September 23, 2014

The Temple of the Holy Spirit, Praise and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity became aware of the indwelling presence of God at her First Communion.  This initial experience was satiating.  Whereas the other children were ready for the wonderful reception prepared for them after the liturgy, witnesses describe Elisabeth captivated by her encounter with the Lord.  She seemed to be filled with wonder over His new presence to her and teachable, open to new words of wisdom for her life.

Witnesses also describe the beginning of a new self-control.  This self-mastery was not all at once, but an unfolding reality whose roots go back to this moment of encounter, this experience of a love that fed her soul.  There is infact a correlation between the transformed life that amazed both friends and family and a growing awareness on her part of the loving presence of the Trinity in her soul.

Years later as a Carmelite she writes a powerful prayer that brings together the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling of the Holy Trinity and her experience of contemplation.   "O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" is a petitionary prayer, a cry of the heart for the peace and stillness that only God's presence can establish in the soul.  It is a prayer that reaches out to the ultimate end of the divine economy while always remaining mindful of the difficult ambiguities besetting a soul that yearns for God.  This prayer confronts weaknesses, emptiness and inadequacy with hope.

It is important to note that this prayer describes the indwelling not as a completed fact, but as something unfolding, as a work that only God can bring to completion.  Blessed Elisabeth reveals the divine presence as intrinsically dynamic, a reality that raises human nature above itself.  As the presence of God establishes peace in the soul even in the midst of great difficulties, the Holy Spirit renders the Christian capable of participating fully with his own life in the Son's perfect offering to the Father.  In short, the Divine Indwelling dynamically perfects the spiritual worship that faith in Christ makes possible.

This is a theme we find also in the retreats she authored.  These spiritual reflections she wrote in the final stages of what was then a terminal disease.  She returns not only to the theme of the divine indwelling as a source of peace in the soul, but also elucidates the particular activity this heavenly peace makes possible: perfect praise.

One is struck by her conviction that to be the praise of glory is not simply a noble ideal to which she aspires, but her sacred name, her very identity, the secret purpose of her life before God. In her Last Retreat, she begins her reflections in a truly ecclesial voice, the voice of the Bride of Christ.

The song of the Bride for her Bridegroom she describes discloses this kind of praise in terms of a secret longing that Christ and the Church share.  What is more, she understands herself as personally participating in this love.  She sees herself as a kind of personification of the Bride of Christ, a Bride who sings to her Beloved a canticle of love and devotion, and this even as her own life plunges in its final agony.

Here, Blessed Elisabeth expands our understanding of the divine indwelling.   The presence of God in the soul is not only satisfying and morally transforming, it is not only psychologically therapeutic and an answer to difficult interior experiences, this divine presence is also the source of a whole new range of spiritual activity, an ecclesial existence that breaks out in true worship.   The soul filled with the presence of God is being transformed into a kind of heaven, fashioned as a dwelling place for the living God, built up as a temple, a particular and unrepeatable realization of the Church, where the glory of the Lord rests.  In the soul filled with God there is finally the freedom to sing His praise, not in some distant future, but in the vast horizons of the present moment.