Thursday, April 11, 2013

Look Inside and Above

I learned of Blessed Elizabeth the same time I was brought to Carmel as a lay person after graduating from college. Even though she read St. Therese and was heavily influenced by her sister in Carmel, Blessed Elizabeth developed her own distinct spirituality in the Church. For someone who was an enclosed nun in Carmel, her correspondences were mostly to lay people. Her fascination with Saint Paul, makes her another "apostle to the gentiles." Elizabeth was a mystical soul. She spoke in the language of the mystics and yet she found her own way of communicating the depths of her inner experiences in a language that is familiar to us. The mystery of the Indwelling Trinity was the mystery which appealed to her the most, and consequently, the Divine Presence within. Her delight was such when she found out that "Elizabeth" means "house of God." How very fitting for this young lady who made it her mission to remind us that we are the "living temples of the Spirit."

"Let us live with God as with a Friend. Let us make our faith a living thing, so as to remain in communion with Him through everything. That is how saints are made. We carry our heaven within us, since He who completely satisfies every longing of the glorified souls in the light of the Beatific Vision, is giving Himself to us in faith and mystery. It is the same thing. It seems to me I have found my heaven on earth, since heaven is God and God in in my soul. The day I understood that, everything became clear to me, and I wish I could whisper this secret to those I love in order that they also might cling closely to God through everything."

How does one develop an awareness of the Trinitarian indwelling? This is a theological question requiring an expert. Far be it for me to presume such expertise! But for whatever its worth, I can share some insights. "Awareness" is an attitude requiring fine tuning. It is a habitual stance which is acquired through repeated acts and practice. But first and foremost it is a grace. Our Carmelite saints, foremost among them is St. John of the Cross, wrote that God is infinite and cannot be contained. Our mind is too small to contain God. It is only faith which can capture Him. To be aware of the presence of God within us, we can make use of the natural faculties God endowed us with. We can "imagine" ourselves as the tabernacle which contains the Blessed Host. It focuses our mind to think of something concrete. And yet, this example is not accurate because we are truly, by baptism, temples of the living God. It is not an imagined reality, it is the truth. But to be aware of this, human that we are, our mind will need something material to attach itself to so that it can picture the reality. So imagine yourself as a tabernacle, the one you see in Churches, and picture the Blessed Host within you. Then after making a habit of doing this, one can engage in a "conversation" with our Lord, at every moment, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. This is a practice of the interior life , a "simple glance at the King who lives in the center of the mansion" as St. Teresa would say. Use of ejaculatory prayers- short, holy expression of sentiments- can help us remain in this holy Presence.

How did Blessed Elizabeth approach prayer? Again, her words "let us live with God as with a friend," means familiarity, constancy, fidelity. Prayer, for Elizabeth, was a glance, a sigh of love and desire, a movement towards inner recollection, so that she can listen to the Master who was constantly speaking to her in the events of her life. Elizabeth's prayers were spontaneous, an ongoing dialogue with the Trinity within her. She longed for silence and solitude because they allowed her to give herself fully to the work of listening. The Teresian Carmel obliges the nuns to pray 2 hours of contemplative prayer or meditation, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Elizabeth also would have participated in the recitation of the full Divine Office which would have required about 7 hours a day. Being in the cloister certainly facilitated contemplative prayer. Can we enjoy this kind of prayer when our lives are so different from hers, with all the work and distractions we face daily? Or is contemplation only a privilege given to a few? It depends on how one describes contemplation. In my definition, contemplation is nothing more than recognizing God in everything. It is the ability to see the will of God, through the eye of faith, in everything that happens to us. There are no accidents, no second causes.  We see everything as ordained by God.  St. John of the Cross, whose writings influenced Elizabeth tremendously,  advised: "Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love."  This kind of contemplation is our vocation. God has precisely given us Elizabeth to assure us that it is possible.

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