It’s almost hard to believe that only a hundred years have passed since the death of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor on the Portuguese island of Madeira. To simply list the changes to the world that have taken place since then would be inadequate, failing to capture the magnitude and depth of “the long twentieth century,” its joys and its horrors. For those who view recent events in a historical frame of mind, a mere century is a trifle to be added to the long ages of human existence, but in the real experience of a people, that time has already faded from living memory. So it is incredible that a man who died in obscurity on the periphery of a dying civilization finds such admiration in our troubled time.
One of the cornerstones of a healthy society is a deep appreciation of history. As aptly stated by Blessed Karl’s eldest son and heir, “Those who do not know where they come from do not know where they are heading, for they do not know where they are standing.” As a civilization, we have not only forgotten where we have come from, we are ashamed of where we are standing now. We are ashamed of the industrialization of war, of consumerism, of materialism and hedonism, of politicians who care little or nothing for the people they rule. We despise the present and wallow in its misery to shun the ever-worsening future.
Blessed Karl, who stands as a shining beacon of virtue at the head of the very path we took to get here, did not despise the present, even when he deplored it. It would have been easy for him to embrace his exile comfortably, to give up and give in, to wholly shun the world that had passed him by, and replaced personal relationships of trust with the mass politics of the democratic age. Yet up to his last days on this earth, he sought to ever remain informed about the world around it, to keep abreast of every development in the former Habsburg monarchy, for the sake of peoples who long ago had ceased caring about his fate or the fate of his family. By embracing the duties and labors of the present, he embraced the future, most fully in the education of his children. This duty he continued to fulfill even to the last minutes of his agonizing death, telling Crown Prince Otto to learn how “an Emperor and a Catholic dies.”
It’s easy to say that this death was in vain, that the subsequent wars, whether physical, ideological, or cultural, have demonstrated that the vision of peace that motivated Blessed Karl to be a mere fantasy. Yet by his intercession, that celestial peace is being made real on earth even now, in countless ways we can scarcely imagine. His real presence as a saint of the Church connects us back to a history that began over a thousand years before the turmoils of our present age and will last a thousand more. Through the example of his life and his continued impact on the Faithful of today, we are inspired to take up our duties in the midst of that turmoil, and to continue on where our Peace Emperor has led, to the future that awaits us not only on Earth but in eternity, whatever else may befall us.
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Inspiring post. Lord give us perseverance.
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