Elizabeth of the Trinity
In Search Of The Absolute
Elda Maria Estrada, OCDS
Part III – Elizabeth: A Life Utterly Lived in Praise of Her Three: The Blessed Trinity
Elizabeth lived her vocation, even before she entered Carmel, as a praise of glory of the Trinity. In this presentation I have broken down the components of Elizabeth’s motto, “Praise of Glory”, and attempt to present it as a unified whole. I talk about what I think we need to do to be like her, a praise of glory.
The word, praise, comes from the Hebrew word, halliel, where we get our word Hallelujah meaning praise of God. To praise means to cry out for joy or to acclaim. It is praise indeed, which defines the climate of prayer in the Psalms. We read it all the time, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1.) “Every day I will bless You and praise Your name forever and ever.” (Psalm 145:2.) This is so because by its very essence, praise belongs to and is directed to God, who deserves all praise and honor and thanksgiving and adoration. The praise of the psalmists flowed from a very experiential, existential knowledge and experience of God. This is how we will consider the manner in which Elizabeth understands and lives her vocation as a praise of glory of the Trinity.
We can look at our Christian life as having one goal, namely to become the glory of God, with two different modalities. The first modality is ultimate and absolute, namely the existential, ever present glory of God. This should be the aim and the existential thrust of our lives, the raison d’ étre or reason for living. Glory of God can be of two kinds. It can be intrinsic (inner) or extrinsic (outer). The way I can give the most glory to God is through the fulfillment of His will in my life, to a total adherence of my will to His in this life. So, at one end is the ultimate or absolute will of God. At the other end, the secondary aim or goal, which flows naturally from the first one, is an immediate (the first one was ultimate; the opposite of ultimate is immediate) or relative goal, which is our own sanctification, our own holiness. This comes as a consequence of a profound degree of union with God.
St. Augustine tells us the word “Gloria” in Latin means clara notitsia cum laude. It’s clear news with praise. It is joyful news and expresses something extrinsic to the subject, us, that it affects. Let me explain what extrinsic glory is. God is glorified in the measure in the degree in which the beauty of His perfection is reflected in our spirits. In other words, when the whole array of God’s attributes are visible, present and operative in us. The greatest glory we can give the Father, in the power of the Holy spirit, is to become Jesus and like Him, to have as our most important reality of life, to fulfill the Father’s will.
Now what does that means to become like Jesus? It means to think like Jesus, to talk like Jesus, to feel like Jesus, to love like Jesus, and consequently to act like Jesus. This presupposes that we have a most profound degree of intimacy with Jesus as Lord of our lives. As St. Paul says. “so that primacy might be His in everything” we think, say, or do in our lives. Elizabeth lived this to perfection. It is the object of the Christian life: to become Jesus, to be one with the Father, through the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this through the constant practice of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.
So what is the “intrinsic” glory of God? This is the kind of glory that God has in and of Himself by the mere fact and reason that He is God. This is the glory God has always had in the bosom of the Trinity, the one glory that is communicated and exchanged among the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity.
It is almost impossible for us to talk about this intrinsic glory. At best, as St. John of the Cross tells us, our words remain un o se qué que queda balbuciendo-a mere stammering. But St. Augustine stammered some very profound insights in his reflection on the Trinity. And in them, he reflects the contributions of the Greek Fathers and early Councils.
St. Augustine takes his cue from the beginning of John’s Gospel. The Father from all eternity speaks His Word. This Word (or Logos) is with the Father always and is God the Son. The Father and the son love each other with a eternal, perfect love. They breathe forth all their being to each other, and this breath is the Spirit of God, who is also the Love that joins Father and Son. For all eternity the fullness of life and being flows among them-each possessing all the divine life wholly and yet sharing it completely in this ever-flowing embrace of knowledge and love. The Greek Fathers had a wonderful word to describe this communication among the Divine Persons. They called it Perichoresis, which literally means a “round dance.” As reflected in our dim minds, we refer to this fullness of everything as the intrinsic glory of God. It is a glory that we creatures can never add even the slightest measure to, nor can we take it away.
