Before today, I wouldn’t have counted Elizabeth of the Trinity as one of my saint-besties. I’d really only vaguely heard of her as the “spiritual sister” of St. Therese of Lisieux, and that’s because Hans Urs von Balthasar’s comparison of the two Carmelites is in one of the many stacks of (unread) books making my office into an obstacle course.
But with her canonization this morning, I decided it was a good moment to take a glance at her complete works. I’m still just getting started, but because I’m a mom trying to raise children in a world that seems ready to fall apart before November, her words, some of them written almost exactly 110 years ago, instantly soothed my soul.
The heaviness of everything happening around us — Syria, tensions with Russia, nuclear threats in North Korea, the starving in Ethiopia, Venezuela imploding, and of course our own homegrown mess — can overwhelm me, but Elizabeth seems to say, look at all of that only after you’ve looked within.
I’d only been skimming her Letters From Carmel for a few moments when one recurring theme popped out.
Elizabeth of the Trinity had a profound awareness of God’s presence in her soul — in our souls — and it was this that transformed the Carmel into a delight and her life into a song of joy.
But she was convinced that this sweet intimacy with the Trinity was not just a luxury for her, as a Bride of Christ in the cloister. In letters to her mother, to sisters and friends, in advice to women expecting babies or raising small children, she returns again and again to this counsel: Find God in your soul and … enjoy! What could possibly take away your peace if you know that He is there?
Here are five quick excerpts from her letters, letting us know that One with almighty power is just waiting to help us with our needs … and that once we realize He’s there, we’ll never be alone again:
- Oh yes, may the God who is all love be your unchanging dwelling place, your cell, and your cloister in the midst of the world; remember that He dwells in the deepest center of our soul as if in a sanctuary where He wants always to be loved to the point of adoration. He remains there to fill you to overflowing with His graces, to transform you in Himself. Oh, when you sense your weakness, go to Him; He is the Strong One, the One who gives victory through the holiness at His right hand — Jan. 4, 1906 (?)
- He is so offended in the world, for they want no more of Him; let us open ourselves to receive Him, and then let us not leave Him alone in that sanctuary of our soul; through everything let us remember that He is there and He needs to be loved. — Dec. 29, 1902
- (After assuring her mother that her doctrine on the presence of God within us is not something she came up with, but rather what Scripture tells us, she clarifies:) You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the Blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again! — Around May 27, 1906
- Guess where I’ll go to celebrate your feast? Quite simply, to Heaven, and I will meet you there, for, you see, this Heaven is quite close: “Wherever the King is, there is His court,” as our holy Mother Teresa said, and since He dwells in our souls, you can see that we don’t have to go very far to enter the City of peace, in the Heaven of the saints. — Jan. 27, 1904
- (As she was close to death:) My beloved Antoinette, I leave you my faith in the presence of God, of the God who is all Love dwelling in our souls. I confide to you: It is this intimacy with him “within” that has been the beautiful sun illuminating my life, making it already an anticipated Heaven; it is what sustains me today in my suffering. I do not fear my weakness; that’s what gives me confidence. For the Strong One is within me and His power is almighty. It is able to do, says the Apostle, abundantly more than we can hope for! — end of October? 1906
I’ve only just met our newest canonized saint. I’ll definitely be getting to know her more.