“Solitude & Silence” – Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Before we begin, let me preface all that follows of Bl. Elizabeth’s spirituality with what Monsigneur du Vauroux writes of her in the preface of the book,face Blessed-Elizabeth-of-the-Trinity The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, by Father M. M. Philipon:  “Like St. Teresa, the dear little sister loved above all else true, strong, beautiful doctrine” [Doctrine xix].  She drew her understanding principally from Sacred Scripture, especially from the Epistles of St. Paul, and from St. John of the Cross.

Rev. Philipon admits frankly that his purpose is to study not only her doctrine, but also her soul. Chapter 1, “Spiritual Journey,”  details her interior life in the world, before she entered Carmel, which includes a description of her fiery temperament, her normal social experiences, being surrounded by children and young people who loved her, travels and dances through which she guarded her heart—above all, her desire to enter Carmel from the age of 14, and her decision to wait patiently on her mother, a widow, who was intensely opposed to losing her oldest daughter to the cloister.  She was drawn to prayer.

Father reports in this first chapter that “when Elizabeth was shown into her Carmelite cell she was heard to murmur, ‘The Trinity is there!’” When asked a week after she arrived at Carmel to fill out a questionnaire, “What point of the Rule do you like best?” her response:  “Silence.”

Father Philipon explains:  “In accordance with her special grace, it was in the very depths that she lived her Carmelite ideal.  She went straight to the essentials:  solitude, the life of continual prayer, the consummation in love….On the mountain of Carmel, in silence, in solitude, in a prayer that never ceases because it continues through all else, the Carmelite lives as though already in heaven, by God alone….so she hungers for silence in order to be always listening, to penetrate ever more deeply into His infinite being”  [Doctrine 13-14].

What Elizabeth longed for with all her soul was to seek the Trinity dwelling in the deepest sanctuary of her heart, to listen to that Mystery, the very essence of which is Divine Silence.  For that she entered the cloister of Carmel, entered the exterior cloister of the walls.  Once inside, she entered more deeply into the inner cloister of her heart to seek the indwelling Trinity which invaded her soul from the first moment of baptism. She declared:  “I am Elizabeth of the Trinity, that is, Elizabeth who disappears, who is lost, who lets herself be invaded by the Three.”[Doctrine 49].  One of her favorite Carmelite mottos was this one:  “Alone with the great Alone.”

On the day of her profession, she said:   “Who could describe the joy of my soul when, on contemplating the crucifix which I received after my profession and which our Reverend Mother placed ‘as a seal on my heart,’ I could say to myself: ‘At last He is all mine and I am all His. I have nothing else but Him. He is my All!’ And now, I have only one desire, to love Him, to love Him all the time, to be zealous for His honor as a true bride, to give Him joy, to make Him happy by preparing a dwelling and a refuge for Him in my soul, so that there He may forget, by the strength of my love, all the abominations of the wicked!”  [Doctrine 65]

Her powers of recollection were intense: “She passed through the cloister silent and absorbed, and nothing could distract her from Christ.”  This goal of abiding deep in silence with her Beloved in the indwelling Trinity would be the guiding focus of her entire spirituality as she sought to fulfill the true meaning of her name Elizabeth—which means “House of God.”

Beginning with Chapter 2, Father Philipon reveals “The Ascesis of Silence,” telling us that she had a special devotion to the prophet Elias, “who was the first to lead the eremetical [hermit or solitary] life and whom God had commanded to flee from the dwellings of men and to hide himself, far from the multitude, in the desert:  ‘Get thee hence…and hide thyself by the torrent of Carith.’”  The ideal of Carmel was not to form a community of contemplatives, but to form a collection of hermits, solitary contemplatives.  The walls of Carmel offer practical protection and living essentials, but is not meant to dissipate the solitude.  This is the life of which Elizabeth dreamed and into which she poured her whole soul.  This was also the dearest wish of St. Teresa of Avila, as she says, “Let us call to mind our holy Fathers, those hermits of other days, whose life we seek to copy.  What sufferings did they not have to bear, and in what loneliness!” [Doctrine 35].

Father Philipon explains that Bl. Elizabeth distinguishes three kinds of silence:  “exterior and interior silence and, finally, a wholly divine silence,” sacred silence or God’s silence [Doctrine 36].  Outward or exterior silence helps to foster and maintain interior silence.  Only from interior silence can the soul enter the sacred silence which is the true silence of the Trinity.  Elizabeth rigorously protected her exterior silence, ruthlessly pursued interior silence because in her heart of hearts she longed for the true silence of the Mystery of the Trinity.  “She loved the silence of her cell…’It is full of God and I spend such happy hours there, alone with the Bridegroom.  I keep silence; I listen to Him; it is so good to hear everything from Him…and then, I love Him!” [Doctrine 36].

