little princess was received by the Landgrave Hermann and his wife, the Landgravine Sophia, who introduced her to her new family: her fiancée, eleven year-old Ludwig, and her other children, Hermann, 10, Agnes, 4, Hermann Raspe, and Conrad. To this immediate family were added six other children of Thuringian nobility, who were assigned to Elizabeth as playmates. Two named Guda and Isentrude remained her closest and life-long friends. The formal engagement of the two children took place in the castle chapel, where the bishop blessed Elizabeth and Ludwig.

It was "love at first sight", if that was possible for mere children. They called each other "brother and sister." Their joy was their companionship and while they were young they spent all the time they could together, but as future rulers of a powerful kingdom, they both had much to learn.

Under the tutelage of Ludwig's mother Sophia, Elizabeth and her companions studied German, French, and Latin, the history of the realm, music, literature, and embroidery as well the care of linens, tapestries and wardrobes. Of paramount importance, however, was the detailed training on being "a future Landgravine."

Meanwhile Ludwig was undergoing his training as a future ruler of Thuringia. As usual with nobility destined for knighthood, he become a page at the age of seven. He learned to serve the lords and ladies with perfect manners. As a squire, he would have his own attendants, suit of armor, and horse. He, too, was taught Latin, French, music, math, equestrian skills and military arts.

It is said that Ludwig was unsurpassed physically and mentally. He was the very picture of a medieval knight; he was "tall, well proportioned, good-looking, attracting all who came near him, kind in speech, brave and daring." It was Elizabeth who would raise these qualities to the level of the supernatural by teaching Ludwig to do all for the love of God.

This is the distinctive characteristic of the saint that Elizabeth would become. She never for one minute wanted anything but to conform to the will of God and felt that her union with Ludwig was the will of God. In loving Ludwig, she was obeying the will of God, therefore, loving God. This automatically placed their love on another plane, and kept it from ever being sullied by mere carnal affection. They were meant to help each other acquire the sanctity intended for them by Almighty God.

It was providential that Ludwig took his training so seriously, since he was called to rule at an early age, due to the death of his father in 1217. The causes of the senior Landgrave's tragic death were his political difficulties and his alliances against the Church, which resulted in his excommunication. Excommunication in the Middle Ages was regarded as the ultimate punishment. This most serious censure was imposed for the correction of the offender and for the spiritual protection of the faithful.

For a ruler this meant exclusion from all divine services, public prayer and the sacraments of the Church, and if he remained obstinate, he would be required to forfeit his office and his subjects would be released from their allegiance to him. This blow combined with the death of his son, Hermann, drove him mad and for some time Ludwig had to act for him. Then one day the Landgrave went riding and never returned.

Elizabeth was greatly affected by her father-in-law's death, for he, more than anyone other than Ludwig, loved her. She prayed constantly for his soul. Together Ludwig and Elizabeth wept over the following prayer that was discovered in Landgravine Sophia's prayer book: "To Thee, Jesus, I commend the soul of Thy servant, Hermann, who although he is entangled in crime and sin, is still Thy creature for whom the Sacred Blood of Christ was shed and who sets his hope in Thee. Deliver him from evil today and always. Render him free from the power, the missiles and force of his foes. Save him from shame of the body and from sudden death. I commend him to Thee in the hope and faith that he may be saved. Hear me, a poor sinner; plead for Thy brother, Hermann."

After a year of mourning, Ludwig was knighted at eighteen, rather than the customary age of twenty-one, and named Landgrave of Thuringia, Ludwig IV. The bishop of Naumberg presided at the elaborate ceremony. According to the feudal system, Ludwig then paid homage to Frederick II as his vassal and at this ceremony received the pledge of fealty from his lesser nobles.

Known for his honesty and true nobility of heart, the young Landgrave was highly regarded by the other rulers. His private chaplain described him as "cheerful, brave, pious, temperate, chaste and just." Elizabeth delighted in Ludwig's pledge: "My soul belongs to God, my life to my sovereign, my heart to my lady, Elizabeth, and my honor to myself." Out of deference to the poor, he ordered the traditional celebrations reduced to a banquet. This irritated the court, which blamed it on Elizabeth's influence.

