The life of Elizabeth of Hungary — a wife and mother, as well as a princess who lived for the poor — is an invitation to rediscover Christ, says Benedict XVI.
Elizabeth was born to Andrew II, king of Hungary, and given in marriage to Ludwig of Thuringia. Though the marriage was arranged for merely political reasons, “a sincere love was born between the two young people, animated by faith and the desire to do the will of God,” the Holy Father noted.
Ludwig began to reign over the court at age 18, when his father died, the Pontiff continued, but Elizabeth became the “object of silent criticisms because her way of behaving did not correspond to the life of the court.” Her marriage celebration, for example, was not lavish, and some of the costs of the banquet were given to the poor.
The Holy Father noted: “Once, entering the church on the feast of the Assumption, she took off her crown, placed it before the cross and remained prostrate on the ground with her face covered. When a nun reproved her for this gesture, she replied: ‘How can I, miserable creature, continue to wear a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King Jesus Christ crowned with thorns?’”
And, he continued, “As she behaved before God, so she behaved with her subjects.”
Ludwig, however, supported her in her charity. “Hers was a profoundly happy marriage,” Benedict XVI said. “Elizabeth helped her husband to raise his human qualities to the supernatural level and he, on the other hand, protected his wife in her generosity to the poor and in her religious practices.
“Ever more in admiration of his wife’s great faith, Ludwig, referring to her care of the poor, said to her: ‘Dear Elizabeth, it is Christ whom you have washed, fed and looked after.’ A clear testimony of how faith and love of God and one’s neighbor reinforce marital union and make it even more profound.”
Tragedy eventually struck the happy bride: Ludwig intended to join a crusade, but he got ill and died before leaving. He was only 27. The young widow “withdrew in solitude,” the Pope said, “but later, strengthened by prayer and, consoled by the thought of seeing [Ludwig] again in heaven, she again became interested in the affairs of the kingdom.”
Another test awaited her, however. Ludwig’s brother usurped the crowd and expelled Elizabeth and her three young sons from the castle. Difficult months followed, until her name was restored and she was able to receive an adequate income to withdraw to the family castle in Marburg.
Consecrated in the world
Her spiritual director would later have to persuade her not to give up all her earthly possessions, encouraging her instead to use them for the poor.
The Pope cited her spiritual director, who reported: “[S]he built a hospital, took in the sick and the invalid and served the most miserable and abandoned at her own table.”
Benedict XVI explained how Elizabeth spent the last three years of her life caring for the sick in the hospital she’d founded, becoming “what we could call a consecrated woman in the midst of the world” and forming a religious community with her friends.
In 1231 she was struck with a severe fever and, the Pope said, she “gently fell asleep in the Lord on the night of Nov. 17. Testimonies of her holiness were such and so many that, only four years later, Pope Gregory IX proclaimed her a saint.”
Benedict XVI concluded with this reflection: “Dear brothers and sisters, in the figure of St. Elizabeth we see how faith and friendship with Christ create the sense of justice, of the equality of everyone, of the rights of others, and they create love, charity. And from this charity hope is born, the certainty that we are loved by Christ and that the love of Christ awaits us and thus makes us capable of imitating Christ and of seeing Christ in others.
“St. Elizabeth invites us to rediscover Christ, to love him, to have faith and thus find true justice and love, as well as the joy that one day we will be immersed in divine love, in the joy of eternity with God.” ( FROM ZENIT-OCT. 20, 2010 )