Elizabeth loved St. Catherine of Siena, the third order Dominican saint, who in her necessary travels, learned to enter her “interior cell” where she found constant refuge in the midst of bustling activity.  This is an example of interior silence.

Father Philipon explains:  “This is teaching straight from the Gospels: whoever desires to be lifted up to God in prayer must reduce to silence in himself both the empty tumult without and the din within, and retire into the depths of his soul and there in secret, ‘having shut the door,’ recollect himself in his Father’s presence”  [Doctrine 39].  Indeed, this was the practice of Christ himself.

This interior silence includes silence of the imagination and other faculties of the soul, a whole interior world of sensations and impressions within us which threatens to take possession of us at any moment.  The understanding, too must hush all human commotion within itself.  Not all thoughts, thinking, and reflection lead to the sacred silence of the Mystery of God. Father Philipon gives us such a beautiful explanation of Elizabeth’s practice here:  “Like her master, St. John of the Cross, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity was ruthless in this respect.  ‘We must extinguish every other light,’ and attain to God by nakedness of spirit, and not by building a learned structure of beautiful thoughts” [Doctrine 40].

It seems to me that this one sentence of Father Philipon may be worth the entire post.  I have been chewing on this substantial truth for several days now—and will be for days to come.

Father Philipon also reveals:  “Above all, there must be silence in the will.  The whole drama of our sanctification takes place there; the will is the faculty of love.  Rightly does St. John of the Cross assign to the will the final purifications that prepare the way for transforming union.  ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, on the way; and on the Mountain, nothing’ [Doctrine 40].

What we will, the object of our will, the focus of our will must be completely purified—“We must extinguish every other light” as Elizabeth puts it—except that of the indwelling Trinity.  “’To know nothing….’ To be resolute in passing everything by in order that, in complete self-forgetfulness and abnegation, the soul may be united to God alone….not a material separation from external things, but a solitude of spirit,  a detachment from all that is not God” [Doctrine 41].

Near the end of her life, in her last retreat, Sister Elizabeth devotes an entire chapter to the freedom of the soul set free by interior silence:  “My Rule tells me:  ‘In silence shall be your strength.’ To keep our strength for the Lord is to keep our whole being in unity by interior silence; to collect all our powers, to occupy them in the one work of love, to have the ‘single eye’ which allows the light of God to enlighten us…” Doctrine 42].

To conclude, let us reflect on a beautiful interpretation of scripture by Elizabeth herself:  “’Hearken, O daughter…incline thy ear; forget thy people and thy father’s house.  And the King shall greatly desire thy beauty.’  This injunction is, I feel, a call to silence. ‘Hearken…incline thy ear.’ But in order to listen, we must forget our ‘father’s house,’ that is, whatever pertains to the natural life, of which the Apostle says:  ‘If you live according to the flesh you will die.’ To forget our people is more difficult, for this ‘people’ is that world which is, as it were, a part of ourselves.  It includes our feelings, memories, impressions, etc.  In a word, it is self. We must forget it, give it up.  Then when the soul has broken with it and is wholly delivered from all it means, ‘the King shall greatly desire’ its beauty, for beauty—at least God’s beauty—is unity.”

            “The Creator, seeing the beautiful silence that reigns within His creature, who is deeply recollected in her interior solitude, greatly desires her beauty.  He leads her into that immense and infinite solitude, into that ‘large place’ of which the Psalmist sings, which is His very self.”  Thus, this supreme solitude establishes the soul in the very silence of the Trinity [Doctrine 44-45].

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Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity – 1880-1906

When I was a novice in 1968, in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, I came upon Blessed Elizabeth’s diary–  Bl_Elizabeth_of_the_Trinity_CNA_3_7_16Praise of Glory: Reminiscences of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of Dijon, 1901-1906. Her diary made a profound impact on me.  I identified with her so very much, partly, I guess because she had been so young, and I was young also.  But more because so much of her spirituality derived from St. Paul, and I was enamoured with and devoured scripture in these formative years.  As I consider her writings today, I realize how little I truly understood—but how I wanted to understand and follow her, completely!

When I returned to the church in 2009, I was so hungry to revisit all that I had missed for so many years, and one of the books which I reread was Elizabeth’s diary.  In 2014, I was astounded to learn that my obscure (I thought) little Carmelite had been beatified by Pope John Paul, and that her canonization is in process.

