I know I should carve out more time for family and sleep. And prayer. Especially prayer. If only I prayed more, then everything else would go smoother. So I make the effort.
And then my phone rings. Or the dogs bark at something. Or….well, you get the picture.
Recently, however, something has changed for me. I’ve met Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. She has inspired me not just to pray more, but to pray better.
Saint John Paul II, JPII beatified Elizabeth in 1984, five years into his papacy. He identified her as one of the most influential mystics in his spiritual life.
What does a cloistered Carmelite nun and mystic who died in 1906 at the age of 26 have to teach about navigating the modern world as a contemplative? Elizabeth understood that the Holy Spirit is timeless and holiness is an equal opportunity venture.
During the last months of her life, Blessed Elizabeth wrote down theological reflections that she believed would help people grow in prayer. She also wrote a 10-day retreat for her biological sister Margaret, a young mother.
Elizabeth believed a contemplative life was possible for anyone who opened his or her heart. She wanted Catholics to enter deep into the mystery of God in order to have a transforming encounter with Christ and change the way they encountered the world.
Heaven in Faith
In Beginning to Pray with Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, podcasts with Dr. Anthony Lilles, he presents a 10-day spiritual retreat written by Blessed Elizabeth. Dr. Lilles is a Catholic husband and father of three who teaches Spiritual Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux. He is the author of Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer.
The retreat has been called “Heaven in Faith.” Here is the first prayer of the first day with a brief summary of her reflection as explained by Dr. Lilles:
Father, I will that where I am, they also whom you have given me may be with me in order that they may behold my glory which you have given me because you have loved me since before the creation of the world’. Such is Christ’s last wish, his supreme prayer before returning to his Father. He wills that where he is we will be also. Not only for eternity but already in time which is eternity begun and still in progress. It is important then to know where we must live with him in order to realize his divine dream. The place where the Son of God is hidden is the bosom of the Father or the Divine Essence, invisible to every mortal eye, unattainable by every human intellect, as Isaiah said, ‘Truly you are a hidden God.’ And yet, his will is that we should be established in him, that we should live where he lives in the unity of love, that we should be, so to speak, his own shadow. By baptism, says St. Paul, we have been united to Jesus Christ. And again, God seeded us together in heaven in Christ Jesus, that he might show in the ages to come the riches of his grace, and further on, you are no longer guests or strangers but you belong to the city of saints and the house of God.
The Supreme Desire of Jesus
In her reflections, Elizabeth explains that prayer is about an interpersonal communion of friendship, a kind of sharing of hearts with Jesus. She illuminates the deepest more supreme desire in the heart of Jesus given that the night before he died he prayed: “Father, I will that where I am, they also whom you have given me may be with me in order that they may behold my glory which you have given me because you have loved me since before the creation of the world.”
“Jesus’ desire is for us to be with him in communion. This is what he aches for, his deepest desire that he prays for. This is what Jesus was doing the night before he died.” Elizabeth calls this Jesus’s last wish, his supreme prayer. Out of this deep desire, he utters this prayer to the Father. She wants our hearts to be informed by this desire and to share this desire. “If we do, our spiritual lives and prayer will explode,” she wrote. “Our thoughts will be soaked with God. Because if we realize that if this is the Son of God—he is the word spoken by the father that has become flesh and this is Jesus’ deepest desire, it ought to evoke in us a desire that responds to it.”
Elizabeth wanted our faith to be to desire communion with God. That it is exactly what Jesus said he wants with us. We don’t have to take the afternoon off and bury ourselves in religious books and hours of prayer on our knees according to her. To be contemplative, she explained, we need to understand the simplicity of wanting to be united with Jesus and at the same time, the deepness. “Our omnipotent God, the creator of the World, wants most to be united with his poor limited frail creatures. He yearns for us to live with him.”
Elizabeth tapped into the understanding that we are made for something more than this world. In the midst of achievement, people are still empty, we are made for more, to dwell in union with God and God wants to dwell with us. When we live in unity with God, we have faith and we find our home with God. “The peace we were made to enjoy is found only by faith in Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ is the only one who can lead me into the bosom of the Trinity into the heart of the Father and in the heart of the Father my heart finds rest and I find the fullness of my humanity and the joy that God created me for becomes mine.”
Copyright 2015, Patti Maguire Armstrong
Image: “Elisabeth de la Trinité portant l’habit de Carmélite” by Willuconquer – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.