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Charity’s Infinite Overflowing Flood in the Midst of Trial

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880 – 1906), a contemporary of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is a Carmelite mystic from Dijon, France. Her profound theological reflections are given in a tumultuous time, one not unlike our own.  The French government had begun to attack religious freedom with the intention of evicting religious orders and confiscating their properties. The local bishop acquiesced to this political pressure, disenfranchising the faithful. In January 1904, she writes to her brother-in-law, a seminarian who is implicated in the fiasco: he and many of his seminary brothers went on strike in protest against the bishop.  

for post on trialThe Mystic of Dijon refers to this turmoil only obliquely but connects with the young seminarian's zeal for the mission of the Church. Consumed with extending the Risen Lord's saving work in the world, her focus takes in the hidden but superabundant presence of God. In the face of contention, she counsels contemplation. After asking her seminarian brother-in-law whether “we ever understand how much we are loved” by God, the Carmelite observes that Christ even allows us to share in His life of prayer: “Since the Lord dwells in our hearts, His prayer belongs to us, and I would like to commune with it without cease, placing myself like a little vase at the Headwaters, at the Fountain of Life. With this comes the capacity to communicate this life to souls, the ability to allow its floods of infinite charity to overflow” (Letter 191).

What does it mean to dwell in communion with the prayer of Christ? Christ is the source of living waters and He yearns to make these so drench the soul that they might overflow to the world. Caught in the whirlwinds of falsehood and the cultural power of inhumane ideology, these waters of new life quench our thirst for the truth and for justice. They are the loving waters of mercy, and merciful love alone moistens the soil of humanity parched by sin.  It is the truth of divine mercy alone that truly liberates from the tyranny of myth – social or psychological. To help us enter into this mystery further, Saint Elizabeth refers explicitly to the prayer of the Son to the Father “I sanctify myself for them that they may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19).

By this prayer, Christ sets Himself apart for the Father so that His followers might be set apart by the truth. When the Lord offered this prayer, He fully saw how the Father's love for humanity is the only firm ground on which men and women can find their proper footing. It is the truth in the heart of God. The prayer of the Son was accepted by the Father at the price of His own blood. The Holy Spirit teaches this truth through the Body of Christ, the Church in whom the mystery of Christ's redemptive love extends to the world.

When she indicates her desire to dwell in communion with Christ's prayer, Saint Elizabeth is rooting herself in this truth that sanctifies the Church with exceeding power. She is assuming an ecclesial identity, identifying herself with the Church as the Bride of Christ. Entrusted with the limitlessness of love and truth exchanged between the Father and the Son, she sees the opportunity not only to live in ceaseless communion with Christ's prayer but also to help extend its saving power even as the world around her is falling apart.

What Christ prayed before his death and what Saint Elizabeth contemplates in the midst of persecution is not a “smiling” Christianity. When it comes to following in the loving pathway of Christ Crucified, our faith offers no escape from all kinds of personal anguish or social insecurity. Although it frees from the weight of sin and guilt, the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus is no pleasant myth of merely psychological comfort in which we rest. The demand of love to which our consciences are availed cannot be silenced by clever mental gymnastics. Nor does God's love permit any patronizing gaze on the rest of humanity – for that is not the way He contemplates our misery. On the contrary, our faith takes its stand with Christ on the battlefield of mercy where all that is sacred, noble and true about humanity must be defended, where the definitive victory of good over evil is realized anew.  

Here, in the shadow of the Cross, what most defines us is not our failures nor inadequacies nor even apparent powerlessness in the face of psychological and sociological forces. Here, Saint Elizabeth's vision directs us to the exceeding love of God, a love she contemplates as the overflowing flood of infinite charity into humanity. In the midst of the turmoil of her times, Saint Elizabeth implicates herself in this sanctifying mission of the Church and invites us in the midst of our own personal and social upheavals to do the same.

Note from Dan: Anthony’s fantastic book on prayer, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, can be found HERE in print, and HERE in Kindle format

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Art for this post on Charity's Infinite Overflowing Flood in the Midst of Trial: Photograph of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity provided by DBurke, used with permission.

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About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com

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  • Beautiful! “our faith takes its stand with Christ on the battlefield of mercy where all that is sacred, noble and true about humanity must be defended” — how true in these times when it seems that many things are negative, against the Faith. But we can do much through prayer: the prayer of abandonment, of intercession, of love. It is by uniting ourselves to the merciful love of God that we can be like Bl Elisabeth of the Trinity, little houses of God, allowing the Blessed Trinity to dwell in our hearts and thus transform the world.