In my posts, I want to do a series on her spirituality.  First, her diary is available; but I am reading and meditating deeply another book:  The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity by Rev. M. M. Philipon, O. P., the same priest who wrote Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary, another book which has had and is having a profound effect on my life.   The first printing of this book about Blessed Elizabeth’s doctrine was 1947, the year after I was born!  Thus the style and language is that of the mid 1900’s.  Although I did not know till a couple of weeks ago that this book existed, it is available online as a free ebook.  Here is the link:  http://www.strobertbellarmine.net/books/Elizabeth%20–%20Spiritual%20Doctrine.pdf

As a general introduction to Blessed Elizabeth, I recommend this beautiful short video.  As it contains many quotations from her, be ready to pause so that you can read them in full before the screen changes:

Here I am, nearly 50 years after first reading her diary, finally plunging deeply into her remarkable teachings.  When I began reading Rev. Philipon’s book which reveals and explains so well her spirituality, especially the first section on silence and solitude, my heart was pierced with sudden longing.  This section is one of the most powerful reflections that I have ever read, and  makes me more than ever, long to go deeply, deeply into that inner cloister, the intimate sanctuary where dwells “the unfathomable Trinity: ‘Immensus Pater, Immensus Filius, Immensus Spiritus’” in the words of Elizabeth herself.

In my next post, we will take a look at silence and solitude from Blessed Elizabeth’s viewpoint, as illumined by Rev. Philipon.  As eager as I am to do this, the work is so profound, I truly feel inadequate to the task, but I will have to rely on the Holy Spirit, to give me what He wants to give you.

“Contemplative in the Mud”

https://contemplativeinthemud.wordpress.com

First, I have to tell you what this title reminded me of.  St. Teresa of Avila, [1515-1582], the great reformer of the Carmelite Order who worked closely with St. John of the Cross, had to travel throughout Spain a great deal despite bad roads and bad health, in order to monitor the convents which she was founding or reforming.  I can only imagine how bad the roads were in the 1500’s.  Carriages would bounce around quite a bit, and when stuck in the mud, everyone would have to get out to enable the poor horses to pull the carriage out.  It must have been on one such occasion that she wearily told Jesus,  “No wonder You have so few friends.  Look at how You treat them!”  What a telling title—truly St. Teresa, author also of Interior Castle, one of the classics on the stages of spiritual life and prayer, was a contemplative in the mud!

How I love this little blog!  Daily posts of gems about the contemplative life as lived IN THE MUD–in the highways and byways of the world, as most of us must do!  You’ll find many favorite saints here:  St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila), Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, Blessed Henry Suso, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901–1925), cardinals and popes, Saint Peter of Alcantara,Saint Paul of the Cross, Little Brother Marcel Văn CSsR (1928–1959), and more.

The author’s name is not given, but he has this to say about himself:  I’m a university lecturer. I teach engineering and live in Thailand, but I’m Canadian, white, and Anglo.

As a graduate student in England and FrCONTEMPLATIVE IN THE MUDance, I converted to the Catholic Church. There was just something in the lives of some friends that I wanted, too. In the few weeks following my initial conversion experience, the words that I found to express this something came from Charles de Foucauld: “See Jesus in all people.”

He has so much wisdom to share about contemplation, the contemplative life; but what I love best are the wonderful quotations from so many saints on the spiritual life, the unitive life.

See his BIG QUESTIONS page for some remarkable articles:

The following is a partial list of ”Big Question” posts.

Is a Contemplative Vocation Really Possible in the World?

Detachment, Dryness, and “Darkness” Experienced in the World

Others Aspects of Contemplation Experienced in the World

What is the Difference Between Meditation and Contemplation?

Action and Contemplation

Become a follower of his blog–you will want to get his daily post in your emails!

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Unity in the Holy Spirit

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As I near the end of Conchita’s Diary,Fergusonhug-v2 my heart is breaking as I meditate on “In the Unity of the Holy Spirit.”  Yes, I have read all of this before, but now—Jesus’ words, Conchita’s teaching have a poignant intensity.  Our world is exploding in violence, dissension; the body of Jesus is torn asunder.

The Holy Spirit is the bond of unity.  In Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary,  Chapter IV, Jesus says:  “I came into the world with the sole purpose of uniting all men in the Unity of the Holy Trinity, by the Holy Spirit, that is, by Love” (Diary, Dec. 28, 1927) [p.204].  For confirmation we need look no farther than the prayer for unity prayed by Jesus at the last supper, the night before He died:

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me [John 17: 20-24].

Yet, despite His divine hunger for Unity, despite the deep cry of His heart on the night before He died, the world is broken—from the widest vantage points of nations and continents down to the smallest units of marriage and the family.

