Saving the Best for Last: Blessed Karl I of Austria
The last Hapsburg, Emperor Karl I, inherited the throne of Austria-Hungary after the death of the Emperor Franz Joseph. He inherited his nations' involvement in the First World War and almost immediately secretly tried to arrange a separate peace with France (thus deserting Austria's ally, the Kaiser of Germany). After the war he lost his throne to the infamously unjust peace settlement that eventually led to the Second World War. There was much opposition to his recent beatification among the emerging anti-Christian radicals of the European Union. Father Barreiro, in this sermon delivered in Rome at a Mass of Thanksgiving for Karl's beatification, hints as to why.
In this solemn Mass we raise our gratitude to Christ the King and to the Holy Father for the beatification of the Emperor Karl of Austria. His name is joined to the long column of Holy Kings and Queens, and Saints like Louis, King of France, Ferdinand of Castile and Henry the Emperor who have led Christianity.
Blessed Karl of Austria had great natural and supernatural qualities, first and foremost an enormous sense of responsibility. He made every possible effort for the common good of his reign, i.e. prohibiting the tradition of dueling (even among military officers) and placing severe limits on the popular press that exhibited a corrupting influence. He knew the enormous value of personal witness and the importance of the good example that rulers should give. Once he said to the head of his Chancery: "As an Emperor I have to set the good example. If everyone simply did his Christian duties, we would not have so much hate and misery in the world." He possessed great personal bravery, a great austerity of life, and a supernatural charity already manifested when he was a child. All of these were grounded in a constant prayer life and based on an unshakeable confidence in Divine Providence.
On various occasions during the war, it was noticed how he took upon himself the heavy responsibility of personally ordering so many soldiers into combat. Many times during the First World War and subsequent events surrounding the fall of the Hapsburg Empire, he demonstrated great physical bravery supported by his constant union with God (for the only way to be indifferent to danger is either from madness or a total confidence in God's protection). He demonstrated great skills as a general in many occasions; among these we can mention the containment of the terrible offensive of the Russian General Brusilov in Eastern Galizia in 1916.
His spirituality was dominated by a great confidence in Divine Providence. In a letter to the Holy Father in 1919 he said: "In all my troubles, I have never lost my faith, I have never despaired." In another letter to Cardinal Bisleti he wrote: "I base myself, with patience and with a confidence that no one can destroy, in the help and assistance of the Almighty, to see one day the triumph of my rights, rights that I want to preserve only for the glory of God and for the good of peoples whom the Divine Providence has entrusted to me." He always had a fervent devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the difficult situation in which he found himself in April 1919, he wrote to the Holy Father underlining his confidence that the Sacred Heart would not abandon the country that had been consecrated to Him.
As a child, Karl had had a remarkable prayer life. As he grew up he attended Mass and received Communion every day whenever possible. He was devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He used to set up a chapel in which to expose the Sacrament in every place he dwelt, even during the war when he was with his troops at the front. Before making important decisions, he used to go to the chapel to ask Our Lord's assistance.
He had a deeply Christian attitude regarding marriage and family. Immediately after his ceremony of engagement, he said to his fiancee: "Now we have to help each other in reaching Paradise." In spite of all his military and political commitments, he always kept a personal interest in the education of his children, particularly their religious formation.
He deeply respected the limits that Catholic moral principles imposed in the conduct of military operations. He was completely against unrestricted submarine warfare, as practiced on a large scale by the Germans, because they frequently failed to distinguish between military and civilian targets. He resolutely opposed the bombing of cities and did everything possible to prevent the use of chemical weapons. He was always concerned about the soldiers' material and spiritual welfare, and he was diligent in his attempts to minimize casualties.
