BLESSED ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY (Pt. 2)
Retreat given by Fr. Eugene McCaffrey OCD at Boars Hill, July 2003
Third Talk: Prayer was the focus of this talk. Fr Eugene explained that Elizabeth’s prayer was not difficult, but utterly simple - so simple, that it was not analyzable. She draws one straight into the presence of God. You look for a ‘way-in’ in vain - you go straight in! A nun said that Elizabeth of the Trinity was ‘prayer personified’; while the Countess Marguerite D’Anthes told the Beatification Process, ‘I asked her once what she could say to the good God during her long hours of prayer, and she answered me, ‘Oh, Madame, we love each other". One is reminded of Therese’s answer to a similar question about Jesus: ‘I don’t say anything. I love Him’. So many were the hours of Elizabeth’s prayer, just prior to entry into Carmel, that she developed synovitis of the knees. As a teenager she had said how much she loved God and loved prayer. The years of practice, fidelity, hard work, and the grace of God had resulted in a ‘simplicity of achievement’. Fr Eugene illustrated his point with the example of a man who, wanting a picture painted by a famous artist, approached Picasso. The painting finished, the man remarked that it had only taken him five minutes. ‘Ah’, said Picasso, Thirty years and five minutes!’
Elizabeth challenges, and inspires. She is a living witness. Fr reminded us of the woman at the well - If you only knew’. Fr De Meester called her the ‘Prophet of God’. She does not give a definition of prayer and there is not one in the Bible. God is a God who calls, He takes the initiative, He calls us to pray; and, confident in the knowledge that God loves us, we respond. Elizabeth tells us: ‘Prayer is a response, a resting in God, we come to Him in total simplicity, staying close to Him like a child at its mother’s breast’; ‘As love draws the object it loves, so Jesus draws us to Himself; ‘He is standing at the door of your heart...He is waiting... open to Him’. We can only open to Him if we are aware of His presence; if we love Him, and give our attention to Him. To quote Simone Weil: The essence of love is attention’. The depth of our love determines the quality of His presence.
We must be aware of how near He is - ‘indwelling’. The ‘indwelling of the Holy Trinity’ is central to Elizabeth’s doctrine. She tells us, ‘all three Persons dwell in the soul that loves them’ and ‘You must build a little cell within your soul as I do. Remember that God is there and enter it’. ‘Since He is there, let us keep Him company, as a friend with a friend’; ‘Prayer is a heart-to-heart conversation with God in which the whole of your soul flows into him’. Fr drew our attention to Cardinal Newman’s motto - cor ad cor loquitur. He told us to use our own words in this ‘loving conversation’ or just a few; even one word; or speak ‘without words: listen in silence’. ‘Look at Him, be still, it is so simple’.
The various aspects of prayer were brought together in a number of practical points. We should make use of whatever helps: ‘trusted’ prayers, a book, beads, or look at the Crucifix. Praying to express our faith: let us make our faith a living faith, since we carry our heaven within us’. Sharing in the prayer of Jesus: ‘the Divine Adorer is within, He prays in me, I pray in Him. His prayer is mine’. The best prayer is adoration and praise - not thinking of self - an outgoing prayer: ‘a Word from heaven, Love overwhelmed by Beauty’. Practice remembering the presence of God during the day: ‘A loving gaze on God all day long’ (Br. Lawrence). Make time for brief moments of awareness, ‘Everything is sanctified by intention’; Three five-minute prayers’. Finally: Think that you are with Him, and act as you would with someone you love; it is so simple, there is no need for beautiful thought, only an outpouring of your heart’.
Fr Eugene now turned his attention to Elizabeth’s use of the phrase ‘Praise of Glory’. Although how, and when, this came about is shrouded in mystery, even a cursory examination does give a clearer idea of Elizabeth’s spiritual development. She first uses the name when summing up her vocation in a letter dated January 25th 1904 to Abbe Chevignard in which she quotes extensively from Ephesians. ‘Laudem Gloriae’ is first used in a letter to the same recipient dated November 29th 1905, and as a signature in a letter to her sister dated January 1906. Fr De Meester suggests that Elizabeth may have first read the phrase on a holy card that she had kept since 1901. In the final prayer of her spiritual treatise ‘Heaven in Faith’ (extracts from which had been prepared as a handout) she explains what the phrase meant to her. In her letter of 1905, she reveals that the development of her interior life directed towards becoming a perfect Praise of Glory, was her vocation. Her entrance into the mystical transforming union with Love occurred during Holy Week 1906 when her health suddenly worsened and she received the Holy Viaticum and Last Anointing. Thereafter Elizabeth ‘lived on earth with a soul that dwelt in eternity’.
Having concluded, Fr Eugene invited question and comments. A lively discussion followed, lasting 25 minutes and with almost complete audience participation, such was the interest in what he had been saying.
Fourth and final talk: Fr Eugene asked us to reflect for a few moments on what ‘word’ or ‘phrase’ we would take away from this week-end. This done, he introduced his talk on Elizabeth’s ‘Prayer to the Trinity’ by remarking on the many volumes of ‘Collected Prayers’ that were available and how most of the prayers were ignored. Certain prayers seemed to catch on: for example ‘Make me an instrument of Your peace’ (St Francis); ‘Christ be with me’ (St Patrick); ‘My Father, I abandon myself to You’ (Charles de Foucauld); and ‘My God, I do not know where I am going’ (Thomas Merton). These examples seem to capture the spirituality of their authors. This is especially true with prayers addressed to the Holy Trinity: for example ‘O eternal Trinity, eternal Godhead!’ (St Catherine of Siena); ‘O my God! Most Blessed Trinity’ (St Therese of the Child Jesus); ‘O eternal Father, prostrate in humble’ (Bl. Columba Marmion); and ‘O my God, Trinity whom I adore;’ (Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity).
