Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria

Yesterday we celebrated the memorial of Blessed James (Jakob) Kern o.praem, a priest of our Order (see yesterday’s post). Jakob fought as a soldier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the first of the great wars that ravaged Europe in the last century. Jakob’s patriotism in fighting for his country and his Emperor never obscured his primary allegiance to his Heavenly King. The Emperor that Jakob fought for was himself a great Christian hero who put the Kingdom of Heaven above all things.

Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria was born on 17th August 1887 to Archduke Otto and Princess Maria, members of the Imperial family of Austria-Hungary. Charles was given an exemplary Catholic up-bringing and was assigned a spiritual director, one Father Norbert. With the aid of Father Norbert, Charles was able to make great advance in the spiritual life.  On this day in 1911 Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma and on the night of their wedding Charles told Zita;

“Now we must help each other get to Heaven”

Although Charles was not heir to the throne of the Empire the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 placed Charles in line as heir apparent. With the coming of the Great War Charles was called upon to lead his men in many battles and military exercises. His strong Christian faith informed everything he did, even in war. Charles forbade his soldiers from needless bloodshed and cared much for the welfare of the wounded prisoners. In November 1916 the Emperor Franz Josef died and Charles became Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary. As soon as he became Emperor, Charles immediately began negotiations for peace. Only Emperor Charles accepted the plan for peace of Pope Benedict XV and whilst he worked tirelessly and extensively for peace the other belligerents would not listen.

The end of the war in 1918 also brought the end of Charles’ Austro-Hungarian empire. Charles never abdicated his throne or titles but was deemed a threat by the new government and sent into exile together with his family, first in Switzerland and finally to the distant isle of Madeira. On Madeira the family were reduced to abject poverty and suffered greatly, especially because Charles and Zita were kept from their children for many months.

Charles soon caught pneumonia and ‘flu and became desperately ill. In his illness he offered all his sufferings for the reunion of his people. Resigned to the Holy Will of God and calling up his Lord Charles died on April 1 1922. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. The life of Blessed Charles is not only a great lesson for all who live the Christian life, but in his marriage and family life he is also a great example for Christian families. Blessed Charles’ wife, the Empress Zita has also been recognised as a model of the Christian life and the cause for her eventual canonisation was recently begun, for details click here. Otto von Habsburg, the son of Blessed Charles and the Servant of God Zita has himself borne witness throughout his long life to the inextricable link between the Catholic Faith and European civilisation. Truly Blessed Charles also teaches the value of the Christian family for the transmission of the Faith.

“The life of Emperor Karl is an encouraging example of faith. His beatification gives encouragement to all who feel overtaxed by their duty – and it invites us to use his inherent qualities for the pursuit of peace, freedom and loving responsibility. After a “wasted century” of destruction by the godless ideologies of National Socialism and Bolshevism the peoples of Europe have again the opportunity to seek these aims together. Now it must be considered that the soul of Europe can be revived and inspired anew for this task in the spirit of Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Resistant forces who oppose us requires that we do not despair, but rather asks that we seek yet more earnestly the Will of God and to act in confidence on it. Karl of the House of Austria, who lived out this spirit and gave his life for the betterment and unity of his people, is for us therefore an encouraging example and guardian-patron.” – Cardinal Schönborn

In many of our abbeys in Europe there stand shrines and images of the Blessed Emperor, in recognition of the great veneration in which he has always been held. Through the kindness of the Imperial family our canonry is very blessed to have obtained a relic of Blessed Emperor Charles. May he, together with his loyal subject Blessed Jakob Kern o.praem, obtain for us every spiritual and temporal blessing from the God whom both served so well.

To visit the excellent website of the cause for Blessed Charles’ canonisation please click here.

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