Sunday, January 3, 2016

52 Saints~Week One ~ Blessed St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

FURTHER UPDATE: The official canonization date will be October 16, 2016.

UPDATE: I don't suppose that it will be the norm to have updates on the saints, but I read this morning that, "Pope Francis has authorized the canonisation of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity...." The date of the canonization may be announced as early as March 15 of this year.

Now, I couldn't really say that the 52 Saints series was responsible for this good news, but who knows....

                 Peaceful was the night and deep the silence
When my boat set sail on the open sea,
Gliding over the boundless ocean on the loveliest of journeys.
All was hushed beneath the vault of heaven
As if listening to the voice of the Eternal,
Suddenly the waves arose,
engulfing my light barque--
It was the Trinity opening out to me:
In that divine abyss I found my deepest center.
No more will you find me at the water's edge;
I have plunged into infinity, where I belong.
With my Three I live at peace,
In the wide freedom of eternity.  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

I had no intention to write about Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity. In fact, I did not know one thing about Bl. Elizabeth except what she looked like, and that I had had a book about her by Hans Urs von Balthazar sitting on a bookshelf since a friend had given it to me maybe 20 years ago. My intention from the day I agreed to host this series of posts was to begin with St. Junipero Serra.

St. Junipero, who was only a Blessed when we first planned this series, has always been one of my favorite saints. When I was young, it was simply because I was born on his birthday, but later I became interested in the California missions. So, I got a few books and began to read. This was on November 12. I was giving myself plenty of time. But I wasn't getting anywhere. I felt like I was slogging through molasses. And then the name of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity popped into my head from nowhere.

After a couple of weeks, I decided maybe I should write about someone else this time, and Bl. Elizabeth came to mind again. I was getting ready to go to the Catholic bookstore in Memphis to buy Advent candles (just in the nick of time as usual), and I thought I might as well take the book about Bl. Elizabeth with me because I was probably going to eat in town and would want something to read--but it wasn't really the book I wanted--too large and serious. When I got to the bookstore I perused the shelf with saints' biographies and saw the spine of a book that said, He is My Heaven and Jennifer Moorcroft, the author's name. There was no way to tell whom the book was about. I pulled it out, and the subtitle was The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity. So, I bought it.

As I was leaving the store, I ran into the proprietor who is a friend and who had that morning posted a picture on Facebook of a cameo that her grandmother had given her. I complimented her on the cameo and she asked, "Would you like to see it." I said yes, and she took me to the back of the store to show it to me and said, "And I am also the temporary guardian of a first class relic of a saint." So, which saint was it? Bl. Elizabeth, of course. Not only did I pull her biography off the shelf at random, I got to venerate her relic. This was one too many coincidences for me, so that is how I come to be writing about Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity.

Elizabeth Catez was born at the Avord Military Base in the heart of France on July 18, 1880, less than 200 miles from Alençon where Thérèse Martin had been born seven years earlier, and their lives had many similarities. The first chapter of He is My Heaven is named A Real Little Devil, so it's fairly clear that Elizabeth's future sanctity was not immediately apparent. She had what the author calls a ferocious temper and was extremely strong-willed. These would certainly have been a challenge to her mother, but it was in large part that strong will which gave Elizabeth the determination to follow her call to the Carmel in Dijon.

Not immediately apparent
Elizabeth's father died when she was seven. It seems that it was at about this time when she first expressed a desire to enter the Carmel, and though her mother thought (wished) that she would get over it, her desire never waned but only grew stronger. She also began to consciously work on overcoming her faults. A friend wrote that when she (the friend) was about 10 she attended a party where she was, "...immediately struck by Elizabeth, who . . . was the heart and soul of the party. it didn't take long for me to get to know and appreciate her. I was very lively and hotheaded, and I was amazed at how even-tempered and gentle she was. I envied the way she was so calm and in control of herself . . ." The "little devil" seems to have come a long way in a short time. Ms. Moorcroft says that Elizabeth prepared herself for parties by praying beforehand, ". . . asking God to watch over her and keep her inwardly united with him."

Aside from the spiritual precocity, what strikes me about this last paragraph is the statement that Elizabeth was "the heart and soul of the party." Elizabeth's desire for the Carmel did not make her despise the world. She enjoyed parties and dancing, and she was an accomplished musician who won awards at school. She wore beautiful clothes. She had many friends of both sexes, and she could have married well, but, much to the chagrin of her mother, she had set her mind on another bridegroom.

