Tender charity

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

Whilst Elizabeth imposed so rigorous a restraint upon her own senses, and treated herself with such unremitting severity, her heart overflowed with charity and mercy towards her unfortunate fellow beings. The tender charity which had always animated her, from her earliest childhood, grew deeper with each day of her life; ere long it was to merit for her that glorious and sweet title under which Christianity still venerates her—Patroness of the Poor. Generosity towards the poor was one of the distinctive characteristics of the age in which she lived, notably among princes; but it was noticeable that with her charity did not proceed from the influences of her birth, still less from any desire to merit praise, or a purely human recognition; but rather from a celestial and interior inspiration. From her very infancy she had never been able to bear the sight of a poor person without having her heart pierced, as it were, with grief; and now that her husband had granted her the most complete liberty in all things touching the honor of God and the welfare of her neighbor, she indulged without restraint her natural inclination to console the suffering members of Jesus Christ. This was her constant thought every moment of the day; it was to the poor that she devoted all that superabundance which she refused to the customs of her sex and of her rank; and in spite of the resources which the charity of her husband placed at her disposal, she gave away so quickly all that she had, that she was often compelled to strip herself of her own garments, that she might have wherewith to relieve the distressed. . . .

But it was not by her gifts alone, or with money, that the young Princess satisfied her love for the poor of Christ; it was much more by her personal devotion, by her tender and patient care, which, in the eyes of God, as well as to those in misfortune, is certainly the greatest and most pleasing charity. She devoted herself to this care with that simplicity and exterior cheerfulness which never left her. When the sick came to invoke her charity, after having given them what she could, she ascertained where they lived, in order that she might go and see them. And then no distance nor difficulty in reaching a place prevented her from going there. She knew that nothing kindles the spirit of charity so much as to see and to search into human misery in its material and actual existence. She made her way to the hovels most remote from her castle and most repulsive for their squalor and foul air; she entered into these homes of the poor with a sort of devotion and at the same time of familiarity; she brought herself whatever she thought necessary for the unfortunate occupants, and consoled them much less by her generous gifts than by her sweet and affectionate words. When she found that they were in debt, and without the means of releasing themselves, she assumed the debts herself, paying them with her own funds. Poor women in confinement were especially the object of her compassion; as often as she could she went and sat by the side of their miserable beds, assisting and encouraging them; she took their newly born into her arms with the love of a mother, covered them with clothes which she herself had made, and often held them at the baptismal font, in order that this spiritual maternity might furnish her an additional motive for loving and caring for them during all their life. When one of these poor creatures died, she came, as soon as she could, to watch with the body, laid it out with her own hands, often with sheets from her own bed, and assisted at the burial; and people saw with admiration this noble sovereign following with humility and recollection the coffin of the lowliest of her subjects.

When at home she occupied her leisure moments, not in the luxurious recreations of wealth, but, like the valiant woman of the Scriptures, in laborious and useful works; she spun wool with her maids of honor, and then from it made with her own hands clothing for the poor, or for the mendicant religious, who came at that time to establish themselves in her States. She often directed her entire meal to be prepared from vegetables, poorly cooked on purpose, without salt or seasoning of any kind, in order that she might realize by experience how the poor were nourished; and these she would eat with great delight.

From the Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Duchess of Thuringia by the Count de Montalembert, translated by Francis Deming Hoyt (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1904).

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