Not only is tomorrow our country’s birthday but it is the feast day of our 20th great grandmother, “Mémère” St Elizabeth of Portugal.
Saint Elizabeth saw her role as queen of Portugal as a vocation from God to serve the poor. Much beloved by the people of Portugal, she laid down her crown and joined the Poor Claires after her husband King Dennis (20th great grandfather) died. Sadly, her life filled with intermittent fighting between her husband and her son Alphonso (19th great grandfather) over dynastic succession.
Her prayer card reads in part: “Surrounded by the conflict and strife caused by others, she always sought to be a channel of Your peace. By the integrity of her life, her ceaseless charity and her holy example, she became an instrument of reconciliation and forgiveness.”
Mémère St Elizabeth, however, is no distant, disconnected point of time in the past. We, as her children, are connected to her, physically through family and through the tradition of parental love handed down to us from her in an unbroken chain through the 20 generations to today. Her story hasn’t ended yet because we are her story continued into the 21st century.
Recently, with a mix of awe and Savoie humor, I remarked to Uncle Tom about how cool it was to be discussing philosophy with the nephew of Thomas Aquinas. The point is not to bask in the glory of past family achievements but rather to be humbly reminded that we are part of a larger narrative, that the Savoie story didn’t begin when we were born nor will it end when we die. Take a moment this weekend and see your siblings, children and grandchildren with a new perspective.
Lastly, I would invite all of us to reflect tomorrow on how we like Mémère St Elizabeth can be peacemakers within our own family and to treat our neighbors with ceaseless charity and love.
Post Script: From Uncle Tom
What a wonderful passage! It brought tears to my eyes. I was swept back to our beginnings–growing up surrounded by parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters—some of whom have died and have now taken their place alongside a long line of largely faceless but (I believe) still-involved ancestors.
Nothing happens by accident. It’s as if God knew we were ready, as elders of our family, to be reminded of our important role. We are the keepers of the family wisdom, tradition, religious heritage and tribal stories. God reminds us to embrace that role with each of our families—so that they, too, can truly know, appreciate and pass on ‘the enormity of that sense of belonging, all of us, each to the other.’ As the author stated so eloquently: “we are the human story; we are us; and each new member of the family becomes part of us, and part of God’s plan.”