The beauty (and finally coolness) of fall in Texas surrounds us. Our world around us begins to change from vibrant green to duller shades of brown to prepare us for a different time of the year. Plants slow down and the days get shorter!
But somehow, we remain just as busy as a growing urgency for the holiday celebration ahead begins. We think ahead to the holidays and to the long-awaited times when we can gather with those we love or miss those we cannot gather with. We get stressed about the busyness of the season and its long to-do list. Before we shift fully into the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas, let’s take a moment to consider how we can make these holidays more meaningful for ourselves, our family, and the world.
Looking at the example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, whose feast day is November 17, we will reflect upon her witness to prepare us for meaningful service to our family and others because that’s ultimately what the holidays are all about!
- St. Elizabeth did not become bitter from the difficulties of her life.
As the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II, she was sent away from her home and arranged to marry a German nobleman at an extremely early age. Challenges continued to come her way — her mother was murdered back in Hungary; Hermann, son of the Duke of Thuringia, who she was arranged to marry died, and many at the castle mocked her piety. She embraced the difficulties: and, instead of being bitter, she was known for being a ray of sunshine to those she met. She was given a great gift of faith from her mother, and she clung to her faith and the love of God to help her endure the challenges she faced in her everyday family life.
Holidays can bring a variety of difficulties within families to the surface; so, let us allow God to help our families navigate through them with His peace and not with bitterness. How can we encourage that trust and confidence in God for our family even if the holidays are not what we want?
2. St. Elizabeth was so grateful for the measure of blessings God provided for her that she could not help but share with those in need.
In His time, God blessed St Elizabeth with the love of a good husband, Ludwig of Thuringia (younger brother of Hermann), who became the Duke after the death of Ludwig’s father. They were blessed with three children. Together St. Elizabeth and Ludwig sought to take care of the people in their kingdom using their royal influence for wider service. She could have just stayed content with her life of comfort at the time, but her heart and soul knew that she could do so much more with the resources God had given to them. St. Elizabeth was seen daily providing for the poor, the hungry, and the sick in her kingdom. Ludwig supported her but was concerned that she was doing too much at the expense of her health. On one such occasion, he saw her going outside on a bitter winter night to deliver bread to the poor. He approached her in concern and instead of bread miraculously fragrant, red roses cascaded from her cloak in the dead of winter. On another occasion, St. Elizabeth brought home and placed a leper in her bed. When St. Elizabeth’s mother-in-law found out, she sent Ludwig to put an end to it. However, upon entering the room, there was no longer a leper but Christ Crucified laying upon her bed. From that moment on, he remained faithfully supportive of St. Elizabeth’s serving heart!
The best gifts are often the ones we give and not the ones we receive. How are we preparing our families to serve with meaning and love, especially during this holiday season?
3. St. Elizabeth embraces the virtues of poverty and service to spend the rest of her life caring for others.
Those beautiful years of serving with Ludwig came to an end too soon with his death on the way to a crusade to the Holy Lands. St. Elizabeth was deeply saddened at losing Ludwig and now she had to deal with Ludwig’s other brother, Heinrich, who had always been very cruel. Heinrich made Elizabeth and her children leave the castle. She sought shelter at a Franciscan monastery because she had become like the poor and homeless she had served for so long. Her love did not lessen, but rather, she used her remaining money and years to start a hospital and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay organization for those following the examples of St. Francis of Assisi. She died before she was 24 years old, but because of how many people she served with love, she is the patron of: Bakers; beggars; brides; charitable societies; charitable workers; charities; countesses; death of children; exiles; falsely accused people; hoboes; homeless people; hospitals; in-law problems; lacemakers; lace workers; nursing homes; nursing services; people in exile; people ridiculed for their piety; Sisters of Mercy; tertiaries; Teutonic Knights; toothache; tramps; widows. (St. Elizabeth of Hungary)1
Each family has its crosses and struggles to bear, and it is how we embrace them that truly defines our faithfulness and strength. How many people can your family touch this holiday with love and meaningful sharing? What gifts of the heart and service will make our holiday more cheerful and joyous?
The holidays are meant to be a time filled with love, gratitude and sharing, not simply a filling of our table or under our own Christmas tree. Here are a few examples of simple but powerful ways to widen our meaningful holiday sharing beyond our own home:
- donating to those in need or spending time serving others
- expressing gratitude and joy to the store clerks as we shop (you might be the only smile they get all day)
- show compassion and offer a quiet prayer for the stressed-out people you pass in the store (or on the road) for we know not what they are going through
- even as we prepare our shopping list for our loved ones, plan a gift or experience that touches their soul and not just for entertainment or comfort
- reach out to estranged family members or those who feel neglected or alone this holiday for Christ is in these people, too
St. Elizabeth teaches us that by boldly serving people, we are given an opportunity to love: we can truly make a profound difference in our family and in the world. Daily action done with love and service can make our holidays packed full of meaning and purpose! Most importantly, we are serving Christ Himself, who is the true source of our joy, love, gratitude, and abundance. Imagine what a gift we could give to Baby Jesus on Christmas day if we all touched more lives with our love this holiday season.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us! Inspire us with your love for God and others!
1 St. Elizabeth of Hungary article retrieved fromhttps://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-elizabeth-of-hungary-56
57 Saints book by Anne Eileen Heffernan, FSP
Author: Laura Stephens, FF Sacrament Catechist