"There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table." (Office of Readings)
Married at fourteen, Elizabeth of Hungary had three children by the time she was twenty only to suffer her husband's death and die herself at twenty four. If this sounds like a thousand other stories you have read about a girl from almost any inner city in the United States, it isn't. It is a synopsis of the life of St Elizabeth of Hungary, the patroness of the Secular Franciscan Order, who in less than a quarter of a century of living, fired the imaginations of her contemporaries with her love of the poor and her willingness to serve them with her own hands and food. In fact, her witness was so powerful, she was canonized only four years after her death.
Elizabeth was born into and married royalty. She had access to money and power, but when her husband died on his way to fight the sixth crusade, she decided to leave the palace and follow Conrad, her Franciscan spiritual director, to Marburg where she continued her life of compassion for those most in need. Conrad wrote that Elizabeth "built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table."(1)
Heroines and heroes are always important. They not only encourage us to stretch beyond what feels comfortable in our faith practices and to live simple lives, they also remind us that our lives as Christians are public lives and ought to be impact the lives and lifestyles of our communities and nations.
People of faith, especially the married and families, are the ground upon which the church builds communities of compassion for the poor and justice for all. After all, it was the faith and courage of our parents and grandparents, so many of whom were immigrants, who came to this country and built, hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens and shelters because they knew that faith demanded they respond to the struggles they saw all around them. Though the structures might change, the demand of the gospel to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty will never change. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who is the patroness of Catholic Charities, remains an icon who challenges our generation not only to pray for justice in our churches, but to live the gospel in our streets.
Today, recall someone who has been a heroine of hero to you and pray to live like them.
Do you have a favorite Saint?