From True Womanhood, Rev. Bernard O’Reilly, 1894

Is not this the significance of a most beautiful legend from the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary?

Her mother-in-law, Sophia, was, at the time of the occurrence about to be related, bitterly prejudiced against the saintly wife. “She neither shared nor approved Elizabeth’s charities and merciful ministrations. In her son, however, she found no sympathy. Yet one account shows how even his kind heart was overtasked.

One day a child afflicted with leprosy was brought to the hospital in the Wartburg; but his state was in the institution would neither touch him nor admit him.

Elizabeth, coming at her usual hour, no sooner beheld the little sufferer lying helpless and forsaken at the gate, than she took him up in her arms, carried him to the castle, and placed him in her own bed.

Sophia, indignant, flew to the landgrave. ‘My son,’ she burst forth, ‘come with me instantly, and see with whom your wife shares your bed;’ and she led him to his chamber, relating in exaggerated language the extraordinary occurrence that seemed to crown all the mad acts of his wife’s charity.

The landgrave, though he said not one word, could scarcely conceal his irritation and loathing. He snatched the coverlet from the bed, and lo! instead of the leper, there lay an infant, surrounded with a halo of light, and bearing the features of the new-born lobe of Bethlehem!

This example is, however, more admirable than imitable. It is a rare thing to have to perform heroic acts of any virtue,—even that of charity. Where a miracle occurs, as here, Providence means to inculcate a lesson.

The teaching, to the Catholic mind, is a plain one: it is only the repetition, under a different form, of the Master’s doctrine, that he is represented by the persons of the poor and the suffering.

So, with this conviction firmly seated in the soul of the Christian mistress of a household, it will be easy for her to see with what reverence and generosity she must treat the poor. We say “reverence.” For if her womanly heart has schooled itself to behold Christ present in every one of the needy who come to her door, she will not have to be reminded to show to all, without exception, kindness.

Kindness is something far beneath reverence; yet let us insist upon the absolute necessity of  kind looks and kind words. No one better than a woman knows how far kindness goes, or how much and how long a kind word or a look of tender sympathy will be treasured up by those-on whom they are bestowed.

If you have nothing else to give,—if your purse is empty, and your bread has failed,-— open the spring of kindness in your heart and let it pour out on the hearts of the poor sweet words of compassion, often more needed and more rarely bestowed than food on the famishing or cold water on the faint and weary.

Follow the rule of the great St. Francis, therefore: Be invariably and unfailingly kind to the poor. And this precious quality in the temper and bearing of man or woman can only be secured by the habitual practice of that “reverence” just mentioned.

It is more needful than ever that in every Catholic home mothers should cultivate that ancient respect for husband and children which was inspired by a lively faith, and made every member of the Christian community view in his fellow-Christians the children of God, the person of Christ himself.

This feeling inspired the father of the great Origen,—a father found soon afterward worthy to die the death of the martyrs,— with a reverence for his infant son so deep and so sincere, that he was wont as he passed his cradle to uncover the child’s breast and to kiss it, kneeling,—knowing, as he said, that the babe was the living temple of the Holy Ghost.

Surely Catholic fathers and mothers ought to find an exquisite pleasure in such elevating thoughts and sentiments as this; surely they should so consider each other and respect each other as if they too were chosen vessels, vessels of grace, bearing about in their bosoms the Creator Spirit; and most surely ought it to be the mother’s chief delight to reverence in every child of hers a something far more holy, more precious than the chalice used in the Holy Sacrifice, or the sacred vessel shut up in the Tabernacle and inclosing Christ’s divinest gift to our souls.

Can we school and accustom ourselves so to reverence the poor as to see in them the Person of Him who is represented as evermore standing in the night, wet by the dew or the rainstorm, at the door of every one of us, and gently knocking for admission to the light and warmth of our fireside?

This said, it is not our design to say either to the wealthy or to the needy housewife what measure she is to follow in relieving the wants of the poor. Let our spirit be the royal spirit of the ancient Catholic charity of our fathers.

To the rich let this suffice. “A modern author relates that a merchant in Spain once said to him: A rich Spanish tradesman would laugh at you if you talked to him of keeping his carriage; ~but ask him for alms, and he will think nothing of giving you a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand dollars”.

The early verbalizing, the magic and romantic lyricism of love letters, and long, late-night telephone conversations — all of these are left behind. Even the constant repetition of the words of love finds husband and wife admitting to each other that words do not express what they wish them to express. Thus, verbal symbols give way to a thousand variations of concrete symbols: a surprise gift, a note on the refrigerator, an evening planned totally for the other — always designed to unlock in the other that secret closet of joy. In creating their masterpiece, truly “their life’s work”, husband and wife each look to the other’s needs. -Father of the Family, Clayton Barbeau https://amzn.to/2tnTeJO (afflink)

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