Elizabeth of the Trinity In Search of the Absolute, Part IV

 

Elizabeth of the Trinity

In Search of the Absolute

 

Elda Maria Estrada, OCDS

 

Editors Note: This was originally recorded as a retreat and distributed as an audiotape by ICS Publications. We hope you enjoy it printed in its conversational style as a 5-part series.

 

Part IV – Elizabeth: A Prophet of the Presence of God, Spirituality of Presence

 

 

Elizabeth of the Trinity has been called many times the Prophet of the Presence of God. This refers principally, although not exclusively, to the essence of a personal being perceived by Elizabeth that exists in the interior of her spirit, primarily but not exclusively. She is aware that in her most profound center there is someone, a person, who is truly alive, a person that desires, that expects a response from her, a Person who wants to establish an intimate dialogue with her. This presence she experiences is not in her mind. It is something that she knows through experience, and it gives unity to her whole life. It is her raison d’etre, her reason to be, her reason to exist. For her what is important, and it should be for us as Carmelites, is to live from God and for God, to live in permanent communion with Him.

 

What characterizes Elizabeth the most is her fidelity to the grace of Intimacy. A grace that is offered to each one of us baptized persons called by name, specially loved, separated and consecrated by God. So the existential question is: what are we doing? Her attitude is to become a receptive capacity to the creative and sanctifying action of God that goes on inside her every second of her earthly existence. Therese tells us, “Make room to receive.”

 

Elizabeth also says, copying from John of the Cross, her spiritual father, “We obtain from God as much as we expect from Him.” Her faith in the presence of God is also her spiritual testament. That woman is screaming at us today. “Yes, He is real; He exists; He is alive; He lives inside each and every one of us.” There is this general type of essence in the whole of creation. But more importantly, He is closer to us than we are to our own selves. I don’t even have to talk. He’s there, living and active inside of me in the measure and in the degree that I allow Him to do so. Again from John of the Cross we are reminded that our existential need is to become an empty vessel. The spirituality of presence in Elizabeth of the Trinity is really a story of love that has very concrete, determined moments throughout her earthly existence.

 

An important subtitle for the Spirituality of Presence is the mystical awareness of the presence. Mystical should be understood in its most profound theological sense, which does not mean phenomena. The essence of Christian mysticism consists in the awareness, in the consciousness of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. The more aware we become of that most central of all realities, the more mystical we become. Extraordinary phenomenon is absolutely accidental, which means it’s not the essence of a mystical experience.  It’s a consequence; it is a byproduct. Our problem is that we become dazzled by all the extraordinary phenomena: the raptures, the flights, and the wounds of love. But these things do not make us saints. Our awareness of the Trinity within us, and living a life of love in response to the immense, immeasurable love of God; this is what makes us saints, not any of those phenomena. This mystical awareness of the Lord’s presence, which Elizabeth experiences when she’s an adolescent, stays with her throughout the rest of her life.

 

There are four main realities that will dominate her person right after that experience. The first is a passionate love for Jesus Christ accepted as Lord of her life, with all that it implies. This includes a sacrificial gift of herself to God without counting the cost. Following in the footsteps of out Holy Mother Teresa, Elizabeth determined with a very determined determination that she was going to do it, no matter what. And she did. She was open to grace. She cooperated with grace, so God acted. You see, if we ask, ask, ask, and we follow the conditions of asking: ask in the name of Jesus and it will be given unto you; it will be given to whatever you ask if you are willing to fulfill the commandments and do what pleases God, meaning His will; and it will be given to you if you abide in God. These are all biblical and all in the Gospel of John, the friend of Jesus, I think you have a pretty good sense of why the Lord imposed these conditions. Some people just say, “Ask and you shall receive.” Yes, but there are conditions. There’s always a catch, isn’t there?

 

Second, Elizabeth has a permanent thirst for the salvation of souls. Love, as St. Paul said, urges us to go out of ourselves and to do for others. Third, another element that dominates her life is an intense and constant contemplative prayer: a loving knowledge of God done in silence, in recollection, in solitude, naked before the Lord in utter openness. Don’t think that contemplative prayer is simply saying prayers, Contemplative prayer means that I allow God to be truly God in me. The whole spirit of Elizabeth is filled with spiritual vibrations. That silent eruption of God in her life produced in her both admiration and surprise. Admiration because she’s living the mystical experience of a contemplative and also surprise because she’s experiencing the gift of infused recollection that leads to supernatural union, becoming one with the Father through the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Mother Marie of Jesus was the Prioress of Dijon at the time of Elizabeth, described her prayer before entering Carmel. She said, “Her prayer, like all great prayerful persons, is simple, without complications.” Elizabeth lamented that she had not done anything, and marveled that He did everything. He did so for her and He does so for us, provided we go with a glass to be filled with His Living Waters. If He opens and tills the earth for us, we put a little seed there and try to take care of it when it grows. He gives, we receive. We claim, we appropriate and we allow that grace to become abundant grace in us through practice of the gift that we have received.

