Raising Daughters Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a Disney Princess World

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 as the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While still a young child, Elizabeth was betrothed to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who was a German nobleman. She was sent to the court of Landgrave of Thuringia to receive her education at 4 years of age. During that time her mother was murdered and Elizabeth turned to ardent prayer in order to find peace and hope.

Elizabeth married Ludwig IV in 1221. She deeply loved her husband and the couple had three children. Two became members of the nobility while the third entered into religious life and became the abbess of a German convent. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth was deeply dedicated to prayer and charity towards the poor. Her husband supported her religious work. She lived a simple life of penance in devotion to works of charity. She used the abundant blessings God had given her as royalty to serve others in charity.

St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the Franciscan friars who arrived in her kingdom around 1223. She took up their austere practices in dressing simply and feeding hundreds of the poor bread daily. Both she and her husband were known for their great dedication to the poor in their kingdom. Elizabeth also treated the sick when illness ravaged the kingdom. Her husband was struck with an illness and died in 1227. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to celibacy and lived a life mirrored after a nun. She spent the rest of her days in ardent love and service of God and neighbor. She died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231.

St. Elizabeth is one of many saints who was a member of royalty. Most parents of daughters discover very quickly the female fascination with princesses and queens. Disney has spent decades marketing off of this interest among young girls. Beauty, gowns, crowns, princes, and castles dazzle young girls as they twirl around their homes decked out in their finest. I remember being quite astonished at how quickly my daughter became enamored with Disney princesses at 2 years of age and she still is to some extent at 5 years old.

As a Catholic mother, I would watch Disney movies with a keen eye and notice the failings of such stories. This is a dramatic shift form my own childhood desire to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It isn’t that they are inherently bad, although they can create ideals largely at odds with a Catholic worldview. I was struck by their superficiality and, unfortunately, parents have to be on guard these days as secular norms slowly make their way into Disney productions.

What I find wanting in these movies is the lack of authentic heroism and role models. My job is to lead my daughter to Heaven and show her the path to sainthood. I have no problem with her interest with beauty, royalty, married love, or fights of good versus evil, but I would rather my daughter want to emulate the saints over Elsa.  Let’s be honest, “Let it Go” is the rallying cry of the “dictatorship of relativism”. There are some lessons within the culture that we must either abandon or frame in the Catholic understanding. The Church has always adopted beauty from the culture, but through a Catholic understanding and context in order to point the world towards the Most Holy Trinity.

Married love is not the meaning of life.

Romance and married love are inherent goods. Marriage is a Sacrament of the Church and a tremendous blessing from God, but it is not the meaning or end to our lives. Marriage is a reflection of the communion of the Divine Persons and the self-giving love within the Most Holy Trinity. We are called into marriage to live in a communal self-giving love in order to become saints. Marriage helps us to become conformed to the Most Holy Trinity. We are called to lead our spouses and children to Heaven. That is the purpose of marriage and the meaning of life. We are not fulfilled by our spouses, but they strengthen, guide, teach, and lead us to God. Our ultimate happiness dwells in God, not our spouse. Our spouse and children teach us how to love, sacrifice, and detach from worldliness so that we can become like Christ.

We live in a culture that puts an inordinate and unhealthy emphasis on marriage. These ideals are largely predicated upon good feelings and once those feelings evaporate or life gets difficult divorce strikes. Our culture spreads the lie that other human beings are for our use and once that use is fulfilled then it is time to move on to another. Our partner is supposed to make us feel good all of the time and we must always be happy in marriage; never mind that life oftentimes points us towards the Cross. Authentic love is grounded in Christ and the understanding that love is “to will the good of other, as other”, to quote St. Thomas Aquinas. Love is to will good–not necessarily constant happiness or good feelings–the holiness or sanctity of our spouse. Love is a mixture of joy, happiness, sorrow, agony, and pain. Marriage oftentimes leads us to the foot of the Cross.

Disney princesses do often point towards the good of marriage, but in way that implies romantic love is the meaning of life. Not to mention that the words “And they lived happily ever after” is an oversimplification of married life. It gives our daughters a false understanding of marriage and happiness. Love is sacrifice, work, and a holy endeavor. It is filled with joys and sorrows. In marriage, we must be firmly rooted in Christ and our mission of holiness. This is why the example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary is perfect for Catholic daughters enamored with the princess ideal. She lived married life to its fullest, but God always took precedence over everything else in her life.

