from the Carmel Clarion, September-October 2004
Eight days after her entrance into Carmel, Elizabeth was filling out a form in which among other things she was asked what her favorite book was. Curiously she answered, “The soul of Christ. In it I discovered all the secrets of the Father who is in heaven.” (NI 12) This is such a beautiful affirmation of how she passed her life in the Dijon Carmel. To read that hidden book was not a question of several moments of interior recollection, of seeking material silence in a corner, she had to learn to read that book through life itself. For this teachers were necessary who would teach her to read her favorite book and she found in the letters of St. Paul one of the best ways of doing this.
In the School of St. Paul
Elizabeth write in a letter to Fr. Angles, dated June 1905, that she frequently read St. Paul’s letters, which gave her great joy (L30). In those years the Apostle is for Elizabeth her “dear St. Paul” (L239), because what he writes captivates her heart, so much so that she becomes clothed in the pauline language as no one else in the history of spirituality. She does so to the extent that she can be called “the Carmelite of St. Paul.”
For her, his writings are simple and, at all times, profound (cf. L250) because they were written by a man who has a full and generous heart (L264). In the same year that we find all those testimonies in her letters concerning the Apostle, Elizabeth prepared for herself some tables of St. Paul’s letters. This explains the 405 quotes from St. Paul in her letters. Her veneration and love of Paul lasted throughout her entire life. Mother Germaine recalls that she called him the father of her soul. She also recalls another very emotional event. During the first days of November, 1906, Elizabeth, although she could hardly communicate with anyone dictated her farewell letters and only a few days before her death. One she wrote to Dr. Barbier not only thanking im for his care during her illness, but to every one’s surprise she also wrote: “It made me so happy to see you appreciate my dear St. Paul that I am asking you, so as to complete my happiness, to accept as a last goodbye from your little patient, a last testimony of her affectionate gratitude, the book of those Letters from which my soul has drawn so much strength for the trial” (L340).Without any doubt, the Pauline Letters were that light in which one tries to identify oneself with the soul of Christ; the book which she preferred to read in order to discover the Father’s mind, since He chooses us from all eternity, in order that we can be conformed to the image of his Beloved Son (Rm 8:29) and “appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).
It is probable that before a recent birth our thoughts lingered on the mystery of divine election. However, the free election before the creation of the world is the point of departure for all human existence which is nothing other than a history of the love of God Himself. What for us is difficult, was easy for Elizabeth, who writes to her sister who was about to become a mother for the second time, “Oh, little sister, how He is blessing your little nest, how He loves you in entrusting these two little souls ‘whom He chose in Him before creation that they might be holy and spotless in His presence in love‘” (Eph 1:4; 1:227).
Her sister would continue to be a witness as to how far Elizabeth penetrated this mystery, when she read again in “Heaven in Faith” written for her, many quotes from Ruysbroeck’s works, interwoven in Elizabeth’s works, which reflected what she was living (HF 22). It is love which puts spirit into the cold and calculated expression; the election is understood from the excess of love with which God calls us into existence. The excess of love (Eph 2:4) marks the entire spiritual process. Our salvation history has its beginning in that divine election born in His eternal love, from His immense charity which calls us to identify ourselves with His Son. To respond to this call can be born of no other thing than not being conscious of this excessive love with which our existence begins. To work with righteousness one must go beyond mere impression, one must believe in love: “Believe in His love, His excessive love, as St. Paul says” (Eph 2:4; GV 11). If we begin here, we can learn the way to configuration with Christ.
To Be Conformed to the Image of His Son
On her death bed, Elizabeth understood suffering in a way very distinct from how it was usually understood. It is easy to suffer as a fountain of merit and as a means of satisfaction for one’s personal sin and the sin of the world. With this notion Elizabeth would have been frustrated. Nobody but she, with such strength and power, could show us how suffering is of value insofar as it enables us to conform ourselves to the image of the beloved Son and this on a twofold level; the assimilation of the image of the Son in the events of daily life; and in that which shows if the communnion has been authentic, our offering unto death and the acceptance of it as the way of fulfilling the will of the Father.
It was not an east task. her “Spiritual Diary” written before her entrance into Carmel is written to her battles and promises. her life was already marked by a climate of expiation for each moment. Nevertheless, her spirit opened itself to a vision more in line with the Gospel. it is Jesus, together with the maternal help of Mary, who uncovered for her the true sense of the immolation of the Cross. Elizbeth’s heart grew in a love which aspired only to share Jesus’ sufferings, because they are the sign of His offering. She desired to attain in her life another great Pauline assertion: “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “That sacrifice is nothing more than love put into action. ‘(He) who loved me and gave himself for me‘ (Gal 2:20)” (L259) – she wrote to Fr. Andrew Chevignard, the young recently ordained priest. For this it was necessary to enter within the sufferings of Jesus and to reach with Him the perfect communnion with the Father’s Beloved. In Christ, our model, we can learn how to live in that openness to the Father’s will. To change it into food (Jn 4:34). Our life will be as a sacrament by which we communicate with God.
It was what she had been discovering in the reading of the Pauline letters in those final years of her life in Carmel. “St. Paul, in his magnificent letters, preached no other thing than this mystery of the charity of Christ.” For the way of surrendered love uncovers the ultimate meaning of human existence: each person is called to be “a praise of glory” (Eph 1:12).
Praise of Glory
On discovering the true meaning of the Apostle’s text, Elizabeth recalls for us that from that moment she embraced that as her vocation. It was near the end of 1905, there wer not many more days left to her on earth, but she already knew that she was able to live her vocation in the desert. Before she had intuited the goal that we are called to be this “praise of glory,” but now she lives it in its fullness. It is the consummation of the life she offered.
No one can doubt that it is the vocation to which we are all called. As she wrote to her sister, Margarite, in her work “Heaven in Faith.” There in poetic form she is going to make known what for her it means to be a “praise of glory”: It is to live in God, to be totally identified with His will. It is to be a soul of silence that remains like a lyre under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit so that He may draw from it divine harmonies by its suffering and offering. It is a soul that gazes on God in faith and simplicity. It is like a crystal through which He can radiate and contemplate all His perfections and His own splendor of the divine life. A “praise of glory” is, finally, a being who is always giving thanks. Each of her acts, her movements, her thoughts, her aspirations, at the same time that they are rooting her more deeply in love, are like an echo of the eternal Sanctus (HF 43).
She will return to record with other words and in another more doctrinal tone what it means to be a “praise of glory” in her “Last Retreat.” She now compares herself with Christ who is the perfect glory of the Father. It is not a question of several meanings, but one word: if one has walked the way of configuration with Christ, he will attain indentification with Him where he will be able to manifest it continually before the Father’s eyes. Identified with Christ, who has uncovered her vocation as a “praise of glory,” she will attain what the Father comes to give her in order to give her her inheritance. The way has already been traveled by Mary, as the first believer, and she now is joined to the Cross, and is offered to us as a mother. Elizabeth knows that in those moments each o ne should take up his own cross, now that Jesus had returned to the Father, we are in the crucible of salvific suffering that make up for the things that are lacking in the Passion of Christ for His body, the Church (Col 1:24), and the Virgin is still there to tell us and teach us those final songs of His soul, which no one besides her, His Mother, could overhear. (LR 41).
Elizabeth of the trinity bringing to life the pauline doctrine, assimilating its meaning in a living prayer (O My God, Trinity Whom I adore!) will be a witness that the life of a Christian is developed in the key of eternity. It will feel peace, death and resurrection, free of all its miseries. Because every believer will come to affirm: “I live not I. My Master lives in Me” (Gal 2:20, LR 31).