From the start, Elizabeth despised the vanities of court life. She was often rebuked for her lack of attention to traditional details. But it was not disregard that made her different, but rather her deep spirituality that made the vanities of the world seem insignificant and unimportant. As a sacrifice, she would deliberately not wear signs of rank on holy days. As a princess, she had a wardrobe of exquisite gowns that she only wore to fulfill the duties of her state and to please her husband. Even when she did appear in radiant attire, her ladies in waiting knew that underneath it she wore a penitential hair shirt to keep her from becoming too attached to vanities.
During her childhood in Hungarythe Child Jesus frequently came to play with Elizabeth, according to her life-long companions.
When she was twelve years old, Elizabeth shocked the court by her disregard for pomp and show. On the Feast of the Assumption she was required to go in state to attend the High Mass. "This meant that she and the princesses would be dressed in the full magnificence of their rich silk and velvet clothes, with long embroidered sleeves and surcoats, edged with fur, with magnificent long mantles carried by pages, their gloves sewn with pearls and precious stones, and their persons adorned with golden chains and jewels. The young princesses probably did not wear the customary linen coif but would have loose veils and coronets on their flowing hair. On entering the packed church they knelt before the crucifix, and then instead of moving to her place of honor with the others, Elizabeth took off her crown, laying it before the cross, and remained prostrate on the ground with her face covered."
All eyes turned toward the Landgrave's future bride. When his mother corrected her for this want of protocol, Elizabeth responded: "How can I, a miserable creature, remain wearing a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King, Jesus Christ, crowned with thorns?"
With all her heart she desired to receive Our Divine Lord in Holy Communion, but she had to wait - as custom demanded - until she was twelve. Only to Guda, her closest friend, did she confide that Jesus showed Himself to her many times in the Eucharist and in the poor. One day when she was distributing food at the castle gate, she saw Jesus among the beggars. He touched those around Him and their faces changed into His, showing her that she must see Him in the poor, sick, deformed and unwanted. No longer could she let her natural fastidiousness keep her at a distance from the poor or be repulsed by their dirt and ugliness. She knew for certain that Our Lord was asking her to care for the afflicted. This caused quite a stir in the court, which already regarded her as a foreigner and called her the "little Hungarian gypsy." lf it hadn't been for her betrothal to Ludwig, who championed her cause, life would have been unbearable.
Elizabeth's piety was so integrated in to her actions that she would even play in the conscious presence of Christ. When she would pass the outside wall of the castle chapel she would reverently kiss the stones. As she grew older her piety irritated the women of the court. It made them uncomfortable and they would grumble that she was too holy, prayed too long, and should have been a nun instead of being betrothed to the prince.
At this point news arrived that things were not well in Hungary. Her father, King Andreas, who had vowed to lead a Crusade, had instead made a peaceful expedition across Jericho and up the Red Sea. There, he retreated after a brief encounter with the Saracens. This humiliation, coupled with his inability to pay back the monies he had borrowed for the trip, was his downfall. Now the Hungarian alliance did not seem so promising to the Thuringian people and they began to reconsider the choice of Elizabeth as a match for the future Landgrave.
It began to be openly discussed and soon Ludwig's mother called a council without his knowledge. The main complaint against Elizabeth was her piety and extravagance to the poor. She could not be trusted with money for the good of the realm. Elizabeth learned about the council and held her own. After her recourse to many hours of prayer, she confided to Walter de Varila, the knight who had been appointed to her by her father, that she feared a conspiracy was about to separate her from her beloved Ludwig.
Varila bypassed the court council and asked Ludwig what his intentions were regarding the fate of Elizabeth. Ludwig, pointing to one of the tallest peaks in Thuringia, said that if the entire mountain were turned into gold he would not exchange it for his Elizabeth. "She is dearer to me than anything on earth and I will have no other for my bride."

Once Ludwig's determination became apparent, the murmuring subsided and Elizabeth was treated more kindly. Other trials began to arise that placed many obstacles to the wedding. The greatest was the false excommunication of Ludwig by an archbishop who attempted to seize his lands. Ludwig refused to surrender his rights to the unjust demands and gathered his troops to fight back, forcing the prelate to admit his error and lift the ban from him and his father.

