Friday, 8 June 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (10)

Those who read my reflections on this year's Chartres pilgrimage will recall that Jamie Bogle gave us a talk on Blessed Charles; he was also the patron of the third day of the pilgrimage; and this is the official meditation on his life and legacy.

Blessed Charles of Austria, Emperor of Peace (1887 -1922)

I. Introduction

Dear Pilgrims, 
"If you want to forge a straight furrow, then hitch your plough to a star!"

The saints are our stars. They guide us from Heaven on the narrow path of Christian perfection. The Church reminds us of this daily in the liturgy. Just read over and reflect on the many prayers in the missal in honour of the saints.

Our star today is Blessed Charles of Austria, Emperor of Peace. The Church has given him to us, as:

  • A modern sovereign who was aware of his responsibilities, and 
  • An intercessor who is a model of a Catholic husband and father, so necessary today in this time of moral decay and the corruption of marriage and the family.

Let us consider Charles’ holy life in three acts and an epilogue.

The 3 acts

• 1887 - 1914: Charles’ birth and youth. 
• 1914 - 1918: Charles’ turning point.
• 1918 - 1922: Charles’ final days

• 1949 - 2004: Charles’ epilogue and triumph.

1887 - 1914: Charles’
early years
1887: Charles was born at the castle of Persenberg, in Austria... Under the watchful eye of his mother Maria Josefa, Charles lived to the full the maxim of Saint Paul; "The exercise of the body is somewhat useful. But piety is useful in all things as it holds the promise of eternal life!"

And you, pilgrim friend? Do you love and frequent the Mass? Charles assisted at Mass every day.
What is your attitude before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar? Charles encountered Him daily in communion and adoration.

Do you pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary? Charles prayed the rosary every day just as she asked us to. He also greeted her three times a day with the Angelus.

Do you meet the merciful Christ in the sacrament of confession? Charles examined his conscience daily and went to confession weekly.

Are you looking for a life free of contradictions, a life where all your actions, even ordinary every day actions are undertaken with the same spirit? Do you avoid excess and addictions? Are you enslaved to modern technology? Through his offering of each day, Charles received from God all that was necessary for his body, and he asked that God make use of him for the greater good.

After his studies at the University of Prague, Charles became an officer in the cavalry. In 1911 he married Princess Zita of Bourbon Parma; their marriage was one of mutual faith, love and piety. Their ultimate aim was clear from the beginning: "Now we must help each other to get to Heaven!" God crowned their marriage with eight children. Throughout their lives together Charles and Zita encouraged each other unceasingly with a devout and lively faith, they "loved each other in God."

1914 - 1918: Charles’ turning point
On 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated! Charles’ destiny, and that of his empire, Europe and the world, was turned upside down. He was now the heir to the imperial throne... On 21 November 1916 he acceded to power. Charles was a pragmatic man, and he knew that his country could not win the war – he wanted to stop the conflict in an honourable manner. However, how could he, on the one hand, reform the monarchy and improve conditions for the Slavs, and on the other hand, make peace with his current adversaries?

"He who attempts nothing.... has nothing!" Charles launched secret negotiations to obtain a separate peace; his was the only response to Pope Benedict XV’s call for peace. Tragically however, he was betrayed by Clemenceau who made the negotiations public. Charles was now stuck between the fury of the enemies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were bent on its destruction, and the spirit of all-out war which had consumed his own allies. In November 1918, as predicted, the Austro-Hungarians and their allies were decisively defeated. After the armistice Emperor Charles and Zita left for exile.

1918 - 1922: Charles’ final years
So it was in 1918 that the imperial Royal family’s exile began. It was a period of trial and tribulation similar to that of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family. After two unsuccessful attempts at being restored to the throne, Charles and Zita were placed under house arrest on the Island of Madeira. It was the middle of winter and the house that had been lent to them was cold and damp. By springtime Emperor Charles had fallen fatally ill. On the 1st April 1922 he called his oldest son, the Archduke Otto, to his bedside, “that he would see how a Christian returns to his Creator.” After four hours of agony, Charles gave his soul to God. He was 34 years old. His final two acts had been to forgive his enemies and to offer his sufferings for others - for his own family, for his own peoples and, for the biggest family God had entrusted to him - his empire.

1949 - 2004: Charles’ epilogue and triumph
In 1949, the Church began the investigation into Charles’ life and virtues. Pope John Paul II had been baptised with the Christian name, Charles (Karol) because of his father’s admiration for Emperor Charles of Austria, and it was this Pope who ensured that the investigation was carried through. He declared Charles Blessed in 2004; "His chief concern was to follow his Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. May he be an example for all of us, especially those who have political responsibilities in Europe today.” The message is clear: holiness is a personal ideal certainly... but not selfish nor individualistic.

Blessed Charles of Austria, be our role model on earth and our ally in Heaven !
Help married and engaged couples to live out their marriages as means to their own salvation and to that of their spouse.
Help the Church authorities and the civil authorities "to watch over law, justice and peace for the good of God’s Church and those people entrusted to it."
Help political decision makers to search for and promote a fair and just peace within nations and between nations.
Help us, in particular us men, to maintain a deep and virile piety which is free of human respect and for the greater honour of God !

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