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St. Elizabeth of the Trinity: Lessons on Living in the Heart of the Church

As her name indicates, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity was totally immersed in contemplation of the triune God Who lived in her through Baptism. She knew that the ultimate foundation of human love and friendship is always the unity of love reigning within the Trinity. As a reflection of God Himself, the friend­ship between human beings becomes a redemptive reality in the Church. The Church is the context, the atmosphere, where we live in a kind of Trinitarian friendship. God is always present among the members of the Church, binding them together just as the three Divine Persons are bound together.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity in her Carmelite Habit.

Elizabeth described her friendship with another sister, “The mystery of the Three has been reproduced on earth since our two hearts have found their union in Yours.” The Church is the communion of saints in which the Most Holy Trinity is always present as the heart of the ecclesial mystery. The Church always reflects the Trinity, and inter-ecclesial solidarity has its foundation in intra-trinitarian communion. This majestic truth of our Faith becomes a day-to-day reality in the life of Carmel, where Elizabeth tried to live in constant union with the Trinity, and at the same time, with her sisters.

Although she lived totally hidden away from the outside world, it is quite evident through her many letters that she had friendly relationships with many people outside Carmel. These letters are often masterpieces of concrete spiritual direction for laypeople. Her spiritual doctrine is very much suited for people living in the midst of society. And in this way, her ecclesial mis­sion becomes evident. She was aware that all the members of the Church, whether in peaceful enclosures or busy in society, are united in adoration of the Trinity, helping each other in the fulfillment of this important task. Through adoration, they be­come brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. In the act of adoration, they enter into an invisible unity with each other, and this day-to-day reality brings forth many hidden fruits.

This vision of spiritual solidarity emphasized by Elizabeth can be very helpful for so many people feeling isolated and alone, suffering from this twofold disease that is, alas, so common today. If people came to the realization that they really belong to this communion of saints, things would change dramatically.

Elizabeth made a spiritual synthesis that reflects her vision of her own vocation. She uses the Latin words laudem gloria, from St. Paul, in order to characterize this vocation of hers. She is “called to give praise and glory to God whatever she is doing, however she is feeling.” Here on earth, Elizabeth had already begun doing what she was meant to do in eternity — glorify God. She knew that she was never on her own, but always united with all believ­ers, on earth, in Heaven, and in Purgatory.

This article is from a chapter in Carmelite Spirituality: The Way of Carmelite Prayer and Contemplation. Click image to learn more.

The Church is one and the same in its different stages. As Bride of the Lamb, She is always adoring and glorifying the Most Holy Trinity. With the simple eyes of faith, Elizabeth contemplates the entire mystery of the Church, which has its beginning in the bosom of the Trinity long before the creation of the world and which one day will find its fulfillment there, too.

In Elizabeth’s writings, the notion of predestination is quite common. We might even say that Elizabeth is the Catholic answer to Calvin. In contrast to his individualistic outlook, she looks upon predestination mainly as the predestination of the entire ecclesial body to take part in God’s eternal glory. Every person is called upon to enter into communion with the Church, being transformed by grace and finally receiving eternal glory through the merits of the redemp­tive love of Christ. Predestination is a mystery of immense love.

In a posthumous note, Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote, “I bequeath to you this vocation which was mine in the bosom of the Church Militant and which I shall fulfill henceforth unceasingly in the Church Triumphant: a praise of glory of the Blessed Trinity.” This spiritual heritage of hers is a very pedagogical, or rather mystagogical, approach to the entire reality of the Church. We can never separate the Church from the Trinity. In her bosom, we can live as friends adoring God, giving praise to Him and, thus, growing in mutual love and help. This intra-ecclesial friendship is also an important point of evangelization, as we know from the early Church. “Friendship with any man is ultimately friendship with Christ,” William Johnston said.

Mother and Bride

The Church is more Mother than institution, more Bride than hierarchy, more mystery than sociology. The Carmelite vision of the Church concentrates on this innermost reality of the Church. This reality can help those who often feel utterly alone and empty, to find healing in the life-giving womb of the Church.

Jesus will always care for His bride, whether she be the Church or the soul. Human beings are always the same. They were cre­ated by God’s love and for His love. If they can discover the Church as the fruitful ambiance where they can inhale God’s love and be transformed by it, then they will feel at home in Her. The Carmelite saints have an extraordinary capacity to point to essentials. When they speak about the Church, they always do so in a tone of prayer and adoration of the triune God. The Church is a reflection of the intra-trinitarian love between the divine Persons.

Consequently, the Church will always bring us closer to God. The Carmelite mystics can help our brothers and sisters who are formed and shaped by the modern malaise of individualism to rediscover the true face of the Church.

