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Elizabeth Catez was born July 18, 1880 in Avor, France. A lively, brunette chatterbox, she was known for her “high-spirited gaiety” and love of fun. As she matured, she “felt an increasing hunger for prayer”. Throughout her conservatory studies (Elizabeth was an accomplished pianist), dances, parties and travels, she continued to yearn to enter the Carmelite order, and could hardly bear the waiting.
The seemingly interminable wait to become a nun, made longer by her mother’s illness and resistance to the loss of her young daughter, finally ended as, at 21,Elizabeth was received behind the grilles of the Dijon Carmel. Leaving behind the family she adored, the elegant clothing and sophisticated entertainments she had once enjoyed, and the many suitors “attracted by her radiance, her vivacity and quiet dignity”, Elizabeth Catez became Elizabethof the Trinity at last.
Elizabeth experienced trials with scruples and interior darkness, emotional distress, spiritual confusion, and struggles in prayer – even times “when prayer was so repugnant to her that she was tempted to walk out”. But she persevered.
To a seminarian, she wrote:
Sometimes it is so strong, this need to be silent, that one would like to know how to do nothing but remain like Magdalene, that beautiful model for the contemplative soul, at the feet of the Master, eager to hear everything, to penetrate ever deeper into this mystery of Charity that He came to reveal to us. Don’t you find that in action, when we are in Martha’s role, the soul can still remain wholly adoring, buried like Magdalene in her contemplation, staying by this source like someone who is starving; and this is how I understand the Carmelite’s apostolate as well as the priest’s. Then both can radiate God, give Him to souls, if they constantly stay close to this divine source. (L 158)
In 1903, Elizabeth was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. She suffered from fatigue, stomach problems, debilitating pain and immune system breakdown, but her absorption in God and tenderness toward others constantly increased. Her writings as she endured this ‘via dolorosa’ reveal her yearning to be holy – to be consecrated to the power of God’s love so that every aspect of her life would echo the Eucharist in praise of His glory. She began to sign letters with her ‘new name’ – taken from the Latin text of Ephesians 11:12 (God has created us for the praise of his glory.): Laudem Gloriae (Praise of Glory). During her final months,Elizabeth wrote a small booklet for her sister, Guite – a married woman with children – in the form of a ten-day retreat. Contemplating Mary as the ideal ‘Praise of Glory’, she wrote:
A praise of glory is a soul that lives in God, that loves Him with a pure and disinterested love, without seeking itself in the sweetness of this love; that loves Him beyond all His gifts….A praise of glory is a soul of silence that remains like a lyre under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit so that He may draw from it divine harmonies; it knows that suffering is a string that produces still more beautiful sounds; …A praise of glory is a soul that gazes on God in faith and simplicity; it is a reflector of all that He is; it is like a bottomless abyss into which He can flow and expand; it is also like a crystal through which He can radiate and contemplate all His perfections and His own splendor. (HF 41-44)
With great effort, she spent several of her last days writing a treatise of spiritual guidance for a young friend. In this passionate testament to her own union with Christ, Elizabeth wrote:
A supernatural soul never deals with secondary causes but with God alone. Oh! How its life is simplified, how it resembles the life of the blessed, how it is freed from self and from all things! Everything for it is reduced to unity, to that ‘one thing necessary’, of which the Master spoke to Magdalene. Then the soul is truly great, truly free, for it has ‘enclosed its will in God’s’. …I feel already as if I were almost in heaven here in my little cell, alone with Him alone, bearing my cross with my Master….If you only knew how delicious the dregs are at the bottom of the chalice prepared by my Heavenly Father! (GV 1-13)
Visitors were in awe of the dignity, self-possession, and tender concern for others Elizabeth displayed during these last days. She died peacefully, “her eyes wide-open now, …in ecstasy rather than agony”. Though her body was horribly ravaged, her face was so beautiful “the sisters could not take their eyes off her”. As she died they recalled the work she had hoped to accomplish after death:
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)
Quotations from Jennifer Moorcroft’s biography of Elizabeth, “He Is My Heaven” (ICS Publications, Washington, D.C., 2001)
Moorcroft Quotes from Elizabeth’s writings:
L: Letter – “The Early Letters” (#1-83) in JTD, v. II*; “The Letters fromCarmel” (#84-342) in Works, v. 2.
HF: “Heaven in Faith” (+par. no.) in Works, v.1.
GV: “The Greatness of Our Vocation” (+par. no.) in Works, v. 1.