Charity and sacrifice are the hallmarks of a saint.

St. Elizabeth was royalty. She had a position of power, beauty, and prestige in ruling alongside her husband and the other rulers of her kingdom, but she lived the radical call of Christ. The example of St. Elizabeth turns the Disney understanding on its head. She had everything a young girl could possibly dream of, but she knew that all she had came from God. She took her position of power and rather than sit in her castle with her attendants, she went out to the poor and delivered food for them daily. She devoted long hours to prayer. She lived the life of a Christian disciple, even in a position of privilege.

She is an example to our daughters of what truly matters in this life. We are given gifts, goods, and money for our own comfort, but in reality, these must always be ordered to the common good, not purely our ease. Once our basic needs are met, we are called to serve others and give away our abundance. We are stewards of our wealth and St. Elizabeth shows us how to be a good steward. In a culture consumed with materialism, St. Elizabeth shows our daughters how to live a life of detachment, even while surrounded by riches and abundance. St. Elizabeth is an example to a culture of decadence on what it means to follow Christ. She points our daughters towards the real meaning of their lives: sainthood.

The necessity of prayer.

In all of her work with the poor and in service of her kingdom, St. Elizabeth remained centered in prayer. It is impossible to be a disciple of Christ without prayer. The same goes for our daughters. There is no mention of prayer or God in Disney movies, which is to be expected since they are secular in nature, but it is to miss the most important task of any young woman. To show our daughters the beauty of a real princess, there must be an emphasis in prayer. Holiness is beautiful in nature and holiness begins in prayer. Rather than point strictly to the beauty, romantic love, and feminism of Disney movies, we can show our children authentic beauty through a life of holiness; a live devoted to Christ. A princess is fully alive when she lives as Christ lived.

My daughter has gone through her Disney phase, but I found myself wanting more for her as her mother. I wanted her to befriend the royal members of the Communion of Saints; to see what real beauty, love, and service looks like. We have a difficult task given to us in parenthood. We live in a world where seemingly endless forces grapple for the hearts and minds of our children. We are constantly trying to help them fix their gaze on Christ, while we battle our own weaknesses and try to stay focused on Christ.

One of the ways we help our daughters on the path to holiness is by turning them towards true heroines and princesses to guide them on the journey. The Communion of Saints is full of men and women who are fully alive in Christ in Heaven and long to be our friends and guides towards the Beatific Vision. We must introduce our daughters and sons to these men and women at an early age, so that life-long friendships can develop. Our children need all of the help they can get in a Fallen world. In a world of Disney princesses, let’s help our daughters to be like St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Let’s help our daughters to become saints.

image: St Elizabeth of Hungary by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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  • Megan Arama

    I enjoyed reading your article, and I too share your love of St. Elizabeth. Her beautiful mosaic in Wartburg castle in Germany is one of the many reasons I am Catholic. I also have a daughter, although she is really young, I hope to teach her about the communion of Saints like St. Elizabeth and the magic of Disney princesses. Recently, I have drove into G.K. Chesterton work Orthodoxy and his perspective on fairytales is very interesting. He explains how in Fairyland there is a certain structure or law that is also magical. He goes on to say how it activates the imagination and allows children to believe in impossible things. Later, this in turn, can help them to believe in miracles of God. In addition, he believes if you are going to question characters like Elsa and their motives, you should also question the fact she can make an ice castle by having magical ice come out of her finger tips. If you are going to question Cinderella’s need to marry her prince charming, you should also question the fact she arrives at his castle in a magical pumpkin with mice drivers. As Catholic moms I believe we need to teacher our daughters about real Saints who lived, but I also believe that we need to teach our girls about the magic of fairytales and happy endings. Your daughter will find out soon enough that life is not easy and you have to make sacrifices and that the road to sainthood is not an easy road, but I would assume that you want to teach her that sometimes, not all the time of course, it is ok to enjoy a dance around a room in a beautiful dress with someone you love.

