On October 16, Pope Francis will formally canonize Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of the 20th century. While the Feast of Blessed Elizabeth is November 9, the day of her death, her canonization during this month draws special attention to Carmelite spirituality as October celebrates the feasts of two other well-known Carmelite nuns - St. Therese of Lisieux on October 1, and St. Teresa of Avila, on October 15. It is significant that there is a great deal of similarity between Elizabeth of the Trinity and St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the most well-known saints of the Church to whom men and women of all walks of life have a great devotion.
The spirituality of these great women saints is a good one for us to reflect upon during this month of October which is devoted to Mary. Carmelite spirituality is based on the contemplative atmosphere of the biblical side of Mount Carmel where the Order had its beginning in the late 12th century. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order upon whom the Order was founded and to whom the Order is dedicated. The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Caramel is part of the Carmelite habit. Mary truly is a model of contemplation for all of us. She concretely lived in this world and was keenly attentive to the many needs of the Holy Family, the apostles and those of her acquaintances, such as Elizabeth, her cousin, and the couple at the Wedding in Cana, but always with her heart reflecting upon the presence and word of God in her life.
St. Teresa of Avila was born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. She entered the Carmelite Monastery at the age of twenty and shortly after became seriously ill for over three years. After her illness, she endured a period in her spiritual life which she considered mediocre, although she continued to pray ardently. At the age of twenty-nine, she had an intense experience of God's love through her meditation on the suffering of the Crucified Christ. Devoting herself even more profoundly to her spiritual life, she founded a reformed Carmelite Order much in keeping with the original and austere foundation of the Congregation. St. Theresa received the grace of extraordinary religious experiences and wrote several volumes on the mystical and spiritual life. She also wrote an autobiography, Life. She died on October 4, 1582, was canonized in 1622, and was proclaimed the first woman Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
Although very much influenced by the spirituality of St. Theresa of Avila, the life of St. Therese of Lisieux was a very different one. She was born in Alençon, France, on January 2, 1873. Her early years were close to her family and filled with a great desire to please God. She had a very simple and innocent outlook on life that never left her. At the age of sixteen, she entered the Carmel at Lisieux, having met with some resistance because of her young age. Her early days were filled with much peace. However, time brought her terrible spiritual and physical suffering. Her interior suffering was never reflected in her exterior attitude which always was one of joy with the other sisters. St. Therese endured terrible dryness in prayer, scruples and temptations of faith but through them all she was a model of love in the monastery. She died at the young age of twenty-four on September 30, 1897, from tuberculosis after a prolonged agony. She was an example of prayer, joy, simplicity and patience. She wrote, at the request of her superior, an autobiography, Story of a Soul, and is most known for her promotion of the “Little Way.” St. Therese of Lisieux was canonized in 1925, and declared a Doctor of the Church by St. John Paul II in 1997.
A contemporary of Therese, Elisabeth Catez, was born on July 18, 1880, at her father's military post at Avord in Cher, France. Unlike St. Therese, she was quite an active child who always wanted to get her way. Elizabeth had a sister who was very different in temperament from her. Her sister was extremely gentle while Elizabeth was quite pushy and went into temper tantrums. Elizabeth did show many good qualities of love with her mother and her sister, especially after the death of her father. It was the local parish priest who remarked that even though she began to demonstrate such good qualities and was intensifying in her relationship with God, Elizabeth was going to be either a saint or a demon. Her mother, at one point, wanted to send her to a house of corrections run by the Good Shepherd Sisters and even packed her suitcases. Elizabeth very much loved parties, dining and playing tennis, and began to radiate spiritual presence to many she encountered at these events. She was a talented musician with great expertise at the piano.
Elizabeth became interested in the Dijon Carmel which her mother’s house overlooked. During her late adolescence her spirituality deepened and she became more and more interested in becoming a Carmelite. On one of Blessed Elizabeth's early visits to the Dijon Carmel, she received a copy from the superior of what later would become St. Therese of Lisieux's famous autobiography. When she read it she became even more inclined towards contemplative prayer and was very intent on becoming a Carmelite Nun. Because her mother would not permit her to join the monastery until she was twenty-one, Elizabeth continued to work in catechizing troubled youth and in doing much good in the city of Dijon. Her mother encouraged her to wait before she joined the monastery and also tried to encourage her to find a husband. Elizabeth finally entered the Carmel in 1901, and made her final vows in 1903. Upon becoming a Carmelite Nun she expressed after her profession, "I can't find words to express my happiness. Here there is no longer anything but God. He is All; He suffices when we live by him alone." She died at Carmel, on November 9, 1906, at the young age of twenty-six after suffering from Addison’s disease for eight months in the monastery infirmary.
There is a great deal of similarity between St. Therese of Lisieux and the new St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. During her time at the monastery, Elizabeth found great inspiration from the writings of St. Therese which are reflected in her own writings of which she composed several. Her best-known is O my God, Trinity Whom I adore. Especially prominent are also her Heaven in Faith, a retreat she wrote three months before the death of her sister and the Last Retreat, her spiritual insight from the last annual retreat she was able to make. In Elizabeth's short life she was a mirror of the attributes of the life of St. Therese in reflective prayer, living in the present moment, loving God wholeheartedly, serving others with simplicity and seeking to bring others into the joy of a relationship with Christ. She was also a mirror in her illness and early death, just a few years after St. Therese. Similar to St. Therese, Elizabeth described her vision of a Carmelite as one "who beheld the Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to the Father as a victim for souls and, meditating of this great vision of Christ’s charity, has understood the passion of love that has filled His soul and has willed to give Herself as He did."
We are extremely blessed in our Diocese with parishes that are entrusted to the care of Religious Congregations. Two of our parishes are entrusted to the care of Carmelites - Holy Name of Jesus, West Palm Beach, and St. Jude, Boca Raton. The priests of these parishes minister extraordinary well in the spirit of the Carmelite tradition reminding us all of the importance of living in the present moment always with the reality of God's personal love before us. We are blessed to be part of a canonization process for another future Carmelite saint, Father Titus Brandsma through his miraculous intervention in the healing of Father Michael Driscoll, a wonderful priest of our Diocese at St. Jude. We are also blessed that the parish of Holy Name, recently entrusted to the Carmelites under the fine pastoral care of Fr. Antony Pulikal, is holding a special seminar on Carmelite spirituality to give a better understanding of the call to all of us to enter into a life of prayer. This seminar is being held on the second Wednesday of every month at 7:00 pm at Holy Name Parish and all are invited.
As we continue during the month of October to celebrate these great Carmelite saints, we look to Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Certainly, her life reminds all of us that there is only one thing that really matters - to know that God loves us and invites each of us into a deep relationship with Him that changes our lives. With so many cares and concerns - personal, national and globally - the Carmelite spirit is one that gives us all reason to hope and find foundation through prayer in the same manner as our Blessed Mother.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 14, 2016