Tag Archives: St. Elizabeth of Portugal

A fourth of July meditation

Hear this, you who trample on the needy,
to do away with the weak of the land…
I will turn your festivals into mourning,
and all your singing into wailing.
Amos 8: 4, 10

 While the US celebrates Independence Day with its proper lectionary readings, the universal church continues reading the prophet Amos, with his warnings against oppressing the poor.

Today the universal church also celebrates the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, a queen who was a peacemaker and a lover of the poor.

St. Elizabeth, the daughter of the king of Aragon was given in marriage to the king of Portugal. As a queen she cared for the poor and needy, founding hospitals, orphanages, and homes for homes for “fallen women,” She cared for her children as well as the children of her husband’s affairs.

But she is known as the patroness of peace for her efforts to reconcile warring parties, many of whom were her relatives.

After her husband’s death, she lived as a poor Franciscan tertiary near a convent of the Poor Clares, but continued her work of reconciling enemies and preventing wars.

As noted in Robert Ellsberg’s Blessed Among All Women, she once said:

 Do not forget that when sovereigns are at war they can no longer busy themselves with their administration: justice is not distributed; no care is taken of the people; and this alone is your sovereign charge: this is the main point of your duty as kings.

All nations, especially the US, should take her words into account as well as the warning of the prophet Amos.

I dare say that Thomas Merton had it right when he wrote more than forty years ago:

It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility. If our affluent society ever breaks down and the facade is taken away, what are we going to have left?

 

Thomas Merton, democracy, and St. Elizabeth

“It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility. If our affluent society ever breaks down and the facade is taken away, what are we going to have left?”

So wrote Thomas Merton decades ago, but I think his thoughts are an antidote to a love of self and of one’s own self-interests that a professed love of country often hides.

In the face of the economic downturns of the last few years, looking from outside, I believe that, in the US and other countries, an evil spirit of contention has replaced the love of the common good, of all God’s people.

In the early 1980s, a friend who knew of my rather strong anti-nationalism feelings, mentioned to me the insights of Georges Bernanos, in The Two Sources of Religion and Morality, (pp. 266-7) on the difference between the open and the closed society. I need to re-read the book, but these quotes give an idea of the difference between the two types:

“The closed society is that whose members hold together, caring nothing for the rest of humanity, on the alert for attack or defence, bound, in fact, to a perpetual readiness for battle.”

“The open society is the society which is deemed in principle to embrace all humanity.”

The open society is, as I see it, is the society that makes solidarity central, not as a mere feeling, but, as Pope John Paul II wrote in  On Social Concern,  ¶ 28:

Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….

Solidarity helps us to see the “other” — whether a person, people or nation — not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper”, to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.

Such a vision will lead to a concern for the common good and will break through the narrowness of our concerns that leads to war and injustice.

And so it is fitting that today is also the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Franciscan tertiary, noted for her care of the poor and her peacemaking efforts. In her words, set in the framework of medieval Portugal and Spain:

Do not forget that when sovereigns are at war they can no longer busy themselves with their administration; justice is not distributed; no care is taken of the people; and this alone is your sovereign charge, this it the main point of your duty as kings.

In a democracy that is an open society, focused on the common good, the solidarity of the children of God who are peacemakers and hunger and history will become the goal and the ideal.

May the US, Honduras, and other countries begin to work in this direction.