04 February 2012

A Love Worthy of the Saints

St. Elizabeth of Hungary was betrothed to Blessed Louis of Thuringia at the tender age of four; he was eleven. She grew up at his court, and suffered much at the hands of his family, although Louis himself always came to her defense. At age 21, Louis married his fiancée, and became king that very year.

Louis was, as one might say, a man's man--strong, virile, he loved the hunt, archery, and all the sports one would expect of a young prince and master of his domain. He went on military campaigns and fought for his kingdom--but always looked forward to the time he could come home to be with his beloved wife. On one campaign, he was forced to stay away all winter, and on his return, it is said "she kissed him with her mouth and in her heart a thousand times and more."

On one occasion, when they were yet to be married, one of Elizabeth's companions found her weeping profusely in the courtyard. Asked what was the matter, Elizabeth said that one of the prince's friends, in an attempt to lure Louis to commit sin, had led a beautiful maiden into Louis's chamber. Elizabeth grieved that the temptation would overcome him and would destroy his soul. But within the chamber, the prince, reacting with anger at his friend, commanded him to take the woman away and send her back where she had come from and never return. It was only after Elizabeth saw the party leave and knew his soul was safe that she dried her tears.

During their marriage, he supported her charity and good works; she gave away so much that his servants complained. On one occasion, she took pity on a leper, bringing him into the royal chamber and laying him in her own bed. On Louis' return, his mother complained that his wife had disrespected her husband by allowing a poor beggar into his bed. Louis, taken aback by this report, went to his room, uncovered the sheets--and saw there, not a beggar, but Our Lord Himself, arms outstretched as on the Cross and bleeding. Stricken with grief, Bd. Louis begged forgiveness for his initial anger and pledged to allow his wife to give from their storehouses whatever God willed.

St. Elizabeth was in the habit of rising in the middle of the night and praying. So tender was her love for her husband that she would often take his hand and hold it, even as he lay asleep, so that they could be united in prayer.

In 1227 he went on crusade, and there was stricken with fever and died. On learning of his death, St. Elizabeth said, "The world is dead to me, and all that is pleasant in it." Although her pain was tremendous, she resigned herself to God's will. "You know, Lord, that his companionship was sweeter to me than anyone else's on earth. But I accept." She would live four years more before she herself would go on to her reward.
Louis, informed no doubt of the woes that afflicted his people, demanded and obtained permission from the Emperor to return to his dukedom. He set out on the 23d of June, 1226, and arrived at Cremona on St. John's eve, just as the people were kindling the fires on the surrounding heights. After having happily crossed the Alps, he took up his quarters with a prince, not named by historians, but who was his near relative and friend. He was received with ceremony and magnificence; and after superb feasting, with music and singing, he was conducted to his sleeping-chamber, where the prince, anxious to test the virtue of his guest, had placed a young woman of extraordinary beauty. But the young duke said immediately to his faithful attendant, the lord de Varila, "Take away this young woman quietly, and give her a mark of silver wherewith to buy a new mantle, that want may not again urge her to expose herself to sin. I say unto thee in all sincerity, that even if adultery were not a sin before God, nor a scandal in the eyes of my fellow men, I would never consent to it, solely through love for my dear Elizabeth, and fear of saddening or troubling her soul."

The next morning, as the prince jested with him on this subject, Louis replied, "Know, my cousin, that to obtain the whole Roman empire I would not commit such a sin."
From The Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Count de Montalembert