    • rjk123

      Oh, that it may be so, that we can be like B. Elizabeth. You have beautiful insights. Rachel

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this insight into the connection of the Divine Indwelling, the prayer of abandonment and the battle for mercy in the world.  Blessed Elisabeth loved to connect these truths in her own reflections. Your insight encourages us to grow in our confidence in what God can do with our prayers — He is doing something remarkable that we have the privilege to be part of by faith.

  • This post has also made me think of St Brother Rafael Arnaiz, OCSO (1911-1938). A Trappist, Brother Rafael had a great love for Carmelite spirituality and he, too, lived through tumultuous times: the Spanish Civil War. In the midst of chaos he wrote the following:

    “Listen, [Lord], to my heart… Without sounds or words it knows how to tell you all my love for you and all that you mean to me… My light, my guide, my only love, my dream, my only reason for living… for were I to lose you, Lord, my life would be extinguished like a flame without oxygen, for you are my breath, the air that I breathe and the bread that I eat… Do you want me to love you more, although my heart is so tiny?… Do me the favor of making it big and generous, that I may be all heart in order to be all yours and love you much… You can do it if you want to… Tone down the longing that I have, otherwise I cannot live. My soul is full to overflowing. You have put so much love in my soul, that soul, Lord, which is so tiny and wretched. If it is you, Lord, who inflict the wound, do in all kindness stop the bleeding as well; but do not leave me in this state, for I cannot endure it.”

    “This is a difficult time; but why worry? Whoever has God lacks nothing, and no matter how great the harm people may do to us, the most they can do is take our lives… As far as I am concerned, of course, as long as I have life I shall use it in God’s service, and when He, in whatever way, takes it from me, that will be fine, it is His, after all, and as His, He can do what He likes with it…” “I send you my poor prayers; I send you the comfort of knowing that in the midst of the struggling people, there are those who raise their hearts to God.”

    So let us raise our hearts to God in prayer, and unite ourselves to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, invoking mercy for the world.

    I apologize for the length of this post. 🙂

    • rjk123

      Thank you for that beautiful prayer. I will look for more information on this saint. And I will print out this prayer to refer back to. Thank you, thank you for sharing it. Rachel

      • Rachel– I will be happy to e-mail you/post some more. There’s very little in English, unfortunately, but I’m blessed to have Brother Rafael’s complete works in Spanish and can translate them. There’s a brief biography with a few quotations of his writings available in English. St Rafael and Bl Elisabeth have many spiritual parallels. Their writings can inspire reflection and prayer to the point of tears.

        • LizEst

          ¿Está Ud. en España?

          (Are you in Spain?)

          • No. Puerto Rico. Viví en España. (I lived in Spain.)

          • LizEst

            Thank you so much for your posts. They so beautifully reflect a true Carmelite spirit. We are honored you are sharing with us the wisdom and gifts God has showered on you. It is obvious they are the fruits of deep prayer and reflection and grace.

            ¡Que Dios te bendiga! (May God bless you!)

        • rjk123

          Thank you. I will watch for your posts. I shared Brother Rafael’s quote with my non-Catholic husband and it moved him so much, he asked me for a copy. Thank you. God bless you. Rachel

        • BeckitaMaria

          Yes. Please post more, Monica.

    • Becky Ward

      Please don’t apologize, this is beautiful and I am happy that you shared it. My SD is a Trappist Priest – I’m printing this both for my own prayer (I love reading what the saints wrote themselves), and to discuss with my director.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this — it is a very rich text.  I will need to study his thought further. Isn’t it interesting that he died about the same time as Sr. Faustina Kowalska?

      • Yes. The 1930s-1940s many great examples of holiness, not counting the martyrs of various wars. The Discalced Carmel, for example, has Bl Maria Candida dell’Eucaristia who soared to the heights of Eucharistic mystical union while also living in turbulent times. Consider these words from Mother Candida: 
        “My Jesus, I love you: it is an enormous love that is enclosed in my heart for you, O Sacramental Love. My heart yearns for tenderness towards you. Measure how much you, O Lord, want my love: measure [it]! When you have time, but so measured, when you seem to have finished, you will have to start all over again! And this many times, always, because with infinite love – forgive me – I love you.”

        It is so easy to be caught up in the apparent negatives of trials and neglect the precious opportunities we’re given to unite ourselves evermore to Christ, to profit, like Bl Elisabeth and other saints, of our trustful surrender to the Father who loves us and loves us as His precious children.

