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Saints are part of our DNA as Catholics. They are our friends, our personal companions on our faith journey. They comfort and challenge us, they give us guidance and hope, they help us find God’s plan for our lives. Walking With the Saints passes on the stories of selected holy people who are powerful examples of Christian living.

Walking With the Saints
Special Friends of the Poor

by Mary Cummins Wlodarski

The 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel 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 in 1207.

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 one another.

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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 in derision!

Compassionate 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 her people.

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 of life.

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 charitable societies.

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.

God’s generosity

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.

Practical compassion

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 a home.

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 and war.

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 after this last issue. Please see ordering information below, or visit us online at catalog.americancatholic.org.

 
Stepping Out in Faith
by Joan McKamey

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 on your faith journey.
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
 
 
 
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