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Elizabeth of the Trinity: Her Mission in Heaven

Elisabeth_a_18_ans.jpgBlessed Elizabeth in the Catechism

Opening the Catechism of the Catholic Church one morning, I discovered that among the ecclesiastical writers cited in the text, there are fifty-nine men and eight women. Three of the eight women cited are Carmelites, and one of the three is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: an outstanding honour for a young nun who died, hidden in her Carmel at Dijon, at twenty-six years of age on November 9, 1906.

Light, Love, Life

Faced with death, Blessed Elizabeth said, “Je vais à la Lumière, à l’Amour à la Vie — I am going to the Light, to Love, to Life.” The influence of the young Carmelite has grown prodigiously all over the world. Her Prayer to the Holy Trinity has been translated into thirty-four languages.

Her Mission

Before her death, Elizabeth sensed that she would be entrusted with a mission in heaven. “I think,” she said, “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.”

God at Work in Us

Saint Paul, whose Epistles were the young Carmelite’s daily nourishment, says: “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Blessed Elizabeth’s secret of holiness was total surrender to God at work in her for his good pleasure, transforming her into the Praise of His Glory (cf. Eph 1:6). Believing this, one dares to pray, “I trust, O God, that you are at work in me, even now, both to will and to work for the praise of your glory.”

For the Praise of His Glory

The Catechism says that, “even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: ‘If a man loves me,” says the Lord, ‘he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him'” (Jn 14:23). And as a kind of commentary on the mystery of the indwelling Trinity, the Catechism gives us Blessed Elizabeth’s magnificent prayer. I know souls who by dint of repeating that prayer day after day have learned it by heart; God alone knows what changes it has wrought in them . . . for the praise of His glory.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Today is also the feast of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. These words of hers are not unlike those of her sister in Carmel, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, who promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth. Elizabeth envisaged that she too would have a mission in heaven:
“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.”

8 November, Mass of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Virgin

At the end of the homily today I prayed Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer; her text has a way of establishing the soul in silence. After Mass the faithful came forward to venerate the relic of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. I am always moved by the tenderness and faith that people bring to the veneration of holy relics. One senses the nearness of the saint in the most remarkable way.
This is a wise virgin, and one of the number of the prudent
who went out with lighted lamp
to meet Christ on the way.
God of bountiful mercy,
who revealed to Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
the mystery of your secret presence
in the hearts of those who love you,
and chose her to adore you in spirit and in truth;
grant through her intercession,
that we also may abide in the love of Christ,
and merit to be transformed
into temples of your life-giving Spirit,
to the praise of your glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

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To be silent and to listen


CHAPTER VI. Of the Practice of Silence
24 Jan. 25 May. 24 Sept.

Let us do as saith the prophet: “I said,  I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue, I have placed a watch over my mouth; I became dumb and was silent, and held my peace even from good things.” Here the prophet sheweth that if we ought at times to refrain even from good words for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words, on account of the punishment due to sin.

Therefore, on account of the importance of silence, let leave to speak be seldom granted even to perfect disciples, although their conversation be good and holy and tending to edification; because it is written: “In much speaking thou shalt not avoid sin”; and elsewhere: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” For it becometh the master to speak and to teach, but it beseemeth the disciple to be silent and to listen. And therefore, if anything has to be asked of the Superior, let it be done with all humility and subjection of reverence. But as for buffoonery or idle words, such as move to laughter, we utterly condemn them in every place, nor do we allow the disciple to open his mouth in such discourse.

Abbot Hunter–Blair translates the  title of this chapter of the Holy Rule, De Taciturnite, as “Of the Practice of Silence”. It might also be translated, “Of the Habit of Keeping Silence”. Saint Benedict, first of all, presents silence as a means of avoiding sins of the tongue. Does not Saint James say, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” (James 3:2)? And the same Apostle says, “The tongue is indeed a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (James 3:5–6).

Saint Benedict also presents silence as an expression of the humility that befits one who is a disciple, that is, a learner in the school of the service of the Lord. This is the silence of the man concerning whom Wisdom says, “Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors” (Proverbs 8:34). It is the silence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who “kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). It is the silence of Mary of Bethany, who “sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word.” (Luke 10:39). It is even the silence of the Gerasene demoniac who, after his deliverance, was found sitting at the feet of Jesus. (Luke 8:35)

The humble man knows that he has come to the monastery to learn. He silences his inward and outward conversations, not in order to stop thinking, but in order to open himself to the splendour of the truth. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, although not a Benedictine, expresses something of this understanding of Benedictine silence in her famous prayer:

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.

