Special Friends of the Poor
The 25th chapter of
tells us how to reach
heaven. The sheep and goats
are separated, waiting to see
who gets in. The requirements
are simple: Did we
feed the hungry, clothe the
naked, visit the imprisoned?
Our ticket in: Whenever we
do any of these, we do them
for the Lord.
Befriending the poor
isn’t an optional activity for
Christians; it’s the main
event! Sts. Elizabeth of
Hungary, Frances of Rome
and Martin of Tours each
rejected a life of affluence
and saw Jesus in those
around them. Each of us
must also ask, “Lord, when
did I see you hungry?”
St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231)
The title of princess is mythical.
A princess lives in a castle,
wears beautiful clothes and
marries a handsome prince. St. Elizabeth
of Hungary was born into this life
The daughter of King Alexander II
and Queen Gertrude, Elizabeth spent
her earliest years surrounded by luxury.
At the age of four she was betrothed
to a boy of equal wealth. But Elizabeth,
from an age too young to know such
seriousness, was a solemn child. She
was quiet and prayerful, qualities no
doubt influenced by the murder of
her mother when she was six years
old. Her faith offered her solace and
healing. At 14, Elizabeth married
Louis of Thuringia. They were well-suited
and grew to love and admire
Elizabeth’s spirituality and pious
practices, already well developed,
continued. She refused to
wear her jeweled crown
since Jesus wore only a
crown of thorns. When
all others had to bow
before her, she would
prostrate herself in front
of the chapel crucifix. In
place of rich foods and
wine, she fasted; instead
of silk and lace, she wore
the rough-woven fabrics
of peasants. It’s not hard
to imagine the castle
residents shaking their
heads in amazement or
clicking their tongues
to the core
Most confusing for many
people was her attitude
toward the poor and
infirm. The compassionate queen
ordered that a hospital be built to serve
the ill and dying. Others in power
sent out alms only through servants
for fear of contagion or attack. In a
gesture both fearless and kind, Elizabeth
went into the villages and homes of
A popular story of the queen’s life
reveals that even her loving husband
did not always understand her.
Concerned, King Louis asked her to
cease her deliveries outside the castle
walls. Elizabeth, unable to comply but
unwilling to worry him, decided to sneak bread out, hiding the loaves in
the folds of her dress.
Louis caught her in the act and
asked to see what she had hidden.
Elizabeth loosened the folds, and roses—not bread—tumbled onto the ground.
Recognizing a miracle, Louis never
again tried to stop his wife and joined
her in her missions.
Service and prayer
Louis and Elizabeth had two children,
Hermann and Sophia, and were
expecting their third when Louis went
off to the Crusades. Shortly after their
daughter Gertrude’s birth, Elizabeth
received word of Louis’s death. Now
a 20-year-old widow, she grieved sorely.
The year was 1227. Francis of
Assisi, who had died just the year before,
would lead Elizabeth to her next stage
Followers of Francis made their
settlement in Germany in 1221, and had
moved into Hungary with Elizabeth’s
help. Elizabeth was impressed with their
lives of chastity, humility and charity,
so she resisted pressure to remarry and
instead joined the Third Order of St.
Francis. She renounced all titles and
authority (which pleased those in
power since they wanted to be rid of
her) and served the rest of her short
life in charitable efforts and prayer.
Elizabeth of Hungary died in 1231.
She was only 24 years old. Yet, at her
canonization several years later, Pope
Gregory IX called her the “greatest
woman of the German Middle Ages.”
She is usually shown wearing a crown
and holding roses or giving alms.
Her feast day is November 17, and
she is the patron of beggars and
St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440)
Frances was born in Rome in 1384,
the only child of a noble family.
She modeled her mother’s deep,
quiet faith, and was certain at age 11
that she wanted to enter religious life.
But Frances’s parents, Paul and Jacobella, had already promised her to a young
aristocrat. At 12 years of age, Frances
reluctantly became the wife of Lorenzo.
The shy, pensive Frances was thrust
into social obligations requiring her to
attend and host functions. Her health
gave way, and she was bedridden for
months. In an early vision, one of many
she would experience, she was asked
whether she wished life or death, and
she graciously replied, “God’s will is
mine.” She resolved to commit her life
to spiritual growth and charitable acts.
Once recovered, however, Frances was
expected to resume her life as a prosperous
young matron, a role she did not enjoy.
Fortunately, Frances became friends
with her brother-in-law’s wife, Vannozza,
who also wanted more than a pampered
existence. They attended Mass together,
visited prisons and served in hospitals.
They were subjected to ridicule among
their social rank, causing their mutual
mother-in-law to implore her sons to
control their wives.
Frances’s generosity demonstrated
God’s generosity. Frances and Vannozza
gave away so much food during a famine
in Rome that their father-in-law was
angry about the depleted family supplies.
He hid all extra food and wine, leaving
just enough for their immediate needs.
The two women went out to beg
for food for the poor. When they did
not collect enough, Frances scoured
the family corn loft for what little she
could find. Lorenzo, following her, was
amazed to find the previously vacant
space now filled with fresh yellow corn!
