Who was Elizabeth of the Trinity? The story behind a new saint
my source: Catholic News Agency
Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity
Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity.
By Carl Bunderson
Vatican City, Jun 21, 2016 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has announced the canonization date of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of the 20th century who will be formally recognzied as a saint October 16.
In March, the Pope had acknowledged a miracle worked through the intercession of Blessed Elizabeth, paving the way for her canonization.
“The Lord has chosen to answer her prayers for us…before she died, when she was suffering with Addison's disease, she wrote that it would increase her joy in heaven if people ask for her help,” said Dr. Anthony Lilles, academic dean of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.
Lilles earned his doctorate in spiritual theology at Rome's Angelicum writing a dissertation on Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity.
“If her friends ask for her help it would increase her joy in heaven: so it increases Elizabeth's joy when you ask her to pray for your needs,” he told CNA. "That's the first reason (to have devotion to her): the Church has recognized the power of her intercession."
Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city's Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, 'I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.' That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.”
...it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.
“Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.”
Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn't enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.”
She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison's disease.
Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make.
Cardinal Albert Decourtray, who was Bishop of Dijon from 1974 to 1981, was cured of cancer through Bl. Elizabeth's intercession – a miracle that allowed her beatification in 1984.
The healing acknowledged by Pope Francis March 4 was that of Marie-Paul Stevens, a Belgian woman who had Sjögren's syndrome, a glandular disease.
In 2002 Stevens “had asked Bl. Elizabeth to help her manage the extreme discomforts of the pathology she had, and in thanksgiving, because she felt like she had received graces … she travelled to the Carmelite monastery just outside Dijon,” Lilles said. “And when she got to the monastery, she was completely healed.”
Lilles added that a second reason to have devotion to Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity is because she died “believing that she had a spiritual mission to help lead souls to a deeper encounter with Christ Jesus.”
“You could call it contemplative prayer, or even mystical prayer. She said her mission was to lead souls out of themselves and into a great silence, where God could imprint himself in them, on their souls, so that they became more God-like.”
In prayer, he said, “we make space for (God) to transform us more fully into the image and likeness he intended us to become, but which sin has marred. Contemplative prayer is a means towards this transformation, and Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity believed before she died that her spiritual mission would be to help souls enter into that kind of transformative, contemplative prayer, where they could become saints.”
She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord.
During her time in the Carmel of Dijon, Bl. Elizabeth found encouragement from the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, particularly her “Offering to Merciful Love,” a prayer found in Story of a Soul, Lilles said: “You find references to the Offering to Merciful Love throughout the writings of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, it was probably something she herself prayed often.”
“The second way that Elizabeth of the Trinity was influenced by Therese of Lisieux was a poem that St. Therese wrote called 'Living by Love'; in this poem Therese celebrates how the love of Jesus is the heartbeat, the deepest reality of her life, and because he lived to lay down his life for her, she wants to live to lay down her life for human love, which as the poem goes on, means loving all whom he sends her way, without reserve and all the way, giving people the generous love that we have received from Christ, sharing it with others.”
“That idea deeply, deeply influenced Elizabeth of the Trinity and in fact inspired her own way of life and her own spiritual mission to help lead souls into mystical prayer,” Lilles reflected. “She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord.”
“So, the spiritual missions of Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity coincide: great theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar recognized that. And these spiritual missions have both greatly influenced the Church in the 20th and early 21st centuries in very powerful ways.”
“I'm so glad that Elizabeth has been recognized for her part in building up the Church in the 20th century.”
An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA March 8, 2016.
THE TRINITARIAN PRAYER OF ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY
by Noreen Mackey
In the two previous articles in this series to commemorate the centenary of the death of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, we looked briefly at her life and at her gift of inner silence. The outstanding aspect of her life and spirituality was, however, her devotion to the Trinity, to whom she referred familiarly as "the Three" or sometimes even "my Three". Today we finish the series by looking at the prayer she composed to the Trinity, a prayer remarkable not only for its contemplative depth but also for its utter passion.
