Today is the memorial of Blessed Charles I of Austria (affectionately called Blessed Karl). Blessed Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Blessed Karl provides a very important model for our times. One might ask how a European King who died in exile in the early twentieth century could be a model for us today? The answer is that Blessed Karl practiced virtues which never go out of style and sought the things we still seek today.
Much good could be said about Blessed Karl–many anecdotes could be told, biographical points considered, and quotes recounted. Allow me to offer three reflections with the headings of family, politics, and faith.
Pope John Paul II said during his homily at the Beatification Mass of Blessed Karl:
The decisive task of Christians consists in seeking, recognizing and following God’s will in all things. The Christian statesman, Charles of Austria, confronted this challenge every day. To his eyes, war appeared as “something appalling”. Amid the tumult of the First World War, he strove to promote the peace initiative of my Predecessor, Benedict XV.
From the beginning, the Emperor Charles conceived of his office as a holy service to his people. His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. For this reason, his thoughts turned to social assistance. May he be an example for all of us, especially for those who have political responsibilities in Europe today!
Blessed Karl models the posture proper to anyone who engages him-or-herself in politics: the seeking of peace. He was the only political leader of his time to support the peace initiative of Pope Benedict XV. Blessed Karl cared for the temporal and spiritual welfare of his people. Historians posit that if Blessed Karl had abdicated he would have been wealthy (he could have remained with property in Austria). Instead of choosing the political expediency of serving himself, he endured poverty and death in exile.
In a time like our’s, when people delay marriage and limit the number of their children, it is good to Blessed Karl as a model for family life. Blessed Karl’s understood the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to help spouses in their sanctification. The day after their wedding, Blessed Karl said to Empress Zita, “Now, we must help each other to get to get to Heaven.” During their eleven years of marriage they were blessed with eight children. Blessed Karl nurtured devotion in his family by consecrating them to the Sacred Heart. The last words of Blessed Karl to his wife Empress Zita were, “I love you, endlessly.”
Blessed Karl died in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Azores. Blessed Karl was conscious nearly until the time he died. This may seem of little significance, but I note it to underline the special grace of being able to prepare for one’s definitive meeting with God in conscious way. Many of the dying, to whose bedsides priests are called, are no longer consciousness (either because of the debilitating ailments or medicinal interventions). Many people might think they can put off coming to terms with their relationship to God until right before the end, but grace builds on nature. If one does not practice the faith while they live, how can the family know to call a priest when they are near death? We should practice the faith with devotion throughout our lives.
We can see the rosary beads intertwined between Blessed Karl’s fingers and the crucifix placed upon his chest. Of themselves the placement of these pious objects is not remarkable, we see them quite frequently at wakes. The supposition, however, is that the person who holds these objects made frequent use of them during their life. For Blessed Karl, this was undoubtedly the case. His passed from this world in the presence of his wife, eldest son, a priest and the Blessed Sacrament. His last words were, “Thy will be done, Jesus, Jesus, come! Yes–yes! My Jesus, as Thou willst, Jesus.”
Throughout his entire life Blessed Karl had special devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Heart. A childhood nanny of his recounted that he liked to play soldier like any boy, but really loved to serve at Holy Mass! If we find Mass boring, it is because we lack faith and devotion. Blessed Karl had both throughout his life. Blessed Karl saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the expression of the love of God–he always carried an image of the Sacred Heart with him.
Check out this article from Crisis Magazine.
For the full account of Blessed Karl’s death, see Death of an Emperor.
Pope John Paul II’s homily at the Mass of Beatification.
Let us pray to Blessed Karl:
O Blessed Emperor Karl, you accepted the difficult tasks and burdensome challenges that God gave you during your life. In every thought, decision and action you trusted always in the Holy Trinity. We pray to you to intercede for us with the Lord our God to give us faith and courage, so that even in the most difficult situations of our earthly lives we may not lose heart, but continue faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.
Ask for us the grace that our hearts may be moulded into the likeness of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Help us to work with compassion and strength for the poor and needy, to fight with courage for peace in our homes and in the world, and in every situation to trustingly place our lives in the hands of God, until we reach Him, as you did, through Christ our Lord.
… and pray for the canonization of Blessed Karl.