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.
At the end of his treatise on contemplation (also known as his treatise On Consideration), Saint Bernard of Clairvaux observes the dimensions of Christian mental prayer. Specifically, when Saint Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18 that we might come to comprehend and be filled with the breadth and length, height and depth of the fullness of God revealed in the love of Christ, Saint Bernard sees four kinds of contemplation.
For Saint Bernard, God’s breadth is His eternity, His promises. His length is His love, His works. His height is His power, His majesty. His depth is His wisdom, His judgments. Bernard goes on to teach that our meditation on the promises by faith covers the eternal length of God, Himself; our remembrance of all His blessings is a contemplation of the breadth encompassed by the Trinitarian mystery; contemplation of the Lord’s majesty is a glimpse of the heights Divinity; and that our examination of divine judgments gazes on the very depths of the Invisible God. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the Cross reveals this whole mystery Saint Bernard describes and makes it accessible to us in such a way that it can fill our whole being to the point at which love transforms our whole existence through prayer.
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Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, Antony insured that his sister completed her education, then he sold his house, furniture, and the land he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor, joined the anchorites who lived nearby, and moved into an empty sepulchre. At age 35 he moved to the desert to live alone; he lived 20 years in an abandoned fort.
Antony barricaded the place for solitude, but admirers and would-be students broke in. He miraculously healed people, and agreed to be the spiritual counselor of others. His recommendation was to base life on the Gospel. Word spread, and so many disciples arrived that Anthony founded two monasteries on the Nile, one at Pispir, one at Arsinoe. Many of those who lived near him supported themselves by making baskets and brushes, and from that came his patronage of those trades.
Antony briefly left his seclusion in 311, going to Alexandria, Egypt to fight Arianism, and to comfort the victims of the persecutions of Maximinus. At some point in his life, he met with his sister again. She, too, had withdrawn from the world, and directed a community of nuns. Antony retired to the desert, living in a cave on Mount Colzim.
Descriptions paint him as uniformly modest and courteous. His example led many to take up the monastic life, and to follow his way. Late in life Athony became a close friend of St. Paul the Hermit, and he buried the aged anchorite, leading to his patronage of gravediggers. His biography was written by his friend St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
St. Antony the Abbot’s feastday is January 17.
St. Basil the Great (330-375) was born in Caesarea, Asia Minor, and received his education in Constantinople and Athens. He joined the University of Athens in 351 where he studied philosophy and the great classical works for five years. There he did very well in his studies and lived as an ascetic. He returned to Caesarea in 355 to teach at the university. He then traveled extensively in Syria and Egypt, where he visited the great hermits in the monasteries of the Eastern and Western Deserts of Egypt. He was deeply influenced by the life of the Egyptian monks and their great devotion to the worship of God. He was attracted to monasticism as a result of his visit to the Egyptian monasteries. He retired for study and contemplation at the bank of the River Iris, in Pontus. There he devoted his life completely to spiritual meditation in solitude until a number of followers gathered around him.
As a monk. Basil was influenced by St. Pachomius (A.D. 290) of Egypt who called for combatting idleness among monks and advocated a unique rganization of the monastic order which earned him the title “The Father of Monastic Communities”. This inspired St. Basil the monk to build a house for the elderly and the disabled, as well as a hospital adjacent to one of the monasteries at the outskirts of the city of Caesarea. St. Basil later became the founder of an important eastern monastic order, the Basilian Order.
Basil was a very close friend of St. Gregoryn the Bishop of Nazianzus – Constantinople. Together they wrote an outstanding work, The Philocalia, a collection of articles dealing with Origen (A.D. 185), the great Alexandrian theologian.
St. Basil the Great became Bishop of Caesarea in the year 370 A.D. One of his greatest contributions to the Christian faith was his opposition to Arianism. Arianism was a movement which took place in the first third of the 4th century. Arius, the chief representative of the movement claimed that God, the Father, created Christ in time as His son, similar to Him but not completely equal to Him.
Saint Basil’s feast day is January 2.
In silence and solitude, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery spend their life at the Feet of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist. As contemplative nuns, their main work is adoration of their Beloved and prayerful intercession for the Church and the world at large.
