Elizabeth of the Trinity
In Search of the Absolute
by Elda Maria Estrada, OCDS
Part II of a VI Part Series – Elizabeth: Process of Becoming
When Elizabeth first entered Carmel and they assigned her a particular cell, her first comment was, “The Trinity is here.” A week later, she was given a questionnaire to fill out during recreation time. This particular questionnaire is really a jewel for us. It’s a true gift because it allows us to see and to understand clearly her spiritual physiognomy. It tells us what she really wanted to do. An example comes to mind. Another French man, Charles de Foucauld, the hermit who lived 30 years in Sahara said, “Once I discovered there was a God, I also realized that I could not do anything else but to give my life entirely to that God.” The only thing Elizabeth wanted to do when she entered Carmel was to bury herself within the depths of her being, to find God there, and too live her life totally engulfed in him.
Incidentally, she is the Carmelite ideal. This is nuclear in Carmelite spirituality. As Elizabeth lived, listened and made connections, whatever she learned became flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone and life of her life. In her depths she found her vocation, which was to be a laudem gloriae, a praise of glory for the Trinity. The questionnaire asks, “What is your ideal of sanctity?” and she responded very appropriately, “To live by love.” This is very similar to what Teresa, our Holy Mother said, “It is love alone which gives value to everything.”
Of course, that is what makes our actions meritorious, pleasing to God. I think these questions were written with what I would call a holy malice because the second question goes, “What is the quickest way to reach it?” Elizabeth’s response is outstanding. She said, “To become very little.” She must have used Therese’s own words. By the way, she had read Therese’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which began to circulate in Carmel at that particular time. She must have said, trés petite, to give oneself wholly, entirely, and irrevocably; no Indian givers, which is our continuous fault. We say, “Yes, Lord.” And as soon as we finish saying yes, we are already changing our minds.
I was taking care of my niece once some years ago. The child must have been about two years of age. Needless to say, after 20 minutes, she left me exhausted, but really gave me a great spiritual lesson. She took a little toy and she was enraptured with that toy like that toy was her life. Seconds later, she threw it away and took another. I thought to myself, what a perfect picture of my life, of our life. We become tantalized by a reality and then throw it away. We become distracted and dichotomized and divided, looking for everything except God.
As the Lord speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah cried, “How come my people, you have been drinking in those dirty puddles of water and you absolutely refuse to take from my living waters? How come you do that knowing it will not be able to satisfy you?” See how crazy, how insane we have become? We know that it is not going to fill the deepest needs of our hearts. Yet over and over again, we insist on drinking from puddles, even when we know that we are trying to dissimulate it in every way possible because we have become master of self-deceit. The we renounce the living waters, which are the only ones that can truly satiate the deepest thirsts of our hearts. There is a tremendous wisdom in becoming very small, and this is the most anti-cultural statement you can dream of because today; it is exactly the opposite. We go for the exaltation of the ego because we go just for me, myself, and I; and the rest of the world can fall to pieces. I could care less, because I have my program. Very little, trés petite in the biblical sense is a person that becomes; and it’s a process, small. It’s a person that develops child-like attitudes. The very first child-like attitude is trust, which is the perfect anecdote to fear.
Unfortunately, all of us lost innocence a long time ago so we need a rebirth in which trust is at the center. No wonder when our Lord appeared to Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska He insisted that the signature under His image say, “Jesus, I trust in you.” When Sister Faustina told her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, he said, “Jesus must have meant Christ King of Hearts.” So Sister Faustina told this to the Lord in prayer and the Lord must have gotten a little exasperated because He said, “No, it has to be ‘Jesus, I trust in You.” Trust exposes the vulnerability of God. When we trust Him, He falls head over heels because it really touches Him. It is by trust that we completely go out of ourselves and let ourselves be molded and shaped into the image of Jesus the Lord.