Although Elizabeth would have liked to have entered the Carmel at a young age like St. Thérèse, this was not to be. Both her mother's health and her mother's wishes kept her from entering until December 8, 1901, when she was 21. She loved the difficult life of the Carmel and was very soon loved by the community. She swept and dusted the choir and arranged flowers for the altar. She helped make and repair the sisters' habits. Later after her clothing, she became the second turn sister. This sister is a sort of liaison between visitors, workmen, and the extern sisters who do the public business of the convent. The turn is an opening in the convent wall through which people give food and other gifts to the sisters. It works like a little wooden revolving door so that outsiders can send their gifts in without seeing the sisters.

Before very long, though, Elizabeth was having difficulty keeping up with the demands of her life. Never very healthy, within a few years she became very ill and was diagnosed with Addison's Disease, a disease of the adrenal gland which had only recently been discovered and which was at that time extremely painful, incurable and uncontrollable. She died at the age of 26.

Although she, like St. Thérèse, suffered a period of darkness before her death, hers was much shorter--about 5 days. She had thought on All Saints' Day of 1906 that she was going to die and was very joyful, but she did not die, and afterward experienced a sense of abandonment.
It would have been too easy to die in the state of soul I was in then. I'll go in pure faith and I like that much better; I'll be even more like my Master and it will be more real. . . .I feel as if my body is suspended and that my soul is in darkness, but I know it is Love's doing, and I'm glad.
She did not have to die in that state, however, and during the last few days of her life, she experienced beautiful visions. Her last words were , "I am going to Light, to Life, to Love."

Bl. Elizabeth's spirituality was very simple. Basically, it was to be as silent as possible, to go deep into the abyss of her soul, to find the Lord there, and to become one with Him there. When she heard the other sisters talking about the prayers and penances they would practice during Lent, she thought that maybe she should try some, but no, she was led back to the way the Lord had chosen for her. In Elizabeth's last letter to a young woman whom she had counselled for many years she says:
We must become aware that God dwells within us and do everything with Him, that we are never commonplace, even when performing the most ordinary tasks, for we do not live in these things, we go beyond them! A supernatural soul never deals with secondary causes but with God alone. Oh! How its life is simplified, how it resembles the life of the blessed, how it is freed from self and from all things! Everything for it is reduced to unity, to that "one thing necessary," of which the Master spoke to Magdalene. Then the soul is truly great, truly free, for it has "enclosed its will in God's."
And during her last retreat she wrote:
My Rule tells me: "In silence your strength will be." It seems to me, therefore, that to keep one's strength for the Lord is to unify one's whole being by means of interior silence, to collect all one's powers in order to"employ" them in "the work of love," to have this "single eye" which allows the light of God to enlighten us. A soul that debates with its self, that is taken up with its feelings, and pursues useless thoughts and desire, scatters its forces, for it is not wholly directed toward God. Its lyre does not vibrate in unison and when the Master plays it, He cannot draw from it divine harmonies, for it is still too human and discordant....
This rule of silence really resonates with me. The older I get, the more I thirst for silence and for this inner union, and so I hope that Elizabeth will be able to teach me something about how not to pursue useless thoughts and desires, or how never to deal with secondary causes. That would be a true gift.

Near the end of Elizabeth's life, she chose a new name for herself, Laudem Gloriae. She did not just want to praise God, she wanted to be the praise of His glory.
In the heaven of her soul, the praise of glory has already begun her work of eternity. Her song is uninterrupted, for she is under the action of the Holy Spirit who effects everything in her; and although she is not always aware of it, for the weakness of nature does not allow her to be established in God without distractions, she always sings, she always adores, for she has, so to speak, wholly passed into praise and love in her passion for the glory of God.
The book from which I learned everything I now know about Bl. Elizabeth is, as I said earlier, He is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity by Jennifer Moorcroft. It is fine as far as it goes, but I don't think I would necessarily recommend it. Although there is much about Elizabeth's life and spirituality, there seems to be something missing. Elizabeth does not really come alive for the reader. I'm hoping to find a better resource, and perhaps that will be the book I didn't want to read at first, Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.



  1. This first post has set the bar pretty high, Janet! Very wonderful way to begin my week.

  2. Given the content, I didn't want to be the first to break the silence, but yes. Excellent stuff.

  3. I had never even heard of her. Thank you!

  4. Ditto Anne-Marie.