Finally in the spring of 1221, Elizabeth and Ludwig were married. She was fourteen and he was twenty-one. The entire kingdom, as well as a retinue of Magyar, envoys bearing gifts from the bride's homeland, was present. Elizabeth was now "Landgravine of Thuringia" and "Mistress of Wartburg". After a week of festivities, life returned to normal and the new couple was free to rule the Castle without the interference of Ludwig's mother, who had retired to live as a nun in the Cistercian convent of Saint Catherine, which her husband had built.

Wartburg Castle once again became the center of activity and excitement. It underwent some renovations by the new Landgrave including a larger banquet hall. Troubadours were back and happy times resumed, without the extravagance of the preceding reign. Ludwig was exceedingly proud of his lavishly dressed wife, but he was unaware of the spiritual motives behind her appearance.

"It is not through carna pleasure or vanity that I deck myself thus," she confided, "God is my witness, but only through Christian charity that I may remove from my brother all occasions of discontent or sin, if anything in me should displease him, that he may love me in the Lord, and that God Who has consecrated our lives upon earth may unite us in Heaven." And again: "It is in God that I love my husband; may He Who sanctified marriage grant us eternal life."

The holiness of this young bride is best described by Saint Francis de Sales, who said of her: "She played and danced and was present at assemblies of recreation, without prejudice to her devotion, which was so deeply root ed in her soul. Her devotion increased among the pomp and vanities to which her condition exposed her. Great fires are increased by the wind, while small ones are extinguished, if not screened from it."

Elizabeth "would ride through the village helping her subjects and listeningto their problems..."
The new banquet hall now afforded them new opportunities to entertain. One night a German storyteller made his appearance in the gray habit of the newly founded Friars Minor. He entertained the party with his tales of the "poor little rich man" named Francis and his new Order. Elizabeth was greatly moved by all she heard and desired to became a follower of Saint Francis and help him rebuild the Church. She found her way by helping the poor.
The Poor

When Ludwig was absent she put off her gowns and dressed as a peasant in mourning. Then she would ride through the village helping her subjects and listening to their problems. She saw how they lived, and learned what they really thought of therr rulers; that they hated rich people who grew rich at their expense. The peasants endured hard labor, had to pay heavy taxes, and often suffered cruel treatment from the nobles. Her maids would accompany her on her errands of mercy... until she went to the leper colony, then she went alone. She brought food and clothing, but more importantly she brought love and the consolation of Catholic teachings.

She was a perfect picture of Christian Charity, and she used the many means at her disposal to pay debts, buy food and clothing to clean, nurse and bury the dead. Her charity challenged the entire feudal world. Of course Elizabeth's actions did not increase her popularity at court. Gossip was rife once more.

Elizabeth began to feel a great conflict within her soul and felt as though she were leading a double life. Although she and Ludwig attended Mass everyday, there were many worldly duties to tend to. She feared that her love for her husband competed with her love for God. She began to weep at Mass one day when she found herself staring at Ludwig during the Consecration. Ludwig, unaware of the reasons for her grief, left the chapel, but returned later to find her still crying. He too began to weep, when she explained to him why she was so sad. He was deeply touched by her pure soul.

She would often mortify herself by rising in the middle of the night to pray at the side of the bed. Ludwig would reach out and find her cold hands clasped on the blanket and enveloping them with his, would say: "Spare yourself, little sister." Once he met her hurrying down the street with her apron full of bread for the poor. When he asked her what it was that she carried, she let fall the apron and instead of bread, the apron was full of beautiful, fresh roses…

One time after she had spent the day distributing alms to the poor, Ludwig happened to return with a retinue of Hungarian nobles, coming in the name of King Andreas to inspect his daughter's situation and to invite the new couple to Hungary. Elizabeth had just given away all her beautiful clothes and was wearing a rough woolen smock. Seeing Ludwig's concern, she said, "I have never gloried in what I wore. But I will speak of this with God, and so it may happen that they may never notice my dress." When she entered the great hall, the Hungarians gazed at her in delight, for "her robes were of silk, hyacinthine, and shimmering with the dew of pearls!" Later, when the Landgrave questioned her she sweetly replied: "When it pleases God, He knows the way to do such things."

