Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) was a Discalced Carmelite nun of the Dijon (France) Carmel, beatified in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. This small biography of her short life captures the sense and tenor of her Carmel and her times.
Elizabeth Catez was born into the relative comfort of a French military family. Her parents were not young: her mother was in her mid-thirties and her father in his late forties when they married. When Elizabeth was about five years old, her father’s ill health caused him to retire from the army, resulting in an end to their frequent moves and his long absences from home. He died a few years later, an event she recalled in one of her many poems: "It was in my weak child’s arms/those arms that loved you so….I tried to hold on to/That last long sigh." He left his wife, his little "Sabeth," as Elizabeth was called, and her younger sister Marguerite, nicknamed "Guite."
The first third of this book follows Elizabeth’s life before Carmel, giving detail about her family, her schooling, her penchant for prayer, and her growing and deepening desire to live her affective life totally with God. As Elizabeth grew in the knowledge of her vocation, she met with serious resistance from her mother, who had hoped she would marry and marry well. Elizabeth’s mother eventually relented, and so she entered the Dijon Carmel in 1901.
Elizabeth’s life in Carmel was simple and silent. Her sisters marveled at her sanctity, which increased as her health deteriorated with Addison’s Disease. Elizabeth’s family supplemented her diet as she declined, and her prioress lightened her daily schedule to allow for her waning strength, but she died after two weeks of final agony, "invaded by love…a fire of infinite sweetness," on November 9, 2002.
One of her best-known sayings sums up her life and death: "I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul." She knew her mission on earth to be the same as she projected it in heaven: to draw souls to God, "and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make his mark on them, to transform them into himself."
This book presents a number of Elizabeth’s writings, allowing her to present herself and her spirituality. Unfortunately, there are a number of annoying characteristics of this work that make it difficult to follow. For example, there is no dateline of events, or family tree, to help the reader along when the author omits dates or necessary identification of the persons she refers to. Sentences like "In June of that year, Mother Germaine gave Elizabeth a ‘spiritual brother,’ Abbé Beaubis, a seminarian of the Dijon seminary who was to go out to China as a missionary" drop the reader into the midst of unknown territory and uncertain time.
This book can serve the general audience interested in spirituality. The academic reader will not be satisfied with this presentation, but the fault does not lie squarely with the author. Too many academic presses do not seem to be able to take the time to carefully edit the books they present, and this is one example of a book that, with careful editing, would have presented a much clearer portrait of Elizabeth of the Trinity.