FRIDAY OF THE TWENTY–EIGHTH WEEK OF THE YEAR II
Psalm 32:1–2, 4–5, 12–13 (R. 12b)
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite who died in 1906 at the age of twenty–six read the very same text from Saint Paul that we heard in today’s First Reading, and it transformed her life. She read it and knew beyond any doubt that although Saint Paul addressed his letter to the Church at Ephesus in the first century, it became, when she read it, a message addressed directly to her soul. Elizabeth understood that God had destined her to become “the praise of his glory.”
The young Carmelite discovered the text, through the liturgy. Elizabeth was no Latinist, but this she understood! Four words seemed to her written not in ink but in fire: in laudem gloriae eius, “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12, 14). These words jumped off the page and lodged themselves in her heart. Such was the impact of these words on Elizabeth of the Trinity that she began to call herself by a new name: Praise of Glory. This became her secret name of grace: the name that, for Elizabeth, summed up the will of God for her and his design on her relatively short life.
We are obliged, I think, to ask ourselves two very hard questions. Why is it that when the saints read the Sacred Scriptures, the words pierce their hearts and bring about a radical transformation of their lives? And why is it that when we read the same Sacred Scriptures, we are so often unmoved, indifferent, and unchanged by them? I leave it to each of you to reflect on these questions and find your own answers. For myself, I know that if Scripture leaves me unchanged — unconverted — it is because of the hardness of my heart. It is because I do not approach the Word of God with humility, compunction, and unconditional surrender to its transforming virtus, its divine power.
One of the greatest obstacles to hearing the Word of God is the attitude born of routine. One thinks, “Oh, I have heard all that before. I already know it. There is nothing new there for me.” One who skims over the Scriptures will never find the treasure buried in the field and will never contemplate the pearl of great price. Our Lord says, “He that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound; but he that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath” (Mt 13:12).
The Word of God is new at every moment. It comes to us fresh, warm, and moist from the mouth of God. It is carried to the soul on the Breath of God. The saints receive the Word, saying (and here I am paraphrasing Saint Bernard), “Come, Word of God! Come, life and power! Enter in and wake up my slumbering soul. Stir and soothe and pierce my heart that is hard as stone and diseased. Pluck out what needs to be plucked out. Destroy what has to be destroyed. Build up and plant. Water all the dry places and illumine the dark ones. Open what is closed. Warm what is cold. Change what you would see changed. Do in me those things that of myself and by myself I cannot do. All for the praise of your glory.”
This is the way of all the saints. I think today of a favourite in my gallery of heavenly heroes: Saint Paul of the Cross. Today is his liturgical memorial.
Paul was pierced through by the verbum crucis, “the word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18). Paul was refashioned by “the word of the Cross” into a lover of the Crucified. If you have never read the Letters of Saint Paul of the Cross, do it. It is like having the saint as your own spiritual director. He is wise, passionate, and compassionate. I should like to end today with an extract from one of Saint Paul’s spiritual letters. He is writing to Thomas Fossi, a married layman. The date is August 26th, 1737. This is what he says:
My Beloved Son in Christ Jesus,
I received your letter with the one included from your wife. Since your letter is all taken up with a repetition of your pains of body and soul, I can reply to it with few words and say:
There is no need to be always looking at your sufferings and philosophizing minutely on them, or reflecting so much on yourself to see whether your sufferings please you or not and whether you take pleasure in them. Leave off these reflections, but continue to do the right things in simplicity, loving the Will of God in every event and keeping yourself truly beneath the Holy Cross without reflections and useless subtleties. When your mind turns to such reflections, cut it off immediately; for the extent that you reflect on the sufferings and so forth, you lose sight of the Sovereign Good. It is better to remain on the cross without any further inquiry. I would not have you going along philosophizing whether you are enjoying or whether your afflictions are increasing or whether this is a good sign or not. You should not be stopping at such things, unless you want to act as your own director. Rather, turn and abandon all care to the Heavenly Father and to him who directs you.
The way to free oneself from deceits is to humble oneself well, not to trust oneself, to recognize one’s nothingness, to annihilate oneself before God, and to abandon one’s self with filial confidence in the arms of God.
With regard to prayer, if you cannot put in that much time, it is not important. He always prays who does what is right.
Attend to the work for your household, and in that way you will do your duty, keeping yourself attentive to God and frequently plunging your spirit into the immense sea of divine love. It is not necessary to check up minutely whether this plunge was done well, whether you were attentive to God, and so on. No, dear one, these are useless cares. I repeat, you must go about doing good simply as children do.
You did well to follow the doctor’s orders, and, if you are not cured, it is not important, for you did your duty. Take care to maintain your health, eat what is necessary, and take the sleep you need. In that way you build up your strength, if that is God’s wish and for your good. So now take glory in Christ for your weakness, but without the kinds of reflecting referred to above, and pursue the good.
For penances, for now be content with what God gives you. These are infinitely better than those we take on ourselves.
In prayer occupy yourself with the mysteries of the holy Life, Passion, and Death of Jesus; but if your soul relishes being alone with God in a humble, holy, and loving rest, let it remain thus.