Ludwig and Elizabeth accepted the invitation to Hungary and stayed at the Pozsony Castle, where she was born. There she was feted and loaded with gifts by her father, whom she would never see again. Despite the happy return home, Elizabeth was distracted by the fact that she knew that the money needed for the extravagant homecoming came from taxes extracted from the poor subjects of the kingdom. She was hearthroken to think that power, comfort and money drove rulers, rather than concern for their fellow men. She yearned to lead a simple life and tried to convince Ludwig to yield to her desires. He gently explained to her that it was their duty to rule and their subjects would not respect them if they lived with less extravagance.
Advancing in Holiness

At this time the Friars Minor arrived in Germany with their appeal to all Christians to practice charity to the poor. They were invited by Elizabeth and Ludwig to their castle, where they pledged to help them any way they could. Elizabeth had a chapel built for the Friars and in gratitude Saint Francis sent his ragged cloak to thank her. It became one of Elizabeth's greatest treasures. In answer to her prayers, one of the Friars became her spiritual director. Under his guidance she grew closer to Our Lord, Whose Passion was her primary devotion and source of her strength.

On March 28, 1222, while Ludwig was away, Elizabeth's first child was born. He was inexpressibly happy at hearing the news. They named the baby Hermann, after his father. As soon as she was able, the young mother took her child to the chapel at Saint Catherine's to present him to God. She carried him in the same silver cradle that had taken her to Thuringia ten years earlier.

Worry now haunted her that her new son would be another tie to earth, keeping her heart from God, but her confessor advised her, "Your duty is now to your son ... It pleases God if each person practices virtue according to his station in life. You are a ruler, wife, and mother. It is very difficult, but not impossible, to practice poverty as a wealthy ruler. But you can practice other virtues like patience, humility, and charity as you now do. It may be God's will that you remain as you are. Your greatest offering would be to give up your own will."

Following this good advice, she became a true follower of Saint Francis. One of her favorite charities was to the lepers and on one occasion her sisterin-law, Agnes, met Ludwig on his return home, to report to him that Elizabeth had gone too far in her charity. They entered his apartment and pulled back the curtains, for Ludwig to see that a leper had been given his bed. As he stayed at the man, the disfigured features changed before their eyes into the face of Christ. Ludwig said gently, "Elizabeth, dear sister, it is Christ Whom you have bathed and fed and cared for. Let us both do what we can to serve Him by serving His suffering poor." And they built a hospital for the lepers.

Ludwig now realized he was dealing with no ordinary woman, and sometimes her miracles frightened him. He wrote to the Pope to request a director for her and Master Conrad was sent. But preceding his arrival another child was born whom they christened Sophia, after Ludwig's mother.

Unlike the Franciscans, Elizabeth's confessor proved to be harsh and severe. With Ludwig's permission and in his presence, Elizabeth promised Father Conrad that she would obey him in all things except those obliged by her marriage vows. She also made a vow to preserve perpetual chastity in case she should ever become a widow.

Conrad revealed, after her death, that the moment she made this vow, God allowed him to see the radiance of her soul in all its beauty. He prayed for light to guide such a soul entrusted to his care. Once he made her promise not to eat any food that came from the peasants unjust labor or that had been grown on land taken by force.

Elizabeth "was a perfect picture of Christian Charity..."
In the winter of 1225, Agnes, Ludwig's sister, left Wartburg to marry. This freed Elizabeth from the long penance of her sister-in-law's presence. However a new trial awaited her. That winter was one of the worst in the history of Europe because of flood, famine, plague and smallpox. Ludwig was away in the service of the Emperor, leaving Elizabeth, who was only 19, in charge of the castles, villages and vassals.

As the winter wore on, the peasants stormed Wartburg castle for grain. The stewards barred the way. When Elizabeth heard this, she wept and went down to the villages and personally distributed as much food as possible. The stewards did not disobey her outright, but were determined that she not give away the store of grain.

Desperate, the Landgravine sold her family jewels to buy food and when that was gone she demanded the granaries to be opened. "We shall not starve if we are generous. We must bave faith," she would say. But the knights and ladies of the court reacted against Elizabeth and joined the stewards and Bailiff in blocking the Landgravine's way. She prayed and finally the Bailiff opened the doors. Elizabeth then had 900 loaves of bread baked each day, soup kitchens were opened and a hospice for children and babies was established.

