The family and faith of Blessed Karl and Zita

Last Friday, the feast of the Holy Rosary, saw the opening webinar at the Family and Life Academy. People from over 20 countries assembled on the platform to watch, listen and put questions to His Excellency Eduard Habsburg, ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See, in an inspiring webinar on his holy kinsman and kinswoman, Blessed Karl and Servant of God Zita von Habsburg — “a giant of the faith, who married a giant of the faith”.

In this intimate look at two young Catholic spouses, parents and heads of state, their great-great-nephew revealed that, “on the eve of their wedding, Karl told Zita, ‘Now we must help each other attain Heaven!’ … If there ever was a better and more wonderful definition of what Christian married life is, I don’t know it.”

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La petite fleur and Archimedes

Is it not in prayer that the likes of Saint Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas, Francis, Dominic and innumerable other illustrious friends of God have drawn this divine learning, which ravished the greatest geniuses? A savant said, “Give me a lever and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” What Archimedes was not able to obtain, because his request was not addressed to God and was only made from the material point of view, the saints obtained it in all its plenitude. The Almighty gave them for a fulcrum HIMSELF and HIM ALONE; for a leaver, prayer, which burns with the fire of love — and it is thus that they moved the world; it is thus that the saints still in the world move it and thus that, until the end of the world, the saints to come will move it also.

St Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, End of manuscript C

Prayer to your guardian angel

Angel of God's light, whom God sends
as a companion for me on earth,
protect me from the snares of the devil,
and help me to walk always
as a child of God, my Creator.

Angel of God's truth, whose
perfect knowledge serves what is true,
protect me from deceits and temptations.
Help me to know the truth,
and always to live the truth.

Angel of God's love, who praises
Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
who sacrificed His life for love of us,
sustain me as I learn the ways
of Divine love, of sacrificial generosity,
of meekness and lowliness of heart.

Thank You, my heavenly friend,
for your watchful care.
At the moment of my death,
bring me to heaven, where the one true God,
Who is light, truth and love,
lives and reigns forever and ever.


St Jerome (c. 347–420)

Patron of scholars and students

One of the four Doctors of the Latin Church, and probably the greatest biblical scholar in history after Origen, St Jerome was born to a pagan family in Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia) and distinguished himself early as a man of letters. Jerome soon became convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, but remained powerless to lift himself by his own strength to make a profession of faith. Trying to read the scriptures, he would quickly put them aside for the works of pagan writers such as Ovid and Cicero, for whom he had a reverential preference.

The decisive moment came when he dreamt that he stood before the judgement seat of God, Who was ready to condemn him to an eternity in Hell for his obstinacy in sin and error. The terrified Jerome heard all the angels and saints in Heaven imploring the Almighty, by the merits of His divine Son, to give the poor sinner a little more time to repent. Their prayer was granted.

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“Better the love of God than knowledge or disputation”

In all things that we work or think, be we more taking heed to the love of God than to knowledge or disputation. Love truly delights the soul and makes conscience sweet, drawing it from love of lusty things here beneath, and from desire of man’s own excellence. Knowledge without charity builds not to endless health but puffs up to most wretched undoing.

… Wherefore let us seek rather that the love of Christ burn within us than that we take heed to unprofitable disputation. Whiles truly we take heed to unmannerly seeking, we feel not the sweetness of the eternal savour. Wherefore many now so mickle savour in the burning of knowledge and not of love, that plainly they know not what love is, or of what savour; although the labour of all their study ought to spread unto this end, that they might burn in the love of God.

