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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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

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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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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