    • BeckitaMaria

      I echo Becky’s words, Monica: “This is beautiful and I’m happy you shared it.”  I’m blessed to tend to the care of an elderly priest who, along with others, fled China as a young seminarian when Mao Tse-tung and his forces came to power. The Spanish people welcomed those Chinese seminarians with knowing hearts so ready to nurture and love. In these last thirty years, I have heard many a story shared from so long ago concerning the heroic acts of the persecuted Catholics in the Spanish Civil War.  St. Brother Rafael’s words evoke for me a new sense of wonder and appreciation for the people of these stories.     

  • rjk123

    Thank you. The “drenching,” the power of the sharing in Christ’s prayer for the good of the world and sinners, the whole paragraph about Chrit’s prayer not being a “smiling Christiantiy.” The feeling of powerlessness in the midst of so much pain, suffering and evil that seems to be getting worse everywhere, the darkness and appearance that our prayers aren’t helping, and the fear of how bad it’s going to get in our country and in the world before it gets better — this reflection is reassuring that, despite what we can (or can’t) see, participating in the prayer of Christ is the “overflowing flood of infinite charity” into humanity — the best and the ultimate of what we can do in Christ. The “exceeding love of God” that is bigger that ANYTHING else. The Holy Spirit is using you, Anthony, to reveal and increase our thirst for the floods of His mercy and oir participation in the prayer, life and cross of Jesus. Thank you. Rachel

    • LizEst

      Ah yes, because Christ’s prayer is of infinite value, when we unite our prayers to His, they too, have that value; they too are helping. At the same time, our hearts must be humble and contrite. And, they must have great mercy, that mercy which flows from humility and contrition and the acknowledgement of our sins. “A humble, contrite heart, O Lord, you will not spurn” (Psalm 51:19b).

      • Anthony_Lilles

        I love this thought — because it is (not us, but) all Christ in us, His Life, His Love, His Virtue in our poverty.  The contrition and humility that Christ gives us also makes space for the Lord’s prayer to unfold in our hearts in other beautiful and tender ways.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Rachel, 
      Thank you for these beautiful insights and your encouraging words.  Your words remind me of a conversation many years ago: Dr. Alice von Hildebrand told me that times such as these bind us together all the more to support and pray for one another. God is doing something very beautiful in America and in the world. Our commitment to prayer, our witness to the truth and our faithfulness in the way of life entrusted to us are all part of this mysterious work in ways we cannot understand.  We are so privileged to be alive at such a moment of testing and trial and hardship, a moment where we can repay in small imperfect ways love for love, a moment of invincible hope in which the Risen Lord is accomplishing great works in the secret of our faith.  You are right, it is no time for discouragement – in Christ we have every reason to take heart!

  • judeen

     oh , what Great Love God has for France… to give France such powerful saints for the world.. to draw us closer to God… !!!! what Holy Land.. ! that God cared for the french and for France.. to give us these Powerful saints…… may the People of this country realize how important their love for God is… may all our countrys be so blessed ……and the people awake from their slumber and Glorify the Lord and Thank Him

    • Anthony_Lilles

      God has been good to our French brothers and sisters – but the struggle with secularism is fierce and has been for some time.  So we need to pray for this eldest Daughter of the Church – that she might thrive again and help us find new ways to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

      • judeen

        it is to remember Gods love for them, to remember the great saints from their country… the saints are already praying for them… secularism will kill its self.. as evil always does…. like the prodical son… may they remember to come back to God….

  • BeckitaMaria

    All right, Dr. Anthony Lilles! I shall be purchasing Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden for as I read this post and the comments this evening, “My tears have been my food…” (Psalm 42:3) while an unending ache of love sears my soul as anew it “…thirsts for God, for the living God…” (Psalm Psalm 42:2). Thank you. Thanks be to God for you.

    I know deep within we are at the door of a great darkness and your post emanates refreshing light.  In all simplicity, we must keep our focus on Jesus while remaining sheltered in the safe refuge of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of our Mother. 

     

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you – and I hope Hidden Mountain Secret Garden is as much a blessing for you to read as it was for me to write.  Thank you for speaking in the language of the psalms. I love the psalms – those inspired and inerrant movements of heart whose expressions of tender but honest devotion Christ delicately assumed for our sakes.  Faith in Christ accesses them and offers them the way He offered them to the Father.  (This is why the Liturgy of the Hours is such a gift!) These expressions of Son’s heart help us see His immense wilderness of love for the Father and at the same time that intimate solidarity with us He made His own.  It is paradise He allows us to enter when we enter the psalms.  In this new Eden, we can lift up our hearts with His to the Father too. This radiant truth of the Redeemer’s humanity divinely reveals us to ourselves.  This Truth is the Light shining in that darkness that you refer to, the Light revealed by the Spirit and the Bride — and no darkness can overcome Him. 

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