Bl Richard Rolle (c. 1300–1349), The Fire of Love, chapter 5

Ante studium

Prayer before study by St Thomas Aquinas

O Infinite Creator, Who of the riches of Thy wisdom
didst appoint three hierarchies of Angels
and didst set them in wondrous order over the highest heavens,
and Who didst apportion the elements of the world most wisely:
do Thou, Who art in truth the fountain of light and wisdom,
deign to shed upon the darkness of my understanding
the rays of Thine infinite brightness, and remove far from me
the twofold darkness in which I was born, namely, sin and ignorance.
Do Thou, Who givest speech to the tongues of little children,
instruct my tongue and pour into my lips the grace of Thy benediction.
Give me keenness of apprehension, capacity for remembering,
method and ease in learning, insight in interpretation,
and copious eloquence in speech.
Instruct my beginning, direct my progress,
and set Thy seal upon the finished work,
Thou, Who art true God and true Man,
Who livest and reignest world without end.


Saint Joseph of Cupertino (1603–1663)

Patron of students and those with learning difficulties

Giuseppe Maria Desa is a saint whose religious life seems to have been one continuous miracle — not only because of his charismata, which manifested God's power to the faithful and converted many hearts, but also because of the ordinary action of sanctifying grace. It was the latter which transformed an apparently obstinate and bad-tempered neapolitan peasant, who seemed to be endowed with the very minimum of intellectual gifts, into a meek and joyful friar, armed with an invincible patience and humility — and even a certain erudition.

Rejected once from the Franciscan order, he was accepted as a servant in another friary, where his whole character underwent a mysterious conversion, characterised by a divine meekness which contrasted with the anger often elicited from those charged with instructing him. Despite his apparent inability to learn or remember anything, which did indeed make his instructors' task rather thankless, and his slack-jawed and abent-minded mien (which did not make their task any easier), he was able recall the Gospel of St Luke through and through — a gift which he could apply to conveying the essential truths of the faith with simplicity and clarity to virtually anyone. This would prove to be the key to his success in clerical studies and, soon, to his ordination to the priesthood.

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Build your own memory mansion (1)

The power of memorisation is something which has been woefully neglected in modern education, but which forms the core both of the education of antiquity and of the perennial catechetical discipline of the Church. In the ancient world, the importance of memory was extolled by Simonides, Aristotle and Cicero; and in the Christian world, by St Augustine, St Albert the Great and St Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas goes as far as to associate memory with the practice of virtue — specifically the virtue of prudence. 

It is also an admirable and longstanding discipline in the Church to have children and catechumens commit the whole catechism to memory. Catechisms designed for this purpose are ordered into short, unambiguously phrased questions and concise answers, not only as an important aid for memorisation, but in order to convey the truths of the faith as simply and precisely as possible — building up a strong spiritual edifice, as it were, brick by brick.

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St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Patron of scholars

Called the "Angelic doctor", St Thomas Aquinas had one of the most naturally gifted minds in history. Held captive by his own family, who objected to his vocation as a poor friar, the young St Thomas passed the time in solitude, committing the whole of sacred Scripture to memory. Once entered into the Order of preachers, his cumbersome and reticent exterior earned him the nickname “dumb ox” from his peers. But once his gifts were unveiled, they could not be kept under a bushel, and were soon applied to leading the vanguard of the aristotelian revival and the defence of the faith at the University of Paris, with his mentor, St Albert the Great. 

Not content merely to win debates on his own terms, St Thomas pushed philosophical integrity to its full rigour, proposing many objections to his own arguments, becoming renowned for being able to present his opponents’ positions better than they could themselves. To this day, opponents of Thomism scour his own objections for arguments to use against him!

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A traditional formula of prayer before and after study

Before study

Come, Holy Ghost,
fill the hearts of Thy faithful 
and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

℣. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created;
℟. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.
O God, who didst instruct the hearts of Thy faithful 
by the light of Thy Holy Ghost, 
grant that by the same Spirit 
we may be truly wise
and ever rejoice in His consolation. 
Through Christ our Lord.


Hail Mary

℣. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, loved and adored;
℟. May the Immaculate Heart of Mary be praised, loved and blessed.


After study

℣. Our help is in the name of the Lord;
℟. Who made heaven and earth.