Saints Learn from Saints
The saints know that the lives and writings of other saints are invaluable resources and so they make a point of drinking from the fountains of other saints. They know that they are drawing from reliable sources who have shown themselves to be faithful to God,
Sometimes, saints encounter the writings of someone who has not yet been canonized, but, in the case of young Elizabeth Catez, the beauty of the truth of what she encountered in the writings of a yet-to-be canonized saint stood out and got her attention. She recognized the spiritual genius of the writing, and it helped her make her calling sure.
Then, as she pursued her vocation, she continued to draw from the deep well of the saints, by focusing and meditating on the writings of the greatest missionary of the Church.
A Fierce Temper and Musical Talent
Elizabeth Catez was born on July 18, 1880 in France in a military camp. Her father, Joseph, was a captain in the French military. And, her mother, Marie Rolland, was the daughter of a retired military commandant. She was known for her strong will, musical talent, and enjoyment of life. After her father passed away when she was only 7 years old, her mother, her younger sister, Marguerite, and she moved to Dijon, France to an apartment within view of the local Discalced Carmelite monastery.
Even at a young age, Elizabeth exhibited her strength of character which was accompanied by a fierce temper. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, her mother loaned Elizabeth's favorite doll to the parish priest for a play. In the middle of the play, Elizabeth recognized her doll and stood up, crying out, "You wicked priest! Give me back my Jeanette!" Later, another priest who was familiar with the child confided to Elizabeth's mother that given her strong personality, Elizabeth would either become a demon or an angel.
As Elizabeth grew older she developed her musical talent by becoming an accomplished pianist. Not unlike other girls her age, she enjoyed the latest fashions and attending dances.
Around the same time, her spiritual life grew from her early formation through learning the catechism. At the age of 10, Elizabeth received her First Communion. In her writings later, she noted that this was an important spiritual milestone for her. Elizabeth recounts her sense of being fed by Jesus and developing more of a focus on her spiritual development.
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Her Vocation is Made Sure
When she was a little older, she was moved to act on her faith, and she began to work with troubled youth through her parish. She was an affectionate child and was quick to exhibit that affection towards the youth, friends, and family. This characteristic along with her general love of life made her popular among the people in her life.
She would also visit the nearby Carmelites on occasion including visits with the chaplain in order to confirm her sense of direction in her spiritual life. Part of the growing sense was a vocation. As early as age 7, when the family had moved near the Carmelites, Elizabeth had sensed an interest in the religious life.
Through one of her visits to the monastery and through the words of a saint, she was able to solidify that calling.
During the important visit, Elizabeth met with the mother superior who said, "Here is a recent circular letter I think that you should read. It regards the recent passing of the Carmelite Thérèse of Lisieux."
With that, the mother superior, handed the letter to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth devoured the letter and through her reading of that letter she felt confirmed in her calling to enter the Carmel. The letter spoke to her soul and resonated with her own heart.
The letter which she read was actually a version of what would become the Story of a Soul. And through St. Thérèse of Lisieux's well-known spiritual autobiography, Elizabeth embraced the contemplative life.
At the time, she was only 17, and when she asked her mother's permission, her mother told her she would have to wait until she had turned 21.
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Entering the Carmel and Learning from the Saints
On August 2, 1901, at the age of 21 she entered the Carmel in Dijon. She immersed herself in the prayer of the monastery. And she continued to be assisted by St. Thérèse's writings. In particular, she was drawn to St. Thérèse's "Offering of Merciful Love" prayer and "Living by Love" poem.
Only three days after she entered the Carmel in Dijon, one of the sisters, Sr. Therese of Jesus sent photographs and comments to the Carmel at Lisieux (addressed to St. Genevieve who was St. Thérèse of Lisieux's sister). In her comments, she writes of the new novice, "a postulant of three days but one who has desired Carmel since the age of seven, Sr. Elizabeth of the Trinity, who will turn out to be a Saint, for she already has remarkable dispositions for that."
She led the life of a model Carmelite and lived up to her given name of Elizabeth of the Trinity through her contemplation of the Triune God living within her.
Along with the writings of St. Therese, Elizabeth was drawn to the epistles of St. Paul in the New Testament. Much of the writing she left is reflections on passages from St. Paul's letters. Two passages from St. Paul had a deep influence upon her.
First, Elizabeth believed that her mission in the Carmel was to be laudem gloriae or a praise of glory (Eph. 1:6). For her this meant becoming a new creation in which Christ could renew His mystery.
Second, she took to heart, what St. Paul wrote in Col. 1:24,"and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." She understood that having gazed upon the Lord who suffered so much for her, she could offer up herself and her suffering for the sake of souls through love.
During her time in the Carmel she wrote several works including the well-known "O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" prayer and guides for retreats. She was devoted to bringing souls to a deeper union with God, and as she neared death, she thought her mission would be to lead souls through a transformation based on contemplative prayer.
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Her Suffering and Death
In her twenty-fifth year, her health declined and she ended up spending many months in the infirmary. She was diagnosed with Addison's disease which attacked her adrenal glands causing her stomach pains, vomiting, and preventing her from keeping food down. Through her intense suffering, she continued to offer her pain for the sake of others. Indeed, she asked not so much that her suffering be reduced but that she would have a greater capacity for suffering. After suffering intensely for weeks, she passed away on November 9, 1906 at the age of 26. She was canonized on October 16, 2016.
O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore
Every year, the nuns of the Carmelite monastary in Dijon would renew their vows on the Feast of the Presentation. On September 21, 1904, after renewing her vows along with her sisters, St. Elizabeth wrote the following prayer later that evening.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in You, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth from You, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your cherished dwelling-place and the place of Your repose. Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to Your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of Your heart. I long to cover You with glory, to love You even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg You to clothe me with Yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of Your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute Yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of Your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Savior.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to You, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from You. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on You and to remain under Your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave Your radiance.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for Him a new humanity in which He can renew all His mystery.
And You, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with Your shadow, see in her only Your beloved Son in Who You are well pleased.
O my `Three', my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in You until I go to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your splendor!
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