For the son of Saint Benedict, listening to the Word means listening to the teaching of the abbot. This is, as Saint John Paul II puts it, “the listening that changes life” (Orientale Lumen, article 10). “It becometh the master to speak and to teach, but it beseemeth the disciple to be silent and to listen” (Chapter VI). Abbot Herwegen suggests that Saint Benedict is, in this chapter, concerned with reserving the right to teach to the abbot alone, lest self–appointed teachers attract disciples to themselves and so divide the community into multiple schools and factions. Even monasteries are not preserved from the division caused by men who arrogate to themselves the role of teaching:

The time will surely come, when men will grow tired of sound doctrine, always itching to hear something fresh; and so they will provide themselves with a continuous succession of new teachers, as the whim takes them. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)

The proud man, ever full of himself, has an opinion about everything, and his opinion, so he thinks, must prevail. Even if his tongue is not wagging, his mind is full of the noise of wrangling. Without saying a word, he criticises others. Mentally, he interrupts their speech, rehearses arguments against what they are saying, and challenges their discourse. Without speaking a word, such a man is full of noise. He is no lover of silence.

Saint Benedict never intended that his monks should forego all speech. He allows for speaking and, in fact, assumes that his monks will talk. There is evidence of this throughout the Holy Rule. Saint Benedict says that: “Monks should love silence at all times, but especially during the hours of the night” (Chapter XLII). At the same time, he allows his monks, when “they rise for the Work of God, gently to encourage one another, because of the excuses of the drowsy.” (Chapter XXII). In treating of reading in the refectory, Saint Benedict says, “Let no one presume to put any questions there, either about the reading or about anything else, lest it should give occasion for talking” (Chapter XXXVIII). This suggests that elsewhere and at other times certain exchanges were permitted, but within certain limits. “And let not one brother associate with another at unseasonable hours” (Chapter XLVIII).

With regard to the Oratory of the monastery, Saint Benedict says, “When the Work of God is ended, let all go out with the utmost silence, paying due reverence to God, so that a brother, who perchance wishes to pray by himself, may not be hindered by another’s misconduct” (Chapter LII). Here, silence is the expression of the profound reverence that characterises the whole ethos of the Rule. It is the silence of  humble adoration.

Our Declarations invite us to consider the silence of the Sacred Host. In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Word abides in perfect stillness. The monk who remains silent in the great silence of the Host will, over time, enter into the prayer of the Son and, with the Son, pass into the rest of God. “Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11).

44. The silence of the Sacred Host must reign, then, not only over the hearts, minds, and lips of the monks, but over the entire monastery and its land, so as to foster an atmosphere of order and of peace conducive to the prayer of the heart in a spirit of ceaseless adoration.

45. By practicing silence at all times, the monks will avoid innumerable sins of the tongue, and foster, both within themselves and within the monastery, an atmosphere that offers optimal resonance to the Word of God.

46. By assiduous contemplation and adoration of the Sacred Host, the monks will come to love the observance of silence by which it is given them to imitate the sacramental state of the Incarnate Word, who, now in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, as once in His hidden life and bitter Passion, remains silent and still.

Hearken, O my son


1 Jan. 2 May. 1 Sept

Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king. In the first place, whatever good work thou beginnest to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect; that He Who hath now vouchsafed to count us in the number of His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He hath given us, that not only may He never, as an angry father, disinherit his children, but may never, as a dreadful Lord, incensed by our sins, deliver us to everlasting punishment, as most wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

Today is a new beginning for each of us, a moment of grace, an opportunity to be converted once again to the life for which we first came to the monastery. In the very first words of the Holy Rule, our father Saint Benedict sets the tone for all that will follow. Using the second person singular, he addresses each one of us incisively: Obsculta, o fili, “Hearken, O my son”. It was customary, in ancient times, to call the catechumens preparing for Baptism audientes, that is, “those who listen”. The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus prescribes: “Let catechumens spend three years as hearers of the word” (Apostolic Tradition, 17). For Saint Benedict, a man comes to the monastery to be a hearer of the Word. How can one not recall here the words of Saint Augustine?