God in His infinite glory is absolutely happy in Himself. He does not need any creatures. But God is Love, and as Love freely chose to create other beings to share in His life and all that goes with it. And so God created the universe and angels and human beings. God does this in an eternal now, so that at each instant we flow from the creative love of God. And as if this were not enough, when our first parents refused to return God’s love, He sent His Son among us as one of us. In time He spoke His Word who, through the Holy Spirit, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
The man Jesus born to her is, therefore, personally the son of God and also our brother. In Him, we can become happy in God. He introduces us, so to speak, to the eternal dance of the Divine Life.
I want to emphasize that all of this is pure gift of love. Perhaps we lose sight of that when we forget that the word “grace” means gift. So we speak of the Incarnation of the Word as a great grace that God gives the human family. We understand this mystery better if we contemplate it, for in contemplation God leads us, as John of the Cross tells us, to a loving knowledge of God. Our minds cannot hold this mystery; and to grasp any of it, the infinite light of His glory must be refracted into bits that hint at God’s intrinsic glory. These bits are what we call the attributes of God. Among the most wonderful of these attributes is His hesed, a Hebrew word that is variously translated as love, loving mercy, faithfulness. We human beings most often experience God’s glory as Mercy, for He gives everything to us, including our very being, as a pure, unmerited, and unconditional gift-a gift that He never withdraws even when we refuse it. Mercy is Trinitarian Love in action. It has the Father as its source, is communicated to us through His Son, our Brother according to the Flesh, and brought to perfection in us by the work of the Spirit.
Love is the flower and mercy is the fruit. When that love leaves the Trinity and is poured out upon us, it’s coming from “the heart of the Father’ and through the wounded side of Jesus, through His wounded Heart, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It touches us and it convicts us. We are moved and shaken up. It transforms us. It brings about conversion. It sends us forth to share loving mercy with others. So that we reflect the Mercy of God, like Mary who, untouched by sin, shared perfectly the work of Her Son. That is what mercy is, that we become sharers, participants in God’s own divine light and love, where we are urged, impelled to share it practically and concretely with others, specifically through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Love cannot be contained. It needs to be expressed to the fullest, even at the price of the cross. God wanted forever to communicate His infinite perfections and His attributes to His creatures; intending by that action that His own “intrinsic” glory be visible in the world. That’s what we do to glorify God. This glorification of God through His creatures is ultimately and definitively the reason and supreme end of creation. All of creation, ourselves included, has as its primary goal and as its primary end, to give God the glory He deserves. God created all things for His glory. We creature cannot exist but in Him and for Him. That is what we say in the Mass: through Him, with Him, and in Him. Therein the depth of our very being is united with the essence of God. We cannot partake of this essence of God because that would make us gods; but we become sharers and participants of God’s divine life, which is love, His love.
We find our own happiness in glorifying God. As I said before, we glorify God by perfect adherence to the fulfillment of His will in our lives.
I am going to share some scriptural texts so that you can reflect on and pray about what it means to give glory to God. They are: Isaiah 42:8, 48:11, The Book of Revelation 1:8, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and Ephesians 1:4-12 and 14.5.
In practice, nothing should be of more concern to a person who hungers and thirsts for holiness than a constant forgetfulness of self. That is why it is important to practice living in the presence of God. Do we walk, sit, talk, and hear in His presence? The only thing it takes is the intentionality to do so. We simply can say, Jesus, I love you”, and offer whatever we are doing to Him. This is giving God glory because this is what Jesus Christ is doing constantly before the Face of the Father.
That presence is truly the beginning of wisdom because it elevates us to a spiritual plateau. It gives us the consistency we need and is the beginning of becoming. It impregnates us with a sense of the divine, of the holy, and of the spiritual. Let us ask our guardian angels to remind us always, in every activity, that we are in His presence. Elizabeth of the Trinity lived immersed in God’s presence. This constant forgetfulness of self is what presence is all about. We must get out of ourselves in order to become present to Him.
One time I was in prayer and I heard very softly, clearly, and precisely, a manly voice speaking with gentleness and authority, saying, “Become present to Presence”. That is what Elizabeth did. As I have said before, the two elements or pillars of presence are silence and recollection. Living in His presence with purity of intention means I am doing this for You Lord, and for You alone, knowing only too well that my intentions are tainted. By saying with a loving heart, “Jesus, I trust in You,” we ask Him to accept our imperfect offering and fix or purify it.