To be small implies not to have any duplicity. This is part of our generational problem today, multiplicity. We are all over the place except for in the center where we should be. This is to me, personally, the most characteristic virtue of our Blessed Mother: simplicity. She was simple, no deviations, and no dichotomizations. She was completely unidirectional like a living odalisque, only tending towards God. And of course the opposite of multiplicity is simplicity. To really become like all great saints, men and women of one thought, one desire, one consuming passion, and that is God and God alone, we must become simple. Elizabeth also adds two more adjectives. First she said, “to give myself wholly” – not in any kind of middle way, half way or tepid way. She says “wholly”, meaning totally. Yes, she’s the daughter of Teresa and John of the Cross, who are absolutely totalitarian. She says “wholly” then adds “irrevocably”, no turning back, once and for all, and forever. That is part of our spiritual infirmity, that we do not decide, with a very determined determination as our Holy Mother Teresa taught us, to give ourselves totally. In her own words Teresa says, that God gives Himself wholly only to those who give themselves to Him totally, without reserve. Yes, she said, “I give myself so totally and absolutely. I didn’t keep anything for myself. My beloved is mine and I am totally His.” This is the essence of the Carmelite vocation, that we become one with the Father through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Love, in order to grow and become, needs to be nurtured, day in and day out, whether we are up and filled with joy or we are down in the depths. It doesn’t make any difference. These are simply emotions that have a particular autonomy of their own too go up and down as they please. But, the Will allows us to regulate these emotions and to say “yes”; whether we like it or not, and whether we feel it or not.
The questionnaire goes on. See how revealing it is? Please, as part of your homework, these questions are for you too. Let me repeat the first one. What is your ideal of sanctity during the time of prayer? And for you, what is the quickest way to attain that ideal? The third question is who is your favorite Saint? Elizabeth replied, “the beloved disciple who rested on the heart of his Master.” Of course, this is Saint John the theologian, the metaphysician, the beloved disciple, and the friend of Jesus who knew him intimately like no other disciple. Why? Because there was a synchronicity, there was a union; there was a constant exchange from the Heart of Jesus to John and from John to the Heart of Jesus. And this is what every Carmelite is called to do every single day of our lives, at every moment of our existence. How is that possible? By intention; repeat that intention many times every day, “Jesus, I want to do this with you, for you, in you.” That’s it. That’s the connectedness. If I’m talking and talking but this wonderful gentleman who is tapping me doesn’t electrically connect the appliance, then I can talk until I lose my voice and nothing will be recorded. Exactly the same thing happens with the Lord. He says that I am the vine and you are the branches. In as much as you are connected with me, you will bear fruit, and bear it abundantly. But if you are not connected with me, you are useless, you wither, and you die, because with me you can do all things, but without me you can do nothing. Notice the terms our Lord uses are very absolute.
The next question was what point of the Rule do you like best? She replied, “Silence.” One day when I was sick sand didn’t go to work, I took paper and a pencil and began to ask the Lord to teach me about silence. I elaborated at least 15 degrees of silence. Exterior silence is necessary of course, but it’s the least important. Silence is not simply the definition in the dictionary, which is the absence of noise. For a contemplative person, this means not to have our eyes rolled up to the heavens, but to have a loving knowledge of God. We want to be so close to Him that we may listen to His soft voice within us, that we know Him experientially, that we become friends, and that He shares with us the most intimate secrets of who He is, of what He loves, and what He wants us to do on His behalf.
My list then moved to silence of the tongue. We can say so many useless, silly, unimportant words. Ten, silence of the imagination. St. Teresa our Mother used to call it “La loca de la casa,” the crazy one of the house. Oh, how much time we waste thinking and imagining realities that will probably never happen. For God’s sake, we should be a soul at prayer. A Carmelite should only live in one dimension and that is the present. The past is not ours; it is gone. I have heard so many people tell me about things they did 15 years ago. This pattern has to be broken. That time is gone; it does not belong to us any longer. But there we are, enslaved because we did or didn’t do something many years ago. God lives in only one dimension, and that is the present.