The Carmelite doctrine stressing these theological virtues is a remedy against this disease of our times. The Church is the concrete brotherhood — and sisterhood — in which we help each other to live according to the theological virtues. The Carmelite saints are our helpful brothers and sisters on this mystical path. The contemplative ecclesiology of Carmel can also be a remedy against the malaise that so many of our contemporaries feel in regard to the Church and Her many weaknesses.

In her notes from 1932, Edith Stein wrote,

“The Church as the Kingdom of God in this world should reflect changes in human thought. Only by accepting each age as it is and treating it ac­cording to its singular nature can the Church bring eternal truth and life to temporality.”

With these words, Edith Stein indicates the responsibility of the Church. The Church must listen with a contemplative ear to every age and every movement in time. She is a part of the world and so must have solidarity with it. She must be able to see what is happening in human hearts in every single moment of human history. God also speaks to Her through the world. Carmelite mysticism helps us to be listeners to God in Himself but, also, to God speaking to us through the hidden signs in humanity and creation at large. “Creatures are like a trace of God’s passing. Through them, one can discover His grandeur, might, wisdom, and other divine attributes,” says St. John of the Cross.

The Church of today needs a kind of spiritual plastic surgery in order to rediscover Her true heart and regain the true beauty of Her face. Our Carmelite tradition can help her in this ongoing process of conversion, in order that She may realize that, through Her wounds, She is even closer to her Bridegroom and His redemp­tive love. “His heart is an open wound with love,” St. John of the Cross said. And so we, too, in our lives in the Church can receive Christ’s redemptive love. We can live in His presence. We can receive His grace. And we can become more and more the Church as it is meant to be, because as we see in the Carmelite mystical tradition, the Bride of Christ is the Church, it is Mary, and it’s each one of us. And within the Church we receive our true being. We can become saints in the heart of the Church, but we have to live in Her very heart, in constant prayer and adoration of the Blessed Trinity.

This article is adapted from a chapter in Cardinal Arborelius’s book, Carmelite Spirituality: The Way of Carmelite Prayer and Contemplation. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your favorite bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.

Photo by who?du!nelson on Unsplash

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Archbishop Ganswein: The First & Second Stations of the Cross

Editor’s note: The following is the first station of the The Way of the Cross by Archbishop Georg Ganswein. We also recommend “Praying the Stations of the Cross Amidst COVID-19” by Kathleen Beckman. We will offer these and other reflections on the Stations in hopes of preparing for Good Friday and, ultimately, Easter. We pray for all of you to experience the paschal hope we find in Christ.

First Station: Jesus is condemned to death

V: We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You,

R: Because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

Mark 15:15

During the night, all of Jesus’ apostles abandoned Him. His closest friends had fallen asleep as the fear of death overcame them. He was betrayed, though, with a kiss, the most intimate sign of love. He was condemned to death that same night by the tribunal of the high priest, with a judgment that had long since been passed. He was also beaten then, right before the eyes of the judge. Now, though, He stands before the highest secular authority of Jerusalem, the representative of the mighty emperor in Rome. In this trial He has no advocate. Nevertheless Pilate hesitates for a long time with the sentence, because he can find no guilt in Him.

“What is truth?” the governor asks Him, when the Truth is standing before him in the flesh. Then he has Him scourged, crowned by his soldiers with a cap of thorns and mocked, and he himself speaks a truth until the end of days when he presents Him to the furious crowd that is demanding His death. “Behold the man,” he exclaims as he shows them the Man of all men, the “Son of man,” the first and last Image of all the images of God. Then he has a servant bring a bowl of water and washes his hands in innocence. Seconds before that, he delivers the accused man over to his persecutors with the words: “Take Him and crucify Him.”

R: Our Father…, Hail Mary…, Glory be…

R: At the Cross, her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.

V: Crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ,

R: Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Second Station: Jesus shoulders the Cross

V: We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You,

R: Because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.

John 19:17

At the top of the staircase leading to Pilate’s palace, Jesus appears, covered with blood, wearing a blood-red soldier’s cloak. Staggering, He totters down the steps. Thorns as long as a thumb have gotten under His scalp, encircling His field of vision. Behold the man! His blood drips onto the white marble. Here, at the beginning of the Way of the Cross, He seems about to fall already, in the middle of the staircase. A legionary holds up in front of Him the guilty verdict on a board: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Below in the courtyard, He meets two other condemned men who are also “going to the cross,” as the Romans call this path: brawny, unscrupulous highwaymen guilty of murder, who now are losing their own lives. They were not scourged; they were not mocked with a crown of thorns. Jesus is now lined up between these murderers.

