In a recent interview with the National Catholic Register in the Vatican, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s postulator, Carmelite Father Romano Gambalunga, reflected on why Elizabeth epitomizes holiness, though as a little girl some would have said otherwise.
Moreover, the Carmelite priest shares how her example can inspire young people, especially those considering religious vocations, give peace to those suffering and provide all of the faithful a model on living out holiness in a frenetic and superficial world.
Pope Francis made the 20th-century Carmelite nun a canonized saint, October 16, at the Vatican, and her feast day will be November 8. This March, the Pope paved the way for the mystic and spiritual writer’s canonization, as he acknowledged a miracle worked through Blessed Elizabeth’s intercession.
Born Elizabeth Catez in France in 1880, she grew up in Dijon. Though she felt the call to be a Carmelite very young, Elizabeth obeyed her mother’s wish for her to wait until she became 21 to enter the convent. In the meantime, she lived an active social life, capturing many hearts, was an accomplished musician and contributed to her parish, doing all for Christ and always trying to radiate his light.
In 1901, she entered the Carmel community in Dijon, writing several works while there, including her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Only five years later, she died there at age 26 from the adrenal disorder Addison’s disease.
What would you say constituted the sanctity of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity?
Simply because, like all the saints, she believed in the revelation that God is love, is the Father, that Jesus is his son and he gives us his spirit of mercy and love. And if we live by faith, then we experience this Spirit ourselves, this energy that baptism gives us. On the day of first Communion, she already decided that she would totally give herself over to him. Up until that day, she was a terrible child.
Yes! The priest who was preparing her to for her first holy Communion said: “This little one will become an angel or a devil.” She had an incredible character. [She] was a volcano! She was an artist, was very sensitive, played the piano … but could not really go to the convent, when she wished to, because her mother told her to wait. So she lived instead her love of Jesus as she went to parties, through friendships, in trips and in working in the parish. The Lord taught her to live deep communion with him, even in the midst of all this. St. Elizabeth is a beautiful example of a young lay saint because she lived only the last five years of her life in the convent. And there, she radiated Christ’s light, and many drawn to her observed: “We see her, but we feel like we see ‘someone else.’” In fact, this is interesting, given that she said, no matter what stage of her life, “Lord, I wish that when people meet me, they see you.”
Her vocation to the religious life was met with resistance by her mother. It is a situation that happens often today to many considering a vocation.
All young people go through a difficult phase, when they decide to become themselves and demand freedom to do so. So often, even today, conflicts arise with their parents. But when there is a religious vocation, then the conflict is a bit paticular, because the parent understands that the child is not his anymore, and if he does not accept that, it is a problem. Elizabeth, however, teaches us that our freedom comes from hearing the voice of God, not by rebelling or being “against” someone. Elizabeth also teaches young people today what it means to obey their parents, to accept that they may need time, but encourages them to try anyway, together with the Lord, to help them better understand what God wants for us.
How can her life, marked by illness, be an example to those who suffer with illness? How can she teach us to think of Jesus’ suffering on the cross?
There are incredible letters she wrote to people with great suffering. Some to a depressed lady come to mind, in which Elizabeth says that the meeting with the Lord, that is to say our journey of holiness, is a downward path, into an abyss of our misery, of our nothingness. But yet, she explained, at that point, there is the deep impact of another abyss, that of the mercy of God. With this, our misery is no longer an obstacle to our happiness. Physical illness or moral despondency become a blessing. Also, when her sister was pregnant for the first time and had worries, Elizabeth encouraged her to live out her pregnancy as Mary did, with total trust that God would take care of her and help her each step of the way.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity died so young, but was already famous to the people of Dijon. What would you explain as the cause for this?
Elizabeth was very well-known because she was a natural leader: great temperament, social skills, vivacity, great ability to love and cultivate friendships. She was beautiful, and one could joke a little flirtatious, if you will, as she loved dressing elegantly and took care of herself. She was fascinating to young people, but friendly, not at all cold or distant. Also, as an artist, she was already famous, having won various awards, and, in the parish, she worked with the choir. She was also very involved in a normal young person’s social life, in festive evenings. … So when she entered the convent, the reaction of many was thinking: “But this is a wasted life! You had all these gifts and go to lock yourself up in a convent? And to do what?” Then came that, as one calls it, “fame of sanctity.” After her life, those in her Carmelite community wrote of this great writer and mystic, and word of her holiness spread more and more.
What does St. Elizabeth teach us today? How can she inspire us?
One of her typical expressions was: “My vocation, now as I go to Heaven, will be to help souls to cling with a simple movement to the soul to God who lives in them.” We live in very superficial world where everyone is always running and pleading for more time. … Elizabeth teaches us that if we understand that God is in us, then we live “from the inside,” with an awareness that gives light to all that we do. Every moment, then, becomes a moment in which we enter a bit more into the mystery of Christ.