At last the cruel winter passed but was soon followed by a smallpox epidemic. The dead lay in the streets. Elizabeth brought her own children into their private chapel and prayed, "Lord God, I commit myself, my children, and my whole household to Thee. Watch over me while I go to do Thy will and give me the strength to do it." Then she went out to nurse the sick and bury the dead, making shrouds out of the veils she had worn.

In rural areas, the ladies and their servants helped her and Elizabeth built a small hospital at the foot of the road to the castle. It was the first hospital to be built and staffed by lay people in Germany. Summer came and the beat made the small of disease and death unbearable in the streets. But this did not stop Elizabeth from her works of charity which she continued until the plague was ended.

With the arrival of autumn, a new harvest and the retum of Ludwig heralded the promise of a brighter winter. But as he approached the town, the Marshal and the Bailiff gave their account of the grain distribution and warned him of his losses. After listening to their complaints, he asked them: "Is my wife well? That is all l care to know; the rest matters not. Let her give to the poor what she likes; as long as she loves me, I am content." Then he went with them to the granaries, which when they opened them had been miraculously filled to overflowing. Elizabeth's explanation was, "I bave given God what is God's and He has preserved what is yours and mine."

What Ludwig did not tell his wife on his return was the disastrous political situation of the Emperor. At the time Frederick was being threatened with excommunication for not fulfilling the promise he had made to lead a Crusade once he was crowned Emperor. The Emperor's obligation now forced Ludwig to participate; he readily pledged to follow his lord and take up the Crusader's Cross.

"That winter was one of the worst... because offlood, famine, plague... Elizabeth had 900 loavesof bread baked each day... and a hospice forchildren and babies was established."
He did not want to break the news to his beloved wife, but when she found out by accident, although she somehow suspected this would happen, she almost fainted from grief. Ludwig consoled her by reminding her that when they were young they had talked about being crusaders and that it was a tradition for the Thuringian rulers to defend the Holy Land. His heroic wife replied: "I will not hold you back. It is the will of God. I bave given myself entirely to Him and now I must give you, too."

Before departing, Ludwig assembled the knights and vassals left behind and commanded then to take care of the women and children. "Our country is at peace," he said, "Now I am leaving my peaceful kingdom, my beloved wife, my little children, all that I hold dear, and I am going forth as a pilgrim of Christ. I beg of you to pray for me daily, that if it be the will of God, I may retum safe and sound to my kingdom." Father Conrad was placed in charge over the churches, and monasteries in the kingdom. Ludwig called his mother back to help take care of his family, especially Elizabeth, who was expecting their third child. He left all his business affairs to his brother Henry.

On the vigil of Saint John the Baptist, June 23, 1227, the moment to say goodbye had come. Ludwig kissed his mother and blessed his children, but Elizabeth could not be parted from him. She rode with him for two days to the border of Thuringia, where Ludwig finally told her to return, as he had to take command of all the troops assembled there. As they painfully parted, he showed her his ring and told her to believe any message she may receive from him if the ring accompanied it. "May God in Heaven bless you, little sister. May He bless the child that you are bearing. With His help you will be able to carry out what we have agreed upon. Remember our happy life, our holy love, and forget me not in any of your prayers."

Broken-hearted, she followed him with her eyes till they were out of sight and returning changed into mourning attire. She spent her days awaiting the arrival of her new baby, praying, doing penance and taking care of the poor and sick.

Meanwhile, after a long arduous trip across the Alps, Ludwig and his troops met up with the Emperor in Brindisi, Italy. A fever decimated the troops, but they continued on to Otranto. There, Ludwig, himself, succumbed and was given the Last Rites of the Church. As he lay dying, he gave his ring to a trusted knight, commanding him to give it to his wife with the news of his death. He died September 11, 1227, at the age of twenty-seven, his last wish was to be buried in Thuringia.