 

Fourth, it also produced utter amazement in her because she felt her flesh was invaded and possessed by God. Many of us know this intellectually. Many of us have read her life and think we know how she felt. Perhaps we are tempted to think that because we read it, we also have it. That’s not so. It is one thing to know about something and another thing to truly have the experience. It’s the joyful delectation of a reality that you can truly call your own. She said it was the best testimony, the best witness that she could ever give to any public at any time. She exclaimed, moved at the psychological level with emotion and at a spiritual level with intense joy, “I am inhabited.” They were not just words, because gestures accompanied the statement. She put her hands over her heart while saying, “It seems to me that He is here.” Our Holy Mother St. Teresa of Jesus exercised a tremendous influence on Elizabeth’s thought and spirituality. Teresa, while describing the different degrees of prayer in The Book of Her Life, Chapter 11, affirmed the presence of God in the Spirit. Elizabeth said, “Our Holy Mother, St. Teresa says such wonderful things about prayer.

 

Teresa of Jesus also gave Elizabeth an idea that would become key, a central point of her spiritual life. Teresa taught her that God is everywhere. And wherever God is, that is Heaven. This is exactly why Elizabeth mentioned many times in her writings, “the heaven of my soul.” Speaking with more theological precision, I will say the heaven of my spirit. She teaches us that it is necessary to enclose ourselves in this small heaven of our soul. St. Teresa said this in The Way of Perfection, Chapter 28. Further, this brings to mind the most beautiful, the most erotic, and the most passionate love story ever, which is The Song of Songs from the Old Testament. In it the lover speaks about the enclosed garden and the sealed fountain that is our heaven, our innermost mansion.

 

Once she began living in the Carmel of Dijon, Elizabeth constructed the key formula of that divine presence that accompanied her for the rest of her life. She said, “I have found my Heaven on earth because Heaven is God and God is inside of me. She continued in a letter that she wrote in 1902, “The day I understood this truth, everything in me was illuminated by it.”

 

He is alive. He is truly present. He is here! Elizabeth’s thoughts on the matter are clear and precise. First, “I must remain above all in the presence of God. If He is present to me, the least I can do is to make some effort to become present to Him.” The second thought is, “If there is a presence of God in the soul,” meaning the Spirit, “there has to be a presence of my spirit in God.” I always tell people, suppose you are an existential radio and God speaks FM and you are on AM. Do you get the point of these deep theological realities? We need to be synchronized.

Elizabeth said, “There has to be,” and there is, “a presence of the Spirit in God,” and more concretely, an indwelling of my spirit in God in order to become a Praise of Glory. Elizabeth interpreted this, as the spirit must have such a degree of spiritual purity, in order for God to reflect in her, and in each one of us, Himself and His divine perfections. Ezekiel 36:24-28 comes to mind, “I will gather you from among the nations.” These are not physical places, but all that is divided, dichotomized inside of us, all which is out of shape, bent out of order. “I will bring yoyu to your own land.” The land of God in us is our deepest center, the very essence of our being. “Of all your impurities, I will cleanse you. Of all your idols, I will purify you.” “I will take from your stony hearts and give you hearts of flesh.” “I will put my spirit within you.” What God is trying to say is you’ve tried so many times. I’ve tried so many times, and yet we still don’t get it. So He has to infuse His Spirit in us so that we can understand and obey His precepts. “And you will be my people and I will be your God.”

 

The battle is the Lord’s, and victory as well, in us, if we let Him. The Grace is His. The needed cooperation turned into action is ours. This is the profound meaning of the vocation of a person to become laudem Gloria. This is the interpretation that Elizabeth gives to the expression of St. Paul, “to be holy and immaculate in His presence in love” as in Ephesians 1:4.

 

We have such marvels inside of us if we will only become open and receptive to them. For the praise of the glory of His Grace, He has granted us all of these graces for the sake of His Beloved. Elizabeth also discovered that when God gives Himself, He gives Himself totally, He gives Himself infinitely. God’s gives are irrevocable. He’s not an Indian giver like we are. He doesn’t change His mind as we do. He’s God and He’s Faithful.