The list goes on: silence of thoughts, silence of desires, silence of judgment, silence of passions, silence of tendencies, silence of the intellect, silence of the memory, silence of the heart. I think I forgot three but there has to be a final one, which is the silence of the spirit, when we are completely harmonious and in a hesicastic state. That’s from the Greek word hesicasm, which means a state of joyful peacefulness because all the pieces are together and we find balance and equilibrium. Silence is the medium of lovers because God can only manifest himself in and through silence. We have to develop a way, whether we are cooking or performing our professional duties or working at home to be “in our cell”. To follow the words of our Holy Mother, we must live in our innermost castle where the King dwells. Because it is there, as John of the Cross tells us, in our most profound canter where God dwells; where He talks to us about love and where the Song of Songs and the Scripture becomes a reality. Remember, God’s voice is very soft and we have to be very attentive. We have to be very vigilant to hear His words.
What is the dominant trait in your character, meaning your greatest weakness, was another question from the questionnaire. Elizabeth replied “sensitiveness.” What is your favorite virtue? She replied “purity; blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” Purity of heart is essential for a contemplative person, for a disciple, a follower of Jesus. And of course we love to say, “purify my heart”; but we don’t like the purification that will come about to bring purity to our hearts. What fault of character do you most dislike? She said, “Egoism in general.” Then, a decisive question: Give a definition of prayer. And she replied, “The union of her who is not, with Him who is.” What a theologian.
When asked what is your favorite book? Elizabeth said, “The Soul of Christ, in it, I learned all the secrets of the Father who is in Heaven.” Another very interesting question, what name would you like to have in Heaven? She said, “The will of God.” Preferably, if they asked me this question, I would say, “Love.” But it is practically the same because there are three elements that constitute holiness. One, in the words of Saint Paul, is configuration with Christ. In other words, you adopt the heart and mind of Jesus Christ. You become like Jesus. Second is the union of God through love. Third is the conformity with His Will. All these are really three modalities of the very same reality. So don’t get upset when another member of your community gives an entire different point of view, because as the philosophers taught us a long time ago, all truth always converges.
The most important and last question of the questionnaire was what is your motto? I’m inviting you today to discover your own personal motto. This is very important because that motto becomes your existential thrust. Elizabeth says, “God in me and I in Him.” The motto, like our spiritual or religious name, implies number one who we are and who we want to become. Elizabeth, as a Carmelite, did not waste time in accidental realities. She became like a living arrow, a straight arrow, which never deviates from the target. She went to the essentials. She knew that this was critical for a Carmelite vocation, whether you are in a monastery or out of it as we seculars are. We must be able to keep alive and burning a fire, a volcano like fire, a consuming fire of adoration within our hearts and for that, Elizabeth knew she needed solitude.
This is the land of those who pursue the Lord. Solitude cannot be achieved and maintained without two pillars. One is silence understood as I just explained. The other is recollection, getting away from all those distracting elements that impede our growth and our coming closer to the Lord. Elizabeth’s life was a continual prayer, incessant prayer, in season and out of season, as one who loves. Like the psalmist says, “I was asleep but my heart was vigilant.”
Part of our spiritual problem today is the same problem that was happening in our country before the horrible events of September 11th. But now we have opened our eyes and ears and become more aware. We lowered our guard then and that is why all of the horrible things happened. Spiritually it is exactly the same thing. When we lower our guard, when we become comfortable, when we become condescendant, when we become distracted, when we become lazy; we are open to all kinds of negative spiritual attack. What is the anecdote for this? Our Holy Mother says it very clearly, “After having stopped praying, the only thing that I could do and the best thing that Ii could do was to begin praying again.” Please don’t waste one more second saying I don’t have time to pray. Stop it. Get up again and determine with very determined determination that you’re going to continue with all you’ve got, knowing that due to the woundedness or original sin and the inequities brought upon us by our own personal sins, we’re going to fall over and over again. Doesn’t Scripture say that a just man falls seven times a day? Imagine those of us who are not so just? So, our spiritual life is a constant exercise of fouling up, and going back and trying again and again and again; every time with more distrust of self but with more trust in Him whom we know loves us.