Being a part of the Diocese of Phoenix, the nuns especially pray for the needs of Bishop Thomas Olmsted and the local Church. They are dedicated, as well, to intercession for all priests.
Consecrated in 2010, Our Lady of Solitude Chapel is open to the public for daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. It has been a work in progress, relying on Divine Provident manifested through the generosity of others to complete this beautiful place of prayer and worship.
On October 11, 2013, all of the remaining saint stained glass windows were installed in the chapel. Grateful to God and all those who made it possible, the nuns wish to invite everyone to take the trek to Tonopah, Arizona, to see them in person! It is quite a glorious sight.
The following windows were recently installed: St. Agnes of Assisi, St. Junipero Serra, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Bl. Charles de Foucauld, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and Bl. (soon to be St.) John Paul II.
To see a video of the installation of the new windows click here.
(The Augustinian Recollect Nuns constitute the feminine branch or Second Order of the Recollection. Monasteries of these nuns are found in Spain, in Mexico, in the United States, in Africa, and in the Philippines.)
God’s blessings to all of the Teresian Carmelites around the world as they remember their foundress St. Teresa of Avila.
Born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515, Saint Teresa was the daughter of a Toledo merchant and his second wife, who died when Teresa was 15, one of ten children. Shortly after this event, Teresa was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns. After reading the letters of Saint Jerome, Teresa resolved to enter a religious life. In 1535, she joined the Carmelite Order. She spent a number of relatively average years in the convent, punctuated by a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, but then experienced a vision of “the sorely wounded Christ” that changed her life forever.
From this point forward, Teresa moved into a period of increasingly ecstatic experiences in which she came to focus more and more sharply on Christ’s passion. With these visions as her impetus, she set herself to the reformation of her order, beginning with her attempt to master herself and her adherence to the rule. Gathering a group of supporters, Teresa endeavored to create a more primitive type of Carmelite. From 1560 until her death, Teresa struggled to establish and broaden the movement of Discalced or shoeless Carmelites. During the mid-1560s, she wrote the Way of Perfection and the Meditations on the Canticle. In 1567, she met St. John of the Cross, who she enlisted to extend her reform into the male side of the Carmelite Order. Teresa died in 1582.
Saint Teresa left to posterity many new convents, which she continued founding up to the year of her death. She also left a significant legacy of writings, which represent important benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. These works include the Way of Perfectionand the Interior Castle. She also left an autobiography, the Life of Teresa of Avila.
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St. Anthony of Egypt, abbot, was born in Coma, Upper Egypt. While still young he got rid of all his possessions and lived among the local ascetics, and then withdrew into the desert, where he lived in complete solitude and was repeatedly tempted by the devil. Remaining steadfast, he attracted a number of disciples to a hermit’s life in the desert and a small monastery was formed at the place. From there he, in 311, went to Alexandria to encourage the confessors during the persecution of the Emperor Maximinus Daia (emperor in the east 310-313).
St. Anthony was reputed to be a miracle-maker and many were converted by him. His surviving works include a letter to the Emperor Constantine and several ones to different monasteries. St. Athanasius, who knew Anthony well and wrote his biography, said, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his worldly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God.”
Anthony lived a long and righteous life and died at the age of 105. In keeping with his instructions, two of his disciples buried his body secretly in an unmarked grave. In 561 his relics were transferred to Alexandria, and much later, they were claimed by Constantinople and by La Motte, where the Order of Hospitallers of St. Anthony was founded c. 1100. His feastday is January 17.
John was disappointed that the Carmelites no longer lived by the strict Rule that they were known for. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun who became a famous saint and Doctor of the Church, told John that she had been given permission to begin convents based on the original Rule. She asked John to join her in this work.
Teresa and John’s reforms meet with anger and resistance. Some friars did not like the changes John suggested. They imprisoned John in a dark and dirty cell. It was in those terrible conditions that he wrote some of his most beautiful poetry and mystical writings.
Even though John lived many years ago, from 1541 to 1591, his spiritual legacy is still read today by people who want to grow in their relationship with the Lord. One of John’s most famous sayings is, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”