Shortly before her death, in a letter to her friend, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote:
“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them go out of themselves to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within that will allow God to communicate Himself to them and transform them into Himself.” (Letter 335)
Here we have laid out by the saint herself what her mission in heaven was going to be. Where St. Therese’s said her mission was “to make God loved [and that she] … will spend [her] heaven doing good on earth”, St. Elizabeth’s mission will be to draw us out of ourselves so that we can remain devoted to God. She even explains how we will do this – by a “simple and loving movement”. As we will see, her emphasis will be on keeping silent within in order to allow God to communicate Himself. From this Divine communication, a transformation will take place in our souls.
Key to understanding St. Elizabeth’s mission is her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Carmel is Our Lady’s Order, and as a Carmelite St. Elizabeth honored the Blessed Mother with a special devotion to her dignity as the Mother of God and in her sovereignty as Queen of Heaven and Earth. In St. Elizabeth’s devotion to Mary, she finds the perfect realization of her interior ideal. St. Elizabeth sees the Word hidden in Mary’s womb, and in her communion with the Word, a mother and flowing from her loving kindness and humility. But most of all St. Elizabeth was attracted to Mary’s silence and recollection.
As a child St. Elizabeth’s piety towards Mary was typical of a young girl at that time. It has been noted that she asked Mary to guard her purity, and the saint kept a childhood diary filled with the thoughts of Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was given to her as a child, and St. Elizabeth asked her mother for it towards the end of her life so that Our Lady “might watch over her departure”. She received the Carmelite habit on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Later in a letter to Canon Angles near the end of her life, she wrote, “ It is she, the Immaculate Conception, who gave me the habit of Carmel. And I am asking her to clothe me again in that robe of one linen in which the bride is decked to present herself at the marriage feast of the Lamb.”
The attitudes of the Virgin greatly attracted St. Elizabeth. She says that Mary’s example during the time from the Annunciation to the Nativity is a “model for interior souls”. Since God had chosen to live within her, Mary was at peace and wholly recollected in “everything she did” and “even the most trivial things were divinized by her!”. In her writing, Heaven in Faith, we see that what attracted St. Elizabeth most was Mary as Our Lady of the Incarnation. Mary was the living tabernacle of the Incarnate Word, a pure temple for God. What must it have been like for Mary to have within her the Incarnate Word? Recollected and in silent adoration, Mary embraced this great mystery within her. The Blessed Mother’s prayer included loving service to Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, as “the servant of the Lord” – humble and always forgetful of self.
In a letter to her sister, St. Elizabeth writes, “I do not need to make any effort to enter into this mystery of the Divine Indwelling in the Blessed Virgin. I seem to find in it the habitual movement of my own soul which was also that of hers: to adore God hidden within me.” St. Elizabeth had as her ideal a life of silent adoration of God hidden within the depths of her soul, in imitation of Mary.
Then there was Mary’s station at the foot of the cross, which also impressed upon St. Elizabeth’s devotion. Mary associated herself with her Son in the “work of redemption”. The Co-Redemptirx was “full of strength and courage” at the foot of the cross. Of Our Lady of Sorrows, she wrote, “Those last songs of His soul which no one else but she, His Mother, could overhear”. St. Elizabeth attests that the Blessed Virgin teaches her to suffer.
“No one has penetrated the depths of the master of Christ except the Blessed Virgin.”
(Last Retreat, First Day, 2)
It is in the fifteenth day of her Last Retreat that we can find the connection between Mary and St. Elizabeth’s mission. Our saint writes, “Her soul is so simple. Its movements are so profound”. It is obvious that she sees Mary as one she can imitate. As a Carmelite, she would want to, like the Virgin, to keep “all these things in her heart”. After-all “it was within her heart that she lived… a depth that no human eye can follow her.”
Mary has a unique role in the work of our salvation. She is the Mother of God and of all the redeemed. As a mother, Mary cares for our eternal welfare. Mary’s soul was pure, detached, and transparent. Even though she had this great mystery within her, it did not in any way diminished her charity. Through it all Mary remained humble and adored of the gift of God.
St. Elizabeth wanted to live as Mary did corresponding her life to Mary’s by keeping all these things in her heart. Then bringing all these things into the depth of her soul, in order to lose herself in the Trinity which dwells there, so that her soul will be transformed into the Trinity Itself. During her Last Retreat, and confident in Mary’s intercession, on the first day her entry reads, “This Mother of grace will form my soul so that her little child may be a living, striking image of her first-born, the Son of the Eternal, He who was the perfect, praise of His Father’s glory”.
Throughout St. Elizabeth’s writing she refers to Mary from the many titles found in the Litany of Loretto: Mirror of Justice, Faithful Virgin, Mother of Grace, Gate of Heaven. Mary is the Faithful Virgin “who kept all these things in her heart”. Mary remained little and so recollected, to “draw down … the Holy Trinity”, and “unaware of her own beauty”, Mary lived in peace and recollection. In all her actions Mary constantly adored God. On the fifteenth day of her Last Retreat, St. Elizabeth wrote, “It is Our Lady, that luminous being, all pure with God’s purity, who will take me by the hand to lead me into heaven, that dazzling heaven.” Having placed her last retreat under the protection of Janua Coeli, Mary the Gate of Heaven, St. Elizabeth entered through this gate on November 9, 1906.
“by a wholly simple and loving movement”
St. Elizabeth’s writings show us how to enter into this simple and loving movement of our soul. Essential to implementing this movement of the soul is exterior and interior silence. Exterior silence means more solitude. Solitude in Carmel is everything and what solitude there was in the soul of Mary. In the solitude of her cell, St. Elizabeth, like Our Lady, was lost in recollection under the influence of the Trinity. For St. Elizabeth the solitude of her cell was a little paradise full of Him.
To live an interior life we must also strive for interior peace even while living among the unrest of the world and our daily occupations. Interior silence, that alone, will make our contact with God continuous. The Blessed Mother is our teacher of the silence necessary for the interior life because “the interior life, which in a very special way, is Mary’s life”. (Divine Intimacy, #378 by Fr. Gabriel Mary) To imitate and resemble Mary’s soul we need to live a life of recollection. Prayer should be foremost in our day, and an uninterrupted giving of ourselves to God should be our activity, like Mary. Keeping constant contact with God in an intimate union with Him is accomplished by reserving our soul as a sanctuary for God alone.
What disturbs our interior peace? Our passions, sins and attachments -these make noise and interrupt our intimate conversation with God. Silence the memory and imagination when we find ourselves spending our time daydreaming, mulling over past events or feelings, or fantasying about the future. These occupy the soul and prevent our conversation with God.
St. Elizabeth has this to say about interior disturbances, “It includes our feelings, memories, impressions, and so forth. In a word, it is self.” We are to be like Mary detached and in control of our emotions and desires.
Likewise, we are to seek solitude and silence where God can find his delights or “rest” in us. We can ask Mary for these graces – for she is the Mistress of our interior life. Additionally, the writings of St. Elizabeth of the Trinty are filled with food for nourishing the spiritual life.
“I shall unite myself to the soul of the Blessed Virgin when the Father overshadowed her with His power, while the Word became incarnate within her, and the Holy Ghost came upon her to work the great mystery It is the whole Trinity in action, God yielding, giving Himself. And ought not the life of a Carmelite be lived under this divine action?” (Letter to Mme. de Sourdon)
J. M. + J. T.