As a Carmelite, Elizabeth was looking for the consummation in love. I’m going to read what she said, “A Carmelite is a person who has beheld the Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to His 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 fills the soul of Christ, and has willed to give himself or herself as He did.” On the mountain of Carmel, in silence, in solitude, in a prayer that never ceases, the Carmelite lives as though already in Heaven, by God alone. What Elizabeth teaches, which she learned from our Holy Mother St. Teresa, is that He never leaves us. This is one of her most verdant prayers. “Lord, give me the grace that I might never leave you alone.” She became like a living sanctuary lamp in the tabernacle of her body, her soul, and the deepest recesses of her spirit.
No longer two, God and Elizabeth became one. Just in case you have forgotten, this is the aim, the goal of everyone here, not by being Carmelites, but of all Christians, by our baptismal consecration. We were called by name, particularly loved, particularly chosen, particularly consecrated; that word means made sacred.
Incidentally, only God can consecrate. You listen and you read those prayers, “I consecrate myself to you, Lord.” No, we cannot do it. What it really means is that I come to You dear Lord, and I put myself under your disposition so that You, God, in your infinite mercy might consecrate me, make me sacred, make me Your own absolute and total possession. That’s what consecration means, “I have called you by name and you are mine,” says the Lord. Elizabeth hungered for silence because the closer you come to the Lord the more you need it. It is the medium of the encounter with God, so she could listen to His voice. This is the first contemplative verb: too listen. And consequently that she might allow Him to penetrate, to invade, and to possess her whole being. In other words, Elizabeth became totally identified with Him whom she loved. She aid it by word and by example. This is the whole Carmelite life, to live in Him.“We do not come to Carmel to dream in starlight. We go to God by faith.”
In order too achieve this, prayer is of the essence. As our Holy Mother taught us, that intimate sharing between friends, being many times alone with Him whom we know loves us. This is why Elizabeth’s favorite point of the Rule was silence. From the very beginning of her Carmelite life, she made herself a living echo to those words elicited by the first Carmelites, our desert Carmelite, “to be alone with God alone.“
She began her religious life filled with enthusiasm, as many of us do in Carmel, with a lot of sensible consolations. But as you know if you have some experience with the spiritual life, this does not last for long; then praise God for the darkness, because it’s a grace. It’s a real grace. Look at Therese: she spent practically the whole of her life in darkness. People think that she lived in heaven on earth. She didn’t. Therese lived hell on earth with a horrendous aridity, so much so that she was tempted to think and even doubt the existence of God. If you read her works well, she said, “If I would not have believed in God in pure faith, I would have committed suicide.” So, things changed for Elizabeth. As it happens with us, God left her to herself, and then she tasted her littleness, her limitations, her nothingness, her insufficiency, and her helplessness.
Appreciating prayer went out the window. To pray for her was a torment, no consummation, and a total lack of gusto. She had to drag herself to pray, but she prayed incessantly in spite of the lack of emotional support. She lived as her spiritual Father John of the Cross taught us, by faith and not by sense. She said and I quote, “We do not come to Carmel to dream in the starlight. We go to God by faith.” Her directress of formation, Mother Germaine of Jesus, disciplined Elizabeth in an area of her personality that she knew was a weakness. Elizabeth had an over affectionate disposition that could be dangerous in so far as she could become so easily attached to creatures. Elizabeth, being the intelligent woman that she was, realized that she had to watch over her heart at every instant. Our Holy Mother said a long time ago, “They could steal my heart even with a little sardine.” She was that vulnerable. But you see; God uses these gifts to induce people that seek after Him to become extraordinary lovers. The same thing is true for us. Our problem is that we do ot tap into that divine ocean of grace, of love, and mercy that is God. Why don’t we tap into it? Because we don’t want to, it’s that simple. No, no, no you say that you want to; but your actions do not reflect that determination, the sustained effort to do it, because this is not a one-day shot. We have to try over and over many times every day of our lives.