Then, when Frances’s miserly father-in-law
complained to her about the empty
wine barrel, Frances opened the tap and
wine flowed in abundance. After such
bounty and grace, Lorenzo and his
father were converted.
Frances faced great personal sorrow,
too. Rome was torn by violence and
devastated by the plague. Of her three
children, one was taken hostage with his father in battle, and two died of
the plague. Frances, consoled by her
visions of angels, became more dedicated
to the poor and sick. When Lorenzo
returned home, broken in body and
spirit, she nursed him with other victims
of the fighting.
Her example inspired many women
of Rome, and others came to help.
Frances started a lay order of women
called the Oblates of Mary. These women
continued to live in the world but dedicated
themselves to serving God by serving
the poor. They purchased a house so
that the widows among them might have
After 40 years of marriage, Lorenzo
died. Frances moved in with the Oblates
and became their superior. It is said
that angels traveled with her in the
evening, lighting her way and keeping
her safe on her merciful journeys. For
this reason, she is considered the patron
saint of automobiles, though she lived
long before their invention.
Frances died in Rome in 1440,
surrounded by Oblates, and she is
remembered on March 9. St. Frances
of Rome is represented with an angel
and a basket of food. Her mystical
spirituality and practical compassion
make her an example for us today,
who are still plagued by violence
St. Martin of Tours (c. 316-397)
Our final friend of the poor,
St. Martin of Tours, was born
when the Church was still in
its infancy. We know much of his life
because a devoted follower, Sulpicius
Severus, became his biographer and
actually interviewed Martin and many
who knew him.
Martin was born to a Roman
army officer and his wife, both pagans.
The persecutions of Christians had
ended, but many still mistrusted this
new belief in Jesus. Martin, however, at
only 10, went secretly to the Christians
to be admitted to the catechumenate.
He was still an unbaptized catechumen when he was forced into the Roman
army at 15.
Though he became an officer like
his father before him, Martin was not
seduced by status. Instead, he tried to
live a simple, humble life. His call was
to act as Jesus had acted.
Soldier of Christ
Martin’s compassion for the poor and
needy was wholehearted. As he entered
the gates of the garrison one particularly
cold winter day, he spied a freezing
beggar, nearly naked in the cruel wind.
In one quick stroke, Martin took his
sword and sliced his own cape in half,
handing one piece to the man and
keeping the other for himself. He
was ridiculed within the ranks for his
clownish appearance, but that night
Martin dreamed Jesus came to him,
wearing half of the cape!
Martin, then 18, immediately went
forward with his Baptism. He decided
not to draw his sword again but to
become a “soldier of Christ.”
When it came time to name a
new bishop of Tours, the people (who
at that time chose their own bishops)
knew they already had a holy leader
in Martin. They also knew that Martin,
in his humility, would never willingly
accept the position.
The townspeople tricked him
into visiting a sick woman and dragged
him to be consecrated. He gave in but never lived in a palace as other bishops
did. At first he lived in a monk’s small
cell and later in a hermitage outside the
city. His identification with the poor
and powerless was rooted in his desire
to follow the example of Jesus.
Martin was committed to reaching
out to those who did not believe in
Christ. This man, who really desired
only contemplation and solitude, gave
up both. He traveled from village to village
and even preached door-to-door.
Commitment to care
Showing his great courage and
persistence, Martin often intervened
when political leaders were oppressive
or violent. Once, he learned that a
general named Avitianus had come to
Tours with prisoners whom he planned
to torture and execute. Martin arrived at
Avitianus’s doorstep and, though it was
after midnight, stayed camped on the
threshold. An angel awakened Avitianus
from his sleep and told him Martin
was outside. His servants persuaded the
general that he was dreaming, but after
he fell back asleep, the angel roused him
a second time. Avitianus then went out
to meet Martin, saying, “Don’t even say
a word. I know what your request is.
Every prisoner will be spared.”
Martin died in Tours, and his feast
is celebrated on November 11. He is
considered the patron of soldiers, the
poor and the imprisoned. St. Martin’s compassion for the needy, his advocacy
for the weak and forgotten, and his
tireless devotion to serving his people
made him one of the Church’s most
famous early saints.
We hope you've enjoyed this newsletter.
Over the past 12 months we've
explored the lives of saints from the
many centuries of Church history, and
have seen how they remain with us
and continue to inspire the faithful
today. Extra copies of back issues of
this publication will still be available
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Befriend the poor and reject affluent living. Follow in the footsteps of…
• St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who went among the poor offering assistance. Do
more than write a check or donate food and clothing. Deliver your donations
and offer to help an organization that serves the needy.
• St. Frances of Rome, who shared her passion for serving the poor, first withVannozza, her sister-in-law, and later with the Oblates of Mary. Find a friend, family member or group to support and challenge you in serving God by serving the poor.
• St. Martin of Tours, who encountered detours and surprises, yet who persisted in his calling. Name the obstacles that block your way to living as God is calling you—especially in response to the needy. Identify one obstacle you can change from a stumbling block into a stepping-stone.
Share how these and other saints inspire you
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
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