The knights arrived after a difficult journey with the sad news of Ludwig's death just after Elizabeth gave birth to their third child, Gertrude. They waited to give her the news.
When she heard she cried out: "Not this! Dead! Dead! My dear brother is dead! Now the world and all its joy is dead to me." She fell unconscious, and was returned to bed. For eight days she mourned in solitude. The entire castle lamented the loss of their beloved ruler, but her grief was beyond all measure. At last, Elizabeth, fortified by prayer, overcame her sorrow and called for the knights to tell the details of her dear husband's last hours.

Before the heavy snows of winter fell in 1227, Elizabeth's brother-in-law took complete authority as heir of the kingdom, officially declaring himself the Landgrave and announcing to the people that he was forced to do this as the Landgravine was incompetent and a great spendthrift. He did not tell them that he had withdrawn all funds from Elizabeth and her children.

Of course, the nobles supported him and went on to speak cruelly of her, now that Ludwig was no longer there to defend her. Finally Elizabeth was forced out of the Wartburg Castle into the streets of the village. Not a soul came to her defense. The village people, so many of whom she had helped, were told to refuse her hospitality.

She spent her first night on a farm where the pigs had been driven out to make room for her and her children. Her faithful maids stayed with her, but her three children were put in the care of Ludwig's friends. For months she endured this harsh treatment, supporting herself by weaving, spinning and living wherever she would be received.

Finally this scandalous situation was rectified at the insistence of Elizabeth's maternal aunt, the Abbess of Kitzingen, and her brother, the Bishop of Bamberg, who sent for her and her children and took them to live at the convent.

After the happy rescue and stay at the convent, which became the lifelong home of little Sophia, Elizabeth's uncle called her to the Castle Pottenstein in the Franconian Mountains. This powerful prelate had hopes of marrying his twenty-one-year-old niece to the newly widowed Emperor Frederick, having no idea of Elizabeth's previous vow. Upon hearing his plans, Elizabeth had recourse to prayer and left her beautiful wedding dress at Our Lady's altar, in a nearby monastery, as a pledge of her determination to keep her vow.

Her prayers were soon answered, for suddenly she was recalled to Thuringia for the interment of her husband's remains. The black, cross-covered coffin was opened and she gazed at the whitened bones of her dear Ludwig. When she regained her speech she prayed aloud:
"Lord, I thank Thee for having consoled me by this long desired sight of my husband's bones. Thou knowest that though I so deeply loved him, I do not regret the sacrifice which my dear one himself offered to Thee, and which I, too have offered Thee. I would give the whole world to have him back, and would willingly beg my bread with him, but I take Thee to witness, that against Thy will I would not recall him to life even if I could do it at the price of a single hair. Now I commend him and myself to Thy mercy. May Thy will be accomplished in us."
Elizabeth was forced out of the Wartburg Castle into the streets of the village...The village people were told to refuse her hospitality...

The Landgravine then summoned Ludwig's vassals and faithful knights who had brought his body back. She thanked them for their fidelity and informed them of all that had gone on since their lord's death. They pledged to defend her rights and the rights of her children, and they forced Henry to restore Elizabeth to her rightful position. She declined life at the Wartburg but retired to the family castle at Marbourg-Hess, with a suitable income and what was left of her dowry, which was negligible.

Father Conrad, her spiritual director, wrote concerning this time, "After the death of her husband, she was tending to the highest perfection and asked me how she could acquire more merit, as a recluse or in a convent or in some other state. Her mind was fixed on her desire to beg from door to door, and with many tears she implored me to let her do this." Instead, he ordered her to keep her possessione and to use them for the poor. She was permitted to join the Third Order of Saint Francis, being the first woman to do so, and her two faithful companions followed her.

At that time the Third Order was known as the "Brothers and Sisters of Penance" and it was much stricter than it is now. The members wore rough habits, recited the canonical hours, fasted most of the year and abstained from meat four days a week. Elizabeth was perfectly comfortable with these penances and she made her vows on Good Friday, renouncing everything. Her children were put in the care of others. Hermann went to Kreuzburg Castle to be trained as Landgrave and the two girls were sent to convents.

It is not surprising that King Andreas sent for his daughter to return to the comfort of Hungary. She sent him this message: "Tell my father that I am happier here than in any castle. Ask him to pray for me and to ask the court to do so also. Tell my good father that I will always pray for him."