Elizabeth began to experience terrible purgative sufferings and other purifications. She understood, because of her experience of the Trinitarian Indwelling, that Heaven has already begun for her on earth. She said, “I live in the heaven of faith with suffering and immolation for Him whom I love.” So consequently a new stage in her life began. She knew that the road through her physical infirmities was the one of Calvary and she wanted to walk it with the dignity of a bride of Christ. She went to that Calvary; not on her own strength, but with the strength of God because she knew that she was absolutely loved by Him. She went to Calvary; and He walked with her, holding her hand so she could make it.
The time for her profession came. Elizabeth had no illusions. She knew what awaited her. From that point on, she ran, she even flew like an eagle, to the heights. She made a deliberate choice, what she wanted to do was to bring to fruition, to realize, her name of Elizabeth, the House of God, the plenitude of God in which the Trinity dwells. And she began by taking the first step.
If you ask me what is the most important reality that I must pursue to begin, and to continue my whole spiritual life, I have to give a very Carmelite answer. It is one thing and one thing only. We must live in the presence of God every second of our existence. That is it. You begin by living in the presence of God, and as you become simpler and simpler, closer and closer to Him, holier and holier, you don’t live in His presence; you live His presence.
Our Holy Mother St. Teresa taught us this in the Interior Castle: to look at all times not only for the face of God, but for intimacy with the three Divine Persons. That is the essence of Teresian spirituality and of course, Teresa the Mother that she is, gives us that as our spiritual inheritance. By a very special grace of God, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity found the most characteristic inclination of her interior life in that doctrine. after profession, her whole purpose was to live His life within her.
I’m going to read something she wrote after some years of her religious life had past and when she grew more deeply into this Trinitarian realization. She said, It is the greatest happiness to live in close union with God, to make one’s life a heart-to-heart intimacy with Him, an exchange of love. To know that the Master is to be found in the depths of our beings; one is never alone, never. Then we must have solitude in order to enjoy the presence of this adored guest. You ask me what I do in Carmel? I might answer that a Carmelite has only one thing to do. and that is to love and consequently to pray.”
As I was saying these words of Elizabeth, I was reminded what St. John of the Cross said, “Many of us don’t have heavy chains of attachments to ourselves, to situations, to circumstances, to possessions, to people, to whatever it is.” But he also said very clearly, ”A bird, even if it’s tied by a very thin silken thread, is still tied, and it cannot fly.” Let’s go to Jesus and ask Him, because He wants this for us, to break our chains of addictions to so many things. When I say that, some people say, “Well, I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs.” I say, “You know very well that I’m not talking about that.” But we are in bondage to so many realities beginning with our own puny, limited, selfish, egocentric selves. so, we go to the Lord, we ask Him to free us from bondage and we follow what St. Ignatius of Loyola taught us, “I will do as if everything will depend only on me; and I will pray as if everything will depend on God.” it is again and again the flux and reflux of the theology of grace that God does his part, but I have to do mine. As St. Augustine said, “He cannot do it without me. I cannot do it without him.”
Elizabeth taught us that the rhythm of the spiritual life is tranquil, that it is simple. We are the ones who love to complicate it. That’s a defense mechanism in everyone because if it is too complicated we come to the unhappy conclusion that it’s not for us. Bit it is for you and it’s simple. We are the ones who form the complications. That is not in the mind ad heart of God. The rhythm of the spiritual life, the Carmelite life, is constantly coming to an unchanging essential movement, which is to be silent, very silent, to believe in LOVE, to believe in Him who loves us, and to trust Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.