The documents of the beatification process indicate that Blessed Karl I held his imperial and regal prerogatives in high regard. He was conscious of having received his power directly from God, and for that reason was firmly convinced that he had to exercise it as scrupulously as possible with a great dedication. Conscious that he ruled by God's grace and not from the will of the people, he totally refused the idea that his authority could be based on a plebiscite or on any other form of democratic consultation. Consequently, he never abdicated. In a letter written to Pope Benedict XV, when he was trying to reestablish his authority in Hungary, he reaffirmed that his cause was the cause of religion and under-lined that both altar and throne were powers of divine institution, both of which were called to work together in order to reestablish and maintain order.
The cause of the beatification of Karl I of Austria is based also on the firmness with which he always rejected any proposal to regain his throne that would have involved compromise with those forces of evil that today prevail everywhere and that are transforming the world into a universal chaos. Presented with unacceptable conditions for reinstatement to the throne, Blessed Karl responded firmly: "[A]s a Catholic Prince . . . I will never accept from Satan what has been given to me by God."
Since the beginning of his reign, he made every possible effort to achieve a peaceful conclusion to the First World War. He stood alone among rulers in welcoming the warnings and the initiatives toward peace offered by Pope Benedict XV. From his first proclamation published the day after he ascended the throne, he announced his will to be a father to his subjects and declared openly that he was animated by a sincere desire for peace (a longing not welcomed by the Kaiser). Blessed Karl sought peace first and foremost because of his devotion to Christian principles, not due to any notion of pacifism. His political savvy brought him to the realization that the continuation of hostilities would be fatal for the survival of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was convinced that both socialism and communism would find a propitious climate in countries torn by war and that in the wake of the ensuing chaos, different nationalist tendencies would reignite and threaten the unity of the Austrian empire.
Blame for the disappearance of Austria-Hungary lay with the republican and anticlerical forces connected to Masonry that totally refused the peace proposals of the Emperor. Their aim was the destruction of the monarchy, because it represented the last Catholic power of importance in the world. Austria-Hungary was considered by these revolutionary forces as the living symbol of the old European civil order: a nation governed by the union of Catholicism and the monarchical principle. Simply put: the revolutionaries were attempting to extend the destructive influence of the French Revolution.
In fact, the subsequent destruction of the Empire opened a political gap, the consequences of which we continue to suffer. Without wishing to be monocausal in our analysis, we can say that it contributed to the rise of the Nazi dictatorship and the Bolshevik Empire. The historical results of those movements are leading toward a Europe that repudiates its Christian roots and runs the risk of being dominated by an Islamic tide.
We rejoice at this beatification because the Church has presented us with an exemplary man who will certainly intercede for us in Heaven. Blessed Karl's beatification also keeps alive the hope that the Lord will send us rulers like him who will restore a traditional Catholic society.
This assertion will appear to some as anachronistic. But we need to consider that the Lord is not a distant God who is indifferent to human history particularly in regard to salvation. He intervenes for the benefit of human societies because man is a social being and needs society's assistance to reach his destiny of eternal glory. But He normally accomplishes this through the human instruments whom he chooses to lead His people. So it is not absurd to expect that the Lord will raise up Catholics of strong faith, filled with natural and supernatural talents, and who command a clear and precise vision of how a nation must be governed in conformity with the Gospel (while respecting the particular traditions of every nation).
These leaders may come from families that for centuries have served their nation, and who have learned by their ancestors that the Catholic notion of authority is first and foremost a service. It is imperative that we pray for the appearance of leaders of such stature, because many graces that God grants are bound to our humble prayers.
This beatification has been opposed by the same forces that have obstructed the beatification of other great men emblematic of the struggle against the heirs of the French Revolution, such as the Blessed Marco D'Aviano, toward whom the Emperor had a deep devotion, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and the Blessed Pius IX. We hope that the Holy Father (or a successor), who summoned the bravery to challenge those forces when he proclaimed those beatifications, will one day, with the same valor, raise to the glory of the altar the most noble of all the queens of the world, Isabel of Castile.
Today we ask the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, to plead for us, so that one day we shall see the restoration of Christian society.
May the Lord be praised.
Father Barreiro is the Director of the Rome Office of Human Life International and a frequent contributor to traditional Catholic publications.
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