Often society associates wealth with a negative stigma of greed but does God forbid wealth? There are stories in the bible where many thrived and God made men wealthy. Isaac Abraham, Jacob, and even Job were all wealthy in their time and God used their wealth to serve a higher good. While the bible also shows harsh examples of how wealth can corrupt or turn people away from God, there are also instances how God has used the wealthy to demonstrate charity and honor to him. So is this any different for saints?
St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Such is the case of St. Elizabeth of Hungary also known as Elizabeth of Thuringia. She is considered one of the most giving saints having a strong desire to help the poor that she is known as the Saint for Catholic Charities and patron saint for the Secular Franciscan order. Born in the year 1207, she was a pious young princess born of extreme wealth and privilege yet she felt a calling to help those in need and to serve the poor. As the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, her family had other plans for her and betrothed her to Count Louis of Thuringia. Elizabeth had every need and whim met. I’m sure it is easy to imagine a life of simple luxury where every desire is taken care of and every need provided.
Unlike cases where royals are dripping in diamonds or spending money on lavish furnishings, Elizabeth felt called to do something more rewarding. She was lead with spiritual direction by one of the priests of the Franciscan order and made it her duty to help the less fortunate. Fortunately, her marriage was one of genuine love (as many marriages in her time were arraigned primarily for family inheritance or to avoid dividing property) and her husband lovingly indulged her need to help the poor and give much of their food rations away.
While examples in the bible teach us that having too much and not sharing can lead to sin, the opposite was true for Elizabeth’s Court. Upset by her generosity, many of her husband’s Courtiers openly showed disdain for Elizabeth’s charity. Her husband, on the other hand, was supportive of her hospitality and even suggested to the Courtier’s that an act of kindness will return itself in some other blessing. Somehow, every time she would give food away the harvest was abundant, or she would receive other blessings.
How does St. Elizabeth’s story connect with our modern-day situation of wealth and giving? Mark Zuckerberg CEO and founder of Facebook is considered one the wealthiest men in the world, but in 2015, he and his wife pledged to give away 45 billion (99%) of their earnings to philanthropic causes in honor of the birth of their daughter Max. Like Zuckerberg other billionaires such as Warren Buffet, and Bill gates have also pledged to donate large portions of their fortunes to benefit the lives of others.
While many of us will never see this type of wealth, God calls each of us to give in the ways we can. The goal is not to give just monetarily either. Sometimes we find it hard to give away our things or even our trust by adding stipulations. I recall my daughter wanted to help a homeless man who had a sign asking for food. We obliged and gave him some snacks we had in our car. At first, my husband is a little more skeptical than the rest of us, was unsure if the man had ulterior motives, but he also wanted my daughter to know that it was important to give.
The hardest part about giving is that we don’t always know the intentions of those who we give. Will they use them for the reason that was intended? What’s the point of giving if people are going to be deceitful? I remember hearing my friend tell me as I cynically told her giving to homeless money meant contributing to their drug addiction. Her response, was” I can only hope they use the money for what they say its for.”
I admit I had put conditions on giving. It was okay as long as what I intended was sure to happen. But what I realized is God does not put stipulations on his love for us. When God gave us his Son, he did so without condition he did so with pure love. How many times do we go back on our words for all God gives us and we fall short on holding up on our promises? Time after time he continues to keep giving, always providing for us, loving us unconditionally.
Give Without Expectations
St. Elizabeth knew this. She knew that it was much better to give to those in need without any expectation. So much to the point that her own needs were secondary. Elizabeth could have easily turned her back from those around her. She was a princess, she had the necessities of life and yet she focused her time on serving others. Her husband graciously opened a hospital at the foot of their castle so that she could minister to the sick and to the poor. She was not only rich monetarily but her wealth was also measured in her compassion and concern for others.
Most of us will never have the monetary wealth of Mark Zuckerberg or find it in ourselves to give all of our possessions, but how many of us are willing to give all of ourselves in body and spirit to walk with and serve the Lord? I know that’s a hard challenge to ask ourselves, and very few will take up the call to do this. Yet we can trust that God will always provide for us.
During a harsh famine, St. Elizabeth emptied the grain barrels of her husband’s reserves. Many of the courtiers complained that she was giving away all of her kingdom’s wealth. Yet God always provided for her in abundance. Her husband died six years after they were married during the crusades. It was at this point that many of the courtiers tried to banish Elizabeth from the court and strip her of her titles and wealth. She was eventually reinstated by her husband’s allies who had returned from the Crusades and her son would be the next in line for the throne. For the rest of her life, she continued to do good works of serving the poor and the sick.
Maybe you are not called to give up all that you have but what gifts has God given you that you can give wholeheartedly and abundantly with others? We may not have the monetary wealth like St. Elizabeth but can we have the wealth of compassion and charity. One thing for sure, we are called to use the gifts we receive in abundance to serve for God’s glory.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-31)
Feast Day: November 17th
Patron Saint of the Secular Franciscan order