Daily Reflection
November 17th, 2001
Bob Hart, S.J.
Jesuit Community
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Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary 
Wisdom 18:14-16; 19:6-9
Psalms 105:2-3, 36-37, 42-43
Luke 18:1-8

Saint Elizabeth of  Hungary (1207 – 123l), herself of royal Hungarian blood, married at l4 to Louis of Thuringia and gave birth to three chldren:  Hermann died at 19; daughter Sofia would marry royalty, the Duke of Brabant; daughter Gertrude would one day  become the Abbess of Altenburg and later a ‘blessed.’  Elizabeth was widowed at 20 after her husband contracted the plague enroute to the Holy Land as a Crusader.  Shortly after his death, she became a Franciscan tertiary and, having taken care of her children, founded a hospice for the poor near Marburg.  She cared for them herself and died at 24 in 1231.  Such was Elizabeth's reputation for sanctity that she was canonized in l236.

What enriched this all-too-short life and made it such a beautiful one?  It may well have been her prayer life, fostered from an early age.  Betrothed at four to Ludwig the future Landgraf of Thuringia, she was uprooted from her native Hungary, from both her father, King Andrew II of Hungary and her mother, Gertrude of Andechs-Meran.  Both were good, pious people.  She was forthwith sent to the court at Wartburg, Thuringia, to be raised with her future spouse Ludwig, seven years her senior.  At an early age she meditated hard and often and by fourteen was disciplined, both in her deep prayer-life and in her love for the poor and bereft of this world.

First, a few reflections from Scripture, then a few from the poetry of Jessica Powers.  Wisdom speaks today, as does our Psalm, of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, from slavery to a newfound  freedom and joy.  “Out of the Red Sea an unimpeded road, and a grassy plain out of the mighty flood.  … And (the freed Israelites) ranged about like horses, and bounded about like lambs.”  And from Psalm 105:  “Rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord” and “he led forth His people with joy, with shouts of joy, his chosen ones.”

And the gospel tells the story of the ‘persistent widow,’ a parable ‘on the necessity of praying always and NOT LOSING HEART,’ a story, in a word, about courage.  I always think about Paul Tillich, the author of the “COURAGE To Be,” a book about FAITH in  this regard.  Faith is opposed to fear in the Scriptures, not to doubt.  Note passages such as the following:  “why are you fearful (full of FEAR), you of little faith?”  Or, to pusilanimity (no guts or, to put it more elegantly, no intestinal fortitude), as in the above:  “Take heart or be courageous, you of little faith!”

Take a good, hard look at the judge in the ‘persistent widow’ parable.  This fellow, Scripture says, feared neither God nor man.  Yet he clearly cowered before this woman, hell-bent on whatever she wanted  (rights over her opponent, Scripture says).  Her verbal threats, maybe her very physical presence, made this man lily-livered, filled with fear, literally fear-full.  This once rock-of-Gibraltar-like Fearless Fosdick quaked in his boots as he said:  “OK, I’ll settle in her favor or she will end by doing me VIOLENCE.”

Let me conclude with a short poem from the pen of Jessica Powers and excerpts from a longer one, entitled simply ‘Prayer.’  The first, entitled ‘The Second Giving’ is reminiscent of the Little Flower’s:  I want the whole thing.  I WANT IT ALL!

The Second Giving

The second giving of God is the great giving 
Once it has given up all things for him.

The second growth of God is the rich growing, 
With fruits no constant gathering can remove, 
The flourishing of those who by God’s mercy 
Have cut themselves down to the root for love.

God seeks a heart with bold and boundless hungers 
That sees itself and earth as paltry stuff; 
God loves a soul that casts down all He gave it 
And stands and cries that it was not enough.

                                                   -- Jessica Powers


Prayer is the trap-door out of sin. 
Prayer is a mystic entering in 
To secret places full of light 
It is a passage through the night…

One may kneel down and make a plea 
With words from book or breviary 
Or one may enter in and find 
A home-made message in the mind. 
But true prayer travels further still, 
To seek God’s presence and His will. 

To pray can be to push a door 
And snatch some crumbs of evermore, 
Or (likelier by far) to wait, 
Head bowed, before a fastened gate, 
Helpless and miserable and dumb, 
Yet hopeful that the Lord will come. …

He beams on the humility
That keeps its peace in misery
And, save for glimmerings, never knows
How beautiful with light it grows.
He smiles on faith that seems to know
It has no other place to go.

But some day, hidden by His will,
If this meek child is waiting still,
God will take out His mercy-key
And open up felicity,
Where saltiest tears are given right
To seas where sapphire marries light
Where by each woe the soul can span
New orbits for the utter man,
Where even the flesh, so seldom prized,
Would blind the less than divinized.

                                  -- Jessica Powers


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