This past week I’ve enjoyed the company of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, thanks to Lisa Hendey’s A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul. Lisa’s beautifully arranged book provides a gentle, yet thoughtful look at fifty-two saints every Catholic mom should have at her side. Complete with each saint’s biography, patronage, and traditions surrounding his or her legacy, the book provides a heartfelt reflection on the relationship between the week’s saint and today’s Catholic mom as well as daily scriptural reflections on a theme central to the life of the particular saint and activities for moms and families to help call to mind the saint’s heroic example. I had intended to read it in its entirety last week but couldn’t bear rushing through the chapters, wanting so much to use the whole week getting to know my saintly friends better.
It was Saint Elizabeth of Portugal who had especially caught my eye and heart this past week by her most heroic love. Lisa Hendey writes that before she had even turned thirteen Saint Elizabeth, herself from a royal family in Sargossa, was married to King Denis of Portugal. Known for her charity and piety, Saint Elizabeth strove to live out her faith by attending daily Mass, praying the Divine Office, and caring for her family while also reaching out to the poor in her community. King Denis, on the other hand, while supposedly encouraging her in her efforts, repeatedly had affairs and even fathered children outside of their union.
Saint Elizabeth, ever faithful to her Lord, played the part of peace-maker in this difficult family atmosphere. Lisa writes, “Elizabeth was born into a family divided by political battles. She went on to watch the same problems erupt between her husband Denis and her own son, Alfonso IV. She was able to barter a truce between a man who had repeatedly cheated on her and fathered illegitimate children, and the son who felt his father was playing favorites with his undeserving half-brothers” (p. 52).
Truly deserving of sainthood, Saint Elizabeth “rose above the embarrassment and pain she surely felt” and cared for her children and the children born to King Denis from his affairs. She respected his leadership of the kingdom, and took care of him during the final sickness that would lead to his death. Her lifelong prayer for him was finally answered at his deathbed, when he experienced conversion.
Lisa notes that Saint Elizabeth, whose patronage includes peace, against jealousy, and brides, can be a powerful intercessor for wives who are finding it difficult to love their husbands and for mothers who are confronted with the realities of divorce or separation in the family. Lisa writes:
For those moms who face the unique challenges of pulling together new family traditions, working with other adults in cooperative parenting situations, and dealing with the stress of scheduling and interpersonal issues, Saint Elizabeth can be a special intercessor when everyday life feels complicated or overwhelming. Women facing marriage difficulties, separation, or divorce have shared with me their devotion to this matriarch whose faith saw her through domestic trials and helped her sustain her family life (53).I pray that Saint Elizabeth might be with us all during Holy Week, interceding on our behalf so that we might be real instruments of peace in our families. And I thank Lisa for the true treasure that is her book--a gentle reintroduction to our most faithful friends, the saints.