In July of 2016, sitting around the breakfast table, I shared with one of the AVI Sisters the difficulty I was having with two of my character traits, sensitivity and stubbornness, that I struggled calling “gifts” from God. They seemed to me a source of fatigue, and often temptation/sin, rather than a potential gift. Without even blinking an eye, the Sister turned towards me and said: “Briana, you must read the story of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. I think the two of you would become great friends.” Led by my own curiosity, I asked another Sister to bring me a book about St. Elizabeth and I immediately began to read.
Elizabeth Catez was born in something rather like a shack on a military base in d’Avor (Bourges, France) on July 18th, 1880 to Captain Joseph Catez and Marie Rolland, shortly followed by her younger sister Marguerite (Guite) in 1883. A sensitive soul with an iron will, Elizabeth faced her first great trial at the age of seven when her father died suddenly in her arms of cardiac arrest. Her father’s death, her sense of responsibility towards her sister, and her mother’s tenderness and affection shaped little Elizabeth. When her First Communion arrived, she was no longer defined by the impetuous nature of her childhood, but a maturity enriched by her ‘old’ vivacity and passion, now purified. Just before she turned fourteen, she felt called to be a Bride of Christ and immediately made a private vow of virginity. Elizabeth revealed to her mother Marie her desire to enter the Carmel but was denied entry until the age of twenty-one when her mother, eyes brimming with tears, gave her permission to leave home. Elizabeth’s sister Guite, her mother and a few friends accompanied her to the door of the convent after Mass on August 2nd, 1901.
Elizabeth, afflicted by Addison’s disease, died at the age of twenty-six on November 9th, 1906; she was consumed both by pain as well as by the love of her “Three”: the Trinity that dwelled within her.
Why do I believe that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity is an Apostle of Friendship when she spent the last few years of her youth behind the cloister grille, you might ask? From the age of nine until her last days on the earth, Elizabeth wrote more than 280 letters to family, friends, priests, and fellow Carmelites. She shares of her daily life, but with greater frequency she passionately encourages the recipient(s) to entrust him/herself completely to God in all of life’s circumstances; He alone provides the truest and purest joy that we yearn for. And she promises them, continuously, her faithful and present friendship.
“For, you see, in Carmel, like Heaven, there is no more distance, there is already a fusion of souls. This consummation has really been the Master’s whole desire. Do you remember, on the evening of the Last Supper, the prayer from His Heart overflowing with love for those whom “He loved to the end”: “My Father, may they be one”! I so love to make this prayer with Him; then it seems to me that we are so close. My dear Marie-Louise, you see, since I’ve been in Carmel (though outwardly I have scarcely given you any sign of life), it seems to me I am even closer to you, that I love you more deeply because He who has taken me completely to Himself is all Love, and I am trying to identify myself with all His movements; it is with His Heart that I love you, with His Soul that I am praying for you.” (Letters 175).
Distance is no more. Letter after letter, Elizabeth repeats that her being physically far away from those she loves brought her closer to them because now she is immersed in the heart of the Trinity. Prayer is like a channel of ‘presence’ that goes beyond space and time! Elizabeth writes with an intensity and affection that jumps off the page, and although she did not writte a letter to any of us personally, I realize that as I read her words, it seems as if she is speaking directly to me, to us. As if she wanted to assure us of her presence, her affection, her intercession with the “Three,” asking for every grace we need to welcome God’s will and His love in our lives: “If you knew how much I think of you and how much I pray for you…” (L 174).
St. Elizabeth thinks about and intercedes for us, always.
“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” (L 335).
Though for the moment we may not have the possibility to meet each other as we did before the Coronavirus, this does not prevent us from entrusting our concern for one another, all of our affection, to the heart of the Trinity in order to find ourselves united all together in Him. There we will be one in Christ, where there is no such thing as ‘distance,’ and the friendships that we keep close to our hearts will be renewed in His infinite and omnipresent love. Elizabeth herself said that she will help us ‘put ourselves aside’ to come closer to God, and that she will look after us in every step of this precious, yet often difficult, process of transformation. The transformation which can bring forth the “fusion of [our] souls” when we are all united in God. I do not believe that there exists a more solid or steadfast friendship than this, and St. Elizabeth offers precisely that to us today.
“May Christ bring us into those depths, those abysses where one lives only by Him” (L 125).
Today I will set aside fifteen minutes to make my “cloister at home” a place of prayer. I shall bring my every concern to God and entrust every friendship, every person I hold dear to me, to His immense goodness. I will ask Him to be close to them, and I entrust myself to His grace which works in ways and in places that I could never reach. If it be possible, I will ask my friends an intention(s) which I can entrust to St. Elizabeth, my new friend, certain that she will immediately entrust said intention to “her” beloved Trinity.