  • Constance

    I agree to a certain extent, except that Frozen overtly supports the dictatorship of relativism and has a subtle but noticeable nod to the gay agenda. No, I am not going to teach my daughter to “Let it Go” when I study relativism as a graduate theology student and see what that philosophy–along with nihilism–is doing to future generations. As a mother, it is my job to protect my child from those who desire to take her away from the Faith. The list of those clamoring for her heart and mind is long. She will confront those realities of our culture when she is older and mature enough to understand them. I will be arming her with the philosophy and theology necessary to confront those forces when she is older. For now she is learning the absolute necessity of prayer, daily Mass attendance, and that while superheroes and princesses are fun and make-believe is a gift, our purpose in life is to be a saint.

    I am not anti-fairy tales. I am a Chesterton fan–not to mention Lewis and Tolkien–and I highly doubt he meant the Disney version of what passes for fairy tales these days. The imaginations of Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien were formed by more brilliant and even grotesque fairy tales than the Disney versions. A reading of Hans Christian Anderson and the like shows the often superficial re-telling done by Disney.

    My daughter still wears beautiful dresses, but in our culture there is an overemphasis on Disney (not to mention the blindness to their agenda which is counter to our Faith) over the saints. That’s the point of this piece. Thanks for reading. Pax.

  • Megan Arama

    I really appreciate you writing me back! I do admit my defense of Disney comes from a bias place, but I liked hearing your thoughts about fairytales and your thoughtful motivation to raise your daughter in the Catholic faith. Our culture needs determined parents like yourself.

  • Constance

    Thanks for sharing! A lot of my concerns come from Disney’s current agenda (parents really need to start paying attention), but also because Catholics have a great cloud of witnesses to tap into in the Communion of Saints. Princesses are fine and good, but if they are an obsession or if they come at the cost of teaching our children holiness, then I opt out. I saw my daughter become obsessed with it and the minute I took the movies out of circulation she stopped being obsessed with buying Disney items and she began to show interest in the princesses in the Communion of Saints. There is a very materialistic side to Disney that I didn’t even touch upon in this piece.

    It is hard for young children to get past what they see, so it takes some imaginative approaches to draw them into their friends in the Faith. We still read fairy tales and play make-believe, but she is better balanced now. She can be a princess, but rather than be Cinderella, she wants to be more like Mary or St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She wants to be a superhero, but like St. Joan of Arc. Children do not see the distinction between TV and reality. We are their guides. We have a small window of opportunity to help them take the heroes of our culture and show them true heroism in becoming a saint. I found a way to incorporate her enjoyment of PJ Masks with heroic virtue and her desire to be a princess with loving Mary. That is why I slowly try to live the liturgical year, so she comes to know her real friends in Heaven. I am happy to see her pretend to be a princess, as long as I don’t see it interfering with her development in the Faith. That is what I saw and it caused me concern, so I pulled way back on it. We don’t even watch the newer Disney or other animated movies because she is 5 and doesn’t need to indoctrinated into the gay and transgender agendas. She will confront those issues in our culture soon enough, but not now.

  • Constance

    We do watch the newest Cinderella. I thought it was well done and I was able to explain some of the Catholic dimensions of the original fairy tale in a way the animated version does not touch upon. I’ve been a Kenneth Branagh fan for years.

  • Constance

    Princesses–as long as they are not used to indoctrinate our children into immorality–are a good. All of the material world is good since it has been created by God. Fairy tales are a good, but eventually in the spiritual life we must ascend to greater goods. Princesses depicted in popular culture are not saints. In order for our daughters and ourselves to grow in holiness, we must reach higher and look to greater examples of the good, the beautiful, and the true. St. Elizabeth of Hungary is a *greater* good, and exemplar, of the meaning of our lives which is to be a saint, Cinderella is not. Our daughters may begin with Belle, Aurora, and Cinderella, but they must ascend higher to the likes of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Joan of Arc, and most especially Our Heavenly Mother. Our daughters must become the saint God has destined them to become.

    I want my daughter to become a saint, so while she can begin to learn some goods and virtues from princesses, she must turn fully to God, guided by the saints who pave the way for us. The danger in our culture is to never progress past the princess onto the saint. Goods are always meant to point us to God. Does Disney point most of our daughters to God in a tangible and meaningful way? I’d argue they can show the good, the beautiful, and some truth, but they are not examples of holiness. Holiness means living joy and sorrow in light of the Cross and the “happily ever after” isn’t fully won until we stand before Our Lord and hear “well done they good and faithful servant.”

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