HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE MEMORIAL OF ST ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY RITE OF CANDIDACY FOR GIOVANNI JULIO GONZALEZ AND JORGE MAIRENA MARQUEZ REDEMPTORIS MATER SEMINARY
VILLAWOOD, 17 NOVEMBER 2022
Elizabeth (1207-31) was born possibly in modern-day Bratislava, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Queen Gertrude, sister of St Hedwig. At the age of four or five she was brought to the court of Thuringia, in central Germany; the landgrave or count was then one of the richest and most influential sovereigns in Europe and his castle one of the most magnificent and cultured. She was betrothed to the heir to the langraviate, Ludwig IV (1200-27), known as “Louis the Saint”. They married as soon as she turned 14 and he was enthroned, and theirs was a happy marriage. But she was widowed at 20 and died only four years later. So if she was going to be a saint like her aunt Hedwig, she had to do it quick!
Elizabeth and Ludwig were, however, already well on the way. At Elizabeth’s request their wedding feast was a modest affair and the remaining budget was donated to the poor. This did not endear her to the king’s family and courtiers. Once, on entering a church on the Feast of the Assumption, she took off her crown and laid it before the crucifix, covering her face and lying prostrate before it. When her mother-in-law reprimanded her for conduct unbecoming a queen, Elizabeth answered: “How can I, a wretched creature, continue to wear a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King Jesus Christ crowned with thorns?”
Elizabeth is a patron saint of nurses, brides, women leaders, widows, the homeless, hungry and poor, of Hungary, Slovakia and, believe it or not, Giovanni, of Bogotá, Colombia. The first bishops of that city were Franciscans and they brought a devotion to her as friend of the poor. A contemporary of Sts Francis and Clare of Assisi, Elizabeth was inspired by a Franciscan piety even if it is doubtful she ever joined the lay Franciscans. She supported the first friars sent to Thuringia and received a personal message of thanks from Francis shortly before he died in 1226. In the spring of that year, when plague, floods and famine wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig was called away to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire in Cremona, leaving Elizabeth to conduct affairs of state. She liquidated her royal assets, including her robes and ornaments, to distribute alms to the poor, and was famed for feeding up to 1000 of the city’s most needy every day. In his oratorio about Elizabeth, Franz Liszt tells the story of the leper Helias of Eisenach, whom Elizabeth laid in the royal bed to the horror of her mother-in-law. When Ludwig returned and removed the bedclothes in great indignation, the eyes of his soul were immediately opened and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed. Though it annoyed others in the court, her husband generally supported her extravagant charity.
Her life changed irrevocably, however, when Ludwig died of a fever in 1227 en route to the Sixth Crusade. She was frozen out of the royal family, had to fight to regain her dowry, was subjected to severe penances by her spiritual director, and was held hostage by relatives in an effort to remarry her. Elizabeth threatened to cut off her nose to make herself unmarriageable. She built a hospital at Marburg for the poor and sick with her dowry, and devoted herself to their care till her dying days.
Pope Benedict XVI remarked that “she is a true example for all who have roles of leadership: the exercise of authority, at every level, must be lived as a service to justice and charity, in the constant search for the common good.” Instead of enjoying the privileges of power, she turned her office into an opportunity for service of the weak, lowly, and dying.
I trust such stories speak directly to our two candidates tonight, and to their brothers studying for the priesthood or serving in it. We all have opportunities to serve self or to serve others. Like the royal, so the clerical state can be one of vanity and ambition, greed and corruption, or of virtue and help. St Elizabeth understood that authority can be a cross to bear but that to be called to authority is not to seek it for oneself but to accept it as a responsibility to demonstrate the selflessness of the One who “came to serve, not to be served”. It is a calling.
Don’t call me Lord to be prophet to the nations, Jeremiah says in our first reading (Jer 21:4-9,17), for I’m too young and don’t know how to speak for God. But the Lord touched his lips and put the words he needed in his mouth. And the words he most needed, the psalmist tells us tonight (Ps 33(34):2-11), were words that sing God’s praises; the words he most needed, our epistle reveals (1Jn 3:14-18), are real, active deeds of loving and no mere talk. Jesus speaks directly to Giovanni and Jorge tonight about the love to which they are called: a love for all, a love even for enemies, indeed a love that transforms enemies into friends; a compassion, like God’s compassion, free of niggardly judgmentalism and grudge-bearing, as generous as God (Lk 6:27-38). Put simply, Jorge and Giovanni: all God asks is that you be like Him. It’s simple really!
Simple, but not always easy. And so tonight, my sons, you throw yourselves upon the mercy of the court: of the court of God and His Church. Like Elizabeth you let go of ego and privilege and say to God: whatever you want from me, I offer you; whatever I can do for you and your people, I will do. Tonight you resolve to complete your preparation ‘‘to give faithful service to Christ the Lord and His body, the Church” and to make of whatever time you have left, your path to sanctity.
Dear sons, candidacy for the priesthood, like candidacy for sainthood, comes at a cost: you must give nothing less than your whole selves. But know that in the paradox that is Christ, it is in giving your all that you get it back abundantly. Thank-you for the generosity tonight in offering yourselves for continuing discernment and to be conformed ever more fully to Christ the Priest. Be ready to walk the Way to Jerusalem with him, from Colombia or Costa Rica via Sydney, along the way to heaven. And to those of you further advanced towards priesthood and those already ordained, thank you brothers for your lives of service. May God who began this great work in you all, bring it to fulfilment.
INTRODUCTION TO MASS OF THE MEMORIAL OF ST ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY + RITE OF CANDIDACY FOR GIOVANNI JULIO GONZALEZ AND JORGE MAIRENA MARQUEZ REDEMPTORIS MATER SEMINARY, VILLAWOOD, 17 NOVEMBER 2022
Welcome to this evening’s celebration of the Eucharist on the Memorial of St Elizabeth of Hungary, at which two of our brothers in Christ will be admitted to the candidacy for the priesthood: Giovanni Julio Gonzalez and Jorge Mairena Marquez.
These joyful occasions are a great opportunity to reflect on the blessings and challenges of being called to the priestly vocation. I acknowledge the pivotal role played by the Neocatechumenal Way in assisting Giovanni and Jorge in their vocational discernment and formation. I salute the National Team of Catechists; the Rector, Dean of Studies, and Spiritual Director of Redemptoris Mater, with staff, volunteers, and fellow seminarians; and the local catechists and mission families with whom our two candidates walk.
I thank you all for your ongoing dedication to the building up of the Body of Christ through your works of proclamation and formation. Welcome one and all.