Not only is the world broken, His Church is also broken.  Jesus laments,  “The devil encourages disunity and in this way he weakens strength. The Holy Spirit seeks to unite, to re-link paternal, filial and fraternal bonds, the breaking of which brings about so many evils in the Church. If I am in the Unity of the Trinity, why do not My priests and My shepherds have one only soul, one only will for My glory, one only heart in My Heart? … I do not want to regret hatred, discord, separations, dissidence of wills and affections, all those miseries which make cold, tepid and separate hearts….Divisions, human respect, envy, self-seeking, and estrangement of hearts, all this comes from the world” [205-206].

What is it than can bring about this unity in His Church?  In the world?  Jesus exclaims,  “I insist on this unity of wills and minds in Me…. Unity, unity of judgment, of wills in Mine is what gives peace to My Church and to hearts” [206].

Jesus further explains to Conchita:  “
 “This unity is lacking in the world, and from this lack flow so many evils which crush the world. Souls are diverted from their center, and thence come the tragedies which oppress fallen mankind. Here is the central and capital point of its ruination, living apart from unity, following erroneous doctrines, in self-opinionated pride, in a multitude of sects, in the midst and obscurity of confusions. The day the world will return to its center, the unity of the Trinity in its Church, that day the world will be saved” [206-207].

Stronger words come a little later:  “All that rejects this unity is diabolical; all that does not lead to this unity is false; all that separates itself from this unity will be of no worth in heaven” (Diary, March 14, 1928) [207].

If these words applied in 1928, now,  nearly 90 years later, how much more do they describe our own historical period!  Though Jesus is speaking principally about His Church, these words, which give the remedy for our brokenness,  apply to our entire world situation:  “…the Holy Spirit. He alone, and only He, can renew the face of the earth, and unite hearts with the Word, for He is the bond of ineffable love between the Father and the Son. It is He who unifies the Church since He unifies the Trinity in Love. It is He who makes it one since He is Love.
Love alone unites, simplifies, sanctifies. Love alone reconciles, embraces, tightens bonds and brings hearts together”
[208].

In “A New Pentecost,” Jesus explains, “On sending to the world a new Pentecost, I want it inflamed, purified, illuminated, inflamed and purified by the light and fire of the Holy Spirit. The last stage of the world must be marked very specially by the effusion of the Holy Spirit. He must reign in hearts and in the entire world….” [211].

In 1916, Jesus tells Conchita:  “Tell the Pope that it is My will that in the whole Christian world the Holy Spirit be implored to bring peace and His reign into hearts. Only this Holy Spirit will be able to renew the face of the earth. He will bring light, union and charity to hearts.

“The world is foundering because it rejects the Holy Spirit, and all the evils which afflict it have therein their origin. The remedy is found in Him. He is the Consoler, the author of all grace, the bond of union between the Father and the Son and the supreme conciliator since He is charity, uncreated and eternal Love.

“May the whole world have recourse to this Holy Spirit since the day of His reign has arrived. This last stage of the world belongs very specially to Him that He be honored and exalted.

“May the Church preach Him, may souls love Him, may the whole world be consecrated to Him, and peace will come along with a moral and spiritual reaction, greater than the evil by which the world is tormented” [211-212].

As I have been meditating on Conchita’s Diary, so much violence is erupting everywhere throughout the world:  ISIS terrorism, shootings of black men in the United States and accompanying racial conflict, the police slayings in Dallas—all of which seem to increase in bitter intensity with each new day.  Civil leaders are struggling, but unless they turn to God, we will have no lasting relief.

Has any Pontiff consecrated the world to the Holy Spirit, the bond of Unity and Peace?  We hear so much of Marian consecrations—thank God for that—but we need to plead with Christ to send the Holy Spirit in a New Pentecost for our total healing. Our priests and bishops need to importune Pope Francis to consecrate our broken world to Love Itself—the Holy Spirit—the bond of the Divine Trinity itself!  In our private prayers, if our pastors do not do so, we need to consecrate the world to the Holy Spirit of Love.

Jesus tells us through Conchita:  “The remedy is found in Him. He is the Consoler, the author of all grace, the bond of union between the Father and the Son and the supreme conciliator since He is charity, uncreated and eternal Love…”May all at once this Holy Spirit begin to be called on with prayers, penances and tears, with the ardent desire of His coming. He will come, I will send Him again clearly manifest in His effects, which will astonish the world and impel the Church to holiness (Diary, Sept. 27, 1918) [211-212].

Finally,  “Ask, supplicate heaven, that all may be restored in Me by the Holy Spirit” (Diary, Nov. 1, 1927) [212].

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