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Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity: Her Mission in Heaven

Elisabeth_a_18_ans.jpgSaint 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 Saint 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, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity 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). Saint 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 Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity’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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Non sit turbulentus et anxius (LXIV:2)

CHAPTER LXIV. Of the Appointment of the Abbot
Continued from 20 Apr.
Let him not be violent nor over anxious, not exacting nor obstinate, not jealous nor prone to suspicion, or else he will never be at rest. In all his commands, whether concerning spiritual or temporal matters, let him be prudent and considerate. In the works which he imposeth, let him be discreet and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, when he said “If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all perish in one day.” Taking, then, the testimonies, borne by these and the like words, to discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things, that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm. And, especially, let him observe this present Rule in all things; so that, having faithfully fulfilled his stewardship, he may hear from the Lord what that good servant heard, who gave wheat to his fellow-servants in due season: “Amen, I say unto you, over all his goods shall he place him.”

Saint Benedict here offers the abbot a kind of examination of conscience:

1. Have I been violent? The potential for violence runs in the blood of every man. A man’s words may be violent; a man’s action’s may be violent; a man’s thoughts may be violent. Saint Benedict is not speaking here of the violence that Our Lord commended. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12). This refers to the magnaminity of the saints: to their determination, energy, and single–mindedness. This holy violence is the opposite of pusillanimity or faintheartedness. The violence that Saint Benedict condemns proceeds from the vices of pride and anger. A violent abbot does harm to his monks and to himself. Violent words, actions, and attitudes make the abbot a tyrant ruling by fear. The abbot prone to violence causes the brethren to walk on eggshells, terrified of igniting a firestorm. An abbot tempted to violence must return again and again to feet of Jesus, humbly asking him to quell the storms that rage within. As often as he is tempted to violence, he will repeat Our Lord’s words: “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

2. Have I been over anxious? Anxiety can be crippling; it can keep a man from taking even a single step forward. Anxiety can so darken a man’s mind that he can no longer assess things reasonably. At bottom, anxiety is the dread of being abandoned, or the fear of a loss. Saint Thomas relates anxiety to the fear of some great evil. In some men, anxiety is habitual and deeply–rooted. What is the remedy for anxiety? The great remedy, surpassing all others, is faith in the fatherhood of God. The abbot, more than any monk, is obliged to make continual acts of faith in the fatherhood of God. To this end, he will immerse himself in the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of the Father, taking to heart Our Lord’s every reference to the Father, and making his own Our Lord’s  every prayer to the Father, particularly the prayers uttered before the resurrection of Lazarus, in the Cenacle, in Gethsemani, and from the Cross. Similarly, he will apply his whole heart to the great liturgical expressions of prayer to the Father, living every day in readiness for the sublime words that he utters at the altar: Te igitur clementissime Pater, “Thee, therefore, most merciful Father”. These words are an efficacious and inexhaustible remedy for the anxiety that tracks, and attacks, and inhibits so many souls in their relationship to the Father.

The Catholic world at the beginning of the last century was marked by a great resurgence of faith in the fatherhood of God. Blessed Charles of Jesus (1858–1916), Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1873–1897), Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880–1906), Blessed Abbot Marmion (1858–1923), and Abbot Vital Léhodey (1857–1948) all contributed to an awakening of souls to the fatherhood of God. The concrete expression of faith in the fatherhood of God is trust in Divine Providence. I could refer to the writings of any one of these figures. The so–called Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles of Jesus, however, is among the best known expressions of this spiritual current of return to the fatherhood. It is, I think, an effective remedy when tempted to anxiety or when one finds oneself in the grip of it. Blessed Charles wrote the text in 1896. At the time he was still a Trappist at Akbes in Syria. He did not write the prayer for himself, but as a meditation on the abandonment of the crucified Jesus to the Father.

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.


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.

Support the monks of Silverstream Priory:

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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