St. Elizabeth of Hungary
“The call of God,” observed our visionary founder, Richard Meux Benson, “is continuous, abiding, and progressive. Continuous, because […] the voice of the Spirit never ceases to call us into deeper union. Abiding, because the wisdom of God […] is absorbed into our hearts never to perish. Progressive, because God’s voice will come to us in the future ever new, […] bringing us gifts beyond what we know now.”
While he uses this language to address the earliest members of the SSJE concerning their monastic vocation, I believe his observation holds true for all Christians—indeed, all people—whether called to the monastic life or any other vocation. I also believe, however, that in some instances (if not many instances), the continuous, abiding, and progressive character of God’s call is a person’s life may not necessarily conform to the content of their individual desire.
Whatever the reason—be it the necessity of context or the lack of apparent opportunity—some of us may feel a deep tension between what we have always imagined our vocation to be and the actual shape of our vocational unfolding expressed in the concrete realities of life. I know this has been true for me at several junctures of my life; moments when my own longing did not seem to bear a resemblance to the facts of the life I was living. I’m reminded, particularly, of my rejection from doctoral study, or that “dream job” I thought I wanted at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, which was never offered to me. This incongruity even marked the first months of my postulancy here at SSJE, for I had not yet begun to shed the romantic associations I had with the life into which God had drawn me.
For this reason, Elizabeth of Hungary, thirteenth century princess of Hungary, whom the church remembers today, stands out to me as more than an example of the saintly life for which she came to be known. Yes, all of these aspects of her memory—her deep love of and daily service to the poor and sick, her alms giving, her patronage of hospitals and the Third Order Franciscans—are worthy of our admiration and praise. She was, indeed, as Fr. Kevin Estabrook describes her, “a holy woman, more concerned about the nobility of her soul, than her noble status in the world—more concerned with clothing her soul with virtue, than with the fine garments of a queen—a holy, virtuous woman, industrious in doing good works.” Here was a woman whose “treasure” was where her heart had been drawn—into union with God.
Yet, behind all of this great and heavenly treasure, stood a woman whose vocation did not seem to conform to her deeper desires. Necessity and custom had seen her betrothed from age 3, and while she and her husband enjoyed an unusually happy marriage before his untimely death, she nonetheless yearned to live a life given over to prayer and service in a community, such as the (then novel) Franciscans.
God comes to us where we are. God’s call meets us in the concrete realities of life. Not where we think we should be; but where we actually are. And if we hold our vocational aspirations lightly, I believe that, like Blessed Elizabeth of Hungary, our treasure too will be where our heart is.
 Richard Meux Benson, SSJE, Chapter 4, The Religious Vocation (London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray and Co., 1939), 69—78.
 Note: the preacher mistakenly attributes this to a different author during the oral delivery of this homily.
One of the things which fascinates me about the saints is that often those things for which they are most remembered and venerated, probably never happened. We keep today the feast of St. James and John the Apostles. As you know, James is remembered in parts of the Church as the one who first preached the Good News of the Gospel in Spain. It would appear that today only Spaniards believe this, for the earliest accounts of St. James’ travels to Spain only goes back to the seventh century. Truth, at least of the historical kind, seems to be unimportant when it comes to devotion to James, for even today his shrine in Spain continues to be one of the great places of pilgrimage in the Church.
According to that story, sometime after Pentecost, James travelled to Spain to preach the gospel. So far so good. But it gets better. While he was there, the Virgin appeared to him on the banks of the Ebro River, and commanded him to return to Jerusalem, where he faced his martyrdom. This apparition of Mary, known as Our Lady of the Pillar, is the first apparition of the Virgin, in a long series that includes Lourdes, Fatima, and Walsingham. But it gets better. Mary is presumed to have been living in Jerusalem at the time, so this was not so much an apparition, as it was an act of bilocation. Curiously, or not, some of the earliest archaeological evidence of devotion to Mary in Spain, dates to the fourth century, not far from where this apparition is said to have taken place. Another story of James’ martyrdom is that his accuser immediately repented and suffered the same fate as James. Following his death his body was transferred by to Spain, either by angels, or floating in a stone boat.
Matthew mentions a handful of women in his genealogy of Christ. This is odd. If he was following the convention of the time, which held that descent, inheritance, and “Jewishness” were passed down the male line, he wouldn’t have needed to include any women. But if he was attempting to give a holistic family tree, the few women he does mention are wildly insufficient. So what’s he doing?
I think each time he does this, it’s to point out something surprising about the relationship in question. Tamar is the first mentioned; she, having survived two husbands who God struck down for their sins, was regarded as cursed, and was ostracized from her family; through cunning deceit, including deliberately getting her father-in-law to impregnate her under the guise of being a prostitute, she proved that she was being mistreated, and so acquired for herself the security and status of marriage, bearing sons to a husband who was not struck down for his sins. Rahab is mentioned after her; she was a Canaanite, and quite possibly a prostitute or the owner of a brothel. Yet, she was also regarded as a holy and righteous woman, without whom the Israelites could not have conquered Jericho. Ruth is next; she was a Moabite, a member of a nation normally in conflict with the Israelites, but she demonstrated her faithfulness to God so strongly that an entire book of the Old Testament is named for her. And then there is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah; King David committed adultery with her, and then had Uriah murdered to cover up the subsequent pregnancy.
I don’t think I’d be too off base if I were to say that generally we Episcopalians don’t care for surprises. We pride ourselves on the order of our liturgies, can tell you what scripture we’ll read on any particular Sunday (thanks to a well ordered lectionary), and have a committee and/or guild for just about every function of the church. That being said, today’s gospel reminds me of a story about a particular Sunday surprise in my hometown parish church.