Homily for November 16, Thursday of the XXXIII week in O.T., year I; Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Today’s first reading continues the narrative from the first book of Maccabees. Our modern sensibilities might be a little jarred by the way that Mattathias kills both the king’s messenger and the Jewish man who was going to offer a pagan sacrifice. Nonetheless, it was a different world back then, two centuries before Christ, and this was an important moment in the history of the Jewish nation. It began the uprising that led to the liberation of the Jews from the religious oppression and political domination of the Greek empire.
When Jesus came, He taught us not to use violence anymore as a response to religious persecution. He lamented the unwillingness of so many people to embrace the true freedom of the Gospel instead of resorting to violent uprising. In fact, He predicted that the Jewish armed resistance to Roman rule would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, as we hear in today’s Gospel. That sad prophecy came true in the year 70 A.D.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, whom we celebrate today, is an example of virtue, in responding to persecution with charity and patience. She was the daughter of a Hungarian king, and was wedded to a nobleman, but she dedicated herself to works of charity for the poor. When her husband died young on a crusade, she put aside even more of the pleasures and dignities of her rank in order to help those in need. But according to some accounts, the ways she used her resources be generous to the poor were not well received by other members of her husband’s family. Although she willingly lived a simple life as a Franciscan tertiary, she was further wrongfully deprived of part of the property left to her by her husband, and she ended up living in forced poverty. She did not set out to attack or undermine her persecutors, but rather kept her focus on supporting the poor and suffering, working with her hands to raise money for those in need. She died young, but her holy and generous life inspired great devotion in her homeland and beyond.
Living our faith in our own day is not easy; we can face serious obstacles in trying to be faithful to the Gospel. May God help us to react, not with anger, bitterness, or despair, but like St. Elizabeth, with prayer, love, and trust in God. And let us pray for all those who are seriously persecuted for living their Christianity, that they may be given strength and patience to continue living Gospel charity towards all. May their example inspire many more people to embrace the truth of the Gospel.