The Spiritual Life: Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and Contemplative Prayer, Part 2

Authored by Dr. Anthony Lilles in Issue #3.4 of The Catechetical Review

Adoration: Losing Self, Finding Peace

This article is the second in a three part series on the spiritual mission of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity for our time. We are arguing that contemplation of the Triune God can heal the wounds of social alienation that so profoundly mark the experience of believers today and, more than this, offers a fullness of Christian living no other kind of prayer can match. In our last article, we distinguished St. Elizabeth’s confidence in presenting a contemplative approach to the Trinity in contradistinction to the tentativeness that often comes through the preaching of those who do not share a deep devotion to the Divine Persons. In this article, we will further explore St. Elizabeth’s devotion to the Trinity by reflecting on her understanding of adoration as an oblative reality characterized by peace and a distinctly Christian understanding of self-forgetfulness.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity contemplates the Trinity as a mystery in which one can both “lose” and “forget” one’s own self. She does not explicitly refer to Christ’s observation that whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will gain it forever (Mt 16:25). Yet she approaches the Divine Persons, asking for the grace to completely “lose” herself so that she might be established in peace, and sees the immensity of God as evoking self-forgetfulness and complete surrender to his love.

A severe spiritual trial during her novitiate helped forge this devotion. Her prioress and novice mistress, newly appointed thirty-one year old Mother Germaine, describes Saint Elizabeth struggling with “shadows of a dark night,” including “interior disturbances, spiritual pain, and strange phantoms.” Such an observation is entirely consistent with Carmelite tradition. In his commentary, Dark Night, St. John of the Cross argues that such testing is necessary to dispose the soul to perfect union with God, and even more, that this union is already being affected during the trials when he seems so absent. In Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross makes even more explicit that this is a spiritual battle against the devil. Suffering the dark shadows of this spiritual trial in contemplative prayer, according to this wisdom, would prepare Saint Elizabeth for a profound and fruitful union with Christ, the Bridegroom.

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This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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