I want to write about two soon to be saints, a married couple, Blessed Charles of Austria and his wife, Servant of God Zita, both are on the pathway to canonization. Blessed Charles was the very last Emperor of Austria. Born in 1887 he was raised in a very devout royal family. They instilled in him a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He learned to always turn to prayer before making any important decision; it was one of his defining characteristics. He married Zita on October 21st 1911 and over the next 11 years, they had 8 children.
In 1916 after a series of tragic deaths in his family he became the emperor. This was not something he expected. He was way down the line of succession. This happened in the midst of World War I. And as Emperor, world peace became his ultimate goal. He was the only political leader of that time who wanted peace. As we know the war wreaked havoc on Europe, millions died. It also wreaked havoc on Blessed Charles and his family, in 1921 he was exiled to the Island of Madeira; he died a year later from pneumonia.
Charles and Zita were widely recognized for their good and holy marriage. In fact Blessed Charles’ feast day is the day of his wedding. Most saints’ feast day is the day of their death. So there is something special about how they lived their married life. Their hearts are reserved together in a reliquary in a small chapel in a Switzerland Monastery. And so here are 5 points of advice based on their life. Don’t worry about remembering the 5 points; I have a laminated copy for you to put on your refrigerator door.
- The primary goal of marriage is to get your spouse to heaven (children too). The day before their royal wedding, Charles said to Zita, “Now let’s help each other get into Heaven.” As we know marriage is a sacrament and God grants married couples special graces to fulfill their state in life, aimed at the ultimate destination of Heaven. Not always easy but with God all things are possible. You don’t do it alone.
- Entrust your marriage to God and to the Blessed Mother. We need all the help we can get. On the inside of their rings, Charles and Zita had this inscription “Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix” (“We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God”). Before going on their honeymoon they made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Austria, entrusting their marriage to her. We should never be afraid to ask God and his Mother for help.
- After the wedding day, it is no longer “me,” but “we.” Charles and Zita viewed themselves as a team. They worked together as a royal couple, they worked together in governing the state, they were not afraid to give or ask advice of the other. They both took an active role in raising and educating the children. They took seriously the biblical ideal of “becoming one flesh” in all things.
- Continually fan the flame of love. Charles became emperor during World War I and that meant he had to travel and be away for long periods of time and this pained him a great deal. And so he had a telephone line installed reaching all the way from his military headquarters to the imperial palace. You can do this if you’re the Emperor. He called her many times to stay close to her and the children. Charles’ marriage and family was his top priority.
- Love each other with an everlasting love that endures through any trial. Their love was more than a feeling; it was a choice to love each other, they willed it, they willed the good of the other. After their exile they clung to each other stronger than ever. Charles’ last words to his wife were, “I love you endlessly.”
That’s advice from two saints of the 20th century and now advice from a saint of the 1st century. In our second reading St. Paul also gives us some marriage advice, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” I know that when I was a kid and this reading came up my dad would always elbow my mom, and my mom would just roll her eyes. And to our 21st century ears the word subordinate does sound oppressive, offensive, patriarchal, and just plain old-fashioned. But many theologians will say that this passage is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It looks ferocious on the surface but it is in fact very beautiful on the inside.
St. Paul uses the word subordinate, he doesn’t say obey your husbands, he doesn’t say subject yourselves to your husbands. He says wives subordinate yourselves to your husbands, meaning as someone absolutely equal in dignity to your husband, choose freely to entrust yourself to his loving care, that’s what it means. And then the rest of the passage occupies itself with the husband. The husband is commanded to love, and the original Greek uses the agape form of love. This is a total selfless love. Husbands must love their wives totally and selflessly. The husband must love as Christ loves his Church, not as a boss, not as an oppressive master, and not as one who barks out commands, but loving at Chris loves.
For a husband to love as Christ loves is to take the initiative in being the Chief Servant. Christ handed himself over for his bride the Church. When the groom hands himself over for the bride, it is a joy for her to entrust herself into his loving care.
Marriage just like priesthood is a sacrament of service. When a Harry marries a Sally he should be saying to himself, “I want to serve Sally, like no one else, I want to serve Sally like no one else can, I want to pour my life out for her.” In doing that he will find fulfillment. For everyone, single, married, widowed, priest, sister, all made in the image and likeness of God, when we serve, when we pour ourselves out for the other, we find fulfillment.
If I want happiness I find it and get it in serving. I find happiness by serving. If I go looking for happiness I’ll never find it. Happiness comes from loving and loving looks like laying down our lives. And we never have to do this by ourselves; our Lord gives us the grace to do it. So ask for the grace, we don’t do it by ourselves, stay connected to our Lord.
During Mass, lets beg God to pour out His grace on all our married couples at St. Joseph’s, especially those finding it hard to serve each other.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher Ankley