For Elizabeth of the Trinity to live the Trinitarian dimension was what St. Paul described in Colossians 3:3, “To live hidden with Christ in God within us.” She knew she was ill. She knew she was terminally ill. She used to say, “I know that this is only because of His exceeding love for me.” Of course, all those who suffer in body and soul and spirit, all those who suffer that way, the Father simply loves them the same special way He loved His Son. Elizabeth said, “He gave it to me because I can offer this for His glory.” To get to that point takes holiness.
She was looking for a specific name, or title, something. Like Therese said, “My vocation is love.” The one, who searches in faith, hope, and love, finds it. Elizabeth said, “I found in St. Paul that my vocation is to become Laudem Gloriæ. It is bad Latin that grammatically is incorrect, but it doesn’t matter. What it really means is that I must spend my whole complete entire life in praise of the glory of the Trinity.”
As her physical life was being destroyed, her spirit was more and more strengthened and, of course, she forgot herself. Day and night, she suffered from a divine obsession, that Ii hope and pray all of us will suffer from, to be the praise of the glory of the Trinity. She had only one single desire in her life, to spend her whole life in the service of souls, in the service of other people, and she dreamed of dying transformed into Jesus Crucified. Notice that in her spiritual development Jesus initially took her to the Father. He said it Himself; “No one comes to the Father if it is not through me.” He took her to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is His power that brought about the great work of transformation into Jesus Crucified. Her spirituality is essentially Trinitarian. She followed the example of our Holy Mother Teresa who said there is no sublime stage of prayer in which the humanity of Christ is not present. And for Elizabeth, it was Christ Crucified. She cried in the height of her mystical life, “There is only one way; Calvary is the only way to the Trinity.”
Consequently, the whole of Sister Elizabeth’s spiritual life became reduced to two essential realities. I will name them for you. Number one, transformation into Christ by love; and number two, an almost constant filial intimacy with our Lady.
We know that Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. We learned from St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort that Mary is the fastest, the safest, the shortest, and the surest way to the Heart of Jesus. Let’s go back to Fatima I 1917 with those three little shepherds. When Jacinta knew she was dying, she told her cousin Lucia, now a Discalced Carmelite, a Sister in our congregation, “Lucia, do not be afraid. Make sure you tell everyone that all the graces in life are obtained through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Carmel is totally Marion. And in all my years of teaching, of studying, of preaching, of doing all kinds of things, I can assure you that a spirituality that does ot have Mary there for some reason will not only not grow, but will vanish. Many times while listening to people, I discovered that difficulty with Marion devotion was caused by trauma in their childhood. There is something called a mother wound in those people that needs to be addressed and needs to be healed in the Name of Jesus. I repeat, if Mary is not present, spirituality will not grow and it will vanish. Mary is essential, especially for us Carmelites.
With the realization of her baptismal grace and its special relation to the Trinity, Elizabeth was taken into the dimension of Jesus Crucified and the activity of her interior life became very simple. She was searching for the glory of the Trinity, period. That’s all.
She said in the midst of tremendous sufferings, of horrifying headaches, and of cerebral congestion, with filial childlike confidence, “Our Lady who is all bright will herself take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven.” When Elizabeth was dying with her last breath, which is really the echo of her life, she said, “I’m going to light, to love, to life.” Therese said, “Oh my God, I love you, I just love you.” And our Holy Mother Teresa said, “It’s time to walk together. Let us go together, Lord. I die a daughter of the Church.” On Friday, November 9th, Marie Elizabeth of the Trinity passed into another dimension of a deeper knowledge and a deeper love of the Trinity. So now before the face of God, the Immortal One, Elizabeth has become a glory of the Trinity for all eternity.
I hope you will take away some key ideas that I have shared with you; especially how important it is in life to cling to what is essential. As Christians and especially as Carmelite, we need to leave the rest behind. We cannot afford to waste any more time in our lives. The only thing I need to ask is that if in some way, through the poor miserable instrument that I am, you have herd the voice of God, please harden not your hearts. Amen