Sometimes it is hard to believe that saints were once flesh and blood: So often we see church statues of the blessed that look unreal. Harder still is it to recall that some of these saints had children and that today their descendants are living, breathing men and women. St. Gianna Molla is one such example.

His Imperial Royal Highness Imre von Habsburg-Lothringen, archduke of Austria, is the great-grandson of the last emperor and king of Austria-Hungary, Blessed Karl (1887-1922), and his wife, Servant of God Empress Zita (1892-1989). So how does it feel to have a Blessed in the family? 

“Holiness is unfortunately not hereditary!” replied Archduke Imre, speaking to the Register Oct. 15 from his home in Switzerland just a few days before the feast day of Blessed Karl (or Charles) on Oct. 21. “Many of us surely have holy ancestors, but some are indeed more well-known than others. That said, Karl and Zita have been an inspiration for me and a model to strive for in my marriage, trying to become a better husband and father.” 

Interestingly, Archduke Imre’s U.S.-born wife, Kathleen, had developed a devotion to Zita — whose cause for canonization is also underway — long before meeting her future husband. In fact, the young Kathleen had entrusted her future vocation to Zita, unaware that she would end up marrying Zita’s great-grandson. More providentially, Archduke Imre and Kathleen met and were married in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21, 2010, the feast day of the archduke’s great-grandfather. “Needless to say, Karl and Zita are still very active from above!” observed Imre. “They are an inspiration for our marriage.” 

Blessed Karl and Zita were an especially united couple. What does their witness have to say to the modern world? 

“Their marriage was their strength throughout all the difficulties they had to endure,” said Archduke Imre. “Shortly before their wedding, Blessed Karl said to Zita this striking phrase: ‘Now we need to help each other get to heaven.’ This shows that they understood that marriage is a vocation and a path to that holiness to which we are all called, despite our sins and weaknesses.”

He went on to explain how Karl and Zita gave themselves to each other totally, always trying to be “respectful to each other, to constantly look for the other’s interest, to be open to life, to pray together.” Prayer was key to the family life of this exceptional couple, he said. 

“They were praying a lot as a family,” he added, “before lunches and dinners, before bed with their children [the couple were to have eight in total], and long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament during the exile when Blessed Karl had more time.” 

In 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified Karl and chose his feast day. As Archduke Imre points out, “This was not his death day [April 1] or his birthday [Aug. 17], but his wedding day. The Pope clearly understood that Blessed Karl, together with his wife, Zita, had a message to deliver on how to live a fruitful and virtuous marriage. I think their life and the way they lived it is of ongoing significance for today, as the institution of marriage is so often under attack as we try to redefine what it means, attempting to destroy the very first cell of our society, the place where faith, values and citizenship is passed on through education.”

Read more at National Catholic Register

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