by Sofia Buccino
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the patroness of the Third Order of St. Francis, was born in 1207. Her parents were Andrew II, King of Hungary and his wife Gertrude. From the age of reason, St. Elizabeth started to show signs of great virtue and even though the palace she lived had great splendour and pleasures, she had little care for them. She had a great love for God and for the Blessed Sacrament. She loved to kneel before the altar and stretch her arms towards the Most Holy Sacrament in the tabernacle. Every time she found a church on her path, she would enter it. If the doors were closed, she would kneel at the closed doors and kiss them lovingly. What a pious practice to follow, as so many of us barely remember to make a sign of the cross when walking past a church. Every time this young princess would enter a church, she would also devoutly remove her crown and not replace it until she left the Holy House of God. Asked why she did this the young girl humbly replied: "I cannot appear arrayed in a gorgeous shining crown in the place where my Saviour hangs, cruelly crowned with thorns."
Her great charity was strengthened by many sorrows that deeply hurt her and lead her to a closer relationship with Our Lord. These sufferings made her have recourse to our Saviour, seeking consolation and strength in fervent prayers. It was amongst these many sufferings that she married her saintly noble husband, Louis, who admired her beautiful and touching virtues. He protected her from the envy and persecution of the court men making them respect his holy wife.
At the arrival of the followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the young saint became greatly devoted to the Franciscan life. From them she learned about the ideals of St. Francis and deeply desired to become a daughter of him. With the consent of her holy husband she was admitted into the Third Order. Even though her position did not allow her to live in great poverty, she desired to imitate her spiritual father in all things. She practiced mortifications at every moment of each day and limited her meals. She also managed to turn attention away from herself and never lost sight of her duties in her state of life.
As a result of her great devotion and love for the poor and the sick, St. Elizabeth of Hungary built a hospital to assist them. She was the infirmarian to the most afflicted and cared for all poor families in the country distributing freely the revenues of the state. St. Elizabeth took great care of the lepers and loved to serve the most repulsive in their poverty and maladies. She would wash the feet of the lepers and kiss their wounds with great love for Christ, never showing any disgust for them, serving them with special tenderness.
At the early age of twenty, St. Elizabeth suffered again great grief at the death of her husband Louis. In her great grief she exclaimed "O Lord, my God! My [husband] is dead, he is dead! With him the whole world is dead to me." With this exclamation she spent the rest of her life in still greater prayer and sacrifice, following the life of her Seraphic Father. She sought after the Child Jesus and made use of every opportunity to practice more rigorously her life of poverty. She became consecrated to Christ taking the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. She also took the exterior habit of the Third Order and bound herself to go barefoot.
In 1231, ten years after she was received into the Third Order and two years after her vows, St. Elizabeth died. She was not yet 25 years old when she became forever united God who granted her the great crown of the Heavenly Kingdom after having renounced the pleasures of her earthly kingdom. Yielding to the petition of the clergy and people, Pope Gregory IX solemnly canonized this fervent daughter of St. Francis on Pentecost Sunday, May 28, 1235. Her feast is celebrated November 19, the happy day of her death.
In Saint Elizabeth of Hungary we have an example of a holy and virtuous woman. She is an example of the ideal woman, Our Lady, and is a great model for all Catholic women. We see reflected in her the ideal of what a Catholic woman must be like. She must be tender and loving to the most vulnerable, and above all, she must love Christ. She shows us how to be a great wife and how to also give up all things for our Saviour. This great saint shows us that a Catholic woman loves humble work, knowing "there is nothing small in the service of God" (St. Francis de Sales). St. Elizabeth also shows us what a real Catholic leader is. With great hope we must ask God to give us leaders like her, who take care of those in need not out of self-love but out of great love for God.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of the Third Order, pray for us!