On 21 September 1904, the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, the nuns of the community of the Carmelite monastery in Dijon, of which Elizabeth was a member, renewed their vows as they did on that date every year. Later that night, alone in her cell, Elizabeth poured out her heart in a prayer that not only sums up her whole life in God, but serves as a map of the spiritual journey for all of us.
The prayer to the Trinity
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth f from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.
And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased
O my `Three', my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendour!
A prayer for everyone
The prayer is a beautiful one, and it is possible to be misled by its poetic language and mystical imagery into thinking that it is not a prayer for those of us less advanced along the spiritual road than Elizabeth was at that time. But we would be mistaken in so thinking. This is a prayer for every stage, but it is particularly suitable for those of us who seem not to be making very much headway, or who are burdened with the weight of our own weakness – perhaps some addiction or habit that is keeping us in a state of helplessness. This was Elizabeth’s own view, as we can see from a letter she wrote a week after writing the prayer to a relative, the Abbé Chevignard, to thank him for the good wishes he had sent for her feast day on 19 November. The Abbé Chevignard was a young seminarian, who was at that time preparing for his forthcoming ordination to the priesthood. Elizabeth was still filled with the emotions that had given rise to her prayer, and the letter summarises her understanding of how she was living it out in her daily life.
Let us be a sort of new humanity for him, so that he can renew in us all his mystery. I have asked him to establish himself in me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour, and I can’t tell you what peace it gives me to think that he will supply for all my powerlessness and that, even if I fall at every moment that passes, he will be there to lift me up again and to carry me away even deeper into himself, to the depth of that divine essence where we live already by grace and where I want to bury myself so deeply that nothing will ever be able to draw me forth again.
In what follows, we explore how this prayer can serve us as a map for the journey.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore
The prayer begins, as the whole spiritual journey must begin, by the orientation of the self towards God in that most essential attitude of the creature towards the Creator – adoration. No true spiritual journey can begin unless our hearts are fundamentally oriented towards the object of our desire. Of course this does not mean that there will not be many "false gods" along the way, idols that will have to be shattered before we can go further, but it is essential that our deepest desire is for life and truth. If that is our inner focus, then our faces are turned towards God
Help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you
Once we have turned in the direction of God, we have already set out on the journey. The royal road lies straight ahead, and if only we could follow it without detour, all would be well. But as everyone who has ever tried it knows, the greatest distraction on the way is the false self. This self, convinced that it knows best, leads us away from the road and into all sorts of thorny, rocky laneways, paths to nowhere. The ignoring, forgetting and letting go of the false self is a life’s work. We are all obsessed with whatever image we have of ourselves. It is very dear to us and as long as we cling to it, it is a block to the development of the life of God within us. The journey towards God is a journey away from the false self, which is why the Gospel tells us that we can only save our life by losing it. However, self-forgetfulness is not something we can ever achieve by ourselves. It is the work of God in us to lead us away from the little false idols of ourselves that we worship and into the depths of our true selves where we are already united with God. That is why Elizabeth asks for this grace at the very beginning of her prayer.
O my beloved Christ
She then addresses each of the persons of the Trinity in turn, beginning with Jesus, the one who is closest to us because he was one of us, like us in all things except sin. Understanding that the whole purpose of the spiritual life is to reach the freedom of the children of God, Elizabeth contemplates the Child of God par excellence and takes him as her model. But she does not confine herself to being like him: she asks him to identify her with all the movements of his own soul so that she may have "that mind in her which is in Christ Jesus" as St Paul exhorts us.
