St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s story starts in a way guaranteed to make 21st century readers nervous: When she was four years old, she was sent to live in the castle of the young prince, Louis, to whom, at birth, she had been given in marriage. Louis’ family raised Elizabeth, and they didn’t like her very much. She was a pious child and she made the court uncomfortable. Some urged that she be returned for a more amiable princess.
Elizabeth depleted the royal stores in order to feed some 900 hungry people each day.
But, as Louis grew, he learned to care for Elizabeth. They married when she was just 14 and had a happy union. She encouraged him in faith and he supported her efforts. The story is told that, when Louis was away on matters of state, a terrible famine came upon his kingdom. Elizabeth depleted the royal stores in order to feed some 900 hungry people each day.
Louis returned to face an angry court. “Elizabeth has put our lives and the lives of your heirs in jeopardy,” they cried.
Louis replied that she had done what was right and just before God.
Another story is told about their marriage. Elizabeth had left the castle, her apron filled with bread for a hungry family. As she walked, she met her husband. Louis asked what she carried. When Elizabeth opened the apron, fresh roses spilled out. She is often shone with a rose as her emblem, as well as three crowns, one for her royal birth, one for her marriage and one for her canonization.
Louis died shortly after the birth after their fourth child. Elizabeth’s enemies took that opportunity to drive her and her children away from the castle and into exile. She lived simply, for she had little money to spend. In spite of her troubles, Elizabeth begged money to open a hospital for the poor. She cared for them, tending the sick and comforting the dying. She was not yet 24 when she died.
St. Elizabeth’s day is a good one to examine what you may have that another lacks. Can you give away clothes, toys, appliances, or furniture for another’s use? Can you give up an expensive coffee drink each week and add the amount you would otherwise spend to the collection at Mass? We honor her by following her good example.
Here is a hymn for the day. Because it is written in common meter, it can be sung to the familiar tune “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The words don’t always flow smoothly with the tune, but after a bit of practice, you can sing it through.
We praise you, God, for your great saint,
Elizabeth of Hungary:
the queen who gave her throne away,
to learn to live in poverty.
Like your dear Son, she chose to not
take her great wealth as her just due:
with love, she emptied out her claim,
and humbly meek, she followed you.
To serve her friends became her life,
she built a hospice for the poor;
she helped the sick, and left the court
to study God for evermore.
Teach us, dear God, deep gratitude
for all the wealth you’ve given us.
Teach us to take the narrow way
that leads us to be generous.
Let us like Saint Elizabeth
make serving God our highest aim.
We give ourselves for others’ need
to magnify Christ Jesus’ Name.