Poor among the poor

Daily Reading for November 19 • Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231

The independent spirit of Elizabeth’s personality, which feared losing itself in her privileged status of aristocratic courtship and motherhood, became manifest in her single minded dedication to live the “option for the poor.” Her desire to live as the poor must not be mistaken as conventional almsgiving, which was the duty of a noble lady. Very much influenced by Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth was not content to be the generous benefactor of the poor; instead she wanted to live as one who is poor among the poor.

What makes Elizabeth’s life most outstanding, however, is her sense of social justice. Elizabeth’s contribution consisted in seeing poverty not as willed by God but as closely linked with the lifestyle of the rich and noble classes. She recognized that many consumer goods were unjustly taken away from the poor peasants who were her subjects. Peasants and petty workers paid for the luxurious living of the princes and lords. Not wanting to participate any more than necessary in such brutal exploitation, she vowed to eat only the food that had been justly acquired—a protest that anticipates by centuries our modern form of boycotting consumer goods in order to bring about change.

From Discipleship of Equals by Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza (New York: Crossroads, 1993).

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