Jesus is our way, our truth and our life. This is a shocking statement if we really hear it. He is our life. We must live through him and with him and in him. When his life replaces our own, when we live from his life, the battle with the false self has been won.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God
In order to have in us the mind of Christ, we have to listen to him. We need food for the journey, and we will be fed with the Word. But Jesus will never force this food on us: we must hunger for it and we must assimilate it. This we do through prayer and meditation on the Gospels. Knowing this, Elizabeth asks for two graces: the grace of contemplative prayer: "I want to spend my life listening to you" and the grace of removal of all resistances: "to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you." As everyone who practices prayer knows, resistances are very often unconscious, but can place a huge obstacle in the way of God’s transforming action. We are creatures who spend much of our lives in denial – denial of our own needs, of others’ needs, of our own weaknesses. True prayer brings us face to face with the truth about ourselves, and very often we are so alarmed by what we see that we hurry away as fast as we can. So we need to ask for help to spend our lives listening to the Word, because what we hear will not always be to the liking of that false self. To remain before God in the attitude of a pupil, open, receptive and ready to learn all that God wishes to teach us demands courage, but it will bring us into the fullness of life and joy.
Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness
It is inevitable that into the spiritual life will come a time of darkness and weakness, when we are tempted to give up the journey. This is usually a crucial point in the whole adventure, leading us ahead in leaps and bounds once we do not lose heart. This is the "dark night" of John of the Cross, that nevertheless is "more lovely than the dawn" , because it "has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover". At this point in the prayer Elizabeth teaches us the secret of remaining steadfast in the darkness: she asks Christ to help her to keep her eyes fixed on him who is the Way, the Truth and the Light, the "beloved Star" whose radiance will illumine even the deepest darkness.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love
And now Elizabeth turns to the Spirit whose creative love will accomplish in her all that she has already asked for. She wants to become for Jesus a "new humanity" and asks the Holy Spirit to overshadow her as he overshadowed Mary. The purpose of this "new incarnation" is to allow Christ to renew in her "all his mystery." To use the words of St Paul, she wants to complete in her own flesh "what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, which is the Church" (Col. 1, 24). This is our vocation too: this is how the risen Jesus continues to manifest himself to the world. He lives through his body which is the church, of which all Christians are members. With his mind in us, we bring him to all those who need him and we continue to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us.
And you, O Father
Finally Elizabeth addresses the Father. In this very Christocentric prayer, it is not surprising that Elizabeth’s only request of the Father is that he would see in her only his Beloved Son. Elizabeth’s view of her place in relation to the Trinity is clear: she is the child of the Father, brought to birth by the creating Spirit of love. But this brief request of the Father goes to the very heart of the whole prayer and the goal of the whole spiritual life. In asking the Father to see in her only his beloved Son, Elizabeth is asking (and we in turn also ask) to be brought into the very life of the Trinity, where the Father, looking at the Son, imparts himself wholly to him in a never ending exchange of love and life.
O my `Three', my All, my Beatitude
And so this wonderful prayer ends with a longing for union with the Triune God. Transformed by the Holy Spirit into another Christ on whom the Father can look with pleasure, wholly surrendered in love, the Christian prays to be totally absorbed into the life of God:
My All, my Beatitude, Infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself! Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you.
Only one thing now remains: the final departure, to contemplate "in your light the abyss of your splendour." Or, as another great Carmelite put it:
O living flame of lovethat tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest centre!Since now you are not oppressive,now consummate, if it be your will:tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!(John of the Cross: Living Flame)Her Message
my source: Order of Carmelites
In her brief twenty-six years, Elizabeth encapsulated the Carmelite attributes of reflective prayer, living in the present moment, loving God wholeheartedly and serving others with simplicity. She described her vision of a Carmelite as one "who has beheld the Crucified, who has seen him offering himself to the Father as a victim for souls and, meditating in the light of this great vision of Christ's charity, has understood the passion of love that filled his soul and has willed to give herself as he did." Her words were meant for each one of us. With the help of grace, we, too, can live in intimacy with God and in service to others. Elizabeth wanted everyone to be aware of the Trinitarian dwelling place — the "little heaven" within each person's soul, where our intimacy with God grows. She encourages us to quietly radiate the Trinitarian presence wherever we may be.
During childhood, Elizabeth's family moved frequently. She lived in the world most of her life and was comfortable with people of every class and circumstance. She lived simply and honestly, without concern about being the best or looking good. She treasured her friends and wrote or visited them often. Her warmth was authentic and came from her deep prayer life. There were no pious platitudes or "saintly" behaviors in her speech or demeanor. She exemplified the joy of being an authentic, beloved son or daughter of the Triune God of love.