This purity of intention is nothing but the expression of a pure heart. What is a pure heart? A pure heart is an undivided heart, a heart centered on God alone. Most of us have a divided heart, dichotomized hearts, and hearts attached to ridiculous things. We need to have humble, contrite and pure hearts, the hearts of children, filled with innocence and trust. That is what God needs for Him to be God in our lives.
A pure heart is always looking with a consuming and absorbing passion for the glory of God. Another Saint, Ignatius of Loyola, knew this perfection. He wanted to do anything and everything for the glory of God. So did Elizabeth, who said, “In the heaven of my spirit, the Glory of the Eternal One, only the Glory of the Eternal One.”
St. John of the Cross said, “In this mount of perfection only dwells the honor and Glory of God.” When we give glory to God, we grow in holiness because the way we give glory to God is to love, for that is what God’s will for us is. It is all one reality, to love.
This reality can be addressed as three different modalities: conforming the will of God as was discussed in Part 2 of this series, configuration with Christ by becoming Jesus as we have discussed, and union with Him for the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit through love. Love is always and forever the unitive element in the Trinity.
Let me say some more things about glory. Praise is very simple, while glory is far more difficult to understand. The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is kavod. It means to have weight, to be heavy. Glory arises from the interior weight or density of a person, weight meaning the power of his or her presence and actions. We are not seeking our own wealth or power and all those secular things that fill our heads. We are supposed to be looking constantly for the glory of God whose very presence gives weight and stability to our lives and to the whole universe. The spirituality of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity focuses on this presence.
The glory of God is the radiant manifestation of God’s being in the whole world, His self-manifestation outside the realm of heaven. It is God’s presence and dwelling in the world, most intimately and specifically His dwelling in us. Glory is a divine attribute linked to the power, the presence and the holiness of God, as we see in Psalm 14:7-10, which celebrates Yahweh as the King of Glory.
The prayer of Israel as a community of believers, or in private, is attentive to the diverse manifestations of the glory of God. Each one of us is Israel, the beloved, the chosen one. So when you read the Scriptures and see, “The Lord said to Israel…..” substitute, the Lord said to John…..the said to Mary or Elizabeth or Paul, etc.. Insert your own name because He is speaking to you directly, personally and intimately.
To give God glory is simple to acknowledge God’s greatness. It is an invitation for us to become open and receptive to the gift of God, and be able to perceive the splendor of God as it is manifested in the beauty, the grandeur, the simplicity and the holiness of all of His creation. For this we need the eyes, mind and heart of a child so that when we see the tiny flowers in the garden, or contemplate the awesome reality of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we see the underlying presence of God. Even in the Eucharist, He appears in the ordinary elements of bread and wine. Wasn’t it wise to choose those symbols to represent His eternal presence with us? They speak to every person in the world, regardless of culture. The functioning of our human body also speaks of the glory of God. So as you consider every aspect of the created world, you should come to the same conclusion, and exclaim as in Psalm 86:12, “I will glorify your name forever.”
Although the primary meaning of kavod is weightiness it also is connected with impressiveness. The Hebrew authors of the Old Testament adopted this meaning to express the notable awesomeness of Yahweh who refused to give Himself a name but said, “I am Who am.” In other words, I am so great, so vast, so immense, that I cannot allow my whole being to be under the constrictions of a name. “I am Who am.” I am immeasurable.
In the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord is usually described by fire and by light before Israel, as in the Exodus experience (Exodus 24:15-17) or on the mountaintop as a consuming fire and overpowering experience. However, the glory of the Lord is also perceived as God’s constant perennial and abiding presence, the Shekinah.
And so it is today. He is present before we even arrive. He is always there for us in our home or waiting for us when we go to prayer. He is always present ahead of us, longing for our full, total, undivided presence in Him, our purity of Heart, and desire to please Him. For the Israelites, He was the abiding presence in the Ark of the Covenant. Here are some other references to the glory of God in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 1:22-28, Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalms 19,29,66 and 96, just to mention a few.