Be not foolish, O my soul, nor become deaf in the ear of thine heart with the tumult of thy folly. Hearken thou too. The Word itself calleth thee to return. (Confessions, Book IV)

For Saint Benedict, and for all who claim to be his sons, the Word is not a text; the Word is God–Revealing–God. The Word is God–Uttering–Himself. Every utterance of God is an inpouring of grace, a communication of divine life, the principle of a new creation. “It follows”, says Saint Paul, “that when a man becomes a new creature in Christ, his old life has disappeared, everything has become new about him” (1 Corinthians 5:17). Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, though not a Benedictine, captures the sense of this perfectly when, in her splendid prayer, she says:

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.

It is likely that Saint Benedict had in mind the words of Deuteronomy 6:4: Audi, Israël: Dominus Deus noster, Dominus unus est, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”, the intonation of the most important daily prayer of the pious Jew. This, in turn, resonates with the words of Saint Paul” “And whosoever shall follow this rule, peace on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

One does not come to the monastery, presuming to know what is required. One enters the monastery with an open heart, eager to become “totally teachable”. One newly–come to the monastery offers one’s heart to the Finger of God’s Right Hand, the Holy Ghost, as a clean, fresh tablet upon which He will inscribe the Word of Life in letters of fire. The humble man readily inclines the ear of his heart because he knows that he has everything to learn. One who comes to the monastery with years of theological study and of extensive reading behind him — especially the postulant who has been in seminary or is a priest — is sometimes at a disadvantage, because he can too quickly assume that he already knows all that he needs to know. The son of Saint Benedict, from the first day of life in the monastery until the hour of his death must have no other ambition than to be numbered among the very little ones for whom Our Lord praises His Father:

I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. (Matthew 11:25–26)

Many have sought to clarify the identity of the Master in the first phrase of the Prologue: “Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master”. Saint Benedict deliberately leaves the Master anonymous, and this because the Master represents the voice of the whole monastic tradition. The Master is, at once, the voice of Saint John Cassian, the voice of all the Desert Fathers, the voice of Saint Basil, and of all those whom, in the last chapter of the Rule, Saint Benedict calls simply “the holy Catholic Fathers”.  Saint Benedict may be inspired here by the Admonition to a Spiritual Son attributed to Saint Basil, in which we read:

These words — we read — do not come from me, but spring from the divine wellsprings. We do not present you with a new doctrine, but with the one that I have received from my fathers.

Saint Benedict makes no claim of originality. On the contrary, Saint Benedict seeks only to hand on what he himself received from his fathers and masters in the monastic life. The Holy Rule is an initiation into the purest monastic tradition. Saint Aelred expresses this in one of his sermons for the feast of Saint Benedict:

Benedict was filled not only with the spirit of Moses [Moses being the Legislator]; he was also, somehow, as someone said, filled with the spirit of all the just. He built a spiritual tabernacle from the offerings of the children of Israel. In his Rule sparkles the gold of blessed Augustine, the silver of Jerome, the double–dyed purple of Gregory, not to mention the jewel–like sayings of the holy Fathers. (Sermon VIII, For the Feast of Saint Benedict)

Saint Benedict would have us understand that the monastic apprenticeship is necessarily the transmission of a living flame from the spiritual father to his son, and from the master to his disciple. The essential requirement is, as Saint Benedict says, that the son, the disciple, incline the ear of his heart; that he willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of the father who is, but another living link in the long chain of the monastic tradition, so as to return by the labour of obedience to God from Whom, through the sloth of disobedience, he has become estranged. Why is the return to God made by the labour of obedience? Saint Augustine, I think, helps one to understand this when, in The Confessions, he says:

I was far from Your face, through my darkened affections. For it is not by our feet, nor by change of place, that we either turn from You or return to You. (Confessions, Book I, Chapter XVIII)

One returns to God as one departed from God — not by foot, nor by automobile, nor by train, or ship, or aircraft — but by a movement of the heart.  At bottom, disobedience, the first movement of all sin, is a closing of the ear to the voice of Christ, and a turning of the heart away from His face. Once one has turned away into the “far country” of the prodigal son, into the “land of unlikeness”, it is difficult to turn back because, in turning away, one becomes disoriented, all becomes dark, the familiar landmarks disappear, one loses oneself in the stormy night. In such a state it is necessary to take the outstretched hand of a trusted guide, to listen to his directions, and to walk with him, humbly, all the way back to the Father’s house. In so doing, one discovers that one is part of a vast movement of return to God, of the immense pilgrimage of “the generation of them that seek Him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob” (Psalm 23:6). This movement is what we call the monastic tradition. Saint Benedict, our father, teacher, our legislator, guides us into this tradition. To be a Benedictine is to be a son of tradition.

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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