Thanks to Amazon.com’s helpful-if-slightly-terrifying record-keeping, I can tell you that it was in 2003 that I learned a new, and highly instructive, efficacious way to pray for the sick. That was the year I purchased Volume 2 of the Letters from Carmel from the (then) beata, (now the newest saint from coming to us out of Carmel) Elizabeth of the Trinity.
It was one of those books I couldn’t put down and when I finished it I felt like I’d had a personal, one-on-one tutorial on the subject of love: How to give it unstintingly, how to get more of it (see giving, unstintingly), because the more love you give, the more you get. Like an oil jar that never empties.
The tutorial included a lesson in prayer that I took deeply to heart as well, for as I read it became apparent that whenever Elizabeth was asked for prayers, she would immediately reach into scripture, and place herself with Martha and Mary, the beloved sisters of Lazarus who lived in Bethany. With them, she would petition Christ, beginning, “Lord, the one you love is sick…”
How often had I read those words in scripture, or heard them of a Sunday’s Gospel reading, and passed them by, assuming that they were simply a reporter’s narrative — the words meant only for Lazarus, and provided to just move the story along.
But Elizabeth of the Trinity knew what I’ve too frequently forgotten: That every line of scripture is there for a purpose; none of it is accidental; none of it is meant to be passed over, sloughed off, or be left unconsidered, because together all of the lines give us the theology through which we come to better understanding, growth, increased nearness to Christ.
And so Elizabeth doesn’t pass over the lines; instead she sees their instruction and example — their promise of powerful effect.
The instruction comes from the insight: the person for whom we intercede is very much, every day and unquestionably, “the one Christ loves,” the indispensable individual unlike any other, whom Christ loves.
The power comes from acknowledging that unconditional love, and claiming it with calm assurance and an expectation that Christ Jesus will neither deny nor ignore it. He cannot because he is Truth, and his love is true, too.
“Lord, the one you love is sick…”
When Mary and Martha sent these words to Jesus, he lingered where he was. He did not immediately heal his friend, because he was communicating the constant message of his own Crucifixion: that suffering — which none of us escapes in this world — is a component, perhaps a triggering component, of Glory, which comes with myriad answers and consolations. The glory is promised us, and the saints all tell it, if we only trust:
All of God’s purposes are to the good; although we may not always understand this we can trust in it. – St. Philip Neri
When Mary and Martha ran to Jesus, they were anxious, yet full of trust. “Lord, the one you love is sick…”
As I have written elsewhere, we can bring these words to all of our petitions:
My petitions sometimes seem endless, as though I am haranguing God: “Lord, the one you love is sick,” I will pray, or “Lord, the one you love is lonely,” or “Lord, the ones you love are enslaved by rage and hate.”
“Lord, the one you love is anxious…”
“Lord, the one you love is in danger…”
“Lord, the one you love is unemployed and feels rejected…”
“Lord, the one you love needs you…”
I cannot tell you how many times I have uttered some variation of these words at the start of a petition for a friend, and have later heard that at precisely that moment, there was an easement of suffering and anxiety. Perhaps healing did not come, but something of Christ did. “I felt it,” friends would say. “Suddenly, my wife said she felt upheld and comforted…”
And then I think, “Yes. That Elizabeth of the Trinity — that little Carmelite — she knew what she was doing…”
I love her.