The expression "praise of glory" was particularly dear to Elizabeth. It was the name she wanted in heaven. She found this phrase in St Paul's letter to the Ephesians and took it to heart. She glorified God by being aware of, and grateful for, his many blessings. She felt his glorified presence predominately in the center of her soul and found much peace in this presence. God's presence within her was a blessed refuge to which she escaped when she was out of sorts for one reason or another. We should do likewise when we are restless, tense, stressed or upset. At this still point, we can tell God our inmost secrets or that which bothers us. The indwelling three and the universal presence of God are the principal reasons why each Christian is a "praise of glory."
Elizabeth liked to dwell upon God finding rest in her soul. "I have found my heaven on earth," she said, "since heaven is God, and God is in my soul." She encourages us to reflect on that part of Mary's life between the annunciation and the nativity. This gives us concrete evidence in our understanding of the indwelling presence of God. Elizabeth's concept of God was eminently personal. He gently led her to an honest acceptance of herself. She loved and trusted God because she had the ability to love and trust herself and others. Her warmth and attentiveness to the joys and sufferings of people she met assisted her in experiencing the wonder of God within herself and within others. Her personal concept of God was contrary to the Jansenistic belief in God that was popular at the time. Elizabeth was neither overly concerned with the state of her soul, nor saw God as harsh and severely judgmental. When writing about God, her language was simple and affectionate. Love was experienced as a childlike, humble growing in God: "We shall not be purified by looking at our miseries, but by gazing on him who is all purity and holiness" she wrote. Her focus was quiet attention to an intimate God within her soul, rather than concentration on a distant God who is far away in heaven. She envisioned each incident and circumstance of life as a sacrament, which brought God to an individual and assisted an individual to become more aware of God's indwelling presence. "Every happening, every event, every suffering as also every joy, is a sacrament that gives God to the soul," she tells us. Without visions or miracles, in unsung daily activities, she located the pearl of great price. She found Jesus in rain or shine, pain or joy.
Even though reading the Bible personally was rare in her day, Elizabeth had an intense love for scripture. She shows us we need not be scholars to understand scripture. As she prayerfully and reflectively read the gospel, she grew in God's love. She loved scripture in a personal compassionate way, rather than in an academic theological way. She was quite intuitive about the teachings of St. Paul and saw a universality in the mysteries of Christ. Her response to God's word was manifest by a deep friendship with Jesus. She did not preach the gospel with words; she lived it with her life.
In Carmel, Elizabeth used two biblical texts as guides: "to pray . . . in secret" (Matt. 6:6) and ". . . on judgment day people will be held accountable for every unguarded word they speak . . . "(Matt. 12:36). The first quote identifies the heartbeat of Carmel: Prayer in secret. This type of prayer sustains our intimacy with God and keeps it alive and well. Our love for God is equally an ultimate encounter and an unfathomable mystery experienced primarily in prayer. "Prayer is a rest, a relaxation . . . We must look at him all the time; we must keep silent, it is so simple," Elizabeth wrote. The last words take us from the first quote to the second. Noting the popularity of talk shows, cell phones, e-mail and the commonness of rumors and gossip, we easily see its validity. Many of us find it hard to keep silent before God and with others. Yet this is necessary for spiritual growth. A good way to measure how silent we are before God is to measure how silent we are when we listen to others.
The good news Elizabeth shares with us radiates from the beauty of the kingdom of God within her and within each one of us. Experiencing this beauty liberates us from making idols of material goods and getting too involved with worldly pursuits. It repeatedly brings us back to our still point, nourishes life at a deep level, and sees humanity as the family of God. Elizabeth saw each person as a house of the triune God. At the hearth of our house of God, our faith burns like a great fire of love. Our faith brings others closer to the warmth of God's love and lightens the darkness of the world.
