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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.
It is not always a pleasant thing to come to Christ. All around us are women in varying stages of hardened self-defense against the pains of un-love, abandonment, violation, fatherlessness, abuse and sin. To such women, from another, these poems have been written. The pair can be read individually, or back and forth from verse to verse, as a dialogue. ‘Cacophony’ is the cry of a woman’s heart to be loved, purified, and husbanded. The journey she has begun, of trusting her wooer, has become extremely painful as her vulnerability increases in response to his love. She feels betrayed and frightened as her self-protective cover drops away, revealing sin and pain. ‘Euphony’ is the response of Christ to this woman. His calm resolve to love and have her as his own is not upset by her self-loathing frenzy. Unperturbed even by her seeming hatred of him, he sees through to the deep need of her soul for healing through faithful love. [Read more…]
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.