Elizabeth of the Trinity: From Firecracker to Contemplative

Jul 26, 2021 | Articles, Life in the Church, The Saints

By Amber Kinloch

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
Religious
Born July 18, 1880
Died November 9, 1906
Feast Day: November 9

A Grinding Start

When we read accounts of the saints, a lot of them might strike us as “sugar and spice and everything nice.”  Not St. Elizabeth of the Trinity!

This young Carmelite was born in France in 1880.  The elder of two daughters, she was an energetic, strong-willed girl given to temper tantrums, much to the aggravation of her mother.  She was, at the same time, possessed of a great fervor and capacity to love.  So strong were her will and temper that a priest (perhaps intimidated by what he saw in her) remarked that she’d be either a saint or a demon.

Elizabeth, fortunately, anticipating the reception of her First Holy Communion, decided to pursue holiness.  But she did not achieve it without great effort.  In quest of her goal, she bit her tongue again and again, and checked her natural desire to be the dominant leader amongst her childhood friends.  Even as she grew older and calmer, this fault still plagued her.  She writes in her diary:

“Today I had the joy of offering Jesus many sacrifices in working to conquer my predominant fault. It cost me dearly, and I recognize all my weakness…. When I receive an unjust criticism I can feel my blood boil in my veins and my whole being rebels! … But Jesus was with me, I could hear his voice in the depth of my heart and so I was willing to bear everything for love of him!”

The Road to Carmel

As a teen, Elizabeth blossomed.  She was a gifted pianist, enchanting listeners with her soul-stirring music.  Besides, she stood out as a gem within her large social circle, elegantly dressed, her long brown hair styled impeccably.  She was kind, thoughtful, and brimming over with fun and a sincere love of life.  

Yet she was not attached to the world—God had captured her heart.  At 14, she heard the word “Carmel” whispered in her soul, and she burned to be admitted to the Carmelite convent right within sight of her bedroom window.  Her mother, however, was not pleased.  The poor woman had already lost her husband.  The thought of her daughter being taken away from her was most distressing.

Elizabeth was pained, but did not lose hope.  If she could not enter Carmel yet, no matter.  She’d live as a Carmelite in the world.

This she achieved by maintaining a cell within her heart.  There she strove to be in continual contact with God like Mary at Jesus’ feet in Bethany (Luke 10:38-39).  As she wrote years later from Carmel: “I have within me a solitude where He dwells, and nothing can take that away from me!” (L 162)

Similarly, she explains: “This is the whole life of Carmel, to live in Him.  Then all sacrifices, all immolations become divine, for through everything the soul sees Him whom it loves, and everything leads it to Him; it is a continual heart-to-heart!  You see you can already become a Carmelite in soul.  Love silence and prayer, for that is the essence of the Carmelite life” (L 136).

Elizabeth’s Cell, by Willuconquer, licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

Prisoner of Carmel

After seven years of fruitful waiting, Elizabeth entered Carmel at Dijon, France, despite the reluctance of her mother.  Her exterior life in the silent, austere convent was unremarkable.  Interiorly, however, she flourished.  A spirit of love and self-forgetfulness gave her a deep joy and wisdom, which poured out like flowing waters in words like these: “It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul” (L 122).

She writes further about the power of maintaining a sense of God’s presence within one’s soul to a seminarian.  Though confined to Carmel, she believes she can play as powerful a part in the apostolate as him if only she is “wholly filled” with God.  Then “one look, one desire [will] become an irresistible prayer that can obtain everything since it is, so to speak, God whom we are offering to God” (L 124).

From Elizabeth’s point of view, such deep prayer isn’t reserved to a few special souls.  She feels, rather, that it is something for everyone.  We need only throw ourselves into the arms of God.  This pleases Him far more than our “turning inward” and obsessively examining ourselves.  Sunk in this state, we forget about God.  And if we forget about God, then we forget about our need for His Mercy, which is the only means by which we will overcome our sins and weaknesses (L 249).

To Calvary

Carmel wasn’t all peace and serenity for Elizabeth, though.  During her five years there, she was plagued by many sufferings, most significantly Addison’s disease.  In this disorder, the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol.  The result for Elizabeth was severe headaches and fainting fits, exhaustion, and an inability to stomach food or drink.

Over the course of eight months, she wasted away, her head and insides racked and aflame with pain.  Elizabeth, though immensely courageous, was horribly tormented.  She told her prioress that she felt “cowardly enough to scream” (L 329) and that she understood how people could commit suicide.  And yet she radiated joy, dubbing her infirmary cell “The Palace of Pain and Bliss.”

Her final agony lasted nine days, marked alternately by joy and darkness.  On her last night, the pain reached a crescendo with the onset of asphyxiation.  She held fast and when dawn came, a change overcame her.  Her sufferings eased, her face grew radiant, and she died full of peace.

Elizabeth’s Shrine in Dijon, France, by Majella1851, licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0

The Treasury of St. Elizabeth

Elizaebeth left behind her  a legacy of writings, including letters, retreat guides, poems, and a diary.  More than that, she left us a promise of help.  To anyone seeking to grow in the interior life, she offers her assistance, saying:

“My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make his mark on them, to transform them into himself.”

Let’s not pass her up on her offer.  Let’s press upon her, asking her to teach us how to create a Carmel in our own soul and to keep Jesus company there as we go about our ordinary lives.  She won’t refuse us.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us!

Looking to Learn More about St. Elizabeth?
Check out He is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity by Jennifer Moorcroft.

Amber Kinloch

Amber Kinloch

Amber  writes from the bunker of her living room.  There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life.  Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.

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