Elizabeth remained strong willed. Once her mind was made up, she could be unyielding. She used this trait to her advantage through loving loyalty to, and perseverance in, her Carmelite life. Her deep love helped her cope with the monotony and irritants in Carmel. She counsels us about pride. It cannot be destroyed with one bold stroke of a sword. Rather, we must die to it every day. We struggle with our egos and clash with others because of our pride. Our arrogance uses others for our own advantage. Elizabeth overcame her ego by seeing God in others. She advises us to go to his infinity and find each other there. What a lovely, thought provoking idea! We must go out of ourselves before we can plunge into the depths of God within ourselves. We become more open and receptive to his love through this often-repeated act. The deepest reality of our own being is the being of God. No words are said at this sacred place within. There is nothing save a union with the indwelling three in one.
Because Elizabeth wants to help us be aware of the intricate workings of God in our souls and in our lives, she is a true soul friend for our time. Elizabeth saw herself as a helpmate to all who wish to walk on the road of loving prayer. She teaches us to let go of what holds us back on this road. We take her hand, and with her, rest in the simple, silent presence of God as he rests in us. Because we have faithfully practiced daily prayer for a long time, we can let go of our work at prayer. Our reflective prayer is changed into silence. God has taken over. We retire to this place of quietness regularly. During this precious time we dwell in the peace of Christ. Our little haven is a refuge, an abiding place, where we find protection against the wiles of the world and ourselves. Our sacred meeting place with God surrounds us with stillness and deep silence, and here within we listen to the Word.
Elizabeth encourages us to live our Christian vocation to the full, by living every aspect of our day generously and with ardor. She challenges us to plunge deeper into our spiritual life, thus broadening our understanding of other aspects of our lives and the workings of the mysteries of God therein. She truly lived her faith by showing us it is only through faith that we can begin to grasp this paradox: God, who is transcendent, who is above and beyond anything we understand, loves us personally, and cares for the smallest details in our lives.
While in Carmel, Elizabeth penned her Act of Oblation. It shows her spiritual maturity and passion for God. She passes these words on to us: "O Eternal Word, Word of my God. I want to spend my life in listening to you, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from you. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on you always and remain in your great light . . . O my Three, my all, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Bury yourself in me that I may bury myself in you until I depart to contemplate in your light the abyss of your greatness."
Carolyn Humphreys, O.C.D.S., is a secular discalced Carmelite. She is the author of From Ash to Fire, an Odyssey in Prayer: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila (New City press). Her articles have appeared in Carmelite Digest and Review for Religious. Her last article in HPR appeared in July 1999. Her website iswww.catholicforum.com/members/contemplative.
© Ignatius Press 2003.
11 Fascinating Quotes from Elizabeth of the Trinity
1. “Make my soul…Your cherished dwelling place, Your home of rest. Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there all absorbed in You, in living faith, adoring You.”
2. “May my life be a continual prayer, a long act of love.”
3. “May nothing distract me from You, neither noise nor diversions. O my Master, I would so love to live with You in silence. But what I love above all is to do Your will, and since You want me still to remain in the world, I submit with all my heart for love of You. I offer you the cell of my heart; may it be Your little Bethany. Come rest there; I love you so…I would like to console You, and offer myself to You as a victim. O my Master, for You, with You.”
4. “It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth, because my heaven is you, my God, and you are in my soul. You in me, and I in you – may this be my motto.”
5. “What a joyous mystery is your presence within me, in that intimate sanctuary of my soul where I can always find you, even when I do not feel your presence. Of what importance is feeling? Perhaps you are all the closer when I feel you less.”
6. “Make my soul…Your cherished dwelling place, Your home of rest. Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there all absorbed in You, in living faith, adoring You.”
7. “Here in Carmel, there is nothing, nothing but God. He is all, He suffices, and one lives for Him alone and for His glory… this life of prayer and contemplation, interceding always for His people before the Face of God…”
8. “My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make his mark on them, to transform them into himself.”
9. “A soul united to Jesus is a living smile that radiates Him and gives Him.”
10. “I can’t find words to express my happiness. Here there is no longer anything but God. He is All; He suffices and we live by Him alone.”
11. “Believe that He loves you. He wants to help you Himself in the struggles which you must undergo. Believe in His Love, His exceeding Love.”