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The Never-Fading Crown of Glory


“The greatest warriors fight not for crowns and splendor, but for love.” ~ Matshona Dhliwayo

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of a truly admirable and fascinating Saint, albeit with a uniquely American twist. The Feast of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal is universally celebrated on July 4th, which was the day that she passed Into eternal life in the year 1336. This is the case everywhere except in the United States, where here Memorial is transferred to July 5th so that it is not overshadowed by Independence Day.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal was a Spanish princess whose holiness emanated from her very bloodlines. Her great aunt was none other than Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, whom she was named after. She was married at the age of twelve, to a king no less. King Denis of Portugal was 26 years old at the time of their marriage. Her beauty was matched only by her devotion to God, this made evident by the fact that she attended Mass on a daily basis while also adopting the discipline of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Saint Elizabeth’s marriage was at times very challenging. King Denis did not share Elizabeth’s religious beliefs. He was also wildly jealous. His envious nature would in fact culminate in tragedy. In a case of mistaken identity fueled by jealous rage, he attempted to murder one of his pages for reasons that are not quite clear. The attempt failed, however another page was mistakenly killed instead. This event had a proud impact on the King, and it spurred a conversion of heart. Having a holy woman of God at his side would prove to be the catalyst for his conversion. Elizabeth cared for King Denis until his death in 1325.

For eleven years after the death of her husband, Queen Elizabeth focused her efforts on works of charity. She would eventually join the monastery of Poor Clare Nuns, becoming a member of The Third order of St. Francis. As a Poor Clare Nun she served the poor and the sick, eschewing the servants usually bestowed upon a queen. Upon her passing on July 4th, 1336, Queen Elizabeth of Portugal was 65 years of age, having lived a life replete with prayers, sacrifices, interventions for peace among monarchs, acts of worship, and sublime works of mercy too numerous to mention in this Reflection.

Nearly three centuries after her death, Pope Urban VIII canonized Saint Elizabeth of Portugal on Holy Trinity Sunday, May 25th, 1625. In doing so, he broke his reported vow that there would be no canonizations during his Pontificate. Her body remains incorrupt, reposing in the Church of Saint Clare at Coimbra. It is there within the sacred confines of this House of God that Saint Elizabeth remains intact, as beautiful and serene as if she was merely sleeping.

Jesus tells us that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, by virtue of her life, shows us the way. She did not fixate on or hunger for gold and silver, the same false gods that ensnared the Israelites in today’s 1st Reading (Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13).

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Saint Elizabeth of Portugal’s Queenship was rooted in the pursuit of peace and charity, virtues that one wouldn’t normally associate with Royalty. “God made me Queen so that I may serve others,” she would say, revealing her humility and obedience to God’s calling. It was the pursuit of a heavenly crown that motivated the actions and life of Saint Elizabeth, not the empty crowns adorned with phony pomp and oblivious excess that are so hotly pursued in our world today. In so many ways, her life mirrored that of the only true Queen, the Queen of Heaven, our Blessed Mother

The title for this Reflection is of course a nod to 1 Peter 5:4 wherein the Rock of our Church proclaims that “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” He was addressing the elders in his midst, urging them to be witnesses to the sufferings of Christ so that they may partake of the glory that shall be revealed, a glimpse of which Peter himself experienced with breathtaking joy during the Transfiguration He exhorted them to “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

So let us give thanks and venerate this great Saint today, seeking her intercession while observing the virtues of obedience, charity and humility in action. For in the words of Thomas Merton, “In humility is perfect freedom.”

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for us….

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

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