 

The mystical awareness that Elizabeth of the Trinity had is the mystical experience of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. It is her experience, as well as ours, that began at the moment of our baptism, with the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” At that moment of moments, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit came to dwell, to live, to abide, and to inhabit us.

 

At that moment we became divinized. We became living tabernacles where divinity dwells. The whole of the Christian Life is a theosis process of becoming ever more divinized. We go from glory to glory attaining utter knowledge of God as He is in Himself, because God can be known as He knows Himself, and God can be loved as He loves Himself in a Trinitarian communion. That can only happen in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The tremendous implication of Catholic theology is that through baptism we receive the tremendous gift of sanctifying grace and also the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity.

 

What is the gift of sanctifying grace, which must precede the gift of indwelling of the Trinity? The theological definition is that sanctifying grace is a free gift that God infuses in our spirit in order to make us sharers and partakers of God’s own divine life. He wants us to share His self, His love, and His very life, which prepares us for the most precious gift of all gifts that God can give to any creature, the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. That is, He gives us His being, His self and His person. God gives Himself in love. Sanctifying grace is God’s life, His own self.

 

Now what does God do inside of us? He does the only thing He can do. He does what He is and the Scriptures say that God is love. I mentioned in Part III something about this reality, the intra-Trinitarian relationship between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the fountainhead. Everything comes from Him. He is the source. That’s why He’s the Father. He is always constantly, perennially loving Himself in the Son. And the Son reciprocating that love to the Father. There is such reciprocity, such a fusion of love, and it’s a love that is so pure, so pristine, so energetic, so strong, so passionate, so transforming, so holy, that from the mutuality of their constant unending love proceeds the Holy Spirit, which is love personified. Do you realize, that every infinitesimal second of our existence, the Father in the heavens and in the heavens of our spirits, begets the Son? He’s always constantly begetting the Son, and the Son is reciprocating the love of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is proceeding and that procession of love is never ending.

 

This happens inside all of us. My goodness, gracious! Where are we? Right there, we are outside, even though this miracle is going on inside. Do you see the tragedy of it? The tragedy is not war, not hunger, not illicit sex, not AIDS. As I see it, from a spiritual point of view, all of those things are calamities, but the greatest tragedy of our times, of our life, is that we ignore  a God who lives and loves and longs for constant interrelationships. He says to us in love in the Song of Songs, where the bridegroom tells the bride, COME closer to me. Allow us to have intimacy to know each other, become like a sponge so you can really soak in My very life. COME into the dimension of the Triune God and really experience the love that characterizes each person. Don’t be a witness. No, be a sharer, a participant of My own Self, of My own Life, of My own Love.

 

I ask again, where are we? Once we are there with God in our deepest center, here comes the second word, GO. Don’t stay here on a perpetual honeymoon. Go and share with others the experience of who I am and how I treat those who love Me. My fidelity, My mercy, My compassion, My love. Tell them that I am the One and Only who can truly quench all their existential thirsts. Tell them that I am alive inside of them. Tell them, BE a prophet. Announce that reality. BE a mystagogue, which is one who doesn’t intend to teach anything, but in fact he or she does by the quality of their mystical experience, meaning the quality of the knowledge and love that they get from the Lord, particularly, though not exclusively, through prayer, the great encounter where the human and the Divine merge.

 

The Trinity for Elizabeth is the starting int of her personal spirituality; and also the end, the goal and the objective of her spiritual life. She will try her hardest, her very best, until she arrives at transforming union and becomes a praise of glory.

 

Elizabeth’s Trinitarian spirituality is founded on two realities: 1) the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity within her spirit, and 2) her being an image of God, created in His own likeness, made from the start to become absolutely intimate with Him by the theosis process, divinization, so that we can become like Him. Of course He will always maintain some distance because He will always be Creator and we will always be His creatures. We don’t unite essences because that would make us God. But, in a roundabout way by appropriation, by participation, we share in His own self and in His own life.

 

Elizabeth is not so much taken by the transcendence of God, His power, His might, but she’s shaken to the roots of her being by His imminence, knowing that God is really and truly personally present within her. And that this divine presence asks for and demands a response; demands a process of personal spiritualization. Believe me, we are professional liars. We say yes, God. But most of the time that yes means tomorrow, when I can, maybe, or when I make my final promise I’ll be ready. We’ll never be ready. Let us not deceive ourselves. But that love demands a response. Love is repaid by love alone. Jesus is crying out, please respond with your whole self, give Me your heart. He will then take that heart to the Father. But first, that heart will have to be purified. It’s indispensible.