*Moorcroft’s original translation from the French edition.
I once asked a friend who calls herself a Jewish-Catholic if it had been hard for her to accept Mary’s role in Salvation History. She laughed and said, “Heck no! Every Sabbath was begun by a Jewish mama’s prayers! I’d have been suspicious if Lord Sabbaoth hadn’t come through a woman.”
Jewish women welcomed Sabbath into the home each Friday evening with prayers and candle-lighting. I love the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where all the women’s voices rise to bless their families on a Friday evening. Sabbath was thought of, like Holy Wisdom, as a woman – even as a Queen. The Sabbath gives us some fascinating insights into the characteristically feminine movement of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the faithful.
If you enjoy discussing the ‘genius of women,’ you’ll enjoy this talk.
Here are a few other Sabbath-related talks.
In a discussion of my poem by this title, we look at the pain a woman may feel upon being loved by Christ. It is sometimes a very difficult thing to be loved, and to receive love. Many women have related to my example of a woman who fights that love as though her life depends upon keeping Christ at arm’s length. This is a very healing discussion!
This poem was first published in Canticle magazine, then used as a handout for their national women’s conference. When I discuss evangelization, I try to mention how hard it can be to accept Christ’s love. The woman in this poem is like many women I have actually known, and is a page right out of my own pre-conversion story. Christians often feel that the invitation to “Come to Jesus” should, necessarily, be seen as pleasant, wonderful, joyful – like an invitation to a party. For them, who know joy in Christ, it’s hard to imagine it could seem any other way.
But coming to Jesus also exposes wounds, tears away self-protective cover, reveals the utter neediness and brokenness of a soul. In this poem I try to give voice to that which causes someone to avoid Christ as one might avoid poison, and to give Christ’s response to that soul who needs Him so much. This talk stands on its own, or contributes to discussions of evangelism, dialogue, and womanhood.
Here’s a collection of my talks that feature poetry, poems, or poetic formation.
I prepared this talk for the Heart of a Woman group, in Kansas City, shortly after the suicide of a Catholic mother of ten. It was a shock to me, but not entirely unexpected, as I had known her during the years she struggled with depression and disintegration, despite her devotion to the Church, Christ, and the Blessed Mother.
I blogged about it, and that post was shared more widely than anything I’ve ever written. Women in the area needed to talk – I needed to talk – about how this could happen, what might have helped, and how friends sometimes make things worse for women in this situation.
The entire text is available as a pdf pamphlet on my Resources page, but I would say the plain text doesn’t quite do justice to the talk in person! When I’m this passionate about something, I’m talking with my hands, with my whole body, with the chalk, and with the help of everyone who talks back!
What I find most amazing, most hopeful in this sad situation is the message to women that their very weakness and pain can be what God uses to help heal them and others. As with all my talks, I get so much out of the intense preparation. By the time I arrived that night, I dearly loved every woman in that room, as I had prayed so for them. I felt the profound love of the Holy Spirit and of the Mother of God just enveloping and gifting me. This was a beautiful experience for me, despite the awful instigation for it.
Here’s a book recommendation for those trying to connect to not-necessarily-Christian women about such things as gender differences, women’s friendships, feminine genius, motherhood, and spirituality.
Differences between the original myth of Cupid and Psyche, and C.S. Lewis’ retelling of the myth in Till We Have Faces have the effect of revealing new dimensionality in the Christian understanding of both myth and of the human person. The pre-Christian myth, like the pre-Christian person, is veiled in a darkness that constitutes a reduction from an ideal – a flattening of the fullness of story, or of person.
Lewis retells the myth in the inescapable light of the Incarnation, and in doing so, illuminates and revivifies the notion of personhood, as expressed through its characters. It’s fascinating to note that Lewis wrote this book at about the same time as his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. Peter Schakel, author of Reason and Imagination in C.S. Lewis, believed these two books actually tell one story:
Orual’s account of her life, like Lewis’ account of his own in Surprised by Joy, is retrospective, subjective, and selective. It is striking, then, that suddenly he is able to complete successfully two stories he had long sought to tell but had been unable to: his own story and that of Cupid and Psyche. …Each is a story of consciousness, and of the achievement of wholeness through sacrificial death; and each is the story of Lewis himself.
Add to all that a discussion of the imagery of the veil in the life of a woman – her need for modesty, for beauty, for privacy, for mystery, and for self-revelation to God, and you have one of my favorite talks to give!
Here’s my take on The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.