A friend in the ‘sister’ of St Therese

all-saints-day-prayer-space
A hastily-set up All Saints’ prayer space for yesterday’s feast

The canonisation of St Elizabeth of the Trinity recently was pretty special for our family. We have a social butterfly, piano-playing, fun-loving, sweet and prayerful girl in our family who is very happy to have a namesake in one of the Church’s newest saints.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880), Elizabeth Catez, was born in 1880 near Bourges, France. She died in 1906 of Addison’s, an autoimmune disease which among other symptoms causes progressive fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, and darkening skin pigmentation. She was a gifted pianist, a pretty and popular girl from a respected family who received many offers of marriage.

After having long desired to enter Carmel she eventually entered the Carmel of Dijon in 1901 to great joy: ‘I can’t find words to express my happiness. Here there is no longer anything but God. He is All; He suffices and we live by Him alone.’ (Letter 91)

She’s sometimes referred to as a spiritual sister to St Therese of Lisieux and He Is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity by Jennifer Moorcroft seems a good place to start for more information on her. She clearly had the gift of contemplation, a gift which her letters show she believed one didn’t have to be cloistered religious to enjoy:

‘It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God and God is in my soul. The day I understood that, everything became clear to me. I wish to tell this secret to those whom I love so that they also, through everything, may also cling to God…’ (Letter 122).

Because of this secret, the mystery of the indwelling of the Holy Trinity that she had the gift of understanding so well, she could say that she found God as much in housework as in prayer.

I have always had an attraction to the Carmelite charism, and it seems as fresh and as needful today as it was when the first hermits lived and prayed on Mt Carmel, as it was when Sts Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross led their reform in the 1500s, when we were given the “greatest saint of modern times”, St Therese of Lisieux, and her spiritual sister St Elizabeth, and when St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was martyred at Auschwitz during WWII.

It has given us so many wonderful saints, and will give us many more, I hope, even or especially among lay people who realise the possibility of being a contemplative while living full and active lives.

Mothers seem especially suited to this calling – we have the Mother of God as our ultimate model after all who was the perfect contemplative in action.

The website for St Elizabeth’s order in Australia (www.carmelite.com) describes the “commonly experienced signs” of a having a calling to the order as a strengthening sense of the presence of God within, an attraction to times of solitude and prayer, deepening friendship with Jesus alongside with an interest in being part of a like-minded community.

St Elizabeth described her own ministry as one of “drawing souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself”.

She thought her name in heaven would be ‘Laudem Gloriae’ – Praise of Glory.

Our daughter who shares Elizabeth’s name as her second name is fascinated by the life of ‘her’ saint, and intrigued at several parallels between their lives, especially with St Elizabeth’s life and personality as a young girl.

That doesn’t mean we’re expecting our girl to follow in her footsteps and become a Discalced Carmelite when she grows up – only God knows what he will call her to do with her life. But she is, like the rest of us, called to become a saint. And we are very happy to encourage the growing relationship between these two beautiful and loving souls.

Originally published in my column in The Catholic Weekly.

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