Her father attempted a second time to convince her to come by sending his trusted knight, Walter de Varila, who tried to bring her home. As a final act of renunciation, Father Conrad ordered Elizabeth to send away her two faithful maidservants, who had been her only human consolation. He replaced their companionship with a rough ill-mannered peasant girl and an old deaf woman.

In November of 1231, Father Conrad was at the point of death. His main concern was the care of Elizabeth's soul. She assured him with these words: "Dear Father, I shall have no need for protection. It is not you who will die, it is I."
On Pentecost Sunday, 1235, only four yearsafter her death, Elizabeth was canonizedby Pope Grégory IX.

Four days later, Elizabeth was stricken with a fever. When the news got around that she was mortally ill, crowds came to see her. For twelve days there was a steady flow of visitors. Finally she asked that the doors be closed so she could be alone with God to prepare her soul.

Father heard her confession and gave her Viaticum. Guda and Isentrude, her friends, came to say goodbye, and she gave them her most treasured possession, the cloak of Saint Francis. As the midnight hour approached, her joy and happiness increased, and she said:

"At this hour did the Virgin Mary bring into the world its Saviour. Let us speak of God and the Infant Jesus, for it is now midnight, the hour in which Jesus was bom and laid in a manger, and that He created a new star, which had never been seen before; at this hour He came to redeem the world; He will redeem me also; at this hour He rose from the dead, an
d delivered the imprisoned souls; He will also deliver mine from this miserable world."
After a pause she resumed: "O Mary, come to my assistance! The moment has arrived when God summons His friend to the wedding feast. The Bridegroom seeks His spouse... Silence!... Silence!"

This was the night of November 19, 1232; she was not yet twenty-four years old. An old manuscript relates that her daughter, little Gertrude, four years old and far away in Marbourg, said, "I hear the passing bell at Marbourg; at this moment the dear lady, my good mother, is dead." In the tattered robe in which she died, Elizabeth was buried at her own request in the chapel of the hospital that she had founded.

Shortly after her death, Father Conrad drew up a detailed account of Elizabeth's life, her virtues and miracles, to begin the Church's juridical investigation of her holiness.

For death did not terminate Elizabeth's acts of charity to those in need. The miracles she had hidden during her lifetime became manifest to all those who invoked her intercession, especially for those who prayed at her tomb. Reports substantiating 130 miracles attributed to the saint were sent to Rome for her canonization.

Not only were the sick cured and difficulties miraculously resolved but there were also documented resurrection miracles attributed to Saint Elizabeth. They attest to her astonishing intercessory power and her great compassion for bereaved parents whose children have died. On five known occasions, children were restored to life because their parents prayed to this wonderful saint, usually making a vow of almsgiving in her honor.

On Pentecost Sunday, 1235, only four years after her death, Elizabeth was canonized by Pope Grégory IX, in the presence of Ludwig's mother and two brothers, her dear friends Guda, and Isentrude, Walter de Varila, and her own children; Hermann, 14, Sophia, 12, and Gertrude, 8.
As a final touch to this story, at the transferring of her relics in 1236, Emperor Frederick came and laid his crown on her tomb, saying: "Since I could not crown her as Empress in the world, I will at least crown her today, immortal queen in the Kingdom of God."

Saint Elizabeth's life was an example of perfect conformity to the will of God and faithfulness to one's state in life. She was surrounded by riches, yet never let them distract her from love for the poor. She was deeply in love with a man who equally loved her in return, yet she never gave God second place in her heart. She had everything and needed nothing; what she received she freely gave away.

She was never bitter when the tide of fortune turned against her. She accepted the sorrow of her husband's death in a truly Christian manner and she welcomed her own with equal resignation.

Her story is not a legend, but a lesson for all to imitate. Whether you live in a castle or a tenement, Saint Elizabeth beckons you to follow her footsteps to the throne of God by accepting His will in your life. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

"For All the Saints": St. Veronica

(By the way: Click on the above image to get a better look at the text. The same goes for my last post on Mary Magdalene)

Sorry, everyone, for not posting this past week- I came down with one of those dreadful stomach viruses and was confined to bed for an entire week! However, I will continue with my posts on my little picture book of Saints!

