On this day, the Catholic Church, and especially members of the Franciscan family, celebrate the life of St. Anthony of Padua.
In many Franciscan parishes, chapels and shrines; the friars will be distributing “St. Anthony’s Bread.” It a practice of charity, harkening back to a time when bread was actually distributed to the poor and hungry. One legend has it that a French cloth merchant could not get into her shop, because of a broken lock. She asked for help and intercession of St. Anthony, promising to give bread to the poor, in return. The lock miraculously opened, the shop was in business, and woman made good on her promise.
Since that time, Franciscan friary distribute small, blessed loaves of bread to people, as a reminder that as they receive blessings from God, they are to share it with those in need, for the love of God.
Today, November 17th, Franciscans around the world, but especially Secular Franciscans, will celebrate the memory of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. With St. Louis IX of France, she is Co-Patron Saint of the Secular Franciscan Order.
Born in Hungary, in 1207, she went to the German territory of Thuringia, to become the wife of its ruler, Louis. Together they would have four children. She would become well known for her acts of charity to the poor, establishing a hospital for the ill; and food for her poor subjects. Her husband would die from illness, while he was traveling to join an Imperial Crusade to the Holy Land. Court intrigue forced Elizabeth, with some of her children, to abandon the capital city, and flee. In a smaller, poorer city, she took residence and continued her service to the poor. Influenced by the recent arrival of Franciscan friars, she took one of them as her spiritual advisor. She would eventually become a Franciscan penitent. She would also eventually die relatively young.
St. Elizabeth can be, in fact, is a counter cultural example for our modern times. With our fascination with the rich and famous. With a minority of people controlling the majority of wealth in our country; to hear of a young, energetic woman willingly give up her riches for the poor, should shake our complacency. How best can we answer Christ’s command to feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; welcome the stranger. And what opportunities have we missed to do so?
Through the intercession of St. Elizabeth, may our eyes and hearts be open to those in need.