 

Remember, God is the all-Holy and nothing defiled can ever enter into His presence, much less be united with Him. But if we let Him, if we allow Him to do His work in us, He will purify us. He will cleanse us of all our impurities, and He will unite us with Himself becoming one.

 

This is what drove St. Teresa of Jesus to the point of divine spiritual madness. To think that God Himself desired not only to be her friend in His most pristine sense, but that He desired to be her spouse, to be One with her. The object of our life is union with God, becoming one with the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Teresa of Jesus referred to  it in two ways. She called it friendship and she also called it spiritual marriage. The greatest theologian of all time, St. Thomas Aquinas, said, “The best existential term that can explain the union of the Divine with a human is called friendship.” Elizabeth realized that the project of a Trinitarian life, within a spirituality of interiorization, is what every Carmelite must pursue because this is the legacy of St. Teresa of Jesus, our holy mother, the foundress and with St. John of the Cross, our holy father.

 

Intimacy with the Three Divine Persons in the most elevated stages of the spiritual life constitutes the nucleus of the treasure of Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross. These are the teachings of both of our spiritual parents, that the existence of a transforming union, the highest degree of union that can ever be achieved by any human being, is unquestionable. St. Teresa talks about, “The soul that has emptied itself and has become transformed in the Other.” She goes on to say, “God is a devouring fire that brings about a blessed transformation.” She speaks of God using symbolic language, because human language is so limited when it come to describing divine intimacy.

 

Elizabeth has a personal experience with a mystical grace known as the wound of love. She told her spiritual mother, Mother Germaine, “I don’t have words to express what I have experienced. It was a fire of an infinite sweetness, and at the same time it seemed to give me a mortal wound. I believe that if this would have lasted any longer it would have killed me.” St. Teresa of Jesus said exactly the same thing when she received the gift of the transverberation of her heart.

 

Elizabeth also felt the presence of the Trinity celebrating, as she called it, a Divine council, a Divine meeting in the depths of her spirit. A Divine encounter is when the different persons of the Trinity have experienced an exchange of love from one person to the other. Her whole person, at that moment, was under the direct action of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom and understanding, gave her knowledge by co-naturality, which means by participation, of the Trinitarian mystery of God. In other words, she knew it because she experienced what I just mentioned, that she was a sharer, a participant in God’s own Divine life. She said, “What He teaches me without words I the depths of my soul,” meaning her spirit, “is ineffable.” It cannot be translated into words. He illumines everything. I want you to know that the Spiritual Canticle and the Living Flame of Love were the required readings of Elizabeth of the Trinity during this period of transforming union. God was glorified when He was able to contemplate in the spirit of Elizabeth the exact reproduction of Himself and His divine perfections. He wants to see that exactly and precisely in each one of us too.

 

She said, “I desire to be totally pure and transparent and so allow the Blessed trinity to reflect itself in me as  a crystal. He loves so much to reflect His beauty in a person.” By the way, the symbolism of the crystal is very Teresian. That’s the image that our Holy Mother wrote about in the Interior Castle, a resplendent crystal.

 

Doing follows Being, so Elizabeth chose a lifestyle that is proper to the Blessed. She said that she wanted to be an uninterrupted praise of glory of the Divine Being that contemplates His own splendor. For Elizabeth, as it should be for us as well, time is eternity already begun. Eternity is always in progress. So, what a responsibility we have. To waste time is bad enough, but it’s even worse because it’s not only time that we waste, we also waste eternity. She says, “My life is a heaven where I sing the glory of the Eternal One, only the glory of the Eternal One.”

 

Are we willing to allow the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to take us from where we are at, right here right now, to our own land? So that He with His loving, healing, and sanctifying touch can reshape us, remake us into the image of Jesus the Lord? So He can cleanse our impurities” So He can take our wounded hearts and turn them into hearts of flesh: compassionate, tender, understanding, tolerant, and forgiving? Can we surrender? I have a big plaque in my office that says, “Let go and let God.” Unconsciously, I put it in a corner where I have to turn around to see it. I’m ashamed of that reality because it’s hard, because it’s painful, because it’s difficult. But we’ve got to let go so that God can take His proper place, which is Lordship, so that primacy might be His in everything.

 

Please look for moments of solitude and silence, and become a praise of glory. Even if it’s a simple beginning to say “Glory to the Father” in a new fashion and in a new way, slowly but surely, Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son, Glory to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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