For us, people of the New Testament, the Church, His abiding presence is in the Blessed Sacrament, the other Sacraments, the Liturgy, in His Words of Scripture, in a loving and worshipping parish, and in communities like our Secular Discalced Carmelites. The glory of God is throughout all creation, and in most intimate, closest presence, He dwells within, In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the focus, the place of encounter with God’s Glory. Jesus is the Glory of God. He demonstrates His divinity several times in the synoptic Gospels, at His birth (Luke 2:9), at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:3] – 26), and in the predictions of His second coming (Matthew 16:27, 24:30 and 25:31) (Mark 8:36, 12:26). For Saint John, the glory of God is not restricted to extraordinary events or circumstances because the glory of God is always present and available to those who have faith, hope and love, for those people in whose lives the theological virtues reign. (John 2:11)
Saint John also realizes that during His life on earth Christ laid down the fullness of Hid Glory both before the Incarnation and again before the Resurrection (John 17:5). Later in John 17 Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son that your Son may give glory to You. In a much as You have given Him authority over all mankind that He may bestow eternal life on those You gave Him.” What is eternal life? Eternal life is to know God, to know God not only intellectually, but also existentially. That is what happened to Elizabeth. She knew God and experienced God. She came close enough to the mystery that she could be taken into that mystery. Jesus continued too speak with the Father: “Now this is eternal life, that they may know You are the only true God and the one Whom You sent, Jesus Christ.” “I have given You glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” “D you now, Father, give me glory at Your side.” So, th e big question is, how can we give Him glory? The greatest glory is to give ourselves in total love to Him with the readiness, the acceptance, and the generosity that is proper of love, and do this by giving Him an undivided heart, a pure heart, a heart that truly resembles the heart of Jesus and Mary.
After reading the works of Blessed Elizabeth, I came to the conclusion of who is a praise of glory. I say that a praise of glory is a person who dwells in God. Jesus said it in John, “Abide in Me, dwell in Me, be rooted in Me”. Because Jesus said it, “Ask and you shall receive” if yo ask in Jesus’ name, and if you are willing to fulfill the commandments, then the Father will hear you. The praise of glory is a person who loves God with a love that is pure and disinterested. In other words, love God for His own sake, not for the sake of His gifts. The praise of glory is a person who doesn’t seek self in His love. I do it because I love you. That is enough for me. The praise of glory is a person who surrenders completely, totally and blindly to God’s will. It is not a person who says, “Why does this happen to me?” A praise of glory is a person who lovingly says, “Yes, Lord, not my will, but Your will,” as Jesus and Elizabeth did.
A praise of glory is a person who is silent, ready as a lyre to respond to the mysterious, gentle, and loving touch of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the strings of suffering make the sweetest sounds. This person desires that the Lord play that string over and over again because that is the greatest gift to Him in love. The praise of glory is one who gazes steadfastly upon God in faith, love and simplicity. That is the spiritual testament of our Holy Mother, St. Teresa, who said, “Daughters and sons, I don’t ask anything else of you but to look at Him”. Our contemplative look must become a gaze, a resting place and that is the way He will speak to our hearts and to our spirits and we will become transformed.
A praise of glory is a person who reflects all that God is. Whether we want it or not, we exude who we are no matter how many masks we may wear. A praise of glory is a person who lives in an attitude of constant thanksgiving and praise, glorifying the infinite mercy of God. A praise of glory is one who offers every act, word and deed in His presence in union with the desires of Jesus’ heart and His mother’s heart. He or she becomes closer and closer and more deeply rooted in love in such a way and to such a degree that they say, “It’s not I who lives, Father, it is Christ who lives in me.” Consequently, when the Father looks at us He sees in us a reproduced image of Jesus, the Son. So, even in this life we can begin and continuously chant the eternal hymn of praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy”
May we listen with spiritual ears and may our hearts become open. May our wills become determined under the leadership of our Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus, our Father John of the Cross, and their most enlightened and holy daughter, Elizabeth of the Trinity. May we come to understand and realize our vocation to live and help others to become a continuous praise of glory of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Editor’s Note: This was originally recorded as a retreat and distributed as an audiotape album by ICS Publications. We hope you enjoy it printed in its conversational style as a 5-Part series