This last week of the liturgical calendar has a couple of other feasts that also give us a sense of true royalty. The first is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was a woman of royal birth who was born in 1207 and died 24 short years later in 1231. She married a king, bore him three children, and then was widowed, all by the age of 20. However, she was always known as having a heart for the poor, doing charitable works as she could. This angered many of the members of the court, but it did not deter Elizabeth. After her husband died she was greatly affected by a group of Franciscans who had come to Hungary and she founded a hospital in which she served the sick and dying. Her family was so outraged that one of royal birth would live so ascetically that they drove her from the family castle and even took her children from her. This caused her great pain, but she continued to do works of charity until she died. Not long after her death miracles were attributed to her intercession, especially healing miracles at the hospital at which she labored. Her example is much the same as that of Jesus. The royal one was the servant of all, especially those most in need. He came to serve and not to be served, and Elizabeth followed in His footsteps at great cost to herself.
Christ, our King, has taught us that to be a follower of Him we need to imitate Him. We are a royal people because we are His, but this has deeper meaning than it first appears. Through His ministry, Jesus taught His followers that the greatest is the least. The true disciple is the one who serves the rest, just as He, the King, had done. The true disciple does works of charity, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, welcoming the stranger, outcast, and marginalized. This is what many saints did, including people of wealth like St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and people who were of more humble social status, such as St. Francis of Assisi who Elizabeth chose to imitate in her works. All of us are called to follow this example if we desire to be His disciples.
The most wonderful part of our celebration of Christ the King is that it ushers in Advent. We are reminded of who it is that we are awaiting in the weeks which follow. The feast ties in the themes of November, which are about being prepared for the second coming of Christ by doing the works which He has given us to do as our responsibility in order to build His Kingdom here. In Advent we are also directed toward the Second Coming. We celebrate His birth, but because He has already been born, we are reminded that we need to be ready for His return. In the Scriptures that precede His birth, we are shown the mysteries of Mary’s ‘yes’, her service, her sacrifices, and her continual posture of reflection and prayer. And we will eventually celebrate His recognition as a king by other kings. So in many ways, one could say that liturgically the end of November is an 'advent before Advent.' It is a time of seeing how seamless our liturgical life really is and just how much our celebrations are connected to one another. The mysteries reflected in our celebrations are many, but they are a cause for joy. We have a great King, who loves us beyond understanding, who has taught us how we are to live by demonstrating it Himself, and who wants nothing other than for all of us to be around His banquet table in joy and peace forever. This is Christ, our King.
May we grow in understanding of what it means that we are a royal people! May we live as true disciples, imitating our King in works of mercy, compassion, and charity! May we be inspired to do the work of caring for others, as we have been taught! May we see how gifted we are, so that we may be filled with gratitude, and also be moved to share! And may we give glory to our King by our lives of love! Let us meet in the Heart of our King, Jesus Christ! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The song to which I referred is How Many Kings by Marc A. Martel, Jason Ronald William Germain, performed by the group Downhere. The song and lyrics can be found at http://www.metrolyrics.com/how-many-kings-lyrics-downhere.html
For more information on the feasts you can go to the following sites:
St. Elizabeth of Hungary: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05389a.htm
The Presentation of Mary: http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1206
For more on the Feast of Christ the King: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2013-11-24
Icons and images:
The first icon is Christ the King, the Bridegroom by Fr. William Hart McNichols.
The second is She Who Reigns, also by Fr. William Hart McNichols and it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/she-who-reigns-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Next is a painting by Giotto. It is part of the Stefaneschi Triptych, Christ Enthroned c. 1330.
The final photograph is one I took a few years ago in Natchidoches, TX during Advent.