I developed my devotion to St. Veronica in a rather random way. When I was in 4th grade, my class was doing a one-act play about the Last Supper......the casting of 13 boys was automatically taken care of, but they needed parts for the dozen or so girls! Instead of having women at the table of the "Last Supper," they decided to have the various women of the Gospel "drop in" and say a few things about themselves and how they knew Jesus. Knowing how fickle little 9-year old girls can be, the teacher decided to have us draw from a hat the parts that we would play. Most of the other girls were hoping that they would get to be Our Lady, but for some unexplainable reason I really wanted to be Veronica. Even though I didn't know anything about St. Veronica, I had this gut feeling that I wanted to play her in this skit! This wonderful Saint must have had a sense of humor and interceded for me, because I randomly drew her name out of the hat! I was so very happy, and as a reward to St. Veronica for interceding for me, I promised her that I would ultimately have her as my confirmation Saint.

Fast forward seven years to the time of my confirmation. I was a very agnostic and cynical 16-year-old at the time, and the only reason why I went through the confirmation program was to appease my parents. When it came time to choose a name, I lived up to my childish promise to make St. Veronica my confirmation name (that, and also because since I fancied myself as a non-conformist, no other girls in the program wanted Veronica as their name). Even though I didn't have a sincere heart at all when I was confirmed, my St. Veronica was looking after me and has always been.

In the world's eyes, St. Veronica didn't really "do much"- unlike Simon the Cyrenean who carried Christ's cross, Veronica showed her love for Christ with the simple act of wiping His face. Nonetheless, Christ accepted Veronica's small act as an act of great love....and He rewarded her greatly by giving her the imprint of His Holy Face on her veil! Similarly, God takes our simple acts of love and glorifies them.

My own "Veronica" experience came a couple of years ago at Notre Dame. Just as Veronica was probably running an ordinary errand on Good Friday, I was taking a stroll by the lake on the way back from class. I noticed that an elderly Holy Cross priest's motorized wheelchair tipped over right in the middle of the street, and I immediately ran to his aid. By the time I arrived at his side, several other people had already begun to tend to him. One guy ran to get security, a lady started to lift up the wheelchair, and a couple of other men lifted the priest onto the wheelchair. Because it all happened so suddenly, I found that all I could really do was hold the priest's hand while this all was going on. After the situation was resolved and security arrived on the scene, I thought about the incident and was ashamed at myself for not doing anything more than being able to hold the priest's hand to give him emotional comfort. Similiarly, perhaps St. Veronica felt ashamed of not doing more for Christ. Whatever the case may have been, God glorified her little act of love as small as it was.

Another thing that I love about St. Veronica is that she started the devotion to the Holy Face, which is one of my favorite devotions. Here is a wonderful link about the devotion to the Holy Face.

Finally, below is a novena to the Holy Face:

Novena to the Holy Face

Say once a day for 9 days

O Lord Jesus Christ, in presenting ourselves before Thine adorable Face, to ask of Thee the graces of which we stand in most need, we beseech Thee above all, to grant us that interior disposition of never refusing at any time to what Thou requirest of us by Thy holy commandments and divine inspirations. Amen.

O Good Jesus, who hadst said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you," grant us O Lord, that faith which obtains all, or supply in us what may be deficient; grant us, by the pure effect of Thy charity, and for Thine eternal glory, the graces which we need and which we look from Thine infinite mercy. Amen.

Be merciful to us, O my God, and reject not our prayers, when amid our afflictions, we call upon Thy Holy Name and seek with love and confidence Thine adorable Face. Amen.

O Almighty and Eternal God, look upon the Face of Thy Son Jesus. We present It to Thee with confidence to implore Thy pardon. The All-Merciful Advocate opens His mouth to plead our cause; hearken to His cries, behold His tears, O God, and through His infinite merits, hearken to Him when He intercedes for us poor miserable sinners. Amen.

Adorable Face of Jesus, my only love, my light, and my life, grant that I may know Thee, love Thee and serve Thee alone, that I may live with Thee, of Thee, by Thee and for Thee. Amen.

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the adorable Face of Thy Beloved Son for the honor and glory of Thy Name, for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the dying. O Divine Jesus, through Thy Face and Name, save us. Our Hope is in the virtue of Thy Holy Name! Amen.

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>