Elizabeth’s prayer is dated November 21st 1904; the same day that the eight-day Advent retreat given by the Dominican P. Fages ended; the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the temple; and the day on which the community renewed their vows. During the day Elizabeth returned to her cell and composed the prayer without a pause: sixty lines, with only one correction, in a clear strong hand. Without question, it was an outpouring of a soul in love to Love - an inspired self-portrait, an epitome of her spiritual life. Typically, when completed, the folded paper was placed in her small book of community prayers, undated, without title; and there it remained until after her death. At the start of our retreat we had been given a handout of the English version of the prayer as it appears on pp.1834 of the Complete Works, Vol. 1 (ICS pub. 1984).
The prayer comprises an introductory, and a final, verse addressed to the triune God, which serve to focus our minds on, and ‘bracket’, two verses addressed to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is an elaborate mosaic in which we can identify thoughts of John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, Therese of the Child Jesus, and Paul. This identification, and cross-referencing to her letters and spiritual retreats, enriches our understanding, and in no way diminishes either the prayer or the author. What Fr De Meester wrote about ‘Heaven in Faith’ is applicable here, ‘If in this way Elizabeth assembles ... a mosaic ... the apse which is to contain them is indeed her own!’ The outpouring of love is evidenced by the directness and focus of her words which come tumbling out. For example: Trinity whom I adore’, where adoration is the great manifestation of prayer; ‘help me to forget myself entirely’, which reflects Elizabeth’s real struggle to overcome ‘self; ‘Give peace to my soul’ reminding one of John of the Cross; ‘And, You, O Father, bend lovingly’, presaging the request for a personal ‘transfiguration’; finally ‘Bury yourself in me’, the only correction which she made in this beautiful prayer. Phrases like ‘wholly vigilant’, ‘wholly adoring’, while incapable of analysis, are to be savoured in meditation on the Divine Indwelling.
Fr Eugene thought that the middle of the prayer, addressed directly to ‘Christ’, the most important part. Elizabeth wanted to be like Christ (Paul) - to offer her humanity to Christ. He dwelt at some length with links to John of the Cross; elaborating on his ‘House at rest’ and ‘Enkindling with love’ before setting out on that ‘spiritual journey’. The influence of her spiritual director - Fr Vallee - is evident from the words ‘unchanging’, ‘vigilant’, ‘overwhelm’, ‘possess’ and the phrases ‘consuming Fire’ (Deut. 4:24), ‘another humanity’.
In the final verse, Fr De Meester draws our attention to the juxtaposition of the words ‘Beatitude’ and ‘Solitude’; noting that on the wall close to her cell was written the motto of Fr Bruno ‘O blessed solitude, O only beatitude’. The concluding phrase ‘abyss of Your greatness’ is to be found in Catherine of Siena’s great prayer ‘O Eternal Trinity’. Remembering that Elizabeth had just completed a retreat, that the prayer was composed on one of Our Lady’s Feast days, and that Elizabeth had a very deep devotion to Our Lady, it is surprising that there is no specific mention of Mary, but closer examination shows that she is pervasive throughout the text.
Fr Eugene informed us that his brother Fr Jimmy McCaffrey had made a new translation of Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Trinity, and also that a special edition of the Mount Carmel Magazine is to be devoted to her. At this point he gave out copies of Ephesians (1: 3-10, 13-14) (Jerusalem Bible) and asked us to read and meditate on the passage for five minutes in lectio style, marking any words, phrases or lines that stood out. When our time was up, he remarked mischievously that now at least he need not spend time on the Gospel reading in his homily at Holy Mass later in the morning. The participants closed the proceedings by showing their appreciation of the manner in which Fr Eugene had conducted the retreat, with prolonged applause.
[This transcript is from hand-written notes made during Fr Eugene’s talks. Any misrepresentation of, additions to, or omissions from, the material covered by the talks; or errors in the transcription are unintentional and are regretted.]
The Divine Child has become Teacher and has told us what we should do. In order to allow an entire human existence to be pervaded with divine life, it is not enough to kneel down once a year in front of the manger and allow oneself to be taken in by the spell of the Holy Night. One must be actively engaged with God one’s entire life long, listen to the words which he spoke, which have been handed down to us, and then comply with these words. Above all, one must pray as the Saviour himself has taught and so insistently emphasized again and again. ‘Ask and you shall receive’. That is the sure promise of a hearing. And whoever prays from his heart his daily ‘Lord, thy will be done’, may be certainly confident that he has not failed to meet the divine will, even where he is no longer even sure of himself.
Furthermore, Christ has not left us orphans. He sent his Spirit to teach us all truth; he founded his Church which is led by his Spirit, and has incorporated in her his representatives through whom his Spirit speaks to us in human language. In her he has united the faithful into a community and desires each one to be responsible for the other. Thus we are not alone, and wherever one cannot rely upon his own judgment and even upon his own prayer, it is there that the power of obedience and the power of intercession helps. (Ibid.)
Our Garden Bl. Elizabeth