He seems about to collapse when the legionaries lift the heavy wooden Cross onto His shoulders. He totters again and staggers out of the palace courtyard onto the street, to His final path through the Holy Land.

R: Our Father…, Hail Mary…, Glory be…

R: Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, all His bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword had passed.

V: Crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ,

R: Have mercy on us and on the whole world

This article is from a chapter in Archbishop Ganswein’s The Way of the Cross, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

You can find other reflections on the Stations of the Cross in the article “Praying the Stations of the Cross Amidst COVID-19” by Kathleen Beckman.

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Be Willing to Cry Out to God, “Lord, the One We Love Is Lost!”

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Maggie Green’s book, The Saint Monica Club, a book for parents whose children have left the faith. We also recommend the article “I Still Have Hope That Christ Will Bring My Kids Back to the Faith” here on CE.

Saint
Monica’s faith converted both her husband and her son, and it is this
steadfastness of faith we seek to imitate. She’s the patron saint of parents
and spouses who bear the same cross of having someone they love not love the
Faith. She knew the pain we know. She prayed and wept and wrestled with it, and
she saw God’s generous response. She loved her husband and her son through the
long desert into the promised land of faith. She loved them before they
converted. She loved them through their conversions. She remains the model for
all of us, show­ing us how to weather this storm, not because she suffered but
because she loved.

Not being saints, we still struggle with living out that love. It remains a challenge to keep the reality of our loved ones’ being far from the Faith in our minds and hearts while letting love guide our actions, words, and thoughts. We keep busy; we try not to rock the boat. Maybe we even allow our prayer lives to diminish in order to trick the estranged persons into thinking we’re not so serious in our faith, so that we won’t seem like a threat to their professed “anti-faith.” Alternatively, perhaps we run through Rosaries like chainsmokers. We may offer bargains, grand plans, and promises.

When
we love someone who denies, refuses, or ignores the Faith, our own faith is
revealed. When someone we love leaves the Faith, we discover all the holes in
our own hearts, all the ways in which we haven’t fully followed.

I prayed and fasted for a year in the hope that my
prodigal would come back to the Church. “No bread but the Eucharist, until she
returns,” I said. The reasoning felt sound. After all, Jesus told His apostles
that some demons leave only through prayer and fasting. It remained an offering
at the altar, however, not because God didn’t want my child to discover His
deep, absolute love for her, but because I had failed to trust God with the
offering itself.

I had treated God like an equal. My gift presumed a quid pro quo. I do this, and You, God, fix that. But prayer isn’t a bargain; it’s an act of love. Devoted I might have been, but my prayer and fasting weren’t a gift. They were a bribe I hoped would win God over.

Stupid,
I know, but pain and sin can make one stupid, and there’s no stupidity quite
like my “I’m a desperate, frightened, frustrated mother” kind of stupidity. I
wanted a quick fix. I wanted my child back. I wanted things to be better but
didn’t know how to go about it. I knew only how to ask.

Crying out, “Lord, the one we love is lost”
applies both to our loved ones and to us, who sometimes lose our way in our
struggle for their return. Own this pain, this reality; it hurts because we
love. Own it daily in prayer. Members of the Saint Monica Club, persist!

Saint Monica never allowed herself to be satisfied with Saint Augustine’s settling for himself, and we’re not to settle either. Book 3 of Augustine’s Confessions tells the following story:

Monica had a vision. She was standing on a wooden beam. A
bright, fluorescent being told her to dry her eyes, for “your son is with you.”
Monica told Augustine about the vision. He responded that, yes, they could
indeed be together if she would just abandon her Faith. Monica immediately
retorted: “He didn’t say that I was with you. He said that you were with me.”
Augustine never forgot her quick, insightful answer.

We should never forget her quick, insightful
answer either. In interacting with someone who is far from the Faith, there’s a
real temptation to abandon whatever parts of the Faith might cause problems, so
as to have some hint of a relationship without friction with the person you
love. Settling for a friction-free life, however, is a refusal to love that
person or God enough to be willing to suffer. Eventually, it means that our
relationships with both God and that person will become a shadow of what they
should be. You will become lukewarm and will neither win your prodigal’s soul
for God nor prove yourself to be a true disciple.

So keep the prayer in your heart and return to it daily, asking for that person’s full return to the Faith. Call upon Saint Monica to pray with you. Ask her to pray for you as well, because she knows how hard the long wait is. She also knows the wait is worth it.

This article is adapted from a chapter in The Saint Monica Club: How to Hope, Wait, and Pray for Your Fallen-Away Loved Ones. It is available as a paperback or ebook from Sophia Institute Press.

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