Though she lived fewer than twenty-four years, in her short lifetime, St. Elizabeth became such a beloved figure that she is venerated today as the patroness of Catholic Charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order.
Married at the age of 14, she bore three children to King Louis of Thuringia. Six years after their marriage, Louis died while on Crusade. Though she was grief stricken, she continued to distinguish herself by her concern for the poor and the infirm of her realm. Her relatives were upset with the fact that she "squandered" the family wealth on the poor and threw her out of the palace. When her husband's supporters returned from the Holy Land, they reinstated her as the rightful queen and mother of the next king. She continued throughout her life to care for the poor and infirm, building a hospital to care for the sick in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
Though she could have lived in relative ease and splendor, she never tired of giving aid to the poor, endearing herself to the common people. She dressed simply and distributed bread to the poor every day from the palace kitchens. In 1228, she joined the Secular Franciscan Order (known then as the Third Order of St. Francis). Franciscans still remember her as a shining example of a lay woman who embraced the life of conversion and holiness which was modeled by Francis of Assisi. For the entire Franciscan Family, all three Franciscan Orders, today is kept as a feast.
The Gospel for this day is the singular text of Matthew’s Gospel regarding the return of Jesus as Judge of the nations. No other evangelist portrays Jesus’ return in this fashion. The most distinctive part of the passage is the fact that the sole criteria used in judgment is the care of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger or alien, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Eternal reward is granted to those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the imprisoned. The text is also very careful to tell us that Jesus is judging the nations, not individuals. Reading this passage and comparing it to what we see and hear going on in our country and throughout the world should fill us with ominous dread.
Though she lived in a different age and was born to a different life than most of us, St. Elizabeth is and will continue to be the embodiment of these Gospel values.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator